Elder Erich W. Kopischke: Faith of family stems from legacy of sacrifice

The first time that Elder Erich Kopischke walked into the Prenzlau Branch as the new president of the Germany Berlin Mission about four years ago, he looked so much like his grandfather who lived there as a young man that long time-members universally exclaimed, “Erich is back.”

In the way of family traits, Elder Kopischke, who bears his grandfather’s name, hasn’t fallen far from the tree. And in the way of spiritual traits, he continues his rich familial heritage.

“I have seen my parents sacrifice everything for their faith,” he said. “They were always a great example. Their faith and sacrifice had an impact on us as children.”

At age 50, having served a few months as an Area Seventy in Germany after being released as mission president, Elder Kopischke was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy on March 31.

Elder Kopischke was yet to be born in 1956 when his parents concluded that life in communist East Germany would never allow them to exercise the full measure of their faith. They figured they had to somehow go over the border to West Germany.

Faith has been part of his parents’ lives since they joined the Church during World War II. Elder Kopischke’s father was 10 years old when a neighbor friend invited him to attend Sunday School in Stettin, a city now part of Poland.

His father’s interest in the Church piqued the curiosity of Elder Kopischke’s grandparents. They began investigating and soon joined the Church, along with Elder Kopischke’s aunt.

Years later, when his father entered the military, he promised a beautiful young lady that if she joined the Church, they would marry upon his return. With that, he left the teaching of the gospel to his future bride in the hands of his mother.

After marrying, the young Kopischke couple decided that their desires for worshipping God in religious freedom were greater than the fear of death by shooting or probable imprisonment if caught while attempting to escape from East Germany.

With Elder Kopischke’s mother, then seven months pregnant with him, they summoned their courage, and despite lacking proper permits to leave the country, boarded a train bound for West Germany. Their only hope of escape hung on the Lord.

When the train stopped at the West German border they heard bloodcurdling cries for help as guards arrested those lacking authorization.

They watched as an armed guard strode to their compartment. Just as he was about to open the door, the guard looked away as if distracted, then left. Compartments on either side of their compartment were checked, but they went unnoticed and were permitted to escape.

They immigrated to Elmshorn, a city north of Hamburg near the Danish border. There, Elder Kopischke was born. A refugee, his father performed common labor. The family lived in humble circumstances but was rich in the things of faith. In the years to come, all the boys served missions and each of the children married in the temple.

Years later, when Elder Kopischke returned from serving in the Germany Munich Mission, there was an 18-year-old young lady named Christiane in the stake who was interested in seeing what had become of the young man who suffered motion sickness every temple trip as a youth.

She was smitten by first impressions, but it wasn’t until a few months later, while he was completing his requirement in the German military when he was called as a counselor in the bishopric, that she sensed his commitment to the Lord.

“What a wonderful man,” she thought. They became better acquainted in young single adult activities. They were married Dec. 18, 1978, in the Bern Switzerland Temple.

The next years saw a dizzying pattern of moving across the country, first near Hannover, then Nurnberg, Munich and then Berlin for service as a mission president.

Each new experience provided opportunity to share their testimonies and talents in ways that strengthened the Church in number and activity.

In Stadthagen, near Hannover, they joined with other young couples to create activities that strengthened retention and activation. Returned missionaries married and lived in the ward.

During this time, the ward grew from about 60 active members to 160. Elder Kopischke often returned home from work to find that his wife had invited yet another neighbor for dinner with the missionaries.

In Nurnberg, Elder Kopischke became the stake president when the American military stake was combined with the German-speaking Nurnberg district.

“Everything was bilingual,” he said. “Despite great language challenges we learned to love each other. Both cultures learned from each other. We tried hard to understand each other, such as a German Young Women president serving with an American counselor. It wasn’t easy. Some were embarrassed to speak. But we blended together and saw great success.”

There was a time when their boys cried at the prospect of moving to another city. Now, it’s a way of life. Elder Kopischke is merely following a pattern set by his parents and grandparents of moving and sacrificing for the cause of the kingdom. In the process, he and his family have “found the joy that sacrifice brings.”