Ned C. Hill: Revisiting a miracle in Germany

By Ned C. Hill

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, June 22 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This week, Mormon Times shares the testimonies of five scholars who are faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, courtesy of the website MormonScholarsTestify.org. Click here for the list of scholars. www.deseretnews.com/article/765583568/Latter-day-Saint-academics-share-their-testimonies.html

I did not grow up in an active LDS home. My stepfather was a very good man who was as honest and hardworking as the day is long. He had picked up some bad habits during his years in the war and felt uncomfortable around active LDS people, but he always felt close to the church and its teachings.

My mother was very caring and supportive — but she did not go to church very often either. During my days at Bountiful High School in Utah, I became very close with a number of young men and women who were not only active in the church but who became very patient and caring friends — the kind you value throughout your life. They always seemed to take me into their circle. I loved being with them and their families and soon developed an ideal of what I wanted for myself in a family.

Through their examples, I was baptized, attended seminary the last two years of high school and nurtured a desire to serve a mission. For me, my mission was a transformative experience. I served in Germany under two devoted mission presidents who had a powerful influence in my life. I also mingled with some remarkably bright and capable missionaries who were not only becoming well-educated but also faithful and hard-working.

In spite of best efforts, we were not very successful in winning converts of the German people. Those who did take our message to heart and were baptized were quite amazing people — but we didn't have the opportunity to see that very often. What I didn't realize was that I would have an opportunity to take a new look at my mission a couple of decades later.

About 22 years after returning from Germany, marrying the girl of my dreams, defending the country, finishing grad school, bringing five energetic children into the world and starting a university teaching career, I received an invitation to make a presentation in Amsterdam at a conference. I thought it would be a good opportunity to take our oldest son, Evan, on a father-son adventure not just to see Holland but to go back, for the first time, into my old mission area.

So after the conference, we rented a tiny car, braved the no-speed-limit autobahn, and drove through Holland and across the border into Germany. What a thrill to see the familiar cities and towns of the old industrial section of Germany — once crowded with steel mills, coal mines, chemical plants, and Protestant and Catholic churches.

I showed Evan some of my old apartments, the cobblestone streets I had "tracted out" and our old rented branch meeting hall in Herne. Here we managed to also find a beautiful new modern ward meetinghouse. Faithful Schwester Klein was the custodian on duty when we stopped by. She gave us an update on the growth of the branch into a ward and then showed us where her 97-year-old mother, Oma Klein, and her nearly-as-old aunt were living. We knocked on the apartment door. They peeked out, carrying the open copies of the Book of Mormon they had been reading. They seemed to glow with remembrance and filled me in on the people of the branch I had known.

Then we drove south to Düsseldorf and our former mission office, where I spent many months of my two years. The meetinghouse we helped build was still there, but the office had been sold to a real estate company since the missions in Germany were consolidated a few years back. It was in this office where a robber broke in and stole the tithing money and many other things back in 1966.

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