Looking Back: President Thomas S. Monson Fulfilled Promise to German Saints

Contributed By Gerry Avant, Church News senior contributing editor

  • 17 July 2018

President Thomas S. Monson visits Goerlitz, Germany, to fulfill a promise he made to Church members there 27 years earlier, in 1968. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf (left)—then of the First Quorum of the Seventy and later a counselor to President Monson in the First Presidency, accompanied him. Gottfried Kurt Richter is to his right.  Photo by Gerry Avant, Deseret News.

I took a sentimental journey with President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Sister Frances J. Monson. That journey on August 27, 1995, took us to Goerlitz, Germany, near Poland’s border, far behind what was once the Iron Curtain.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf—then of the First Quorum of the Seventy, later a counselor to President Monson, and now of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, accompanied President and Sister Monson to Goerlitz.

Then First Counselor in the First Presidency, President Monson went to Goerlitz to fulfill a promise he made to Church members there 27 years earlier, in 1968.

En route to Goerlitz in 1995, President Monson told me, “Under the inspiration of the Lord, I promised those worthy Saints who had nothing—nothing—that if they were faithful to the Lord, He in His kindness and fairness would provide them with all the blessings any other member of the Church in a free country received.”

President Thomas S. Monson talks with a widow in Goerlitz, Germany, on August 27, 1995. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then of the Seventy and later a counselor to President Monson in the First Presidency, is at back left. Photo by Gerry Avant, Deseret News.

Arriving in Goerlitz on that 1995 visit, President and Sister Monson greeted longtime friends waiting in the newly constructed Goerlitz Branch meetinghouse, which he had come to dedicate. It was a key part of the 27-year-old promise.

During the service, he described the stark conditions he found in the city on his first visit: buildings bore marks of bullets and mortar shells, supplies of many kinds were limited, and a dreary mood settled over nearly everybody and everything. “The more time went by, the more I realized I was a long way from home,” he said. “I was in a strange land.”

Then, he said, he went on Sunday morning to the building where members of the Church met. “I heard Brother [Henry] Burkhardt, Brother [Walter] Krause, and Brother [Gottfried] Richter speak. And then I heard the German members sing, and heaven was very near.

“I looked at the conditions under which the Church met in those days. They had no ability to get Church [manuals and other publications], no visitors from Church headquarters, no patriarchs to give patriarchal blessings, no permission to hold a youth conference, no temple, no missionaries.”

But, he noted, the members were full of faith, true to the commandments of God. “I knew of the promises of God to those who keep His commandments,” President Monson declared.

“When it was my turn to speak, I made a promise … that if the members of the Church were true and faithful, every blessing that our members had in every other land would be given to them.

“When I got back to the old hotel that night—it was really dreary—I knew I had promised what I could not deliver. I got upon my knees, and I prayed to our Heavenly Father: ‘Here I am. Thou knowest that I said. Wilt thou honor the promise.’ I remembered the revelation where the Lord said, ‘Whether by my own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.’

“I watched miracles unfold. I won't enumerate all of the elements, but soon a patriarch was called. Soon a mission was organized. Then visitors from Church headquarters. …

“Other events took place. We were given permission to acquire property, to build buildings. Stakes were created in Dresden and Leipzig. Visitors from the DDR were given permission to go to conferences in Salt Lake City. …

“Then, miracle of miracles, a temple was built, a temple in Freiberg, behind the Berlin Wall. …

“The final blessing,” President Monson continued, “was permission for the missionaries to return—50 years after they were expelled at the beginning of World War II. And then young men and women from the DDR were given permission to leave to go on missions throughout the world.

“Every promise came true, but one. We had nice buildings in Leipzig, in Dresden, and in other places. But not little Goerlitz, where the promise was made. Then in Salt Lake City one day I saw the recommendation for a building to be approved for Goerlitz. … I received the assignment to dedicate this building.”

He said some might ask why a member of the First Presidency would travel so far to dedicate a branch chapel. “I am in Goerlitz, fulfilling that one unfulfilled element of the promise that you would have a building here,” he said. “Now my restless spirit can calm down. It is a day of happiness for me too.”