When the Walls Came Down

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, leading to the reunification of Germany. Our family had just returned to the United States after living in Germany when this historic event occurred. The fall of the Berlin Wall caused me to reflect upon how the walls that had once stood between our family and our German neighbors had also come down.

“The landlady says your family may not rent the house.” I still remember the stunning and upsetting words of the housing referral officer. After searching for months, we had finally found the perfect house for our large family to rent during my husband’s three-year military tour in Bamberg, Germany. Finding housing for a family with six young children is never easy and is especially difficult in Germany.

The six-bedroom house in Poedeldorf, a small town near Bamberg, was ideal for us. We left the housing referral office in bewilderment. Yet we felt impressed to keep trying to rent the house. We fasted and prayed and continued to express our interest. We were overjoyed when several weeks later we received a call informing us that the landlady had changed her mind.

Our arrival in town was noted with interest. It was a spectacle to behold, our family driving down Poedeldorf’s narrow lanes in a large van bursting with children. Everywhere we drove, we waved at everyone we passed. Most residents, surprised, waved back. And while the German people are generally reserved in manner, especially toward strangers, some of them even started waving first.

Gradually we became acquainted with our neighbors. The Dworazik family had two boys and lived next door. The children played together, sometimes in the Dworaziks’ sandbox and sometimes on our trampoline.

One morning we awoke to find that a section of fence had been removed from our adjoining backyards. Astonished, we asked Herr Dworazik about it. “Es ist besser,” he explained. “This is better.” It seemed an unspoken invitation to become better acquainted with their family.

With the opening in the fence, we enjoyed a deepening friendship with the Dworaziks. They helped us in many ways as we encountered questions while living in a foreign land. The open fence between us became symbolic of the shared cultures, joint activities, and rewarding relationship between our families.

One Monday we invited the Dworaziks over for family home evening. After games and refreshments, we showed them our copy of the Family Home Evening Resource Book (item no. 31106; U.S. $5.00). We explained the family home evening program and presented them with a German copy of the book. They seemed pleased to accept it.

Several days later Claudia Dworazik rushed over. “Can we have another book?” she asked. “I showed it to some friends, and one of them was so excited about it she took it with her.” I assured her we would get more manuals. Then her husband called from the window, “Get one for the priest, too.” Now Claudia’s friends, as well as the priest of the area, have home evening resource books.

On another occasion, the landlord of a nearby apartment building asked us, “Do you have any more friends from your church who need a place to live? We have a vacancy and would like to have Mormon families in our building. They are clean and don’t smoke or play loud music.”

As time went on, members of the Bamberg Servicemen’s Branch jokingly suggested we rename it the Poedeldorf Branch, since half the small apartment building was then filled with Church members and other Latter-day Saint servicemen had found housing in the same town.

Just before we left Poedeldorf, Claudia Dworazik told me many of our neighbors had mentioned they were sad to see “the Mormon family” leave. “Such happy children; such a friendly family.” We believe it was the gospel’s influence they saw and would miss.

We, too, were reluctant to leave. It seems the Lord allowed us to live in Poedeldorf for a purpose. It was there that we were ambassadors, in a small way, for the Church. We felt we, together with the other Latter-day Saint servicemen and their families living there, were able to plant many seeds of goodwill and friendship. I know no matter where we are, it is possible to bring down barriers that separate us from others as we strive to be good examples and true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Diane Robinson Haines is a member of the Crescent Park Ward, Sandy Utah Crescent Park Stake.

Promise Me You Will Read

As a 16-year-old boy living in Pioche, Nevada, I was not active in the Church. Though my family had Latter-day Saint roots, we didn’t know much about the gospel. It was during the era of the Great Depression, and my father and brothers and I were out of work.

About this time, Brother John Kroenke was assigned to be my senior home teaching companion. He and his wife had joined the Church in Germany and immigrated to the United States. He was fortunate enough to have a job as a night watchman at one of the mines. Brother Kroenke invited me to go home teaching with him, but I avoided it whenever possible.

One Wednesday, Brother Kroenke met me as I got off the school bus. When the other boys realized he was there to see me, they teased me. Brother Kroenke said to me: “I would like you to come up to my home. My wife has a chocolate cake. I think you would like it. And I would like to talk to you.” We seldom had sugar in our home, let alone cake. I agreed to go.

When I arrived at the Kroenkes’ home, the smell of freshly baked chocolate cake drew me in. But before any cake was served, Brother Kroenke opened a Book of Mormon, explained its origins, and began to read to me. After a short while he bore his testimony of its truthfulness.

