It was Saturday evening, Nov. 16, 1968, in Berlin, Germany, as my mission companion and I returned to our rented room. A message awaited to call mission headquarters in Hamburg. I was asked if I would I accept an assignment to interpret for Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles the next day at the Berlin Stake Conference. After 17 months of studying and speaking German every day, I felt I could accept this assignment. But as the call ended, my anxiety began. Would I be able to convey Elder Monson’s message and meaning accurately and not detract from it by flawed interpreting?
As I later knelt to pray and ask for help, my anxiety eased somewhat. I was a little puzzled as a strong, distinct impression came to me: Read the Christmas story in German. We were not yet anticipating Christmas, but I opened my German Bible anyway and turned to Luke, where I read and re-read the story of our Savior’s birth.
I had prayed again Sunday morning, but while seated on the podium, the anxiety returned. I silently pled that the Lord’s Spirit would be with me. As I stood up next to Elder Monson, a calmness flooded through me.
Elder Monson told of faithful German saints who, in late 1951, immigrated to the United States. Money was scarce. They would be moving into a cold, dreary, uninviting apartment in the ward where he was serving as bishop. As he shared those details with members of the ward welfare committee, there was a moment of silence. Then members of that committee spoke up. An electrical contractor pledged to fix the lighting. Someone offered to paint. A third determined to have donated carpet installed, and yet another to get donated appliances. The women in the ward would stock the cupboards with food. A Christmas tree was added, complete with gifts underneath it.
Elder Monson concluded his message with the Christmas story, how Joseph and Mary were told that there was “no room at the inn.” He then challenged the members of the Berlin Stake to find room in the inns of their hearts to reach out and serve those in need.
My literal interpretation of the words “no room at the inn” would not have easily conveyed Elder Monson’s intended message. But I was able to remember the phrase “keinen Raum in der Herberge” (Luke 2:7) just as I had read it the night before and interpret using the very words recognized and loved by Germans from their own Bible.
I had participated in a minor miracle, with power beyond my own, as Elder Monson’s interpreter that Sunday.
—Steve Nelson, Lindon 20th Ward, Lindon Utah Central Stake