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Fall of infamous wall means modern miracle for this German family

Rudolf and Ruth Lehmann talk about before and after "the wall came down." Residents of the small East German town of Mittweida, they regarded the infamous Berlin Wall that separated Germany's eastern and western sectors as a physical obstacle to a spiritual desire: having at least one of their seven sons serve a full-time mission outside their native Saxony.

With faith reminiscent of Joshua in Old Testament times, Brother and Sister Lehmann knew with certainty the Berlin Wall would come down just as surely as the wall at Jericho tumbled. They knew because a patriarchal blessing promised Peter, their youngest son, that he would serve as a missionary in a foreign land. When citizens from the East and the West began chipping away at the wall and knocking it down in November 1989, they knew Peter, then 18, would soon go on his mission.They didn't realize, however, that two other sons, Matthias, then 20, and Michael, 23, also would serve simultaneously in the United States. Earlier this month, the three sons completed their missionary service. Michael served in the Idaho Boise Mission, Matthias in the Tennessee Nashville Mission, and Peter in the Colorado Denver Mission. Brother and Sister Lehmann came from Germany, met their sons who were all released on the same day, and visited sites of interest in Utah, Idaho and Colorado. While in Salt Lake City, they were hosted at a dinner by President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve, and their wives.

Baptized in the autumn of 1961 - just a few months after construction began on the wall - Brother and Sister Lehmann embraced every aspect of the gospel, including the spirit of missionary work. At the time they were baptized, they had only four sons, whom they proceeded to teach about missionaries and missionary work.

In behalf of his parents, who do not speak English, Michael, now 26, told how the family came into the Church: "In the 1950s, my dad met a Mormon family for the first time, [the Johannes Jentzsch familyT. They invited him to an open house at the branch. He went to Church just once. He didn't have any deep impression about the Church from that first visit, but every time he passed the building, he thought about having been inside it and what he saw and heard there.

"In the 1950s and 1960s, the government tried to wipe out all churches in the country. It was stated publicly that the people had religious freedom, but in reality the government tried to cut down that freedom.

"The Church had what might be described as a partial missionary program in East Germany. Missionaries from East Germany could go within the boundaries of the country. They mainly worked to build up the branches of the Church but they also did some proselyting. One day in 1960, missionaries knocked on the door at my parents' home. Dad invited them in, and they presented one discussion. One week later, the government stopped the Church's missionary work in East Germany."

Although missionary work was stopped, Rudolf and Ruby Lehmann continued to ponder the message they heard from the missionaries. After about a year, he went to the police and asked permission to be taught by Brother Jentzsch. Since the Lehmanns were seeking out the Church instead of being proselytized by the Church, permission was granted. Brother Lehmann was baptized in late 1961. His wife was baptized a short time later.

"A lot of pressure was put on members of the Church," Michael said. "Each Sunday, branch leaders had to get permission from the police to hold meetings. They had to fill out a report stating who would speak and teach, and list the subjects that would be taught and discussed. I remember spies coming to our meetings, checking out what we did. We were not allowed to have Church publications, such as manuals or magazines. The members taught and gave talks from the scriptures. Even before the wall was built, if you went to West Germany and bought Church literature and got caught bringing it into East Germany, you would be arrested.

"In the Church, we were always taught about missions but the members were not able to go. Although in their practical thinking our parents didn't consider it a reality that we would go on missions, they were faithful and they began preparing us early to be missionaries. They knew if the Lord wanted us to serve, then we would be able to serve. To them, preparing their sons for missionary work was a part of the gospel. They believed in living all the gospel.

"My patriarchal blessing said I would share the gospel with conviction and joy. I wasn't sure what that meant, because when I was old enough to go on a mission, it still was not possible for missionaries to be called from East Germany. I thought perhaps I would be able to tell my friends about the gospel. Since I didn't have any hope of actually going on a mission, I made other plans. I completed my 18 months of military service and worked 21/2 years as a surveyor. When the wall came down, I was in my second year of college in Leipzig, studying architectural construction.

