A disease, an unexpected cure and more memories from Elder Uchtdorf before the Frankfurt Germany Temple rededication

FRIEDRICHSDORF, Germany — Eleven-year-old Dieter Uchtdorf found himself tasked with picking up and delivering laundry for the small business his parents ran after the family fled war-torn East Germany in 1952 for a new life in West Germany.

Young Dieter had wanted a sleek, sparkling-red sports bike to do his after-school rounds, but money was tight. And although preferring to spend time with friends rather than make his deliveries and pickups, he huffed and puffed his way for several years on a heavy, black workhorse of a bike, pulling behind him a clunky trailer along the streets of Bergen-Enkheim, near Frankfurt.

When faced with military obligations years later as a young man, Dieter volunteered for the air force, hoping to be a fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe. Doctors conducted pre-enlistment medical tests; surprised with the results, they tested again. Extensive scarring on his lungs indicated he had suffered from lung disease, and the doctors wanted to know what treatment he had undergone to heal so thoroughly.

It was the first time that Dieter — now Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — learned he had suffered a lung disease. He realized his regular exercise in the fresh air as a laundry boy pedaling the heavy bike contributed to the cure of the disease and to his pursuit as a future fighter pilot and airline captain.

Elder Uchtdorf shared that personal story at a youth devotional in Friedrichsdorf, Germany, on Saturday night, Oct. 19, the eve of the rededication of the Frankfurt Germany Temple. A standing-room-only crowd packed the Friedrichsdorf stake center built next to the temple during the latter’s four-year closure for renovation, and most youths were hearing for the first time the anecdote Elder Uchtdorf shared in general conference nearly a decade and a half ago.

Attendees join a small orchestral group and the choir in singing "Families Can Be Together Forever" at the youth devotional in Friedrichsdorf, Germany, on Oct. 19, 2019, the eve before the rededication of the Frankfurt temple.
Attendees join a small orchestral group and the choir in singing “Families Can Be Together Forever” at the youth devotional in Friedrichsdorf, Germany, on Oct. 19, 2019, the eve before the rededication of the Frankfurt temple. Credit: Scott Taylor

Acknowledging to the youth that challenges, disappointments and worries may be part of their futures, Elder Uchtdorf said fear and discouragement need not be — if the youth continue with confidence in God and faith in His promise of spiritual accompaniment.

“God is with you, who can be against you?” he asked.

The visiting apostle said his wish is for youths to know that God is real, that Jesus Christ lives and that He is real as well. “And the principles taught in this Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are principles that will change our lives here for the better and help us to be united as families here on this Earth and in the life to come.

“So I hope they have the desire and the feeling to establish this firm foundation, this firm personal testimony in their hearts and minds, that they are willing to work on it, to give the discipline and efforts needed to grasp the gospel and its message in their lives.”

From his pocket, he took out the small, multifold “For the Strength of Youth” card in one hand, and then pulled out his own temple recommend in the other, explaining how living true to the listed topics of the former can help the youth prepare to answer faithfully and worthily when seeking to receive the latter. He pointed out that the card features a photo of the temple and emphasized their relationship by holding them together as if a singular, combined item.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, center, pause for a photo with their son's family — from left, Jasmin, Guido, Carolyn, Niklas Ivan and Robin Uchtdorf — Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, outside the Frankfurt Germany Temple.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, center, pause for a photo with their son’s family — from left, Jasmin, Guido, Carolyn, Niklas Ivan and Robin Uchtdorf — Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, outside the Frankfurt Germany Temple. Credit: Scott Taylor

The answers to the temple recommend questions reflect one’s attitude, goals and behaviors, which in turn affect one’s future, he said.

The evening devotional served as a precursor to Sunday’s temple rededication — the second time at the Frankfurt temple complex where youth enjoyed a head start of sorts. The night before last month’s temple open house, youth from surrounding stakes were invited to get the first official tours of the renovated sacred edifice.

Of course, those tours were a final test run for open house organizers. “But being on the temple grounds that night with hundreds of youth, getting little glimpses of how they felt when being led through the temple, was incredible,” said President Manuel Metzner, president of the Frankfurt Germany Stake. “There was a very special feeling there that night.”

There was a similar feeling Saturday evening, as the young people listened to Elder Uchtdorf. Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, his wife, and Elder Erich W. Kopischke, a German-born General Authority Seventy and member of the Europe Area presidency, who were also featured speakers at the 90-minute devotional.

