When I was a student at the University of Vienna in Austria, two missionaries came to my door, saying, “We have a message for you from God.” I invited them in, wondering why I did so because I didn’t have any interest in religion. Deeply affected by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956—which resulted in thousands of refugees streaming into Austria—I had been seeking to know the meaning of life. But I didn’t expect to find the answer in any church.
The message of these missionaries was the message of the Restoration. I think I loved the Prophet Joseph Smith from the first moment I heard about him. I was especially touched by the circumstances of his Martyrdom. Later, as I spent time reading the Book of Mormon and praying, I received through the power of the Holy Ghost a joyful, peaceful assurance that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was the Prophet of the Restoration, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s restored Church on the earth, led by living prophets who prepare the world for His Second Coming.
In my more than 40 years of Church membership, many personal experiences have confirmed to me that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true way to peace and happiness in this world. But I also know that you and I cannot escape difficulties, trials, and afflictions in our mortal lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, gives us the strength to prevail, to “overcome by faith” (D&C 76:53), and to go forward with hope and optimism.
My wife and I came to better understand this truth through the loss of our beloved son Georg, who was 27 years of age when he died. When this occurred, I was serving as president of the newly created Austria Vienna South Mission, which included the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Following a zone conference in Zagreb, Croatia, Sister Wondra and I were given a message that we should call home. Soon our beloved daughter-in-law Regina was on the telephone, crying out in the anguish of her soul, “Papa, Georg is dead, Georg is dead!” Subsequent extensive investigations were unable to provide any reason for his death. Our son had never been seriously ill. His heart simply stood still, without any medical reason.
Georg was such a special son, full of joy and life, full of love for us and for his own family, pure in heart and without guile. In 1989 he had been one of the first missionaries to be sent to East Germany during what was a great time for missionary work. He spoke often about the baptisms in which he and his companions participated, but never about the number of baptisms—he felt these experiences were too sacred to be reduced to statistics. At the end of Georg’s first letter from his mission, he wrote, “Don’t miss me too much. Life has to go forward without me.” On the day of his death, he had read President Gordon B. Hinckley’s message “The Victory over Death” and had underlined, “How tragic, how poignant is the sorrow of those left behind. The grieving widow, the motherless child, the father bereft and alone—all of these can speak of the wounds of parting” (Ensign, Apr. 1997, 2).
Our family has suffered from these wounds. We miss Georg so very much! But there is also a burning feeling in our souls that because we believe in the Atonement, in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ—because we believe in the message of Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the empty tomb—we can also trust, during the sorrowful moments in our lives, that God is a God of love, mercy, and compassion, even when we don’t understand what has happened or why. He accepted the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, who suffered all things “because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Ne. 19:9).
Some weeks after Georg’s death, Sister Wondra and I traveled through Serbia and Montenegro and visited the White Angel fresco at the Mileseva Monastery. This fresco is one of the greatest works of art in existence and contains the words to one of the greatest messages ever spoken: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24:5–6). This message was a message of comfort to the wonderful, peace-loving, and hospitable people of Serbia throughout all the centuries of tyranny and destruction in their history. And this message provides comfort for all of us—the only real and lasting comfort we have.
In the upper room on the night of the Last Supper—the night of the greatest suffering that ever took place in all the worlds created by Him—Christ spoke about peace, His peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). How could He speak about peace in this situation? I feel it was possible only because of His “perfect love” which “casteth out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). In His intercessory prayer, Christ prayed for His disciples and for all “which shall believe on me through their word”—which, it is important to note, includes us—“that they may be made perfect in one” and “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:20, 23, 26).
Leaving the upper room, Jesus and His disciples crossed the Cedron (Kidron) Valley and came to a garden of olive trees on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. This garden was called Gethsemane, a name meaning “oil press.” Olives taste bitter, but when crushed in an olive press, their oil tastes sweet. Christ drank the “bitter cup” so that all bitterness may be removed from our lives and become sweet if we will forsake our sins and come unto Him. He said, “I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world” (3 Ne. 11:11).
While He prayed in Gethsemane, all of the agony and sorrow of the entire world was centered in Him. He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. … Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:3–4). He took upon His sinless soul the sins of the world and the weight of the world’s sorrows. “It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 613). He prayed to the Father, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). To do the Father’s will was the Son’s supreme desire—even when it was as painful as it was in Gethsemane.
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore. …
“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:16–19).
From Christ we learn to be obedient, even when it is painful, as it was painful for Him in Gethsemane. We learn to serve others, even when it is inconvenient, as it certainly was “inconvenient” for Him on the cross of Golgotha. And we learn to trust in the love of God, even if we might feel God has forsaken us—for when we overcome through faith, these bitter and sorrowful moments in our lives can become like steps on Jacob’s ladder, leading us into the heavenly presence of God (see Gen. 28:12–13).
What a glorious moment when the resurrected Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene! “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
“Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (John 20:15–16).
What exceedingly great joy it must have been for Mary Magdalene to see her beloved Lord, risen from the dead. But He gently said to her, “Hold me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (JST, John 20:17). He left Mary Magdalene and went triumphantly into the presence of His Father. Again and again I try to imagine this wondrous scene.
Through His atoning sacrifice, Christ broke the bonds of death. Just as He took up His body and came forth from the tomb, even so shall all of us enjoy a reunion of body and spirit in the day of our own resurrection. “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). What “glad tidings of great joy” (D&C 128:19). Life is eternal. Families can be together forever. The loving relationship between husband and wife and between parents and children continues beyond the grave. This will also prove true in our relationship with our beloved son Georg. It is a miracle to Sister Wondra and me that even in the loss of our son, our faith in Christ has grown stronger, and so has our confidence in His words: “For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (3 Ne. 22:10).
All my hope is centered in Christ. He is our Savior and Redeemer. He truly is the Good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep. “God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son” (“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles,” Ensign, Apr. 2000, 3).