When President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was a teenager in Germany, most of the lessons taught in Sunday School or over the Sabbath pulpit were delivered by missionaries. Those sacred lessons enriched his understanding and testimony of the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of those missionary lessons, shared decades ago, continue to inspire the church leader.
The power of missionaries — and all who serve the Lord — to bless others in need remains just as strong today, said President Uchtdorf, of the LDS Church's First Presidency, in his Oct. 3 remarks at the West German Mission Reunion in the Monument Park Stake Center in Salt Lake City.
"We never know when we do a good deed for someone, or say a word of comfort, or uplift someone, if that person, at that time, needed that heavenly blessing."
President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, were honored guests at the 2013 reunion of men and women who labored in the storied West German Mission. As Germans, the Uchtdorfs hold a tender spot for those who taught the gospel in their homeland.
"To be in your presence is a wonderful gift to me — you are a special people," he said.
President Uchtdorf humorously recalled his gratitude for the missionaries in Germany when he first encountered his future wife at a church meeting when they were young. Harriet Reich and her small family were attending Sunday services after being taught and baptized by a pair of faithful elders. As he observed the new converts — including the pretty girl with dark eyes — he told himself "those missionaries are doing a great job."
"I am grateful for those missionaries who brought that family into the church so that we could find each other," he said.
He also expressed appreciation for the mission presidents who played pivotal roles in the growth of the church in Germany. He spoke of the challenges that faced the missionaries called to Germany in the years following World War II. Most, he noted, arrived with little or no language training. "They were told, 'Oh, German is easy even the children speak it.' "
But they worked hard and blessed many lives. Today, the work of the missionaries moves forward. There are about 80,000 elders and sisters serving across the globe. Once again, he said, lives are being blessed.
President Uchtdorf said the dramatic increase in missionaries brings with it a few new challenges. But at its core, each missionary's sacred charge remains the same: "You go out and do it ... our commission is to teach the gospel to every tongue and nation."
The missionaries, he added, are an essential extension of the Quorum of the Twelve, who were first commissioned by the Savior "to teach every creature."
The world is marked by diversity, he added. But wherever the missionaries share the gospel, they are teaching sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father.
"Accept and cherish diversity — but try to avoid divisiveness," he said.
President Uchtdorf spoke of President Thomas S. Monson's love for Germany — and his love for all nations of the world. He also counseled the returned missionaries to continue to find joy in their respective journeys through life. "Let us decide to endure joyfully to the end."
In her remarks, Sister Uchtdorf said she felt like she was representing all the converts from Germany, Austria and Switzerland who were taught in their native tongue by faithful missionaries.
"Thank you so much for what you did and what you are doing," she said.
The missionaries contacted young Harriet Reich and her small family during a difficult time. Harriet's mother, Carmen Reich, was recently widowed and the family was enduring a dark, sad period. The gospel offered them light, hope and the promise of an eternal family. Sister Uchtdorf said her greatest joy remains seeing her own two children and six grandchildren embracing the gospel.
"Nothing can compare with having your children faithfully serving in the church."