Meet Elder Mathias Held: An Emblem of the Church’s Deepening Global Footprint
Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor
- Elder and Sister Held are both Colombians of German ancestry.
- The spiritual “sameness” of the Church everywhere is an anchor to them.
- Taking leaps of faith brings blessings.
“It does not matter what trials you are going through. If you are communicating with heaven, you will be all right.”—Elder Mathias Held, General Authority Seventy
The two events don’t appear related, until you take a closer look.
President Nelson’s well-documented travels across Europe, Africa, and Asia—meeting with tens of thousands of members from many cultures—signal the Church’s increasingly international footprint. And Elder Held and his wife, Irene, aptly personify that global presence.
Both are Colombians of German ancestry who joined the Church as adults. Jobs and schooling have taken them from their South American homeland to Canada, Germany, Guatemala, Brazil, and, finally, back to Colombia.
And in each country, they’ve adjusted to new languages and customs.
“But the Church was exactly the same wherever we went,” said Elder Held, who was sustained as a General Authority Seventy on March 31. That spiritual “sameness” anchored the couple while raising three children and growing in the gospel.
The Helds were childhood classmates at a German-language school in their hometown of Bogota. Both had close relatives who hailed from Germany—so they grew up jointly tied to their ancestral and adopted homelands.
A perfect meal, laughs Sister Held, includes both German schnitzel and Colombian arepas.
Neither was raised in formally religious homes—but both young Mathias and Irene shared almost innate beliefs in Jesus Christ, the power of prayer, and their personal connection to the divine. And, they’re quick to add, “we were blessed” to grow up in loving families.
“I had four living grandparents when I was young, and I saw them all regularly,” Elder Held told the Church News. “We were always together. It was a family-rich environment.”
The couple’s friendship gradually evolved into a romantic relationship. They were married in 1985 after Mathias earned a mechanical engineering degree in Bogota and a master’s degree in business administration in Canada.
Work opportunities later took the young couple to Hanover, Germany.
A life-changing (and expected) knock
Sister Held arrived in Europe with a powerful impression that their lives were about to change. “I told Mathias I had a feeling that we would get a message from heaven,” she said.
That “heavenly message” arrived on a rainy afternoon in 1987 with a knock at the front door. Standing outside in overcoats were Mormon missionaries speaking German with American accents.
“One of the young men asked me, ‘Can we have two minutes of your time?’” she remembered. “I had a strong feeling to let them in.”
She told the elders their visit wasn’t a surprise. In a way, she’d been expecting them. Thrilled and probably a little surprised, the missionaries spent a few minutes with their host speaking about the Savior before asking if they could return and continue when her husband was home.
Mathias did not share his wife’s enthusiasm for the family’s upcoming appointment with the missionaries. “I was very concerned,” he said.
Besides sharing news of the Restoration and the Book of Mormon, the elders were anxious for Sister Held and her somewhat reluctant husband to get to know the Mormons in their neighborhood.
“The missionaries invited us to church, and we liked it—we had a good feeling,” said Elder Held. “We saw families with children. We had a feeling that this was a living church. Everyone was trying their best to live the teachings of the gospel.”
For the next 10 months, the Helds studied with the missionaries and made friends in the local congregation. But developing a testimony of the Book of Mormon happened gradually.
“It was a process for us … but we did see the fruits of the gospel, which is easier to see with your heart than with your eyes,” he said.
With time, they came to understand a principle that continues to serve them well: revelation comes after accessing the power of the Holy Ghost. After much prayer and earnest pondering, they received spiritual confirmation of the gospel’s truth. They were baptized in 1988.
The Helds didn’t have every answer to all their questions. They still don’t. But they did know they could trust the Lord.
Their learning and growth didn’t end at the font. Despite battling insecurities and fears, they both accepted callings in their local congregation. They looked to the day when they could learn more in the temple.
Their day-to-day approach to personal spiritual growth—line upon line, precept upon precept—culminated about a year after their baptism when they were sealed in the Frankfurt Germany Temple.
Home: wherever Latter-day Saints gather
Despite having spent most of their lives not even knowing a Mormon, Elder and Sister Held quickly began using the Church as their guiding compass to raise their three children and pursue their careers.
Elder Held worked more than 25 years for Daimler-Benz, and his management duties took him around the world. Sister Held has worked as an art therapist and a life coach. At each stop, they relied upon the Lord, made new friends, and relished new challenges.
“We moved several times with our children, but we knew wherever we went, there would be the Church,” said Sister Held.
And with each new chapter, they’ve taken “leaps of faith”—just as Sister Held did years earlier after inviting a pair of drenched missionaries into their living room.
As a General Authority Seventy, Elder Held now serves people from all corners of the globe. With his companion at his side and a prayer for revelation in his heart, he is eager to get to work.
“It does not matter what trials you are going through,” he said. “If you are communicating with heaven, you will be all right.”