Early last month I had the opportunity of spending nine days with some of my most favorite people in the world, my children and the former East German people. Whitney (18) and Steve L (16) and I traveled to a number of places where I lived and/or visited while on my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My two oldest have both taken some German in High School and since Whitney was to start college soon, it seemed like an good opportunity to go. So, we saved up SkyMiles and Marriott miles and continental miles and reserved a trip date over a year ago.
The trip had a number of purposes, first and foremost spending time with my children, second giving them a glimpse into an experience what up till that point in my life, were indeed the best two years of my life. I cherished my time on my mission and it has only been a blessing to me and my family in many ways since. Second it gave my children a chance to experience first-hand, due to my gracious German friends, to become more familiar with the people, culture, sights, sounds and tastes of Germany, the people and country that I learned to love so dearly on my mission. Funny how language skills practice was probably the last reason to go, but it also was key to establishing the desire to go.
While in Germany we visited Berlin, Wittenberg, Leipzig, Meissen, Dresden, Freiberg, Sieffen, Altenburg, Eisenach, and Frankfurt and experienced too many cultural adventures to mention here, but the best parts for me were visiting my friends and making a couple new ones. We started off by making new friends in Dresden.
At church on Sunday we met Sep, then a 4 year old boy at the time of my mission, now grown up, and his new wife Natalie, a Canadian, who translated church into English for Whitney and Steve and afterwards invited us into their home for dinner and later a magnificent dusk walking tour of Dresden that ended up on the Carola Bridge as the sun went down and the city lights came up.
Next we were invited to Rudolf and Birgit's family home in a small town Porschütz, just outside of and up the Elbe river from Meissen. It was good to see them and their family that is growing larger and bigger by the year. Here we had some very tasty home-cooked meals, took a steamboat ride down the Elbe to Meissen, climbed to the highest climbable point in the city in the Albrechtsburger Dom, had the largest ice creams ever and returned to their house for an evening of fun with their entire family and spent the evening together remembering earlier times and experiences we've experienced together and getting to know their children and grandchildren better. We also had an English session with them which was fun for my children and their grandchildren. I had the opportunity to bless Jennifer when she was a baby as a missionary, she is now much older and is also learning English and is a great cook! Hopefully she and her nieces and nephews over time will come visit us in America so we can introduce them to our family (yes, that was meant for you Jennifer). I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father that I got to know this lovely family while on my mission and retain their friendship even now. They are a great example to me of love, compassion, and what a caring family-life really means. I will always cherish their friendship and look forward to continuing it with them and their extended family.
While in Meissen we visited another friend of mine, Ursula, who was also expecting a visit from us, even though her invitation to us never arrived. When I first met Ursula she was was unacquainted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jan-Peter (my mission companion at the time) and I first met her over 20 years ago, just after her mother passed away. In an article she wrote about her conversion to the Gospel for the September, 1994 issue of Der Stern (the Church magazine in Germany), she writes that the gospel of Jesus Christ brought down the iron wall that she had built around her heart and finally brought peace into her life. It was truly a joyous "surprise" meeting for us and I am so glad we followed the promptings of the Spirit to stop by for a visit.
We also had the opportunity to visit Magnus, my second mission president in the Dresden Mission. He lives in a comfortable apartment near Frankfurt where we had the opportunity to meet with him. He has such a positive outlook on life and spreads it to everyone he meets. We visited the temple grounds together and he inspired my son towards his mission in a few years and my daughter with his positive outlook on life. We missed visiting with his Magnus' beloved wife Ingeborg, who passed away earlier this year. I wish they would have had a chance to meet her too. Someday they will.
Later that afternoon we had the opportunity of visiting Wolfgang and Helga, my first mission president in the mission, in their home close to Magnus'. They live in a beautiful home also near Frankfurt and shared their wonderful stories of service to the Lord with us. What a dynamic couple. They have been on the fore-front of the church's progress in Eastern Europe for some time. My children were enthralled to hear of their stories of how the Lord has brought about peaceful changes in countries so that the gospel may advance throughout the world. Hopefully they will write down their unique stories in a book for future generations to read and experience – they would have many readers.
It was great to hear my children's reactions to meeting each of my new and old friends on our trip together, and hearing the lessons they took away from each meeting with them. I am so glad to have had this experience to travel together and the blessings of the Lord throughout the trip. I am so grateful for the gospel and am so grateful that I served a mission. What a blessing it has been to my life up, to the life of my family, and will be to our posterity. Wouldn't it be joyous for our families to maintain these friendships into our future generations? It will be joyous, indeed.