It had been an unusually warm day in Lüneburg, Germany, and Elder Kevin Pepper and I were tired. Our last appointment ended at 9:00 P.M., and we had a half hour more to work before returning to our apartment. It was too late for knocking on doors, so we got on our bikes and rode to Lüneburg’s central shopping district. Most of the shops had closed three hours earlier, and the busy daytime crowds were gone—leaving only a few window-shoppers enjoying the evening, in no hurry to get anywhere.
We pushed our bikes slowly, stopping now and then to ask fellow pedestrians if they would like to know something about the restored gospel. No one was interested. And this was typical. Germany was considered a “hard mission.” Few baptisms. Lots of knocking on doors and stopping pedestrians. People were usually polite, but they were cautious about anything new, for the most part unwilling to consider a change in religions.
We reached the far end of the street at about 9:25. Time to head for our apartment. But there in the evening shadows, leaning against a wall, was a man with thinning hair and a somewhat straggly beard. I looked at Elder Pepper; he looked at me. We were tired, we’d had no success that day, and I could tell we were thinking the same thought. One of us may have even spoken it aloud: “He’s probably just like the rest of the people we’ve talked to today. Let’s go home.” But something inside me said, “Go talk to him.”
We approached the man and asked if he knew anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He didn’t. Would he like to learn something about it? Yes, he said, and he gave us his address.
When we visited Alfred Kliche later that week, we discovered he was markedly different from most of the people we talked with. He was more reserved, more serious than most, but also more open-minded. He was searching for something. As he later put it, “I was considering becoming acquainted with other people who, like me, had not yet lost their faith in God.” He showed us a book he was reading, a book from an Eastern religion. We taught him about Joseph Smith and gave him a book of our own. He accepted it with reserved curiosity and said he’d read it.
We left after that first discussion not knowing quite what to think about Herr Kliche. Personally, I doubted he’d read the book. The first year of my mission—a year with no baptisms and plenty of disappointments—had left its mark on me. I’d seen enough “reality” to dilute my hopes with a fair dose of skepticism. But Herr Kliche invited us back, and when we came to teach him again, he told us he had read a good deal in the Book of Mormon. He said he particularly enjoyed the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi. During my 10 months in Germany, no one had ever made that claim before. In fact, I don’t recall having heard it in the 23 years since.
We taught Herr Kliche all through an unusually hot July and into August. He made slow, steady progress but seemed in no hurry to make any permanent changes in his life. Elder Pepper and I didn’t really know what was going on inside him. He was as indecipherable as the Eastern religious book he had shown us.
Then one day in early August a letter came from the mission office. I was being transferred. Elder Pepper and I had a few good investigators by this time, and it was hard to leave them. I wondered what would happen. But immersing myself in a new area and in the lives of a new group of investigators and members took all my attention and left me little time to worry about Lüneburg.
One day several weeks after the transfer, however, I received a phone call from Elder Pepper. He told me Herr Kliche was getting baptized on 16 October, and he wanted me to be there. Since my transfer had been merely to the other side of the Hamburg stake, our mission president gave me permission to attend.
Elder Pepper told me over the phone that Herr Kliche had made slow, steady progress for the most part, but in the end he completely surprised them. The missionaries had given him a baptismal challenge on 21 September, and he had accepted. But on 28 September he was concerned. He believed he had received a witness but wanted to be sure. Then, a few days later, everything seemed to fall apart. Herr Kliche informed them he wasn’t interested in meeting with them anymore. Elder Pepper and Elder Hardy were devastated. Where had they gone wrong? What could they do?
But on 3 October something unexpected happened. Elder Pepper recorded in his journal: “Herr Kliche came to church this morning. … The Spirit was so strong that everyone in the tiny chapel could feel it, especially Herr Kliche. He sat in the second row to the left all by himself. … With tears in his eyes he stood and bore his testimony. The sun shone through the large windows, and a beam of light appeared to shine directly on him as he bore a simple and beautiful testimony. It was so sincere. He said he felt fulfilled in this Church and hoped to become a member soon. Just seven weeks or so ago he was ready to give up his search for the truth; he didn’t see any reason why he should change churches, because they were all about the same. And now the Spirit of Truth has helped him see the difference, and he wants to be a member. I was so thrilled I could hardly keep the joy I felt inside. Today will always be a cherished memory.”
Ironically, four days later Elder Pepper was transferred to Kiel and was unable to attend the baptism. But on 16 October 1976, my companion and I took the subway into Hamburg, walked to the stake center, and there witnessed the baptism of Alfred Kliche, a rare and gratifying event in the course of a difficult mission. I have kept in touch with Bruder Kliche over the years. Indeed, his conversion, because it was complete and enduring, has brought me much joy.
The little Lüneburg Branch was dissolved a few years after Bruder Kliche’s baptism, and the members were absorbed into a Hamburg ward. Bruder Kliche, always solid in the gospel, has served in the bishopric and on the stake high council. He also married a fine Latter-day Saint, and after several years they served a temple mission together. “I am here to serve the Lord,” he wrote me recently, “and to make progress. We are very thankful for our time in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
As I look back to that summer evening in 1976, I am glad Elder Pepper and I were not too tired to talk to just one more son of our Heavenly Father. We almost didn’t, and it has been a lesson to me ever since. Had we quit a few minutes early, what a loss it would have been—for us, for the Church, and, most of all, for Bruder Kliche.