From Dark to Light


Gray shadows of disappointment nagged at Karl as he walked home in the dark between the two elders who had just baptized and then confirmed him a member of the Church. He had prayed that he might know whether the Church had been dreamed up by man or whether it had truly been established by the Lord, and he had fully expected the horizon to lighten when he came up out of the Elbe River. But the night was still dark and the sky was still black. No sign had been given.

As the three returned home through the dark together, their discussion centered on the authority of the priesthood. One of the elders spoke German and interpreted for Karl, who spoke only German, and then interpreted for the other elder, who spoke only English. Suddenly there was no need for an interpreter! For a short time both elders understood Karl’s questions and comments, and Karl understood their answers whether spoken in German or English.

Karl now felt that his prayer at the time of his baptism had been answered. The elders knew this strange experience was a special blessing for all of them, but they did not know then that Karl’s baptism would prove to be a great blessing to all of the Church.

Dr. Karl G. Maeser was twenty-seven at the time of his baptism and he held the position of oberlehrer (head teacher) at the Budig Academy in Dresden. A brilliant student and teacher, he had first learned of the Mormon Church through a popular pamphlet written to ridicule its teachings. He wondered what could cause anyone to have such hatred for a church, and he decided to learn more about it.

There were no Mormons in the country around Dresden at that time, but Karl accidentally discovered there were missionaries in Denmark. So he wrote to the mission president there for information and was sent pamphlets and books. Carefully studying the material, he became interested in the teachings of the Church and asked that a missionary be sent to Dresden to explain things to him. Two months later, in October 1855, Karl became the first member of the Church in that area of Germany.

Twenty-one years later in the spring of 1876 Dr. Maeser, who had immigrated to the United States, was teaching school in the 20th Ward schoolhouse in Salt Lake City when a blast destroyed the building. Reporting the explosion to President Brigham Young, Karl said the school would have to be closed.

“That is exactly right, Brother Maeser,” President Young replied, “for I have another mission for you.” And that is how Karl G. Maeser was told of his call to establish the Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Dr. Maeser later became general superintendent of all Latter-day Saint Schools.

On the dark night of his baptism Karl had no way of knowing that his love for people and the gospel would brighten the horizon of all those whose lives he touched. His influence is still felt throughout the Church, although he has been dead more than seventy years.

Children and grandchildren of his students remember many of the sayings of this great teacher and quote them today. Some of his most famous are: “Whatever you do, don’t do nothing,” “Be yourself, but always your better self.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn