By Gerry Avant, Church News Editor
Björn Bauerfeind has vivid memories of being a Latter-day Saint in East Germany, where his “faithful parents far behind the Iron Curtain” were serious about serving the Lord in an area where government officials closely watched the Church. Every Sunday, his parents, Dieter and Ilse Bauerfeind, took him, his sister, and two brothers to attend church, about 40 miles (64km) from their home in Stendal.
“The Rathenow Branch consisted of 10 Church members, including our family,” said Brother Bauerfeind. “Branch President Ferenz, a 91-year-old man, never missed a single meeting either. Contact with other Church members was very limited due to long distances to other Church units. As a little child, sometimes the thought, ‘What a lonely bunch of Mormons,’ crossed my mind. What I did not realize back then was how many blessings the Lord had in store for us for the future. We would live to see many of the promises made by servants of the Lord become reality.
“On April 27, 1975, Elder Thomas S. Monson (then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and now President of the Church) gave an apostolic blessing for East Germany from a beautiful hill overlooking the Elbe River near the city of Dresden. The words of the blessing were written down and published to East German Church members. Reading them even now in 2012, many years later, it still makes me wonder how the Lord loved His few Church members by inspiring Elder Monson to announce such a wonderful blessing. The weather was rainy and the sky cloudy on the morning the blessing was pronounced. While he offered the prayer the sky opened up and the sun shone on the small group of East German members who had joined Elder Monson that early morning. What a wonderful way of the Lord to confirm to the group that every word spoken by Elder Monson would become true.”
As a young man, Brother Bauerfeind was drafted into the East German army, which was an integral part of the Russian Army. “I was trained to look at Americans as my enemies,” he said. “I went through intensive military training to increase my ability in English to observe United States Air Force radio traffic. I did not know that just a few years away I would use these English skills to convert my former American ‘enemies’ whom I was trained to kill.”
In 1990, when he was 22 years old, Brother Bauerfeind was called to serve in the Oregon Portland Mission. “The man who gave that apostolic blessing on that beautiful hill near Dresden—President Thomas S. Monson—welcomed me at the Salt Lake City Airport upon my arrival,” he said.
Brother Bauerfeind said he also did not know that, while he was in the East German army listening to U.S. Air Force pilots, one by the name of Terry Johnson would later become a mission president in the Germany Leipzig Mission and they would become acquainted as they served together, with Brother Bauerfeind called as a young bishop within the boundaries of President Johnson’s mission.
“I have learned that the ways of the Lord truly are mysterious,” Brother Bauerfeind said. “All it takes is faith in the words of the servants of the Lord.”
While he was at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, he saw a photograph of a portion of the west side of the Berlin Wall. The wall was erected in 1961, separating the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from West Germany; the wall came down in 1989. While the wall was guarded and people were prohibited from getting close to it on the east side, the west side bore messages and various artwork, including graffiti. The photograph showed some LDS missionaries making a pictorial illustration of the plan of salvation.
“I loved the symbol—seeing the plan of salvation on a wall that captured many millions of people,” Brother Bauerfeind said. “I obtained a copy of the picture. It still hangs on my office wall in the basement of our family home in Leipzig.”
After he completed his mission, Brother Bauerfeind visited in Salt Lake City and attended the temple. As he was leaving, he saw a painting by Harold Hopkinson depicting the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum leaving Nauvoo. “[Joseph] halted for a moment and looked back at beautiful Nauvoo,” Brother Bauerfeind said of the painting. “[The] heavens were open as well, and the sun sent its rays onto the temple down in the city of Nauvoo.
“That scene deeply impressed me, and I stood in front of the painting for a few minutes. It reminded me of another scene that I heard of many years ago near the city of Dresden where the sun broke out of a cloudy sky to confirm the blessing that an Apostle of the Lord just spoke.”
One day in 2011, Brother Bauerfeind, then a member of the Leipzig Germany Stake presidency, opened a copy of the Liahona and saw artwork “by a painter called Hopkinson.”
“Memories came back to my mind and I felt that I should get in touch with him and ask him to paint two scenes depicting East German Church history that I had in mind,” he said. “I sent an e-mail to Glen Hopkinson, an artist who turned out to be the son of Harold Hopkinson. .... Glen Hopkinson responded in the middle of the night American time letting me know that he was very interested.”
The two conferred for about eight months on the paintings. On May 22, 2012, Brother Bauerfeind and his wife, Asnath, met with Brother Hopkinson in Salt Lake City to collect the paintings and “bring them home.”
In addition to portraying then-Elder Monson pronouncing an apostolic blessing and missionaries depicting the plan of salvation on the western side of the Berlin Wall, Brother Hopkinson did a third painting.
It shows that the Berlin Wall has come down, and Brother Bauerfeind and his parents are driving from East Germany.
That painting, he said, is a little symbolic. “My little yellow Trabant (the car produced in East German factories that is portrayed in the painting) was not a convertible but a station wagon, and I sold it before I left to go on my mission. In reality, though, it still took the wall coming down to let me go on a mission. The Lord can do anything.”