Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saints in Germany

Probably my favorite section of the biography of President Monson were the chapters on East Germany. I know a little bit of history about East and West Germany and the Berlin Wall. I can remember the collapse of the Berlin Wall occurring when I was a young girl. It had never occurred to me, however, that the church might have had a hand in the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Nor had I ever given much thought to the Saints in East Germany (the German Democratic Republic or GDR) and what they might have experienced during the period when it was under Communist rule. But I was so impressed both by the East German Saints and their faith as well as by the service that President Monson gave while there.

The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961. When then Elder Monson was assigned to the European nations, he decided to visit the GDR. No other General Authority had since the wall went up. So he made plans and he traveled there, having faith that it would all work out. There were Saints there in East Germany and they had little to no contact with the Church outside of East Germany. When he first visited, the Church records listed 4,641 members in 47 branches. There were no missionaries serving there. Yet miracles occurred. One family received their patriarchal blessings and the son was promised that he would serve a foreign mission and the daughter was promised that she would marry in the temple and that the parents and children would all be sealed in the temple. The patriarch worried that the blessings could not be fulfilled, but shortly after a treaty was signed and this particular family was able to move to West Germany where all of these blessings were fulfilled.

President Monson loved the German people and traveled there repeatedly. Each time he went, he took extra suits to give to the people there. He loved the people and blessed their lives in countless ways. One experience was a man who had served in Germany before the war had some slides. He had kept them 40 years and some he couldn't identify. He'd felt impressed to keep them. They were taken in Stettin, Germany and were pictures of a family. President Monson took the slides. On the airplane ride from Zurich to Berlin, he sat by a man named Dieter Berndt and showed the pictures to him. The photos were of his family. His father had been killed when a bomb struck the plant where he was working. His mom fled with him and his siblings and they left everything behind. He had no photos of his childhood, except these delivered to him by President Monson.

President Monson worked closely not only with Church leaders in the GDR, but he also developed friendly, respectful relationships with several members of the government. The Saints were good, hard working, loyal citizens. They were faithful to the gospel but also obeyed the laws of the land. I was so impressed...I don't see the percentages right now, but I know that despite having little outside contact with the church, the attendance, home teaching nd visiting teaching rates were higher there than just about anywhere...I believe about 90%. These are people who had little freedom, few church materials other than scriptures, most were not endowed, and most had to travel long distances to get to church. For many years, religion of any kind was viewed with suspicion. Yet, these Saints were faithful in keeping their covenants. They loved and served the Lord and one another. They sacrificed and stayed true despite their challenges! Talk about faith amidst affliction!

In 1978, it was decided that a temple should be built there. The government gave permission for an LDS temple to be built in East Germany...the Freiberg Temple. I have seen photos of this temple, but until reading the biography I had no idea it had been built in East Germany during the Communist reign. How amazing is that! Originally the Saints there did not know a temple was being considered. They were told to prepare themselves for temple blessings and so without questioning, they did. They began holding temple prep classes and doing all they could to be prepared an worthy for temple blessings.

At that time, members were asked to donate when a temple was built in their area. But the Saints in the GDR had so little, that they were not asked to donate. They were upset by this; they wanted to contribute. The Frankfurt Temple had also been announced. The Saints in West Germany were asked to raise $150,000 West German marks in two years. That was the equivalent of 50,000 marks in East Germany. After only 3 months, the East German Saints had raised 50,000 marks! They continued to make donations for two years and by the time the temple was dedicated, they had raised 880,000 East German marks. These were people living under oppression and in poverty, but they freely gave all that they could to build a temple. They recognized the goodness of God and His many blessings and they did all that was in their power to serve Him.

We have been given so much more, and yet we (I) often find it hard to serve whole heartedly. I hope I would have remained so faithful under such trying circumstances. My circumstances are different than many ways much easier, and yet I wonder if sometimes we (I) take all of our (my) blessings for granted because we (I) do have so many. I am thankful for the freedoms I enjoy and that there are churches and temples all around me, but I hope that I am not like those at the time of Moses, refusing to look ... "and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished." (1 Nephi 17:41)