In 1975 my wife, Sabine, and I were a young married couple with a 16-month-old son. We lived in Celle, which was then part of the Germany Hamburg Mission.
The missionaries probably never would have found our home, which was hidden behind a gas station and an automobile repair shop. But they did find me—sitting on a bench at the train station one sunny June day. I was probably smoking a cigarette.
The two young Americans introduced themselves as representatives of a church. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it must have been interesting because I agreed to let them call at our home the following day.
They arrived on time and began discussing principles that most people believe. Both Sabine and I had a good feeling about them and enjoyed the conversation. But then the subject turned to God. I told them I did not believe in either God or Jesus Christ. The missionaries seemed somewhat dismayed and left us a pamphlet describing a visit by Jesus Christ to the Americas.
We didn’t make another appointment, but we read the pamphlet attentively and had the impression these Americans were crazy. Christ in America! Who ever heard of such a thing?
One Sunday in September we found ourselves near the home of some friends we hadn’t seen for several months. We decided to drop in. They were just getting ready to go to their new church, which they were very enthused about. Quite spontaneously, we decided to go with them. We too found the atmosphere of the branch enchanting, and everything we heard there was interesting and believable. We were eager to return the following Sunday.
Soon we were learning all about the Church from the full-time missionaries and from member missionaries. Brother Horst Klappert taught a class for investigators. Horst and his wife, Rotraud, had a lot in common with us. We became good friends, and soon we were being invited everywhere by Church members. We enjoyed many wonderful evenings that were different from anything we were used to.
One of the full-time missionaries was an elder named Max Fisher. When we got to the third or fourth discussion, Elder Fisher asked me—me, Jochen Beisert, someone who did not believe in God—to offer a prayer. At that moment I suddenly remembered something that had happened to me more than 10 years before.
I had been living in Osnabrück in a large apartment building where almost none of the residents knew each other. I lived across the hall from an elderly woman named Frau Köhler. One day she asked me if I could thread a needle for her. I was very willing to do so, and over the next few months I stopped by once or twice a week to help her in various ways or just to visit. I was probably the only person she spoke to for many months.
Just before I moved to another part of the city, Frau Köhler invited me to her apartment and thanked me for threading her needle and for doing other small things for her. Then she asked me to sit in her favorite chair. She opened a drawer, took out an old hymnbook, and in her quavering voice sang three verses of the hymn “Great God, We Praise Thee.”
My heart softened. At that moment I knew with absolute certainty that there was a God, that He was my Father, and that He cared for me. It was a humbling experience. I promised to come and see Frau Köhler as often as I could.
Five weeks later I stood in front of the apartment building again and rang the doorbell. Through the intercom an unfamiliar voice informed me that Frau Köhler had died two weeks before. I felt very sorry.
Over the years my hectic lifestyle, combined with the trials of life, had caused me to forget this experience. But now when I started to pray, it came back to me, and I had a tender talk with my Father in Heaven. All those present—our recently converted friends and the missionaries—felt the Spirit and were close to tears. A few weeks later, on 18 October 1975, I was baptized by Elder Fisher. Sabine was baptized by one of our member missionaries.
When I received my patriarchal blessing about a year later, the patriarch said: “The Lord would like to tell you that you did not find Him. He looked for you and found you for a wise purpose.” The patriarch could not have known how meaningful this statement was to me.
Eventually, Sabine and I had three more children, all of whom we have raised in the Church. Together with Frau Köhler, my dear old neighbor, we have much cause to sing, “Great God, we praise Thee.” I am so grateful to Him for bringing me and my family to the truth.