Monday, April 7, 2008

The Iron Curtain: Thomas S. Monson Helped Pull It Down

Back in the early 1970s President Spencer W. Kimball said: ""I believe the Lord can do anything He sets His mind to do. But I can see no good reason why the Lord would open doors that we are unprepared to enter. Why should He break down the Iron Curtain or the Bamboo Curtain or any other curtain if we are still unprepared to enter?" (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Uttermost Parts of the Earth, “ Ensign, [July 1979]: 2).

He also said: "There are political barriers, time and space barriers, language and other barriers which in the past have kept us from reaching the ears of the millions of honest people. But iron curtains will crumble, bamboo curtains will fall, rice paddies will be crossed, mountain peaks will be scaled, and no power--human or otherwise--can hold the work back when we do our part." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 582.)

In 1975 Ezra Taft Benson also predicted the fall of the Iron Curtain: "Going to foreign countries, the Lord breaks down the barriers. Sometimes we have to fight to get right up to what appears to be a stone wall, and then he melts the wall down, and he'll melt down the Iron Curtain, and he'll shatter the Bamboo Curtain when the time is ripe, in order that this great message of salvation will reach all of our Father's children. (Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake Emigration Stake Conference, 2 February 1975).

The Iron Curtain was considered the physical, ideological, or symbolic division of Europe which split Germany into two halves a democratic half (Western) and a communist half (Eastern). Any country that came under the control of the Soviet Union was considered behind the
Iron Curtain. Countries included East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. There were miles of a physical fence that separated the two countries of West and East Germany. In Berlin they built a wall that stood from 1961 until it began to be dismantled in 1989 that separated the democratic part of the city from the communist part. The wall was finally torn down by 3 October 1990 when the country was reunified under a democratic government.

How the Iron Curtain was brought down in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an interesting story. From 1968 until the present day Thomas S. Monson has been involved in some way with the countries behind the Iron Curtain. He dedicated East Germany for the preaching of the Gospel on 27 April 1975. The man who was actually instrumental operationally for the church in helping open the countries for the preaching of the gospel for the last forty years was Thomas S. Monson, now President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He worked hard under both prophets Kimball and Benson to fulfill their words and carry forward the message of peace.

In the Church News in 1999 Elder Monson said: "But perhaps the most dramatic advance of the Church in the 1980s was made in Eastern Europe. President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, was well acquainted with the situation in East Germany. In a Church News interview for an earlier article, President Monson related his experiences in East Germany:

"One of my assignments as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and later as a member of the First Presidency pertained to work behind what was known as the Iron Curtain, in the German Democratic Republic, around East Germany," he said. "Our members were true and firm in their resolve to live their religion. It was not always easy. There were many restrictions with which they had to cope. I observed that the Lord's handiwork in His own time brought to pass the real miracle."

He said that the miracle began in the early 1980s.

"The way was opened for our people to receive more training and material. Buildings were permitted, including chapels, large and small, and ultimately a temple of the Lord. Government relations turned from a hindrance to cooperation. Finally the Freiberg Temple held its open house prior to its dedication. More than 89,000 people stood in line, sometimes up to two or three hours, sometimes in the rain, just to have the opportunity to go into what would become the House of the Lord. The vast majority were not members of the Church. When the temple was dedicated, our people were so eager to go into the House of the Lord that reservations actually had to be made to participate in an endowment session.

"Spirituality exemplified by the membership was like water stored behind a dam. The real converts streamed forth hungry for the truth. Great faith had been exercised and truly faith did precede the miracle. There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord in His own way answered the prayers of His people and brought to them a temple."

President Monson noted that from the German Democratic Republic, the work spread to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and other nations.

"The Church is now strong and growing within their boundaries," said President Monson. (John L. Hart, "Sailing intrepidly into uncharted waters--a period of expansion," Church News [Saturday, 11 September 1999]: 6).

President Monson was instrumental since 1968 in building the Church in Eastern Europe. Matthew Heiss of the Church News reported his involvement with Walter Krause and his family one of the pioneer members in the areas:

"The doors in Walter and Edith Krause's old and modest home in Prenzlau, located about a two-hour train ride north of Berlin, are so low that each time they enter and leave a room they must bow their heads. ``This reminds us to be humble,'' Sister Krause said as she led a guest on a tour of the dwelling.

After only a few minutes in their presence, one realizes the Krauses don't need any outward reminders to be humble. Humility coupled with courage enabled the Krauses to overcome numerous challenges and help others face difficulties of the greatest magnitude when communist forces gained control of their land and surrounding nations in the aftermath of World War II.President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, is among Church leaders who often speak of the courage exhibited by members like the Krauses.

As a member of the Council of the Twelve, he first met Walter and Edith Krause on Nov. 10, 1968, on his initial assignment to the German Democratic Republic, when he went to Goerlitz. ``That was the first time, as far as I know, that an apostle of the Lord had been to Gorelitz,'' President Monson told the Church News. ``The land reflected the oppression of its rulers. Fear and apprehension were everywhere to be found.

``About 235 people attended the Church meeting we held in Goerlitz. There, I met Walter Krause, a stalwart in the Church.'' The next year, on June 14, 1969, President Monson returned to the German Democratic Republic, and organized the Dresden Mission of the Church. Henry Burkhardt was sustained and set apart as president, with Walter Krause as first counselor and Gottfried Richter as second counselor.

When President Monson returned home, he mentioned to President David O. McKay that the members in the communist-controlled nations were unable to receive their patriarchal blessings. Percy K. Fetzer, a regional representative for Germany who was living in the United States, was called as a patriarch to fulfill that responsibility for a few years as he went on trips to those nations.

In early 1973, Brother and Sister Krause received an invitation from the First Presidency to attend general conference in Salt Lake City. They were surprised when government officials granted them permission to leave the country, and although Brother Krause was so ill he almost had to be carried onto the plane, he was determined to accept the First Presidency's invitation.

President Monson met them at the airport and, a few days later, officiated at the sealing ordinance for them in the Salt Lake Temple.

On April 3, 1973, President Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Council of the Twelve, ordained Brother Krause to be a high priest and also a patriarch. At that time, Brother Krause said to President Kimball, ``You have just ordained a very sick man.'' Brother Krause felt he would not live much longer. President Kimball gave him a blessing. Later, when Brother and Sister Krause met with President Harold B. Lee, the Church leader told Brother Krause he would live to give more than a thousand patriarchal blessings. Brother Krause, now 82, has given more than 1,650 blessings.

``President Kimball ordained Brother Krause a patriarch to give blessings to all worthy saints behind the Iron Curtain. What a territory,'' President Monson said. ``Sister Krause has been his scribe for all those blessings.

``Many of those blessings have been given in a building the Church used as its headquarters in Dresden, in what once was a theater. Brother Krause fixed up a special room on the second floor; he wanted to create a spiritual atmosphere for the members who come to receive their patriarchal blessings.''

Brother Krause also traveled extensively in some of the communist bloc nations to give blessings to those who could not travel to Dresden, with Sister Krause accompanying him as scribe. They made repeated trips to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

He also traveled with another purpose. ``In the years before new missions were established in eastern Europe, Brother Krause did home teaching everywhere behind the Iron Curtain,'' President Monson said. ``One time, he called a young companion and asked, `Would you like to go with me to do some home teaching?' The young man said he would, and then asked, `Where are we going?' Brother Krause said, `We're going to Hungary.' And off they went. They were gone about four days.''

Even before he was called as a patriarch, Brother and Sister Krause traveled to several lands, searching out members of the Church in need of fellowship. In 1967, they went to Debrecen, Hungary, where they celebrated Easter with a lone member, Janof Denndorfer.

Brother Denndorfer, a Hungarian, had joined the Church in 1912 in Herne, Germany, where he was working in a coal mine. At the outbreak of World War I, he returned to his homeland and because of the war and political situations afterward was unable to leave. He was cut off from the Church for years. During all those years, he faithfully put aside 10 percent of his income, looking forward to the day he could pay his tithing.

Brother and Sister Krause were practically the only contact he had with the Church. They felt such love and empathy for him that they vowed they would visit him once a year. Soon after he was ordained a patriarch, Brother Krause gave Brother Denndorfer a patriarchal blessing. Brother Krause promised him he would be able to go to the temple and do the work for his ancestors. That promise seemed impossible because Brother Denndorfer had no way to do his family history research, and getting out of Hungary was next to impossible. Sister Krause felt impressed to assist Brother Denndorfer with his genealogy and researched his family lines back 10 generations, clearing 1,420 names for temple work.

``After some of this research had been completed, Brother Denndorfer told Brother Krause that he had tried repeatedly to get permission to leave Hungary, but he had been refused each time,'' President Monson related. ``Brother Krause - that man of great faith - told Brother Denndorfer, `Try one more time.' ''

Brother Denndorfer was given permission to go to Switzerland. He spent two weeks doing work in the Swiss Temple for the names that Sister Krause had researched. Other names she researched are still being worked on in the Freiberg Germany Temple.

