Group celebrates 25 years of Mormon missionaries crossing divided Germany

By Erica Palmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, June 13 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

"We actually had initially quite a bit of success speaking to the people, just because they were curious," Thueson said. "There wasn't a lot of Western influence in East Germany. It opened up a lot of doors to us teaching."

Elder Paul feels that the curiosity of the people wasn't just a coincidence. During the dedicatory prayer to set the land apart for missionary work in 1975, President Monson requested that people would develop a curiosity for the gospel.

"Arouse within them a curiosity concerning the Church, and then cause that this curiosity may turn to a desire to know more, and then that this desire to know more will result in conversion to the gospel and that the membership of the Church may stabilize and indeed grow," President Monson said in the prayer, according to the book "The Dawning of a New Beginning."

“When I personally interviewed many who requested to be baptized, I asked them, ‘How did you become acquainted with the church?’” Elder Paul said. “I received many times the answer, ‘Oh, I was just curious.’”

Miles and his companion were the only missionaries in the northern part of the German Democratic Republic, and they were incredibly busy: "We got to the point where we were so busy with people, we actually extended the baptismal (invitation in) the first discussion," he said.

But they still had incredible success. Miles said he and his companion witnessed a baptism every week for six of the eight months that he was in the German Democratic Republic.

"The people were just so hungry for something to believe in," he said. "They did not believe in the things the government was telling them. They didn't have a sense of God. The Spirit, when they felt it, was unique to them."

Elder Paul remembers one missionary telling of an experience giving a blessing to an investigator. After the blessing, the man sat on his chair for minutes, repeating, "My heart is burning. My heart is burning."

"These people who proudly claimed to be atheists, when they felt the Spirit, became like children," Elder Paul said. "Many cried when they said a prayer for the first time."

Although the LDS Church membership in the German Democratic Republic hadn't had access to foreign, full-time missionaries or many church materials after the beginning of World War II, they stayed strong.

"Berlin was such an amazing experience because they had never seen missionaries in their lives," Miles said. "They had only heard about them."

Elder Paul said that the members sacrificed to help with missionary work, "but they did it with joy. They treated the missionaries wonderfully. They provided food for them and they helped them in missionary work."

Thueson remembers one ward mission leader in particular, Brother Wiese, who was always willing to drive the missionaries wherever they needed to go.

Thueson later found out that Wiese, like most people in the German Democratic Republic, had signed up for his car in advance and waited years for it to come off the production line. Most people in this situation were very careful with the amount of miles they put on their cars: "(The members) were so willing to give of their time and their limited resources to help out the missionary work," Thueson said.

Elder Paul said the opening of the German Democratic Republic to the LDS Church was a modern miracle: "I wouldn’t say it was easy, but the church had such a good reputation among the East German leaders,” he said.

According to Elder Paul, the State Secretary for Religious Affairs Kurt Löffler was generous and had a lot of trust in the church. Elder Paul recalled him once saying, “I’m accused that I have a great favor for your church. If I’m honest, I have to admit that.”

Elder Paul said the opening of the German Democratic Republic to the LDS Church was not something ordinary: "When I reflect on it I must say…I have been involved in a modern miracle," he said.

Erica Palmer is a writer for the Mormon Times and Features department. Email: epalmer@deseretnews.com

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