Last week I watched a documentary about the Berlin Wall, and they mentioned the role of the Nicolaikirche in Leipzig in holding Monday prayer meetings that spread resistance to the East German regime peacefully and ultimately led to the fall of the government and the wall. According to the church’s website, “From 8 May 1989, the driveways to the church were blocked by the police.” But the crowds of people could not be stopped. Even “a hideous show of force by soldiers, industrial militia, police and plain-clothes officers” on October 7 failed. “On this day, for 10 long hours, uniformed police battered defenceless people who made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds of them were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. In due course, an article was published in the press saying that it was high time to put an end to what they called ‘counter-revolution, if necessary by armed forces.'” A month later, the wall came down, and the miserable dictator who had built it, Erich Honecker, was relegated to the dustbin of history.
Watching this, I was reminded of a talk Thomas Monson gave in April, 1989, a month before the blockade of the church in Leipzig. Careful to refer to the country as “the German Democratic Republic, and which some erroneously term East Germany,” Monson outlined the LDS church’s history within that Soviet client state, culminating in an October, 1988 audience “with the head of the nation, even Chairman Erich 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.”
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.
I understand that the church believes in obeying the law, but where was the church when it was time to fight for freedom? It was giving gifts to Chairman Honecker and begging for missionaries. It’s well known that the church had a rather cozy relationship with the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, but it is a little surprising that they sucked up to the East Germans. And it’s highly ironic that they did so just before such a momentous triumph of freedom.
I guess I’m left to wonder with whom Heavenly Father was pleased: The men who praised the dictator, or the humble priest who wrote: “‘He dethrones the mighty ones and enthrones the weak ones.’ – ‘You will succeed, not by military power or by your own strength, but by my spirit, says the Lord,’ is what we experienced. There were thousands in the churches. Hundreds of thousands in the streets around the city centre. But: Not a single shattered shop window. This was the incredible experience of the power of non-violence.”
The church seems more interested in gaining access to potential converts than anything else, which is a pragmatic and understandable position. They couldn’t have known that within six months they would have had all the access they wanted without having to be friendly with Honecker and his cronies. It’s not like they had a special line of communication with a God who could have told them just to sit tight and stand on righteous principles for another six months.