President Monson described Brother Krause not only as a very humble man, but also as a man of great courage. ``Walter Krause went up and down that land everywhere,'' President Monson said. ``There were guard dogs and machine guns. The threat of incarceration never fazed Walter Krause, a man of courage, and a man of faith. He was absolutely fearless. Frequently, he was interrogated by the government authorities when he was called before them to answer comments and accusations of informers. In every case, he was able to present the truth and defuse what could have been difficult situations.

``One time, I offered a prayer of rededication upon the land. I prayed for the government officials, asking that the Lord would soften their hearts. Someone made a tape recording of that prayer and turned it over to the government authorities, who then called Brother Krause in. They asked him, `Who is this man who would pray that our hearts would be softened?' Brother Krause calmly replied, `Who else would pray for you?' ''

President Monson said Sister Krause also exhibited great courage and faith through the years. ``She wanted to be a school teacher, but she wasn't allowed to work in that profession because of her faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ,'' President Monson said. ``She applied for a job as a teacher and on the line where it asked for her religion, she wrote that she was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She knew that would disqualify her for the job, but she could not deny her faith. She continued working as a secretary.''

Sister Krause commented in a recent interview that one of her guiding scriptures has been Mosiah 24:14: ``And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders. . . .'' That scripture, she said, is appropriate for what she and other Latter-day Saints in the German Democratic Republic and other nations had to endure during the years the communists controlled their lands.

Brother Krause has relied upon the words of Nephi: ``I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.'' (1 Ne. 3:7.)

Brother Krause has exhibited obedience to the Lord's commandments ever since he was baptized on a cold night in February 1926. At age 15, he left his sickbed to be baptized in a frozen stream that had been chipped open for the occasion. So anxious to be with other young members of the Church in 1928, he walked and hitch-hiked 300 kilometers (186 miles) from his hometown of Schneidemuhl to a conference held in Berlin, carrying a 50-pound pack and only two German marks. He said he was able to bear his testimony all along the way when people asked him why he was walking to Berlin.

He was called to serve as a missionary in 1931. Then, when World War II was about to start, he was among the sad German members who watched LDS missionaries evacuate. Mission Pres. Stanley Rees declared: ``We must go, but we will return.''

Brother Krause said Pres. Rees made that statement with such power that he never doubted that the missionaries would return, and he bore his testimony to encourage Church members to look forward to that day.

Countless times, Brother Krause, in trying to help others, uttered a simple plea: ``Father in Heaven, what should I do?'' And countless times, he received an answer.

During World War II, he was drafted into the German army. After the war, he accepted another call to serve a full-time mission for three years, and, in the years since then, has worked faithfully to rebuild the Church in what was the German Democratic Republic and other nations of the Eastern Bloc. He presently serves as patriarch in the Berlin Germany Stake." ("Faith, Courage Sustain German Couple," Church News [Saturday, 11 July 1992]: 11).

Shaun D. Stahle wrote of how Thomas S. Monson appointed Wolfgang Paul to be the first mission president in East Germany in 1988 after a meeting with government officals:

"Born in Munster, in northern Germany, in 1940, Elder Paul grew up in the heat of the Cold War rhetoric. For him, the enemy was mean and menacing and lived behind the wall next door.

"I never knew the wall could come down in my lifetime in such a peaceful way," said Elder Paul. "I never thought it could happen without violence. Maybe by force - but not so peacefully."

Elder Paul remembers well a late-night phone call from President Thomas S. Monson, then second counselor in the First Presidency. It was 1988 and Elder Paul was the newly serving president in the Hamburg mission.

President Monson, with Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy, had just completed their historic meeting with East German government officials who granted the Church permission to send foreign missionaries.

President Monson was calling to reassign Elder Paul to serve in East Germany. Elder Paul sensed that years of earnest prayer and diligent labor had brought about this opportunity to preach the gospel behind closed doors. Everything needed to be right.

Elder Paul knew they would be closely watched by communist officials and that the future of the Church in these countries depended on how he and his missionaries conducted the work.

Crossing the East German border was not new to Elder Paul. He had crossed numerous times before and was accustomed to long, detailed searches.

As he and his first eight missionaries approached the border on March 30, 1989, he anticipated a lengthy search of the Americans and their three vans of luggage.

To his surprise, after showing their papers to border guards, they were passed through. "That was the first time I'd ever seen a guard wave," Elder Paul said.

For the first time in half a century, foreign missionaries had entered a communist country. Two missionaries were promptly dropped in Berlin, two in Leipzig, two in Dresden, and two in Zwickau.

Almost before they had places to live, they began teaching the families, friends and neighbors of members who had been prepared during that long season without the missionaries.

"I'll never forget," said Elder Paul. "The next day I visited a family with the ward mission leader for an interview. On the third day, April 1, three members of that family were baptized. Later that day in general conference in Salt Lake City, it was reported that the first baptisms in East Germany had occurred.

"From then on, baptisms were held nearly weekly," he said.

While it would be 1 1/2 years before telephone service would be installed in the mission home, the mission during this time quickly grew to 160 missionaries.

The sum of these experiences, and all others in Elder Paul's life, is: "When you put the Lord first, everything else falls into place." ("Dresden mission leader saw the wall come down," Church News [Saturday, 25 June 2005]: 11).

In the October 1989 Liahona Dennis B. Neuenschwander gave the most detailed overview of the work behind the Iron Curtain and told of Elder Monson's and others involvement:

"The establishment of the gospel in the nations of Eastern Europe during the past two decades provides clear testimony of the fulfillment of these and similar prophecies. But this fulfillment did not occur without long years of preparation and substantial transformation in the political atmosphere of Eastern Europe. Neither did it occur without similar years of preparation within the Church itself. What I share here are personal observations on a few of the events involved in that preparation and transformation. Between 1975 and 1991, my family and I lived in Europe for several years, where I served first in the Church’s family history microfilming work, then as a mission president, and finally as a General Authority.

From the close of the Second World War, many people in Eastern Europe sought the freedom to express their personal, political, and religious preferences. But the domination of a single political party made these expressions difficult and resulted in dangerous political confrontation. The peoples of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia found themselves in the forefront of these conflicts. The most notable expressions of dissent occurred in the popular uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968. Workers’ riots in Poland in 1956, 1970, and 1976 eventually led to the establishment of the free trade union, Solidarity, in December 1980.

These expressions of political dissent culminated in Hungry in 1989. On 1 May 1989 Hungary began to take down its fences along the Austrian border and permit citizens of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) to enter Austria across its borders. By 10 September more than 100,000 citizens of the DDR had left for Western Europe.

My family and I were living in Vienna, Austria, at the time. Every night news stories on television contained reports of the raucous welcome given to citizens of the DDR as they crossed into Austria. With them came Hungarians. The roads in and out of Vienna were clogged with Hungarians now able to travel freely. Many came to see Austria for the first time and then returned home. Others chose to remain, taking advantage of liberal asylum laws. Yet others came to purchase appliances not available locally. It was common to see washing machines, refrigerators, or other appliances tied to the tops of cars making their way to Hungary.

The most visible result of this collapsing of borders was the collapse of the Berlin Wall itself. Though located only around the Soviet sector of Berlin, the Berlin Wall was the symbol of a closed political and economic system throughout all of Eastern Europe. The opening of the wall during the night of 9–10 November 1989 was the symbolic opening of Eastern Europe.

New life was dawning elsewhere in Eastern Europe as well. Just two weeks after the Berlin Wall opened in November, several thousand Czechs and Slovaks came to Vienna. Special parking lots were set up outside the city to handle the hundreds of buses coming from Czechoslovakia. There was a festive atmosphere throughout the city. Signs in Hungarian and Czech appeared in the windows of many shops.

As these events were transpiring, the people all over Eastern Europe were gaining increasing access to television, newspapers, and news magazines, to say nothing of personal contact with western businesspeople and others. Hope created by these contacts created a confidence and restlessness that could not be contained. The political division between East and West began to experience fundamental changes.

A significant contributor to these changes was Moscow itself. In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev initiated his principles of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring). The terms reflect a change in attitude that had been growing among the peoples of Eastern Europe for years. Significantly, this change in attitude found expression in government officials who became increasingly sympathetic to the desire among the people for more individual freedom, including that of religious expression.

Just as the political events of 1989 did not occur without long years of preparation, neither did the introduction of the gospel. The Church was no stranger to this part of the world. In earlier years and under different political jurisdictions, missionaries had served effectively in Eastern Europe, and General Authorities, business people, and academicians had frequent contact with leaders there. Still, the lack of an official Church presence took its toll. By 1975, with the notable exception of the German Democratic Republic, there was little Church activity in Eastern Europe.

A handful of valiant Church members remained in Czechoslovakia. In the current territory of Poland and the former Soviet Union, many missionaries had previously labored successfully, though almost exclusively among the German-speaking population. But by the mid-1970s, most of these members had either passed away or had relocated to West Germany. Little remained from previous missionary activity in eastern Hungary and western Romania.

Representative of the members who struggled through this difficult time is Poland’s Marianna Glownia. During World War II, she and her husband became involved in the underground fight against the Nazi occupation and were captured. Both her husband and child were killed. She lived, but the rigors of interrogation left her with broken wrists and ankles. Given no medical attention, the joints healed in that condition, leaving her crippled. She walked with difficulty and depended on neighbors for assistance.