"One of my good friends back home, Orson Teubner [now serving in the Idaho Boise MissionT, always talked about going on a mission. When the wall came down, all the things Orson said about going on a mission were fresh in my mind. I couldn't believe the news when I first heard that people were tearing down the wall; we went by train to Berlin to see for ourselves. It was unbelieveable. It was like a great river of people streaming toward the wall. When we got to Checkpoint Charlie [a major border crossingT, no one even asked to see our passports. All my life, I had been accustomed to the police coming on trains anywhere close to the border and checking passports, asking questions. I couldn't believe we just walked right through."

Peter, now 21, said: "I received my patriarchal blessing in 1986, just three years before the wall came down. The blessing definitely brought good news. I wasn't sure how I would be able to go, but I knew I would. Then things began to happen. We could sense changes coming."

Those changes were effected when President Monson went to what was then the German Democratic Republic in October 1988 with Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy. They met with the leadership of the nation, requesting permission for missionary work to resume in that country. They also requested permission for young men and young women from the German Democratic Republic to be allowed to leave the country to serve as missionaries in other nations.

All the requests submitted were approved. "On Thursday, March 30, 1989, the first full-time missionary representatives in exactly 50 years entered the German Democratic Republic," President Monson announced in an address during the April 1989 general conference. The first missionaries from the German Democratic Republic entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on May 28, 1989, about six months before the wall started to come down.

With excitement, Peter watched the history-making events of missionary work unfold on his side of the wall. "Ever since I had received my patriarchal blessing, I would talk to different youth in East Germany about going on missions, and some of them didn't have any hope at all. I told them, `Plan to go. Somehow, things will change and you can go.'

"Even before the wall started coming down, I knew I would go on a mission."

Matthias, now 23, also had a glimmer of hope about going on a mission, although he did not receive a promise as specific as that given his youngest brother. "I was told I would tell a lot of people about the gospel," he said "I thought perhaps I would be something like a stake missionary.

"When the wall came down, my brothers and I went to our parents and told them we each wanted to go on missions. Although it would be hard for them, they said, `Go! We will support you.' I had been saving pennies from the time I was 8; and from the time I was a young boy, my parents were making me ready to go on a mission."

Each young man worked and saved money for missions. Michael was a surveyor, Matthias was a mechanic in a textile factory, and Peter painted houses.

At the dinner that President Monson hosted for the Lehmann family in the Lion House in Salt Lake City, he said:

"What we're witnessing here is the fulfillment of a dream, really a modern-day miracle. When these three Lehmann sons were boys growing up in the Aaronic Priesthood, no one would have calculated in his fondest imagination that the day would come when one could go on a mission, much less all three.

"But a series of interventions by the Lord brought about the situation where our young men and young women from this country have the opportunity to go on missions to that part of Germany, and for our young men and young women from there to go on missions to many parts of the world.

"These three young men will now return to their native country, which is united once again, and will be an example for other young men and women to serve missions. I think Brother and Sister Lehmann feel within their hearts that they have been highly rewarded to have three sons on missions at the same time. And these young men can certainly say they have been born of goodly parents."

With one of her sons as interpreter, Sister Lehmann bore her testimony to President Monson and others attending the dinner. "I always said I would like to have sons who could go on missions," she said. "Now my dream has come true.

"I sorted letters from each of my missionary sons into piles, and then I have one stack for special letters that help build testimonies. A sister in our little branch whose husband is not a member of the Church needed some encouragement, so I let her read some of the letters from my sons. She needed to be strengthened. She said, `Reading these letters is like having family home evening.' "

Also using a son for an interpreter, Brother Lehmann, in describing his thoughts and feelings of seeing the wall come down and the opening of the way for his sons to serve missions, referred to a passage in the New Testament. He spoke of Simeon, who was at the temple when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus there to present Him to the Lord. It had been revealed to Simeon that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ. When Simeon took the child Jesus into his arms, he said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. . . . For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.' (Luke 2:22-30.)

"I feel like Simeon," said Brother Lehmann. "I have been able to see all I need to see. I can go on."

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