President Monson and His Cherished Germany Reunite
By Grace Thomas, Europe Area Public Affairs office
Just one week after the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson traveled to Germany to meet with members of the Church. Home to over 38,000 Latter-day Saints, the country holds a special place in President Monson’s heart, in part because of his travels and Church service in the region.
President Monson met with Latter-day Saints in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt October 13–14 and 20–21.
“Deutschland, ich liebe dich!” (“Germany, I love you!”), President Monson told members in Hamburg, as he smiled and waved at the crowd.
At the heart of his message to German Church members was his exhortation to follow Jesus Christ.
“My prayer today is that we will have listening ears, that we might in turn hear His knock, appreciate the invitation of our Lord, and have the wisdom to open wide the doorway to our heart and the portals to our mind, that Jesus Christ might come in unto us,” President Monson said in Hamburg.
To the audience in Berlin, President Monson explained that those who have felt the touch of the Master's hand somehow cannot explain the change that comes into their lives. There is a desire to do better, to serve faithfully, to walk humbly, and to live more like the Savior, he said.
President Monson reminded members in Munich that when Christ ministered among men, He called fishermen at Galilee to leave their nets and follow Him, declaring that He would make them fishers of men. “May we join the ranks of the fishers of men and women, that we might provide whatever help we can,” the prophet encouraged the Saints.
Jesus taught by example, President Monson told members in Frankfurt: “Jesus, throughout His ministry, blessed the sick, restored sight to the blind, made the deaf to hear and the halt and maimed to walk. He taught forgiveness by forgiving. He taught compassion by being compassionate. He taught devotion by giving of Himself.”
President Monson’s special relationship to Germany goes back many years.
Shortly after being called as an Apostle in 1963, he was assigned to preside over the European missions of the Church. This was a time of much unrest for this part of the world. Still suffering the aftermath of World War II, Germany was divided into four military zones, each controlled by different nations. Literally overnight, the Democratic Republic of Germany built the Berlin Wall, creating a physical barrier between West Berlin and East Germany.
Being cut off from anything west of the wall and having no way to hear the prophet’s voice, approximately 5,000 Latter-day Saints were left in difficult conditions. Restrictions were set on how members could worship. The state required notice of meetings and even monitored Sunday services. Scriptures, manuals, handbooks, and even hymnals were not allowed in the country. At one point, all unauthorized literature was burned. Many congregations even lacked established leadership.
The faith of the Saints during this time was remarkable. Despite the difficult environment, members faithfully met to sing hymns and strengthen one another. The percentages for sacrament attendance, home teaching, and other Church activities were higher than for any other European stake.
Due to the political environment, visits from Church leaders were difficult. The year 1959 marked the last visit from Church headquarters, and Saints were suffering. Determined to help, Elder Monson was the first Apostle to visit the Soviet zone in Germany. His visit was discouraged by the U.S. State Department, but, putting his trust in the Lord, he went anyway.
On a cold November morning in 1968, inside a damaged warehouse in Görlitz, he met with war-torn members who had nothing left but their faith. Touched by their deprivation and unwavering trust in the Lord, Elder Monson uttered an emotional declaration that would become a hallmark of his apostolic ministry.
“If you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God,” he promised, “every blessing any member of the Church enjoys in any other country will be yours.”
This was a bold claim. At the time there were no patriarchs, Church materials were banned, missionary work was strictly prohibited, and a wall prevented Latter-day Saints from receiving the blessings of the temple. Once again, Thomas S. Monson trusted in the Lord and relied on the faith of the Church members.
President Monson made many more trips to Germany for the purpose of building relationships with government leaders and strengthening the members there. Throughout his interactions with others, he developed lifelong friendships with those who would play an important role in the Church’s development. His journal recounts interactions with several capable priesthood holders, including one young airline pilot by the name of Dieter Uchtdorf, who would later become an Apostle and now serves as Second Counselor in the First Presidency. Another very dear friend of President Monson was Henry Burkhardt, who was called as the mission president of the newly created Dresden Mission.
After the creation of the Dresden Mission, access to the Saints became easier and the fulfillment of President Monson’s prophecy began to be evident. Slowly, permission was granted for local leaders to visit Salt Lake City, Utah, to attend general conference and visit the temple. Close heed was paid to the laws imposed by governmental leaders during this time. These actions helped build trust between Church members and the government.
President Monson spent countless hours supporting the members in Germany. In addition to fulfilling his priesthood responsibility, President Monson was driven by a deep love for the people. It wasn’t uncommon for him to literally take the clothes off his back and give them to someone in need. He would often stuff his pockets full of chewing gum to give to little children.
To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson tells one particular story of his dedication to helping Church members receive all the blessings of the gospel. Church manuals were not allowed into the country, so President Monson memorized the contents of the Church’s General Handbook of Instructions. After arriving in Germany, he asked for a typewriter and began to type up from memory a workable copy. About 30 pages in, he took a break to stretch and walk around the room. He was startled to see, sitting on the self, a German version of the General Handbook of Instructions. How it got there, no one was certain. Needless to say, he was very well versed in the handbook for many years.
Another memorable event for President Monson was the dedication of the German Democratic Republic for the preaching of the gospel. Early in the morning of April 27, 1975, on a mountainside near Dresden, he poured out his soul on behalf of the Saints. He expressed gratitude for the Church in the land, described the faith of the members, and pleaded for a way for the Saints to receive the blessings of the temple. President Monson has visited this very spot multiple times since then, and it has become sacred ground to him.
During the prophet’s visit to Germany this October, Elder José A. Teixeira, president of the Europe Area, presented him with a framed photograph of the dedication spot overlooking the Elbe River.
“As President Monson visits Germany, we all recognize and we are witnesses that his prophetic promise has been fulfilled. What a wonderful blessing it has been for all of us to have him here among us and speak to congregations in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt. Clearly, President Monson is a man of deep affection for the German people, and that love is returned by the people in Germany,” Elder Teixeira said.
The work continued to progress. Little by little, districts and stakes were organized, missionaries were allowed in the country, young men were allowed to leave the country for missionary service, and a patriarch was called. The capstone came on June 25, 1985, with the dedication of the Freiberg Temple. It was the first temple built on German soil. Henry Burkhardt, whom President Monson first met back in the meeting in Görlitz, was called as the temple president. The temple was immediately busy.
Of his experiences, President Monson wrote in his journal, “The faith of the Latter-day Saints in that area brought forth the help of the Almighty God and provided for them the eternal blessings which they so richly deserved.”