After she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1958, representatives of another church told her they would care for her the rest of her life if she renounced her membership. When I visited her in 1981, she looked at me and my traveling companion, Matthew Cziembronowicz, and said, “Brethren, I want you to know I have never renounced my faith.” Because of the difficult circumstances she faced, she had lost contact with the Church but not with the Lord.

And neither the Lord nor his Church had forgotten her and the others like her. Quietly, patiently, both were at work preparing the way for the time when the full resources of the Church could be brought back into Eastern Europe.

One of the most effective of the Lord’s ambassadors was the Church’s microfilming work. In 1957, Hungary approached the Genealogical Department (now the Family History Department) regarding the preservation of its records. Within a few years, Poland followed Hungary’s lead, with Elder Alvin R. Dyer, European Mission president, beginning negotiations in 1962. By 1968 an agreement had been reached, and filming began shortly thereafter. This microfilming work brought the Church a number of influential friends who became valuable advocates just when the Church needed their help.

What made this work so effective was the opportunity it presented for friendships to develop between members of the Church and open-minded individuals behind the Iron Curtain. In 1975 I visited Kiev, Ukraine, as a participant in round-table discussions relating to archival matters. After one social event held outside the city, the participants boarded a bus for the long ride back into Kiev. One of the conference translators sat next to me. Because of the lateness of the hour, almost everyone soon fell asleep. At that moment he turned to me and asked if I were a Mormon.

His question took me by surprise. Who in Eastern Europe in 1975 would know about the Church and have the courage to inquire? I asked why he would pose such a question. He said he had met a member of the Church once at a conference. What he observed in me reminded him of his previous acquaintance. We spent several nights in rewarding conversation.

I do not know who that member of the Church was, but his example had made a lasting impression on this man. Individual members of the Church, through the power of their personal examples, introduce the gospel long before the Church is able to officially establish its presence.

Other personal contacts came from those offering professional assistance. Among the most important of these contacts came from Church legal counsel. The depth of political change in Eastern Europe created a crisis in the legal arena. Governments needed help to interpret current laws and write new ones. The value of the Church’s legal assistance in these developing years can hardly be overestimated.

Of inestimable value, too, was the contribution of the missionary couples called to serve in Eastern Europe. The service they performed was as diverse as it was effective. From humanitarian assistance at remote prisons in Russia to medical training in Romania, from establishing Church Educational System programs to translating Church materials—none of the great work the Church has done in Eastern Europe could have been accomplished without the work of missionary couples. They gained friends and experience that became invaluable in later years.

No greater tribute, however, could be rendered these pioneers than to acknowledge their example and the steadfastness of their faith in difficult circumstances. The mid-1970s and early-1980s were dangerous times to be working with religious matters in Eastern Europe, and the missionaries were sometimes searched and otherwise harassed. Many did not speak the language, and they knew what it was to have little food and no electricity, heat, or running water. Yet they freely shared their abundance with those who stood in greater need.

The couples were teachers, and where they could, they taught by precept the principles of the gospel. More often, they provided valuable lessons in Church leadership to new and inexperienced Church members. But the most significant teaching the couples did was by example. Their confidence in the future was contagious, and their love for each other provided an enduring example for members of the Church to emulate. The time will yet come when the full fruit of their examples will be seen in the lives of Eastern European Latter-day Saints who, through their own dedication, will pass that legacy on to others.

Some of the best ambassadors for the Church were those who shared their talents as performers. I remember one incident in Bulgaria in 1991 when Brigham Young University’s Lamanite Generation (now named Living Legends) came to Sofia. These singers and dancers performed in a large cultural center before some 5,000 people—including a large number of children. Many influential people were there; in fact, the minister of health was sitting next to me.

At the end of the group’s traditional numbers, in a spontaneous expression of love for the performers, the children rushed the stage. And with them was the minister of health. He was out of his seat and on the stage before I could even get out of mine.

As the children approached the performers, the Lamanite Generation began to sing “I Am a Child of God.” The Bulgarians had never heard the song, but it had such an effect that everyone stopped and reverently sat down, filling the stage.

That and similar experiences have convinced me that the Spirit knows no borders. It needs no visa to cross borders and touch hearts. The Lord was at work long before the Church was able to send missionaries back into the countries of Eastern Europe.
“Master of the Unlikely”

Missionary work was essentially reintroduced to these nations in 1972 when the Church organized the International Mission to serve members in areas of the world that were not part of organized stakes or missions. One of the responsibilities of the mission was to probe the possibility of preaching the gospel in these areas. Among those who served faithfully in this exploratory work in Eastern Europe, working primarily out of Austria, were Gustav Salik, Glen Warner and his wife, Renee, Edwin Morrell, Spencer J. Condie (now of the Seventy), and Johann Wondra.

By the mid-1980s Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy were making frequent governmental contacts throughout Eastern Europe, 4 following groundbreaking work President Thomas S. Monson began as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the 1960s. As a result of their contacts, missionary work in several Eastern European nations gathered momentum.

In July 1987, I arrived in Vienna to preside over the newly created Austria Vienna East Mission. The mission began with 34 missionaries—22 in Eastern Europe, including 8 couples and 6 elders. With the political changes occurring throughout Eastern Europe and the effects of several Apostolic visits, it seemed possible that much could be accomplished. But as a new mission president, I was unsure how or whether to proceed with actual proselyting.

When Elder Russell M. Nelson visited us shortly after I arrived, I asked him what the Brethren expected. Should we try to proselyte, as unlikely as such an effort seemed at the time?

Elder Nelson put his hands on my shoulders and said, “The Lord is master of the unlikely, and he expects the impossible.”

With that, I felt we could make some progress. In making the effort, we discovered that there is something bright and wonderful about the gospel to the mind of an Eastern European. The doctrine of temple and family relationships, the hope the gospel brings, the upward mobility of people, the idea of reaching beyond themselves, the understanding that there is more to life than just the temporal—all these aspects of the gospel have great appeal. Particularly the young people, who have lived solely in a materialist society, seem to understand intuitively that materialism does not bring happiness. They yearn for spiritual nourishment.

One cold January day I visited a branch meeting in a single-room kindergarten in Bulgaria. The meeting had already started, and as we came up to the meetinghouse, we found all the men outside in the snow, standing in a circle. We asked, “What are you doing out here?”

They said, “The sisters need to be inside with the children. So we are holding priesthood meeting out here.”

The people joining the Church in Eastern Europe are spiritually sensitive people. They love the gospel, and they love the feeling of community the Church gives them. They love one another.

Of great significance for the Church’s expanding missionary effort in Eastern Europe was the establishment of a mission in the DDR. In October 1988, President Monson, Elder Nelson, Elder Ringger, and several local priesthood leaders met with Chairman Erich Honecker to ask permission for missionaries to proselyte in the German Democratic Republic—and for missionaries to be called from the DDR to proselyte elsewhere.

In opening the meeting, Chairman Honecker said: “We know members of your Church believe in work; you’ve proven that. We know you believe in the family; you’ve demonstrated that. We know you are good citizens in whatever country you claim as home; we have observed that. The floor is yours. Make your desires known.”

President Monson’s presentation was simple, direct, and effective. Permission was granted, and on 30 March 1989 the first missionaries in 50 years entered the country and began to share the gospel. Two months later, the first missionaries to be called from the DDR left for service outside their country. 5

By the time the Berlin Wall opened in November 1989, the Church had already established a firm base in Eastern Europe. Fifty-four missionaries were laboring there and in Greece. By then, the Church had also received official recognition from Poland (May 1977), Yugoslavia (October 1985), and Hungary (June 1988). Ground had been broken for a chapel in Warsaw, and a building in Budapest had been purchased and dedicated.

In October 1989, responsibility for the developing Church in northern Russia and the Baltic states was transferred from the Austria Vienna East Mission to the Finland Helsinki Mission. This historic step led to increased attention toward Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania. By year’s end missionaries were serving in each of these countries.

Other Eastern European countries soon followed. On 1 March 1990, Czechoslovakia recognized the Church, and elders reentered the country on 2 May, greeted warmly by members of the Church who had prayed for more than 40 years for their return.

In July 1990, five new missions were established: Poland Warsaw, Czechoslovakia Prague, Hungary Budapest, and Greece Athens. Moscow, which had been in the Austria Vienna East Mission, and Leningrad, which was administered from Helsinki, formed the fifth mission—the Helsinki East Mission. By July 1991, missions had also been established in Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia.

The most important advancement for the Church in Eastern Europe during these years was the dedication of a temple in the German Democratic Republic. By 1978, the government of the DDR had decided to no longer extend visas to Latter-day Saints seeking to attend the temple in Switzerland. The Church explored every option but could make no progress with the government. The members began to fast and pray for divine help.

Then one day as Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with government leaders, they proposed a simple solution: Why not build a temple here in the DDR? A parcel of land was purchased in Freiberg, and construction began in 1983. The temple was dedicated two years later, on 29 June 1985. 6

Certainly, the influence of the temple seemed to permeate the German Democratic Republic, softening hearts and helping prepare the way for the dramatic changes that took place all over Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s. The influence of the Church’s temples continues to be profound on all these nations.

