Friend to Friend

From an interview with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Seventy, currently serving as President of the Europe West Area; by Janet Peterson

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When I was little, I lived in Zwickau, Germany. My grandmother had a friend with white, flowing hair. Her name was Sister Ewig, and she invited my grandmother to church. When our family went there, we saw many children. All of us were very impressed by the families, the children, and the music, especially the singing. I felt at home right away. My whole family—except me, because I was only six years old—were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I was eight, I was baptized in a public swimming pool by my father.

We met for church in an old villa. Our chapel had a stained-glass window of Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. Whenever the sun shone on it, I felt that the story it illustrated and what I had learned in Primary about the First Vision were true. I knew that that was how Joseph Smith received his revelation and how the return to earth of Jesus Christ’s church started. This testimony was very important to me, and I learned to appreciate Joseph Smith very much.

We had a pump organ in our chapel. I wanted to help at church, and pumping the organ was one of my jobs when I was eight and nine years old. It felt wonderful to contribute to the sacrament meeting by pumping the organ so that the congregation could sing.

One song, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” really impressed me. I felt very close to Jesus when I sang it. I knew that He wanted me to be a sunbeam for Him. I have never forgotten that song—I still love it—or the testimony that it gave me of the Savior.

When I was eleven, my family had to leave East Germany. We moved to Frankfurt, West Germany. Until my father could find a job like he had had before, he and my mother ran a laundry to make a living, and I was the laundry delivery boy. I saw some shiny red bicycles, and I wished I could have one to make my deliveries. But I needed a heavy-duty bicycle to pull the cart with the laundry on it. I rode around pulling that heavy laundry cart before school and after school. It was hard to see the other children play, especially during the winter months. But everyone in our family had to work hard, and I was an important part of the family business. I felt needed and valued.

As I grew older, I learned not only the value of hard work but also about the blessings of doing things that at the time you don’t realize are important and good for you. During World War II, when I was very little, I came down with a lung disease, but no one knew it at the time. I knew that I was easily out of breath when I rode the delivery bicycle. I thought that it was because the cart was heavy. Later, when I joined the air force, I learned that because of that hard work, somehow my body had healed itself. I had built up endurance. I had built up immunity to disease. I had built up strength. When the doctors saw those spots on my lungs, they asked me about them. They said that the disease took care of itself and that I passed my physical. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to become a pilot. I have been a pilot for thirty-five years, and I was a chief pilot for Lufthansa German Air Lines.

In 1951 and 1952, I attended the Frankfurt branch, which was not as big as the one in Zwickau. The Frankfurt meetinghouse was small, and we had classes in the basement. The missionaries taught us important gospel principles. One missionary, Elder Stringham, impressed me very much with his lessons on the Pearl of Great Price, especially where Moses is being taught that he is a Son of God. Elder Stringham also taught me the scripture that says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). This gave me comfort and courage, because at that time, the future looked bleak in Germany. The city of Frankfurt was in ruins with bombed-out buildings. That teaching has stayed with me throughout my life. It taught me that I need to be on the Lord’s side. I cannot afford not to be on the Lord’s side.

As a pilot, I flew all over the world. In all those thirty-five years, I never tired of looking at the stars, the clouds, the landscapes. I saw the beauty of the different countries with their different cultures. I know from going to those places and seeing the people, and seeing the Church in those different places, that the gospel is for everyone, no matter what nation you live in or what your traditions are. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The word of God, whether it is written in the scriptures or spoken by the living prophets, whether we read it in Church magazines or hear it at general conferences, is for everyone.

I challenge you children to follow the words of the prophets. When you do, you will find the answers to your questions, whether you are six, nine, eleven, nineteen, or, like me, fifty-seven years old.

1. Just 4 months old!

2. Holding a favorite book, at 12 years old

3. While training for the German Air Force when he was 20

4. At 11, in the beautiful German countryside

5. Elder Uchtdorf, his wife, Harriet Reich Uchtdorf, and their children and grandchildren

6. At 2, with his sister, Christel