Joining the Uchtdorfs for the weekend temple rededication assignment were Elder Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Jennifer Kearon, and the three General Authority Seventies who comprise the Europe Area presidency and their wives: Elder Gary B. Sabin, area president; Sister Valerie Sabin; Elder Massimo De Feo, first counselor in the area presidency; Sister Loredana De Feo; Elder Kopischke, the second counselor; and Sister Christiane Kopischke.

The Europe Area presidency is based in Frankfurt, and Elder Kearon served five years — first as a counselor and later as area president — in Europe prior to his 2017 call to the Presidency of the Seventy. As such, the assignment to return to Friedrichsdorf — a municipality 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Frankfurt — proved to be a homecoming of sorts for the Kearons, who were both visibly moved to be among the German youth for prayer, song and sermon during the devotional.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf engage a group of youth in a meeting prior to a devotional Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Friedrichsdorf, Germany.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf engage a group of youth in a meeting prior to a devotional Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Friedrichsdorf, Germany. Credit: Scott Taylor

Earlier in the afternoon, Elder and Sister Uchtdorf met with a select group of 18 youth, asking questions and fielding those asked of them.

“I had never met an apostle before,” said Jakob Keil, 14, of Hannover, Germany, and a grandson of Elder and Sister Kopischke. “I felt a confirmation that he really is an apostle, and so my testimony is stronger now than before.”

Added his sister, Mia Keil, age 13, of listening to Elder and Sister Uchtdorf: “I learned that they really are inspired by God and that they tell us exactly what we need to hear.”

Saturday’s events started with the visiting leaders and spouses arriving on the 5.2-acre complex that includes an annex and small visitors area, patron housing, temple missionary housing and a villa for the temple president and matron. After greeting friends and family outside, the group walked through the Frankfurt temple, with its four-year renovation removing all but the granite exterior walls and copper roof  and included relocating an enlarged baptistry to a newly created subterranean level.

After touring the temple, Elder Uchtdorf took his son, Guido Uchtdorf, with him to re-create a walk the two had shared 32 years earlier with a trio of apostles. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Elder Russell M. Nelson and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin had joined President Ezra Taft Benson for the three-day, 11-session original dedication of the Frankfurt Germany Temple, Aug. 28-30, 1987.

How Elder and Sister Uchtdorf have come full circle since organizing the Frankfurt temple open house 32 years ago

Wanting to stretch their legs between sessions one day, the three apostles invited the local stake president doubling as chairman of the temple dedication and open house committee — Dieter Uchtdorf — to go on a walk. He in turn grabbed then-17-year-old Guido, who was helping usher during the dedication.

“It was just an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that the Lord had sent these apostles to Germany to help create a center of spirituality,” recalled Elder Uchtdorf of the day when they walked about 450 meters to the center of Friedrichsdorf, the town that resulted from the asylum and land Count Friedrich II afforded the Huguenots who were fleeing religious persecution in France in the late 17th century.

The three apostles and two Uchtdorfs paused there for a photo in 1987. Elder Nelson has since become President Nelson, the Church’s 17th president, with Elder Maxwell and Elder Wirthlin now deceased.

On the overcast Saturday afternoon as a local church bell tolled 3, the two Uchtdorfs covered the same six-minute walk from temple to the monument and bust honoring Count Friedrich II and his tolerant actions. This time, the father was the apostle and the son about the same age his father was in 1987, as the pair paused for another photo to commemorate the occasion and the memory.

“It was exciting to be part of this temple’s dedication,” recalled Guido Uchtdorf, now living near Zurich, Switzerland, with his wife, Carolyn, and their three children.

He admits he remembers more about his ushering experiences than the walk to the city center — from his usher’s position, he watched members of the temple-dedication choir too overcome to continue singing, but he heard unseen voices carry the hymn all the same.

“It was special to be here at this spot and to meet those General Authorities and to walk with them,” he said, thinking back to his hesitancy to be part of the historic photo. “You can see them all standing close to each other, and there’s like this ‘apostolic gap’ in between. … I was a little undecided, but my father says, ‘No, come in the picture.’ It was a happy moment.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, right, and his son, Guido Uchtdorf, recreate a walk past the Frankfurt temple on Oct. 19, 2019, and on to the city center of Friedrichsdorf, Germany, in honor of a similar walk with three apostles during the temple's 1987 dedication.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, right, and his son, Guido Uchtdorf, recreate a walk past the Frankfurt temple on Oct. 19, 2019, and on to the city center of Friedrichsdorf, Germany, in honor of a similar walk with three apostles during the temple’s 1987 dedication. Credit: Scott Taylor