I see a bright future for the countries of Eastern Europe. Almost all of them are passing through difficult moments. But there is very positive movement. Amidst these changes, the Church and its members are growing in stature, confidence, and hope.

In 1996, shortly before I was to return to the United States, I went to Moscow tosay good-bye to a number of people I had worked with there. This was at a time of great uncertainty concerning the political situation in Russia. Among the people I met was a sister who asked, “What will become of our country?”

I told her I couldn’t speak as a politician, but I could speak as a General Authority of the Church.

“So what would you tell us as a General Authority?” she responded. “What will become of us?”

I said: “The Lord protects and prospers countries according to the faithfulness of the few. The Lord will not permit the Church to falter or the country to be destroyed as long as the Latter-day Saints live their religion.”

That may sound egotistical to some, but I believe it to be true. If the Latter-day Saints in Russia, Ukraine, or anywhere else want their country to prosper, the best guarantee is for them to be faithful.

An experience Elder Thomas S. Monson had in the German Democratic Republic in 1968 illustrates. It was his first visit, and no diplomatic relations had been established. No one in the government yet understood the Church’s mission or trusted its integrity.

Elder Monson traveled to Görlitz to meet with the Saints there. He came with a heavy heart, knowing the members did not have the blessings that come with being part of a stake—no patriarch, no wards offering the full program of the Church, and no access to a temple. Yet they filled the hall with their faith in the Lord. As Elder Monson stood to address the congregation, the Spirit prompted him to make them a promise: “If you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God, every blessing any member of the Church enjoys in any other country will be yours.”

That evening in his hotel room, the full impact of his words hit him. He knelt and pleaded with the Lord to honor the promise he had been moved to give. As he prayed, there came to his mind the words of the psalm, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). 7

Today, just 20 years later, Germany is united under a democratic government, the nation has two temples, and the Saints are organized into 14 stakes." (Dennis B. Neuenschwander, “Reflections on Establishing the Gospel in Eastern Europe,” Liahona, Oct 1998, 38).

In 1995 Elder Monson returned to Goerlitz, Germany for the dedication of a chapel that he had promised twenty-seven years before. Gerry Avant wrote in the Church News:

"Returning to Goerlitz Aug. 27 was an act of completion, ``coming full circle,'' for President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency.

In 1968, President Monson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, visited the city of Goerlitz near Poland's border, far behind what was once the Iron Curtain. In visiting with Church members in Goerlitz, he made a promise that took 27 years to come into reality.``Under the inspiration of the Lord, I promised those worthy Saints who had nothing - nothing - that if they were faithful to the Lord, He, in His kindness and fairness, would provide them with all the blessings any other member of the Church in a free country received,'' President Monson said en route to Germany.

Through the years, as the result of many miraculous events, members in Goerlitz received all the blessings of members elsewhere, except one. Although the Church had been organized in Goerlitz for nearly a century, the members had never had their own meetinghouse. Finally, a meetinghouse was constructed, and President Monson returned with his wife, Frances, to dedicate the building Aug. 27.

Accompanying President and Sister Monson to the meeting to dedicate the new building were Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Seventy and second counselor in the Europe West Area and his wife, Harriet.

From the moment President and Sister Monson entered the new building it was evident they were among old friends. Entering from the back of the chapel, they proceeded toward the front, stopping frequently to shake hands or embrace members they have known over the years. President Monson made his first visit to what was then the German Democratic Republic (DDR, or East Germany) in 1968, when he was assigned to supervise the Europe area, comprised of the missions in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

``That was the first time, as far as I know, that an apostle of the Lord had been to Goerlitz,'' President Monson told the Church News. ``The land reflected the oppression of its rulers. Fear and apprehension were everywhere to be found.'' President Monson made numerous trips to East Germany over the years, becoming closely acquainted with the Saints and their particular challenges.

As he and Sister Monson neared the podium in the new chapel, President Monson paused to greet Henry Burkhardt, Walter Krause and Gottfried Richter, who he set apart as the presidency of the Dresden Mission during his second visit to the German Democratic Republic in 1969.

Before he offered the prayer to dedicate the Goerlitz Branch meetinghouse, President Monson reminisced about his association with the members.

``It's been a long time since I spoke in a meeting in Goerlitz,'' he said. ``To be exact, it was in 1968, 27 years ago.'' He noted that he had requested one of the same hymns to be sung at the meeting to dedicate the building as had been sung at the meeting nearly three decades ago. The hymn, which was in an earlier version of the LDS hymnal, was ``If the Way Be Full of Trial, Weary Not.''

Addressing the congregation, President Monson said: ``When I first received the assignment to supervise Europe, I discovered that the German Democratic Republic had not had a visitor from the Church for many years. I decided I would come. I checked with our government authorities. They said, `We would advise you to not to go the DDR. We have no diplomatic relations with the DDR, and occasionally Americans will be arrested for one charge or another. If that happens, we can't get you out. We recommend that you not go.' ''

President Monson said he went home and talked with Sister Monson. He decided he should go. ``I said, `This is our Heavenly Father's work. He will look after you and the children at home.'

``So, away I came to Berlin, through Checkpoint Charlie, and drove all the way down to Goerlitz.''

President Monson described the stark conditions he found in the city: Buildings bore the marks of bullets and mortar shells, supplies of many kinds were limited, and a dreary mood settled over everything and nearly everybody. ``The more the time went by, the more I realized I was a long way from home,'' he said. ``I was in a strange land.''

Then, he said, he went on Sunday morning to the building where members of the Church met. He mentioned Brother Krause's efforts to help make the building's interior more comfortable and attractive. ``I heard Brother Burkhardt, Brother Krause and Brother Richter speak,'' he said. ``And then I heard the German members sing, and heaven was very near.

``I looked at the conditions under which the Church met in those days. They had had no ability to get Church materials (manuals and other publications), no visitors from Church headquarters, no patriarchs to give patriarchal blessings, no permission to hold a youth conference, no temple, no missionaries.''

But, he noted, the members were full of faith, true to the commandments of God. ``I knew of the promises of God to those who keep His commandments,'' President Monson declared. ``Here were a relatively small number of our Church members, but completely unified. I remembered the Lord said, `Where two or more are gathered in my name, there will I be also.'

``When it was my turn to speak, I made a promise . . . that if the members of the Church were true and faithful, every blessing that our members had in every other land would be given to them. When I got back to the old hotel that night - it was really dreary - I knew I had promised what I could not deliver. I got upon my knees, and I prayed to our Heavenly Father: `Here I am. Thou knowest what I said. Wilt thou honor the promise.' I remembered the revelation where the Lord said, `Whether by my own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.'

"I watched miracles unfold. I won't enumerate all of the elements, but soon a patriarch was called. Soon a mission was organized. Then visitors from Church headquarters. . . ."

"Other events took place. We were given permission to acquire property, to build buildings. Stakes were created in Dresden and Leipzig. Visitors from the DDR were given permission to go to conferences in Salt Lake City. . . .

"Then, miracle of miracles, a temple was built, a temple in Freiberg, behind the Berlin Wall. . . .

"The final blessing," President Monson continued, "was permission for the missionaries to return - 50 years after they were expelled at the beginning of World War II. And then young men and women from the DDR were given permission to leave to go on missions throughout the world.

"Every promise came true, but one. We had nice buildings in Leipzig, in Dresden and in other places. But not little Goerlitz, where the promise was made. Then in Salt Lake City one day I saw the recommendation for a building to be approved for Goerlitz."

President Monson added, "I received the assignment to dedicate this building." He said some might ask why a member of the First Presidency would travel so far to dedicate a branch chapel. "I am in Goerlitz, fulfilling that one unfulfilled element of the promise that you would have a building here," he said. "Now my restless spirit can calm down. It is a day of happiness for me, too.

"I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every visit I have made to this country, whether in bad times or good, for I testify that you are a noble people, and you are loved by the Lord."

In his remarks, Elder Uchtdorf said, "Historic things were happening here 50 years ago, at the end of World War II."

"Then," he noted, "some years later, an apostle of the Lord came here and said that if the people were faithful and would do what the Lord wanted them to do that things would change. . . . We can now see what happened."

Elder Uchtdorf encouraged the members to not always look back at the bad things that have happened but to see what can happen in the future through the Lord's work. "In the gospel of Jesus Christ we should look forward," he said.

Also speaking in the meeting were Dresden Stake Pres. Siegfried Sacher, Henry Burkhardt, Goerlitz Branch Pres. Thomas Lehmann and Sister Monson. Goerlitz Mayor Matthias Lechner was a special guest and also addressed the meeting.

After the meeting, President and Sister Monson visited with several members of the Church from the area. From time to time, he put a loving arm around a shoulder, patted an arm, gave a tender embrace to an elderly priesthood leader, bestowed a kiss on the forehead of an elderly war widow, held a hand, and wiped tears from a member's eyes.

