25 Years Later, Returned Missionaries Reunite in Germany
Contributed By Jace Whatcott, Church News staff writer
- In commemoration of the missionaries’ entrance into the former East Germany in 1989, former missionaries had a mission reunion.
- The reunion was held June 13 through June 15 and included a session at the Freiberg Germany Temple.
“I was deeply touched by the spirit of this reunion. To see that a mission has an impact on the former missionaries even 25 years later and to be able to realize their strong adherence to the gospel meant a lot to me.” —President David Ruetz, former missionary in East Germany and current president of the Berlin Germany Stake
The latter end of the 1980s saw the closing of the Cold War, the call from President Reagan to tear down the Berlin Wall, and the massacre at Tienanmen Square.
With all of the conflict that was plaguing some of the most powerful nations, the opening of doors for full-time missionaries from other countries to return to East Germany was a small glimmer of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy world.
The Germany Dresden Mission was created in 1969 with Henry Burkhardt, a native German, as president. With its creation came a few stipulations: no missionaries could enter or leave the country—only local Germans could serve in the Dresden mission.
Even though the Berlin Wall still stood strong when Wolfgang Paul received the call from President Thomas S. Monson about opening the Dresden mission to all missionaries, that same year, 1989, was met with the destruction of the wall and the commission to baptize in the hearts of the Dresden missionaries.
In commemoration of the missionaries’ entrance into the former East Germany, Elder Wolfgang Paul, a native Germa—former mission president of the Germany Dresden Mission and the Germany Hamburg Mission and former member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy—and many of his former missionaries had a mission reunion in the land where they spent “the best two years.”
“Because I cannot find my own words to describe my feelings about our reunion,” said Jared Koch, who served in the Dresden mission, “the following [words] from the hymns come to my mind again and again: ‘I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, Confused at the grace so fully he proffers me.’”
The reunion was held June 13 through June 15 and included a session at the Freiberg Germany Temple, a visit to the site where then-Apostle Thomas S. Monson dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel, attendance at a devotional with current full-time missionaries and local members, and worship services on Sunday.
Jason Kap, one of the original eight missionaries sent into the new German mission, had what he described as an experience at the reunion that was not unlike the reunion that was experienced by the sons of Mosiah (see Alma 17:2).
“Seeing the other missionaries again, in the same chapel where we held services and where we held mission conferences, was a tremendous treat,” he said. “We’re all older and many were there with their spouses and children, and that showed the arc of our lives in the Church—from young zealous missionaries to patient and reserved fathers and members.”
Brian Thueson, one of the returned missionaries who attended the reunion, spoke of why he thought he had a successful mission in Dresden.
“The success of a mission president or his missionaries is not measured in the number of convert baptisms but in how the missionaries and Saints continue to live their lives,” he said. “I felt privileged to be part of a group of faithful Saints. It was a special experience to reconnect with [the members].”
One of the members he visited was Sister Isolde Gehlauf, an 82-year-old woman who still loves the missionaries, and she asked all of the reunited missionaries to sign her remembrance book again 25 years later.
David Ruetz, who served in the Dresden mission from September 1989 to December 1990 and is now the president of the Berlin Germany Stake, helped organize the reunion with the assistance of his wife, Anja.
“I was deeply touched by the spirit of this reunion,” said President Ruetz. “To see that a mission has an impact on the former missionaries even 25 years later and to be able to realize their strong adherence to the gospel meant a lot to me.”