In his youth, Dieter F. Uchtdorf's passion and dream was to become an airline pilot. To sit in the cockpit's left seat commanding a flight was a goal that was firm and unshakable. He achieved the goal, not only sitting in that seat as the chief pilot for Lufthansa German Airline, but also sitting at the highest levels of the airline's administration.
Reflecting back on his life during a Church News interview, President Uchtdorf contrasted his career goal with the path that led him to now sit in a seat at the left hand of President Thomas S. Monson in the leading council of the Church.
President Uchtdorf was set apart as second counselor in the First Presidency on Sunday, Feb. 3.
A General Authority since he was sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy on April 2, 1994, President Uchtdorf was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 6, 1996, and to the Quorum of the Twelve on Oct. 2, 2004.
When he was a young boy, life was challenging in Germany. "I came through an upbringing where any dream about the future was somehow bleak and without great hope because Germany was in ruins," he said.
In that setting, a couple of times a week, he would ride his bicycle to the Frankfurt airport.
"Security was a little bit different then," he said, and he was able to climb the airport fence and walk right up to the airplanes.
"I looked into the cockpits. I dreamed about taking off and landing at faraway places and being close to the clouds."
The drive to fly motivated him to do what was necessary to fulfill that dream. For instance, he said he struggled to learn English in school. But upon finding out he would have to speak English to be a pilot, learning the foreign language suddenly became easier.
After joining the German Air Force in 1959, he finally reached his goal when he became a fighter pilot in 1962. He started flying for Lufthansa in 1965 and became a captain in 1970.
Sitting at his desk in the Church Administration Building, President Uchtdorf said firmly, "I wanted to become a pilot," then added gently, "but I never wanted to reach for any position in the Church. I just wanted to do my best wherever the Lord would place me."
When an elderly woman in Zwickau, Germany, invited President Uchtdorf's grandmother to attend Church shortly after the end of World War II, the entire Uchtdorf family accepted and everyone in the family except one was baptized.
Young Dieter was the exception because he had to wait two years until he turned 8 years old to be baptized.
He recalled that one of his earliest callings was as president of his deacon's quorum and how important that was to him. "We had only two deacons at that time, but it was very special to me," he said, adding, "Any calling which I received, any class I had to teach, it was something special. To sit at the sacrament table, to pass at first and, later as a priest, to bless it, these were all significant and wonderful experiences which I will always cherish."
He said, "I just wanted to do what the Lord wanted me to do."
That didn't always free him from apprehension. President Uchtdorf remembered being called to teach an English-speaking Sunday School class while in pilot training in Texas. "I thought the bishop was crazy to call me, because how could I do this?" he said. "But what a blessing it was. I could feel that the Lord was helping me. And that's true for every circumstance I've experienced since then, that the Lord provides when we just follow Him."
The same feeling continued when he was called in April 1994 to serve what he said he expected to be five or six years in the Second Quorum of the Seventy. When called to the First Quorum of the Seventy two years later at age 55, he said he and his wife, Harriet, realized they wouldn't be able to return to live in Germany until he reached emeritus status, probably at about age 70. When he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in October 2004, he said they then knew he would be serving the Lord in that capacity wherever needed around the world for the rest of his life.
"None of these callings I have ever expected," he said. "But I have had the feeling that if I do what the Lord is asking me to do, He will provide. … All my inadequacies, my lack of things which are needed for these callings, the Lord would provide."
With that faith, and with faith that this latest call came from the Lord through His prophet, President Monson, President Uchtdorf, though "joyfully overwhelmed," is pressing forward as a member of the First Presidency.
While aware of his many qualified brethren, he said he accepts the revelation of the Lord's will and doesn't ask, "Why me?" Referring to the words of Nephi in 1 Nephi 3:7, he said, "I just go and do what the Lord wants me to do and I know that the Lord will provide."
Many have set examples along the way that have helped strengthen his faith and testimony, including missionaries, mission presidents, Church leaders, prophets and family members.
Most especially, he singled out his wife who throughout their life together has been "a wonderful example for me with her kindness and goodness toward all people and her charity and her spirit of enthusiasm and joy for life and reaching out to everyone. … For her, everyone is good and everything is beautiful."
President Uchtdorf concluded, "I see the Lord has been kind and merciful to me. I declare that whatever I have accomplished in my professional life, in my family life, in my Church life, I owe to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the principles, to the teachings, to the opportunities which are given through that great work we are all engaged in."
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