President and Sister Monson talked with their long-time friends in the Dresden area, recalling memories fond and painful that helped unite them. The occasion of his having come full circle was filled with joyful emotions." ("Dedication of Meetinghouse Fulfills 27-Year-Old Promise," Church News [Saturday, 2 September 1995]: 5).

After the commemoration Elder Monson and his wife visited some church sites, Gerry Avant recorded in the Church News:

"Within a couple of hours after they arrived in Dresden Aug. 26, President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency and his wife, Frances, were out visiting sites of significance to the Church in the former German Democratic Republic.

President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, showed interest in two sites in particular. The first was the grave of a missionary, Elder Joseph A. Ott, who died on Jan. 10, 1896, shortly after he arrived in Dresden. The second site President and Sister Monson visited was a hillside overlooking Dresden where he, on April 27, 1975, offered a dedicatory prayer on the German Democratic Republic (DDR).At Elder Ott's grave in St. Paul cemetery, President and Sister Monson stood in light rain, speaking in soft tones with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet. With them were Dresden Stake Pres. Siegfried Sacher and Frank Apel, former president of the Dresden stake.

The tombstone marking Elder Ott's grave recently had been removed to be cleaned and had gold leafing applied to the inscription. The replaced tombstone, a near-white stone obelisk, is distinctive in the cemetery where most markers are of darker stone.

At the grave, President Monson talked of the first time he visited the site. Noticing how well-kept it was, he had asked about who cared for it. It was then that he learned of Tobias Burkhardt who, as a young deacon, decided to care for the missionary's grave as a service project. Tobias, who thought he would never get to go on a full-time mission, was among the first group of young members who were given permission in 1989 to leave the DDR to serve missions in other countries.

On the hillside overlooking Dresden, President Monson spoke with the small group about the occasion when he offered the prayer of dedication upon the German Democratic Republic 20 years ago. "It was a cold, rainy day," he said. "I felt impressed that I should offer a dedicatory prayer, realizing that as the DDR had become a new nation with the division of Germany at the end of World War II it had never been formally dedicated."

On that occasion in 1975, President Monson and some other Church members went to the hillside. When he revisited the site on Aug. 26, he said, "As I said the words, `May this be the dawning of a new day for the Church in this land,' we heard a rooster crow in the valley below. A church bell began to chime. Then I felt warmth on my hands and face. After I finished the prayer, I opened my eyes and saw that the clouds had parted and a ray of sunshine was streaming down on the spot where we were standing. Before we could return to our automobile, the clouds had gathered and it began to rain again."

As President Monson spoke, Brother Apel and Gunther Schultze, a long-time member and local Church leader, who had joined the group, wiped tears from their eyes as Elder Uchtdorf translated President Monson's comments into German for them.

After spending about half an hour with the group on the hillside, President Monson asked to be left alone for a few minutes to look over the site and to contemplate the significance of all that has transpired in the former DDR in the past 20 years since he offered the prayer of dedication over the land." ("President and Sister Monson Visit Solemn German Sites," Church News [Saturday, 2 September 1995]: 12).

Thomas S. Monson in April 1989 conference related his own part in the work to bring the gospel behind the Iron Curtain:

"A miracle of miracles had taken place. One more was needed. How can the Church grow without missionaries? How can our numbers increase despite an aging population? Beautiful new buildings grace the land: stake centers at Leipzig and Dresden, and chapels in Freiberg and Zwickau, with others to follow, such as a chapel under construction in the city of Plauen. A faithful brother from Plauen wrote me this poignant letter: “My parents and grandparents have served before us in this branch, but never thus far has it been possible to have our own meetinghouse. Now a long-cherished wish is being fulfilled.” After reading this touching account, the thought crossed my mind, “But what use are buildings if there are not sufficient members to occupy them?”

Such was the dilemma uppermost on my mind as my plane landed in Berlin that October afternoon. We went forward with the vital assignment to visit with the leaders of the German Democratic Republic. Our ultimate goal was to seek permission for the doorway of missionary work to open. Elder Russell M. Nelson, Elder Hans B. Ringger, and I, along with our local German Democratic Republic Church leaders, headed by President Henry Burkhardt, President Frank Apel, and President Manfred Schutze, initially met with State Secretary for Religious Affairs Kurt Löffler as he hosted a lovely luncheon in our honor. He addressed our group by saying, “We want to be helpful to you. We’ve observed you and your people for twenty years. We know you are what you profess to be: honest men and women.”

Government leaders and their wives attended the dedication of a stake center at Dresden and a chapel at Zwickau. As the Saints sang “God be with you till we meet again”—“Auf Wiedersehen, Auf Wiedersehen”—we remembered Him, the Prince of Peace, who died on the cross at Calvary. I contemplated our Lord and Savior, when He walked the path of pain, the trail of tears, even the road of righteousness. His penetrating declaration came to mind: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)

Then it was back to Berlin for the crucial meetings with the head of the nation, even Chairman Erich Honecker.

That special morning the sunlight bathed the city of Berlin. It had been raining all night, but now beauty prevailed. We were driven to the chambers of the chief representatives of the government.

Beyond the exquisite entry to the building, we were greeted by Chairman Honecker. We presented to him the statuette First Step, depicting a mother helping her child take its first step toward its father. He was highly pleased with the gift. He then escorted us into his private council room. There, around a large round table, we were seated. Others at the table included Chairman Honecker and his deputies of government.

Chairman Honecker began, “We know members of your Church believe in work; you’ve proven that. We know you believe in the family; you’ve demonstrated that. We know you are good citizens in whatever country you claim as home; we have observed that. The floor is yours. Make your desires known.”

I began, “Chairman Honecker, at the dedication and open house for the temple in Freiberg, 89,890 of your countrymen stood in line, at times up to four hours, frequently in the rain, that they might see a house of God. In the city of Leipzig, at the dedication of the stake center, 12,000 people attended the open house. In the city of Dresden there were 29,000 visitors; in the city of Zwickau, 5,300. And every week of the year 1,500 to 1,800 people visit the temple grounds in the city of Freiberg. They want to know what we believe. We would like to tell them that we believe in honoring and obeying and sustaining the law of the land. We would like to explain our desire to achieve strong family units. These are but two of our beliefs. We cannot answer questions, and we cannot convey our feelings, because we have no missionary representatives here as we do in other countries. The young men and young women whom we would like to have come to your country as missionary representatives would love your nation and your people. More particularly, they would leave an influence with your people which would be ennobling. Then we would like to see young men and young women from your nation who are members of our Church serve as missionary representatives in many nations, such as in America, in Canada, and in a host of others. They will return better prepared to assume positions of responsibility in your land.”

Chairman Honecker then spoke for perhaps thirty minutes, describing his objectives and viewpoints and detailing the progress made by his nation. At length, he smiled and addressed me and the group, saying, “We know you. We trust you. We have had experience with you. Your missionary request is approved.”

My spirit literally soared out of the room. The meeting was concluded. As we left the beautiful government chambers, Elder Russell Nelson turned to me and said, “Notice how the sunshine is penetrating this hall. It’s almost as though our Heavenly Father is saying, ‘I am pleased.’ ”

The black darkness of night had ended. The bright light of day had dawned. The gospel of Jesus Christ would now be carried to the millions of people in that nation. Their questions concerning the Church will be answered, and the Kingdom of God will go forth.

As I reflect on these events, my thoughts turn to the Master’s words, “In nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things.” (D&C 59:21.) I confess the hand of God in the miraculous events pertaining to the Church in the German Democratic Republic.

The faith and devotion of our members in that nation have not gone unnoticed by God. The excellent service of other General Authorities, Regional Representatives, and mission presidents has been of inestimable help. The understanding cooperation of government leaders is most appreciated. Assignments have been made to the first ten missionaries from the German Democratic Republic to serve abroad; and just three days ago, on Thursday, March 30, the first full-time missionary representatives in exactly fifty years entered the German Democratic Republic. Their mission president was there to greet them. The long period of preparation is past. The future of the Church unfolds. Thanks be to God." (Thomas S. Monson, “Thanks Be to God,” Ensign, [May 1989]: 50).

In 2005 Gerry Avant of the Church News reported a few kind acts performed by President Monson back in 1992 when he had visited the DDR: "People close to him have been eyewitnesses to his service to others or have heard first-hand accounts from recipients of his kind deeds. Across much of the world, they've observed him among people, seeing his tenderness toward them and their loving admiration for him.

He has the rare gift of treating everyone equally, yet making each feel unique, special and even important. Ten years ago, Church News photographed him and Sister Monson with Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia on the grounds of the Stockholm Sweden Temple. A few days later, the same camera caught President Monson leaning down to speak to a petite elderly widow in Goerlitz, a city in the former German Democratic Republic. As he started to walk away, he saw that the camera had caught a charitable deed — he had slipped a little money into the widow's hand. With a stern shake of his head and a dismissive wave toward the camera, he said, "You don't need to put any of that in the paper." It seemed evident that President Monson did not show one more degree of kindness or respect to the king and queen in Sweden than he did for the little widow and other members in Goerlitz.

