I recently finished reading “To the Rescue”, the biography of President Thomas S. Monson and am awestruck by what I have learned about the history and life of this obviously divinely-appointed prophet. I don’t think anyone who knew the details of his lifelong service to mankind could honestly claim him to be less than a chosen man of God. Although I found great depth and meaning in the various aspects the biography covered, I was most impressed by the account of his ministry to the Saints in East Germany after World War II and their reaction to an oppressive, dictatorial and frightening governing body.
It is declared in the Articles of Faith that, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” But how does this apply to those under governments that seem to act in accordance with their best interest rather than the best interest of the people? What would the Lord expect of His Saints?
After the end of WWII, Berlin Germany had been divided into four sectors, one ran by the Americans, one by the English, one by the French and the other by the Soviets. While three of the four sectors set about re-building, the Soviets isolated their portion by building the Berlin Wall and restricting freedoms of speech and travel significantly.
Some years earlier, Elder Spencer W. Kimball shared a “‘glorious vision’ of what would happen if the members stayed in Germany and did their part ‘unselfishly to rebuild the great kingdom'” (Swinton, 281). 5000 or so responsive saints complied with this prophetic call despite the rising political tensions and ended up behind the Berlin Curtain. There they faced stringent stipulations in regards to religious observance, interpersonal communications and individual daily practices. Missionary work was halted and then dissolved. Freedoms they once held were now stripped away. Some may wonder at this prophetic encouragement for people to stay in a country that clearly wasn’t progressing towards freedom, but the Saints had placed their faith in Christ and his prophets: “Only with a faith in the ultimate consummation of the Lord’s purposes can people, with all their earthly possessions swept away, continue with spirits sweet and hearts free from bitterness”. As they adhered to the prophets and complied peacefully with their government they were promised “the richest blessings of eternity” (Swinton, 286).
Through the persistent ministry of Elder Monson and the faith of the East German saints, those blessings began again to be realized. Despite constant surviellance, Elder Monson travelled often into the closed-down country, organized a stake including patriarchs who could offer blessings to their members, dedicated the land again for the preaching of the gospel, and built a temple. Every effort was pursued diligently and with full communication and cooperation from the dictatorial government. They were watched closely but the government softened through the faithful compliance of the church members and their leaders.
Perhaps the consummate example of miraculous faith-wrought miracles was seen when Elder Monson called a meeting with some of the top communist leaders of the Soviet-run state. In this meeting, he emphasized “as a church we are not politically active, and we abstain from every attempt at political influence. Nevertheless, we encourage our memebers to do their utmost to assist in the development of the government under which they live and to promote a joining and beneficial existence with their fellow men and women” (Swinton, 333). He went on to seek permission for missionaries to once again proselyte behind the Berlin Wall, and for missionaries to be sent from within the state to other countries. In a way that can only be attributed to the interference of God and angels, these requests were met by “Permission granted” (Swinton, 334). The government that had taken and given millions of lives for a cause that can only be characterized as complete control over their people had lowered their brick wall to the Saints that they “trusted”, “admired” and saw as ideal citizens. Eventually that wall was lowered permanently, with all too many fingers pointing to the peaceful and hopeful compliance of the East German saints, and the cooperation and emphasis on similarities between the government and the LDS faith from church leaders.
Ultimately, the saints knew who held real power in their country, and it wasn’t the government. Their peaceful compliance to a totalitarian administration – despite the obviously corrupted and oppressive nature of it – showed that their faith unwaveringly was set in Christ. They recognized that no power on Earth or Heaven could compare to his all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving capacities, and they showed that recognition by doing everything within their sphere of influence to bless the lives of those around them, while remaining within the good graces of those that ruled them. In the end, “the marvel is that the saints built a temple and God brought down a wall. The Berlin Wall” (Swinton, 327).
The Lord is consistent in this care for his children. He is ever-aware of all people, regardless of nationality, race, status, educational opportunities, gender, age, proficiencies and deficiencies. He provides for them with no hinderence by whatever powers-that-be they may be subject to in this mortal realm. He will come to our aid always and despite the obstacles we perceive to be in his way. This should firstly bring great comfort to those of us who find themselves fearful, hesistant, oppressed or limited by their circumstances. It should also provide the peace and assurance that He will take care of those who are in such circumstances. We may not have the opportunity or capability of nourishing and nurturing all those in need that we would like to, but as we do our best and remain faithful and as they do likewise the Lord will comfort and care for them even better than we could do ourselves.
My hope is that we, as children of the Almighty God, may rest assured that our President, our King, our Magistrate, our Ruler is no man or governing body. Indeed, that position is held by the Prince of Peace, our High Priest of Good Things to Come, even Jesus Christ. With this knowledge, may we be diligent in our role as active and peace-seeking citizens, as nurturers to our fellow men and women, and may we always retain the “hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men…” (Ether 12:4).
Swinton, Heidi S. “To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson”. Deseret Book, 2010. Salt Lake City, Utah.