Sister Kroenke then cut a piece of cake for her husband and a great big chunk for me. Brother Kroenke handed me a Book of Mormon and said, “Lory, I want you to promise me you will read this book.” I agreed to read.

I read in the Book of Mormon during the week, and then on Wednesday when I got off the bus, Brother Kroenke caught up with me and said: “We’ve got chocolate cake again. We want you to come up to our place.”

This time Brother Kroenke and I talked for two hours over cake and milk. We talked about how the Book of Mormon testified of Jesus Christ and how it taught the same gospel that was taught in the New Testament. I became more and more interested. As I was about to leave, he asked, “How much have you read?”

“Maybe one-fourth,” I answered.

“Read it, read it!” he said.

So I went home determined to read. I stayed up nights and finished the book.

The next time we met, after cake and milk and more gospel discussion, we knelt to pray together. Then he asked me, “Is the Book of Mormon true?”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you know? You’ve read it. Talk to the Lord about it.”

I had never really prayed. I didn’t know how. But I told him I would. Almost every night I asked Heavenly Father to let me know if the Book of Mormon was true. As I prayed and thought about the book, I had many questions, which I wrote down.

Shortly after this, the stake president from Moapa came to speak to our branch, and I attended. When he stood to speak, he hesitated, then said he felt impressed not to give the talk he had prepared. Instead, he proceeded to give a talk in which each one of my questions about the Book of Mormon was answered.

A warm, sweet feeling came over me. The Holy Ghost testified to me that the Book of Mormon was true, and therefore I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Lord. I knew the Church was true. That knowledge was so strongly implanted in me that I have never doubted it from that day.

How grateful I am to my wonderful home teaching companion, Brother Kroenke! He has since departed this life, but his influence lives on through the blessings of Church activity that my family and I have known over many years.

Lory M. Free is a member of the Pleasant View First Ward, Provo Utah Sharon East Stake.

At the Bus Stop

I have often wondered if the anxiety many of us feel about sharing the gospel stems from a tendency to rely more on ourselves than on the Lord. When we realize that it is His work and that He is willing to lead us in it, we can be prompted to talk to those who are prepared to embrace His doctrines.

Such was my experience one winter day when I missed a bus. I had a job interview to get to and had been waiting for over half an hour at the bus stop. Then, before I realized what was happening, the very bus I had been waiting for pulled away from the curb. Frustrated, I wondered, “How could I have missed this bus? Now there’s no way I can make it to the interview on time.” But I soon received a distinct impression: there was someone I needed to meet.

I accepted the message and decided to walk to the next bus stop, where I sat down on a bench. I looked around casually but inquisitively at the other people, trying to discern what to do next.

The person who caught my attention frightened me a little. He was tall and slender, a young man with a formidable hairdo, deep eyes, and a nervous expression. He paced back and forth and seemed to be muttering under his breath. I prayed silently to know if this was the person I needed to meet. I felt it was.

I reached in my purse and pulled out one of the two Ensign magazines I had bought and began to glance through it—partly to distract me from my fears and partly to bide time as I considered my next move.

At third glance, I thought the young man might be on drugs. A few seconds later he sat down on the bench next to me. I felt too scared to say anything, so I silently prayed that he would break the ice.

Just then the young man gently asked me, “What time is it?”

I told him, and then I knew I needed to carry the conversation further. His name was Eric, and our exchange went something like this:

“It looks like you’re in pain of some kind. Are you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “I have a migraine. I’ve been trying to quit smoking. I get headaches when I try to quit. I’ve been off cigarettes for 10 days.”

“I’m sorry you’re in pain, but I admire you for trying to overcome your habit. I’ve had some hard ones to break myself. Actually, I couldn’t have done it myself. Do you have any other source of help beyond yourself?”

“Yes, I believe in God.”

“Well, that certainly makes a difference. Do you attend any particular denomination?”

Noticing the Ensign on my lap, he said, “Actually, I’m interested in your church. I’ve tried to find out about it, but there are some things I don’t understand.”

Our conversation continued as I answered his questions. Then his bus pulled up. He wanted to hear more. I handed him an Ensign magazine. I didn’t have the missionaries’ telephone number, so I gave him mine. He called me about a week later, wanting to know more about the gospel. About five weeks later, Eric was baptized.

We later joked about how afraid we had been of each other. I was “dressed up”; he was “dressed down.” I thought he was on drugs; he thought I was rich. We likely would not have met if it were not for the promptings of the Spirit. For those promptings I am thankful to the Lord, who knew our hearts and that our common love of truth would unite us in the gospel.

[illustrations] Illustrations by Gregg Thorkelson

Karen R. Merkley is a member of the Oviedo Ward, Lake Mary Florida Stake.