About 13 years ago Werner Adler, also from what was formerly the German Democratic Republic, said, "You have an expression in America about someone being so kind that he will give you the shirt off his back. President Monson is more kind than that. He gave me the suit he was wearing."

He explained that he was present at a district conference in the Annaberg-Bucholz District of the Dresden Mission when President Monson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, made an unannounced visit to the conference in the 1960s and spoke to the congregation.

"I am a big man, just about the same size as President Monson, so I guess that's how I attracted his attention," Brother Adler said. "He noticed that I was wearing a very old, nearly worn-out suit. In our country at that time, it was hard for just about anybody to buy new clothes; for a man my size, it was nearly impossible. After the conference, President Monson asked me to wait a few minutes. He stepped into a little room, took off his suit and came out dressed in an extra pair of trousers he had in his bag and a shirt. He said, 'Here, I think this will fit you.' "

Brother Adler said President Monson offered to give him his shoes, also. "But I looked down at his feet and said, 'I think your shoes are too big for me.' " Another member standing nearby said he thought the apostle's shoes would fit his son. So he sat down and took off his shoes and gave them to the other man.

"I'll never forget that day," Brother Adler said. "Apostle Thomas S. Monson had come to our conference dressed in a fine suit and was wearing practically new shoes. He left wearing a pair of old trousers, a shirt and old shoes." (Gerry Avant, Lives to serve others: Real humanitarian:He has gift of treating everyone equally, Church News, [Saturday, 27 August 2005]: 6).

In 2008 Gerry Avant in a Church News featured entitled "On Lord's Errand Since Boyhood" said about Thomas S. Monson's involvement in building the church behind the Iron Curtain:

"Perhaps with some of the same feelings of wonderment he had upon being called as a bishop, he set out on his course of full-time service to the Lord and His kingdom when he was called as an apostle. Just two years after he was sustained to the Twelve, he was assigned to supervise the missions of the Church in the South Pacific, and five years into his call as an apostle, he was given a special assignment for the work of the Church in Europe, during which time he went behind "the Iron Curtain" to minister to the saints of the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. It was a bold undertaking.

In 1995, the Church News accompanied President Monson and his wife, Frances, and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then a member of the Seventy, and his wife, Harriet, to Goerlitz, near Poland's border in what had been the DDR to dedicate a new meetinghouse. En route, President Monson spoke of his first visit there, in 1968, when a representative of the U.S. Government advised him "if anything happens, we can't get you out."

"That was the first time, as far as I know, that an apostle of the Lord had been to Goerlitz," President Monson said. Yet, Elder Monson, with concern but no fear, made trips to minister to the saints in various areas of eastern Germany as no one else could, giving compassionate service, inspired counsel and apostolic blessings.

President Monson had a key role in gaining permission from the DDR government for the Church to build the Freiberg Germany Temple, which was dedicated in 1985, and in helping further the growth of the Church in other parts of eastern Europe that had been under communist control. (President Monson broke ground and dedicated the temple site in 1983.)

Elder Hans B. Ringger, then of the Seventy and now an emeritus General Authority, accompanied President Monson on several trips to that part of the world. Elder Ringger said, "I have learned that his personal pragmatic attribute is 'teaching by doing.'

"All his aspirations consider the welfare of the individual," Elder Ringger added.

"After completing his specific assignments during his calling as an apostle, he would take his personal time to assist and strengthen his European brothers and sisters prior to his arduous trips that rushed him back to his busy schedule in Salt Lake City." (Church News, [Saturday, 9 February 2008]: 4).

Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy accompanied M. Russell Ballard and a few of his colleagues to visit Eastern European countries in August 2006 to dispel the notion that the gospel is hard to preach in this area of the world. Shaun D.Stahle of the Church News reported: "Elder Tingey said he learned something of the depth of feeling these members, from behind what was "the Iron Curtain," have for the gospel and their newfound freedom. While the Church leaders were in Ukraine their driver told how his grandfather, while serving in the Ukrainian military, disappeared during World War II without a trace, and how the gospel now gives his life purpose and joy and the hope of an eternal family.

Elder Tingey noted how two stakes have been organized in former eastern bloc countries with a stake in Kiev, Ukraine, and a second stake in Budapest, Hungary." ("Dispelling notions that gospel is hard: Despite challenges, many fine people are willing to hear, embrace truths," Church News [Saturday, 16 September 2006]: 6).

In March 2001 Shaun D. Stahle of the Church News did a feature story on Juliusz and Dorothy Fussek the first missionary couple in Poland. Their story shows the influence missionary couples can have in building the church:

"There wasn't much missing from life for Juliusz and Dorothy Fussek. They were happy and content, and with Juliusz nearing retirement from years of employment with Deseret Press, they figured to spend their future evenings on the veranda of their condominium overlooking Salt Lake City.

All that changed one Monday after meeting with the bishop. "You're being released from the bishopric and called to serve as a missionary couple in Poland," the bishop said.

Brother and Sister Fussek were among the earliest missionaries called to serve in an Iron Curtain country. They became witnesses and participants in some of the monumental events that reshaped Poland. From the time they arrived in 1985 until they left in 1990, they watched as a country long covered with communism emerged with religious freedoms and began embracing the gospel.

"The Lord was working with us from the beginning," Brother Fussek said.

"Government officials were more than friendly to us. We were interviewed by the minister of religion when we arrived. We told him we were there to preach the gospel, and that those who joined the Church would be better citizens.

" 'That's a tall order,' the minister said. We told him the Lord would help us."

The Fusseks were initially granted a three-week visa but were not allowed to openly proselyte or wear name tags. They were required to report weekly to the government about those investigating the Church, and a guard was posted outside their apartment door under the pretense of their protection.

"We never felt afraid," Brother Fussek said. "We made a 6-foot by 4-foot plaque with a picture of the Angel Moroni and the name of the Church and hung it near the arched entrance to our apartment on Nowy Swiat. We were told to take it down, which we did the first time, but hung it again the next day. When they told us to take it down a second time, we said we would if they tore down all the other advertisements. We never heard from them again."

The Fusseks began spreading information about the Church by leaving brochures in shopping baskets at the baker or butcher shops. Their modest apartment had no bathroom and no cooking facilities. Still, the Fusseks had little difficulty adjusting.

Word soon spread about the Church and, before long, the Fusseks were teaching an average of four to five people a day. Interest in the Church continued to grow, and six months later, the Fusseks were interviewed by print, radio and television journalists.

"The media had to get permission to run our story, but they were curious about us. We were a novelty," Brother Fussek said.

Their reputation for honest living earned them extended visas. And each week, as Brother Fussek met with government leaders, a friendship of trust was being forged that would later open more doors.

When the Fusseks arrived in Poland there were four active members. During the next five years, another 230 were baptized. Of the 180 new members the Fusseks taught, "each had a miracle to tell," including the mother of a teenage boy who was teary-eyed as she witnessed her son's baptism.

"I can be at peace," she said, "knowing my son joined the right Church. He's already different."

On another occasion, Sister Fussek remembers many earnest prayers asking the Lord to send someone who could bring music into the meetings of the fledgling branch.

"One day a knock came at the door," said Sister Fussek. "A man whose car had broken down came seeking help. We talked with him and urged him to bring his wife and two daughters. We then walked outside to the car and it started by merely turning the key. The family returned a week later and after several discussions asked to be baptized. We drove all over Warsaw looking for a baptismal place. During Sunday meetings following the baptism, when the branch began to sing, the mother took a flute out of her handbag and began to accompany. We soon learned she was a concert pianist."

The crowning moment of their service came in 1986, a year after their arrival, when the government leaders "rolled out the red carpet" for President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elders Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy and Johann A. Wondra.

"We met in a large ornate hall in a castle where the kings of Poland once ruled," said Brother Fussek.

"The Polish minister was cordial, but with his communist face, asked, 'What do you really want?'

"President Monson said we wanted land for a chapel.

" 'You got it,' was the minister's reply. 'What else?'

" 'Permission to send missionaries,' said President Monson.

" 'If you can send people like the Fusseks you can send as many as you want,' the minister said."

The next year, three couple missionaries were sent. The first elders arrived in January 1988. The Poland Warsaw Mission was created in July 1990 after being part of the Austria Vienna East Mission. Today, it includes more than 1,000 members organized in 11 branches.

In June 1989, ground was broken for the new meetinghouse in Warsaw. Elder Nelson presided over the services that included more than 200 people, many of whom were government and religious leaders. The meetinghouse was dedicated in June 1991.

Brother Fussek's success in working with government officials came, in part, suggests Sister Fussek, because of his Polish ancestry and his amiable people skills. Born in 1922 on a wealthy Polish estate in Upper Slizaja, about 30 miles from the then Czechoslovakian border, Brother Fussek was "staunch in his religion and an active reader of the Bible."

He was 17 years old when Poland was invaded in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. He was forced to serve in the Nazi army to preserve the lives of his family. He was captured at one point, which eventually led to joining the Polish army. He was soon sent to England to help rebuild cities. There, he met and married his wife, Dorothy. They became acquainted with the Church while strolling past a new meetinghouse that was under construction.

