The remarkable story of Sister Harriet Uchtdorf's introduction and conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes a friendly prologue.
Several years before two American missionaries unexpectedly knocked on her family's apartment door in 1954, young Harriet experienced a seemingly trivial encounter with another young stranger that would have lasting significance.
Germany, at the time, was taking its first steps of recovery following the devastation of World War II. West Germany was under occupation by the U.S. military. Life was hard and lean. Harriet Reich was still young enough then to sit atop a small handcart that her mother, Carmen Reich, would push through the streets of Frankfurt as she went about her daily business of caring for her small family.
On one occasion, the mother and daughter passed a young U.S. solider. The American G.I. smiled at the little girl, tossed her a foil-wrapped stick of chewing gum and continued on his way.
"I had never seen chewing gum, I didn't know what it was," said Sister Uchtdorf, wife of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency.
After receiving permission from her mother, little Harriet unwrapped the gum, placed it in her mouth and began to chew. She was amazed to find she could chew, chew and chew — but the small, flavorful gift would not dissolve and disappear!
"I had this precious thing now," said Sister Uchtdorf, relishing the memory. "So I took it from my mouth and put it back in this beautiful silver paper, wrapped it up and kept it. Each and every day I chewed it a little bit until there was nothing left. This was so special to me at the time."
Years passed and times remained tough. Harriet's father, Iwan Victor Reich, passed away, adding to the challenges of Sister Reich and her two daughters, Harriet and Carmen.In the fall of 1954, the family was living in a top-floor apartment in Frankfurt when a knock was heard at their door. Harriet, then 12, answered and saw two young American men dressed in coats and ties. They asked in accent-tinged German if they could come in and share their special message. Immediately, Harriet's mind conjured the memory of the friendly American soldier and his special gift.
Mrs. Reich was hesitant to invite the missionaries inside — but her daughter proved persuasive.
"I said to my mother, 'Let them come in and let's listen for a while,'" Sister Uchtdorf said. The missionaries introduced themselves as Elder Gary Jenkins of Pendleton, Ore., and Elder Richard Kowallis of Logan, Utah.
Recalling that moment, Brother Jenkins said he knew instantly that the humble family was ready to be taught the gospel.
"They were a golden family from the word 'Go'," he said. "They were interested in the message we had and they wanted us back soon. We were eager to do that."
This story is provided by the LDS Church News, an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is produced
weekly by the Deseret News.The contents of each week's edition of LDS
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