Once My Enemy, Now My Bishop: The Unifying Power of the Gospel

  • 18 March 2015

Terry W. Johnson of the U.S. Air Force was stationed in Germany during the Cold War. Bjorn Bauerfeind was in the East German military assigned to monitor the Air Force. Once enemies, they later found themselves in the same ward, as brothers. 

During the height of the Cold War, from 1977 to 1982, I was a U.S. Air Force pilot stationed in Germany. Our squadron had the responsibility to verify on a regular basis that the Berlin air corridors were kept exactly on track for Western Allied flights in and out of West Berlin. These corridors were established at the end of the Second World War to ensure Western Allies would have air access in and out of Berlin across Russian-occupied East Germany and were made famous during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

Our squadron aircraft had a large electronic system on board that enabled us to accurately measure the course of the corridor centerline and ensure that Allied aircraft stayed within the authorized limits, else they were subject to being shot down as a spy plane.

In 1994, I, with my wife, Dixie, was called to preside over the Germany Leipzig Mission, which lay underneath some of those very air corridors I had flown so many times more than a decade earlier. Since I had 26 years of U.S. Air Force service, it was interesting to talk with good local brethren in our mission who had served in the East German military about their experiences.

A new bishop was called for our home ward in Leipzig. He was a relatively younger man named Bjorn Bauerfeind. He had been one of the first missionaries authorized to leave East Germany on a mission in the mid-1980s and had served in the Oregon Portland Mission.

One day I asked him if he had also served in the East German military. He responded that since he had learned some English as a child, his military assignment was to sit with a radio receiver on the ground underneath the Berlin corridors and write down all the radio voice transmissions from Allied pilots flying the corridors. When I told him I had flown those corridors many times and asked him if he recognized my voice, he responded, “Yes, I do.”

What an unbelievable coincidence—my former enemy became my bishop and a dear friend and is now serving as a counselor in the Leipzig Germany Stake presidency. The gospel net surely brings in an amazing catch.

—Terry W. Johnson, Lt. Col. USAF, Retired, Cedar Pass 4th Ward, Eagle Mountain Utah Stake