Even though he said he'd never leave his religion, where he had once been an altar boy, Brother Fussek was baptized several weeks later. Dorothy was "cautious," but knew the gospel was true and joined soon after.

Years later, after moving to Salt Lake City, Brother Fussek was greeted by President Spencer W. Kimball during a social gathering. President Kimball recognized Brother Fussek's accent and "pulled me aside and told me of his experiences dedicating the land of Poland in 1976. I've sometimes thought he knew more than he told me."

"We went for 18 months and came back in five years," the Fusseks mused. "If we hadn't gone, we would've missed all these memories." ("Witness to events that reshaped Poland: First missionaries worked and watched as Lord opened doors," Church News [Saturday, 10 March 2001]: 12).

In January 2002 the angel Moroni was added to the Freiberg Temple. Eugene and Claire Freeman reported concerning the placement of it on the temple and the history of the area:

"As snow fell heavily throughout the night upon this charming village, the former temple president, Magnus R. Meiser, said to his wife, "Tomorrow when Moroni is set on the temple, the sun will shine."

Indeed, as the statue was placed on the highest point of the Freiberg Germany Temple towers Dec. 20, the heavy clouds parted, blue sky appeared, and streaks of sun shone brilliantly on Moroni. A quiet reverence was evident among the small body of saints who had gathered, as their dreams and prayers were finally realized.

The Freiberg Germany Temple was constructed from 1983-1985 in the German Democratic Republic. At that time, during the communist regime, quality building materials simply were not available, nor was the design permitted to include a statue of the Angel Moroni. Nonetheless, the results achieved were admirable. Temple President Gerhard Grunewald, said, "It was a special temple before, but the communist government did not allow an angel. I think they accepted the Church, but they did not really love it. It was a real privilege that they even allowed us to have our temple."

At the groundbreaking ceremony on April 23, 1983, officials from the communist government were invited and attended. They sat in the front row of chairs as Elder Thomas S. Monson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve and now first counselor in the First Presidency, conducted. Before the invocation was offered he addressed these government representatives. As he looked them straight in the eye, he said to them, "When we pray in our Church, we fold our arms, bow our heads and close our eyes."

As the prayer proceeded, the mission president, Henry Burkhardt, said he could not resist opening one eye. He saw a sight that lifted his heart; every one of those men had their arms folded, their heads bowed and their eyes closed.

When the temple was completed, the members came with unspeakable joy for the miracle of the temple. Even the Freiberg townspeople called it "our temple." The temple brought new hope to the little city. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the town has been renovated and stands as one of the beautiful communities in Germany.

When the current temple renovation began, local residents were dismayed. "What are you doing with our temple," they asked? "Where is the tower?"

Members of the community were invited to a meeting in which President Meiser explained, "It will be more beautiful. It will have more ground. It will be like a park." The community left satisfied and happy.

Today, anyone in the town knows the location of the "Mormon temple" and proudly points to the road and signs that lead to the site.

Through the years members here have longed for an Angel Moroni statue as well as all the amenities found in other temples. The temple is being reconstructed to the standards of modern-day temples. The addition will approximately double the 7,489 square feet of the original temple.

New features include redesign of the baptistry's font to be supported by twelve oxen, a non-patrons waiting area, a matron/brides room and an office for the temple president. It will also have upgraded facilities for patrons with disabilities, changing rooms and ordinance areas. Though the building will extend to the east, the integrity of the original design will be maintained. Construction will conclude during the summer of 2002.

Among those who gathered for the placement of the statue was Erick Dzierzon, who was baptized 76 years ago. Standing with his wife while watching proceedings, he expressed his exhilaration regarding the statue's placement.

"Finally the symbol we find all over the world is in place here," he said. "It was a miracle the temple was built. Now we will have this special symbol. Now we will have the oxen in our baptistry. You cannot realize how special this is for us."

President Grunewald spoke of the saints who come to Freiberg from as far away as Ukraine and parts of Russia. Some members travel 52 hours by bus each way. He said, "These are people who lived without God, without a Bible, and who are now strong enough in their faith to come to the temple."

Nine languages are offered in the temple. Workers with a broad variety of language skills serve there. President Grunewald, who speaks eight languages himself, said, "We are preparing temple workers who will be able to serve someday when temples are built in their own countries."

Indeed, the saints who work in the temple, like those who come to the temple, are devoted Latter-day Saints. Many have endured years of difficulty and privation.

Elder D. Lee Tobler of the Seventy, president of the Europe Central Area who presided at the placement ceremony, said, "I think the expansion and renovating of the temple and the setting of the Angel Moroni statue on the temple tower are magnificent symbols. They are symbols of the members' faith before the war, during the war, and for many years after the war when it was not easy to be faithful." ("Angel statue added to Freiberg temple: Townspeople consider sacred edifice their own," Church News [Saturday, 12 January 2002]: 6).

In 2002 when the Freiberg Temple was rededicated Shaun D. Stahle wrote: "Members here have long heard the political posturing by world leaders taking claim for the demise of the Iron Curtain. But, they say, the dedication of a modest, obscure temple in 1985 became the pebble in the shoe that eventually brought down the giant of communism. It was the final step in a series of events that started in 1978 with the dedication of East Germany by President Thomas S. Monson.

Surrounded by hundreds of tearful members of the Church who, only a dozen years ago had limited contact with Church leaders, President Gordon B. Hinckley rededicated the Freiberg Germany Temple Saturday, Sept. 7, in one session.

Reconstruction began a year ago to enlarge the size of the temple and raise the standard of quality to match current temple construction.

Much has changed in the 17 years since President Hinckley dedicated this "temple of miracles," as some here call it. For many, this temple rededication provided the centerpiece where people of different nationalities could gather, and for the first time since the demise of the Berlin Wall, celebrate their new gospel kinship.

Members came from the far reaches of the temple district, which is comprised of former Eastern Bloc countries. A bus load of nearly 60 members from Hungary arrived at midnight the night before the rededication. Members strolled the temple grounds before finding their rooms in the Church-owned hostel behind the temple. Other Hungarian members left home at midnight and drove nine hours to arrive just in time for the rededication ceremony.

Still other members traveled from the Czech Republic and Poland. Special translation facilities in the nearby Freiberg Ward meetinghouse allowed them to hear proceedings in their own language. Many members from Ukraine, who have been enthusiastic patrons of the temple, also attended.

Proceedings were also broadcast to stake meetinghouses in Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig, Germany.

Prior to President Hinckley arriving, Elder D. Lee Tobler of the Seventy, president of the Europe Central Area, led the cornerstone ceremony. Assisted by his counselors, Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, they displayed each item placed in the metal container, then sealed it and placed it in the wall on the southeast corner.

Elder Tobler then led a procession of several who applied mortar to the cornerstone, including the area presidency; the temple presidency of Gerhard GrŸnewald, president, Robert T. Dewey, first counselor, and Siegfried H. Schmidt, second counselor, and Karin R. Grunewald, temple matron; Ida Louella G. Dewey and Ursula Marie N. Schmidt, assistants to the matron; and two children, Vanessa Rakow and Divo Fršbel.

"Somewhere on a report it will read that the Freiberg temple was enlarged and renovated," said President Dewey first counselor in the temple presidency and former architect for the Church. "But it's so much more than that. It's hardly the same temple. The original temple was built as good as it could have been at the time. But this temple is remarkably superior."

While ordinance rooms remain the same size, a new baptismal font on the backs of 12 oxen was built to replace the stake meetinghouse-style baptistery of the past. Office space was also enlarged as well as an attractive foyer and recommend desk.

It was the House of the Lord before and the work performed was just as valid, said President Dewey. The difference is that the temple now meets the high standard of current temples.

Prior to World War II, Saxony in eastern Germany, including parts of what is now Poland, contained one of the greatest concentrations of Church members anywhere in the world, outside of Utah. After the war, an estimated one-third to one-half of the members emigrated to the West. Those who remained were allowed to practice their religion but without proselytizing, which hampered growth during the communist era.

Attending were those like Edith Krause, who became stranded away from home during World War II as Allied bombers attacked the city of Dresden on the evening she was assisting members with their family history. She survived the attack and, over the years, she and her husband, Walter, were instrumental in sustaining the Church when they were allowed limited contact with Church leaders.

"We came this long distance because the Church is our joy," she said, while sitting with her husband on a bench in front of the temple. "We are examples that when the Lord wants something, nothing can stop Him."

Gunther Schulze from the Dresden Ward also attended. Like others, he served the Church despite the inconveniences of the government. He told how one day, while visiting a member in current-day Poland who had been cut off from Church contact after being displaced during World War II, she pulled a stocking from behind the kitchen cabinet containing tithing saved over 25 years. She said she knew that those bearing the priesthood would one day return.

Since the dedication of the temple in 1985, membership of the Church in the former Eastern Bloc countries has grown. Members from Bulgaria to Ukraine now attend weekly temple trips. But the value of the rededication is not an enlarged building, said President Frank Jentzsch of the Dresden stake, but a second opportunity to introduce more neighbors to the gospel.

"Many people think the expansion is a sign of growth in Church membership," he said. "Membership has grown, but the ordinance rooms still have the same capacity. The important aspect of this rededication is the second chance the Lord has provided to teach the gospel and convert more members. . . .

