When I was 12 years old in my hometown of Geyersdorf, Saxony, East Germany, young elders from different parts of the United States and Canada brought the fulness of the gospel to my parents' home. Disenchanted with the teachings of their religion, my parents accepted wholeheartedly the more plain and understandable message of these clean young elders and ambassadors of the Lord.
To this day I am eternally grateful to my deceased parents for their teaching and for bringing me up in the gospel. In later years, at the age of 20, I was drafted into Hitler's army. Those years from 1938 to 1945, and half a year in a Canadian prison camp in Europe near the end of the war, did not diminish my testimony. To the contrary, I knew more than ever before that God lives. He saved my life many times at the brink of death and destruction.
I came home after World War II to a small family consisting of my wife and 1-year-old son Klaus. My wife and I were married during the war in 1943. After all the terrible experiences of the war, I had only the desire to find a job, support my family and serve my Heavenly Father. I soon found out this was wishful thinking.
Being home half a year, I received a call to serve a mission among my people in East Germany. Though not knowing how to respond to such a call of sacrifice under the hard conditions of that time, nevertheless, I accepted and left behind an expectant wife and a child. This was the time shortly after World War II when many people were destitute, hungry and literally starving. Still, I was sure my family would be blessed during my absence, for I preached the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to our Father's children. Faith triumphed over doubt and the discouragement of Satan. Today, I know how much joy, happiness and satisfaction I would have missed by not accepting the Lord's calling.
During the 27 months of my mission time, I served 13 months with two different companions in Bernburg on the river Saale. Success was so great we baptized whole families and many individuals. One of our converts was Manfred Schuetze, a boy of 7 when we baptized his mother and his grandparents, the Himpels. His father did not return from World War II. Manfred grew up to be a strong leader in the Church. He became a mission president, a stake president and today works in the Church Educational System.
We started in Bernburg with only 12 members that lived in the city and met regularly with the Rabbi's permission in a Jewish synagogue. Soon, however, we found our own locality with enough room for more than 100 people. After complete renovation of the facilities, the mission president, Walter Stover, arrived from Berlin and dedicated our wonderful meeting place.
A member family of five from the city of Koethen attended our meetings in Bernburg, where I was the branch president. The father, Brother Bartkow, approached me one time and asked if we could hold cottage meetings every week in his home. This was agreed upon. During the next six months these meetings proved very successful, and the attendance kept growing and growing. Pretty soon, the Bartkows' living room became too small, and larger quarters had to be found. Simultaneously we knew the time was right for a branch of the Church in this city. Formal requests were made, approval was obtained from the district president, Herbert Schreiter, and President Stover.
A meeting place was found in the upper rooms of the restaurant Weisser Schwan (White Swan). My companion, Gottfried Uhlig, and I were assigned to support this new branch in addition to our work in Bernburg. On Sunday mornings we traveled 30 minutes by train to Koethen; in the afternoons we had to be back in Bernburg to conduct the meetings.
Five years after completion of my mission my family immigrated to Utah. Recently, we learned of the groundbreaking for a meetinghouse of the Koethen Branch in the Leipzig Stake. I can't express the joy I felt when I heard about the fruits of our labor during those terrible and difficult years after the war. It took nearly 50 years to happen because many families immigrated to Utah, the land of Zion, including the Bartkow family. From the meager beginnings of a cottage meeting have resulted a branch and a chapel in Koethen!
Erhard Wagner is a high priests group instructor in the Crescent 11th Ward, Draper Utah Crescent View Stake