"This open house, while it was 28,000 visitors instead of the 90,000 in 1985, all who came were very excited. Very little criticism. We often invite many people to ward activities, but few come. But more came to the open house than had been invited. The spirit of the temple is great.

"We are better members now. We are better prepared to receive new members. The Dresden stake has a good foundation. We are more stable and have the attitude to support and help new members. We hope we will do better with this second chance.

"The power of the heavenly world works particularly strong on members and non-members." And Iron Curtains. (Shaun D. Stahle, "Freiberg Germany 'Temple of Miracles' Is Rededicated," Church News [Saturday, 14 September 2002]: 9).

On 20 March 2002 at the Young Women's General Conference President Thomas S. Monson related the following story which occurred years before in Germany:

Let me illustrate with a personal and treasured experience. For many years my assignments took me into that part of Germany which was behind what was called the Iron Curtain. Under Communist control, those who lived in that area of Germany had lost nearly all of their freedoms. Activities of youth were restricted; all actions were monitored.

Shortly after I assumed my responsibilities for that area, I attended a most uplifting conference held in that part of Germany. Following the inspirational songs and the spoken word, I felt the impression to meet briefly outside of the old building with the precious teenage youth. They were relatively few in number but listened to every word I spoke. They had hungered for the word and encouragement of an Apostle of the Lord.

Prior to attending the conference, before leaving the United States, I felt the prompting to buy three cartons of chewing gum. I purchased three flavors: Doublemint, Spearmint, and Juicy Fruit. Now, as the gathering of the youth was concluded, I distributed carefully to each youth two sticks of gum—something they had never before tasted. They received the gift with joy.

The years went by. I returned to Dresden—the site of our earlier conference. Now we had chapels; now the people had freedom. They had a temple. Germany was no longer separated by political boundaries but had become one nation. The youth were now adults with children of their own.

Following a large and inspirational conference, a mother and her daughter sought me out to speak to me. The daughter, who was about your age and who spoke some English, said to me, "President Monson, do you remember long ago holding a brief gathering of youth following a district conference, where you gave to each boy and each girl two sticks of chewing gum?"

I responded, "Oh, yes, I surely do remember."

She continued, "My mother was one to whom you gave that gift. She told me that she rationed in little pieces one stick of gum. She mentioned how sweet to the taste it was and so precious to her." Then, under the approving smile of her dear mother, she handed to me a small box. As I opened the lid of the box, there I beheld the other stick of gum, still with its wrapper after nearly 20 years. And then she said, "My mother and I want you to have this," she said.

The tears flowed; embraces followed.

The mother then spoke to me: "Before you came to our conference so many years ago, I had prayed to my Heavenly Father to know that He indeed cared about me. I saved that gift so that I might remember and teach my daughter that Heavenly Father does hear our prayers."

I hold before you tonight that gift—even a symbol of faith and assurance of the heavenly help our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, will provide you. (Pres. Monson: Pathways to perfection" Church News [Saturday, 30 March 2002]: 3).

Brent Top in the 2000 Sperry Symposium pointed out that "By the mid-1990s, full-time missionaries were serving in 15 newly created missions [in countries] reaching from central Europe to Siberia. Thousands joined the Church and scores of branches were established behind what was once the Iron Curtain."

In June 2007 Thomas S. Monson spoke of his many year involvement: "For many years as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I had responsibility for East Germany, also known as the German Democratic Republic. In this assignment, my knowledge of the Articles of Faith was most helpful. On each of my visits throughout the 20 years I supervised this area, I always reminded our members in that area of the twelfth article of faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Our meetings behind what was known as the Iron Curtain were always monitored by the communist government there. In the early 1980s, when we sought approval from the government officials to build a temple there, and later when we asked permission for young men and women from that area to serve missions throughout the world and for others to come into their country to serve missions, they listened and then said, “Elder Monson, we’ve watched you for 20 years, and we’ve learned we can trust you and your Church because you and your Church teach your members to obey the laws of the land.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Examples of Great Teachers,” Liahona, Jun 2007, 74–80).

A few stories of faith were published in the Church News in 1993 about modern pioneers of faith:


Octavian Vasilescu is becoming accustomed to the word ``first'' appearing with his name. He is reported to be the first native-born Romanian baptized in that country after humanitarian service missionaries entered in 1990. He also is said to be the first elder ordained in Romania and the first Romanian to serve as branch president in his country.

Until 1990, when he helped an LDS family from California find where members - mostly Americans living in Romania - were meeting in Bucharest, he had never heard of Mormon pioneers. Now he talks in terms of being one.

``In Romania people think, `What's this church?' People were educated in a different way, against churches generally,'' said Pres. Vasilescu, 39. ``I had never read the Bible, although I had a desire to read it. Our parents were afraid to teach us about Jesus Christ and His gospel because Communism in the 1950s and 1960s was very bad in Bucharest.

``I am a pioneer in a way because I am one of the first members of the Church in my country. I have to be an example for the others, teach others about the Church and the gospel.''

Pres. Vasilescu reflects the essence of the pioneer spirit of learning by doing. ``I didn't know anything about the Church in the beginning,'' he said. ``When I was called as branch president [three months after he was baptizedT, I said, `I don't know anything about this.' The humanitarian service missionaries said, `In the Church, everybody learns.' I studied every day.''

Pres. Vasilescu, a mechanical engineer, was baptized March 24, 1991. His wife, Simona, a chemical engineer, and their two children were baptized June 6, 1992. During a visit to Utah this month, the family had sealing ordinances performed in the Salt Lake Temple.


Zdzislawa Chudyba ventured beyond the borders of her native Poland, first to discover the gospel, second, to share it with others, and third, to gain more knowledge.

She visited London, England, where she was baptized July 29, 1985. Within 10 days, she returned to Warsaw, where she found just four members of the Church who met regularly in an apartment. Using the little knowledge she acquired about the Church during her brief visit in London, she helped the Church unit in Warsaw grow. In 1991, she went to Russia as a full-time missionary.

``It's all amazing, when I look back. I didn't know how to do things,'' Sister Chudyba said. ``I think, `Was this me?' I'm not strong. I didn't know how to do many things, but I just did the best I could. I don't think of myself as a pioneer.

``There was fear and happiness in the beginning. I knew I had a lot of things to do, both in Poland and in Russia. When you are where there are few members of the Church, you learn so much in a time.''

Sister Chudyba is teaching Russian at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, while pursuing a degree at BYU. She looks forward to returning to Poland when she completes her studies.


In the true pioneer spirit, members of the Leest Branch built their own meetinghouse under difficult circumstances. The Church was organized in 1923 in this tiny village a few kilometers west of Potsdam, Germany. When Ernst Richter, baptized shortly after World War II, was called as branch president in 1956, the members still had no meetinghouse.

The Church could not purchase property in the German Democratic Republic. However, in the late 1970s, Pres. Richter was visited by a representative of the ministry of religion. In 1980, the government gave the Leest Branch permission to build a meetinghouse. However, the government said the branch would not receive any supplies from the state building material providers.

Gradually, members in Leest collected materials - a few building blocks at a time, according to Matthew Heiss of the Church Historical Department, who recently visited Germany. It took them three years to collect the needed 55,000 cinder-like blocks and other materials before they could begin building. Often, a member purchased a single sack of cement at a time, with much gratitude, and added it to the collections of materials to build the meetinghouse.

``When they had collected enough, they were ready to begin building,'' Brother Heiss said. ``In March 1983, they broke ground for the meetinghouse, designed by one of the sisters in the branch. Henry Burkhardt dedicated the ground.''

To provide water for the meetinghouse's facilities, a well needed to be dug. The water table is at 18 meters, but good water is found at 42. The members decided to dig a shaft 13 meters deep that would prepare the way for a professional well digger to dig to 42 meters. Thomas Heller, because of his slight build, was selected to dig the shaft. He filled buckets with dirt and passed them to Pres. Richeter and his son, Berndt.

The Leest Branch meetinghouse was dedicated in 1990, 10 years after members began building it with their own hands. (Gerry Avant, "Present Day Pioneers: Many Are Still Blazing Trails," Church News [Saturday, 24 July 1993]: 6).

In 2008 President Monson called Dieter Uchtdorf to be one of his counselors in the First Presidency. Wolfgang Paul, Erich Kopischke and Dennis B. Neuenschwander who worked closely with him in the DDR are serving as members of the Seventy. Thomas S. Monson has had a great influence in bringing down the Iron Curtain spiritually.


Kerstin and Josh Milazzo said...

Thank you so much for posting this. It was so interesting reading about it. I was born in Goerlitz and am a convert to the church and heard a lot about the time when Pres. Monson came to Goerlitz. It was interesting reading about it in more detail!!!

Paul Smart said...

Hi, came across your post when I googled President Monson's quote about opening the doors of nations. Really great information! Thanks for taking the time to gather it and write it out. Seems like if opening the doors of nations is next on the Lord's agenda, President Monson and President Uchtdorf are the right men for the job!

David Nuffer said...

This is great material. Thank you very much.