“True Stories from Central Europe,” Friend, Aug. 1973, 36
Eleven-year-old John Roothoof lived in Rotterdam, Holland. He had once been happy going to school and church, playing with his friends, and doing all the things a boy enjoys. Then, without warning, a painful eye disease caused him to lose his sight. No longer could he go to school or read. He could not even see well enough to play with his friends. Each day was filled with darkness and suffering.
Word reached the Latter-day Saints in Holland that President Joseph F. Smith was coming to visit them. John thought about this for a long time, and then he said to his mother, “The prophet has the most power of any man on earth. If you’ll take me with you to the meeting so he can look into my eyes, I believe I’ll be healed.”
At the close of the meeting the next Sunday, President Smith went to the back of the small chapel to greet the people and shake hands with each one. Sister Roothoof helped John, his eyes bandaged, go with the others to speak to their beloved leader.
President Smith took the blind boy by the hand and then with great tenderness lifted the bandages and looked into John’s pain-filled eyes. The prophet blessed John and promised him he would see again.
Arriving home, John’s mother took the bandages from his eyes so she could bathe them as the doctors had told her to do. As she did so, John cried out with joy, “Oh, Mamma, my eyes are well. I can see fine now—and far too. And I can’t feel any pain!”
One night in 1970 fifteen-year-old Dan Ecklund rang the doorbell of the mission home in Zurich, Switzerland. When President M. Elmer Christensen opened the door, Dan said he wanted to talk with someone who could tell him about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Dan and his family had been living in the Congo and were on their way back to the United States. For eighteen years his father and mother had been serving as Protestant missionaries in the Congo, where all seven of their children had been born. They had not been happy when Dan became interested in another church while on a vacation in South Africa and asked their permission to be baptized. However, Dan was so convinced that the new Church was true that finally his parents consented and Dan was baptized.
Since the mission president in Zurich had supervision over any members in the Congo, Dan had written to ask President Christensen to send him some books to study. He had persuaded his father to stop in Zurich on their way to the United States so he could ask President Christensen to explain some things he did not understand.
While the rest of the Ecklund family visited with Sister Christensen, Dan went into President Christensen’s office, where they sat down and quietly discussed some of his questions.
Before Dan stood up to leave, he opened his wallet and took out a five-dollar bill in American money. He said that since he had become a member of the Church, he had earned forty-five dollars. This meant he owed four dollars and fifty cents tithing. The boy wanted to make a fifty-cent donation with the balance of the bill.
President Christensen explained about fast offerings, and Dan quickly agreed that this was a good place for his fifty cents to go. So the mission president wrote out a receipt and handed it to the boy, who read it thoughtfully and then tucked it into his wallet.
With shining eyes, he left the mission office and joined the rest of his family. Dan felt that at last he was truly a member of the Church he had learned to love.
Twenty people crowded into the small home of Erich Konietz in Selbongen, Poland. Some had traveled more than nine hours to get to Selbongen, and among them were seven young children. These boys and girls weren’t old enough to understand just what the meeting meant, but they could feel the wonder and excitement of friends being together again.
The date was October 17, 1970. Percy Fetzer of Salt Lake City, Utah, had been specially ordained by the First Presidency of the Church to give patriarchal blessings to members behind the Iron Curtain. M. Elmer Christensen, president of the Switzerland Mission, had arranged for him to go to Selbongen and had sent word to the members of the branch to meet with him on that wonderful Saturday afternoon.
President Christensen first told the group about the death of David O. McKay, the ninth president of the Church. He had been able to bring a picture of Joseph Fielding Smith, who was now the tenth president. He told the group the names of all of the General Authorities and had them say the names again and again until even the young children could repeat them.
Sister Fetzer and Sister Christensen told the Saints about Sunday School and Primary programs for children. Young and old learned some songs, including “I Am a Child of God,” which they especially liked. No one there had heard this song before, and they learned the words quickly and sang it with great feeling. Although they couldn’t write the words down on paper, they recorded the melody in their hearts and minds.
The members of the Selbongen Branch who crowded the Konietz home had once been free to enjoy each other and their membership in the Church. They had even built a small chapel in 1928—the first chapel of the Church ever built in Germany. But in 1945 war came to their country and many of them left their homes to escape the invading Russian army.
Some of the Church members who fled walked for days, taking with them only what they could carry. Others loaded their belongings into handcarts. A few were able to scramble aboard trains. Many died trying to escape.
Those who stayed in their own homes and survived the horrors of war found afterward that they were no longer citizens of Germany. Their land had been given to Poland. Because of this the people had to endure many hardships, and they were greatly limited in where they could go and what they could do. In spite of these difficulties, however, the small group of Church members managed to meet together. They were more than six hundred miles from any other Latter-day Saints, but by a miracle their lives and their chapel had been spared. Their hearts were full of gratitude.
Now they were meeting together, hearing news of their brothers and sisters, and receiving Patriarchal blessings from Brother Fetzer. It was a wonderful day!
While giving the blessings, Brother Fetzer was inspired to promise some that if they lived the gospel, they would go to a temple. He promised others that they would go on missions. These things seemed impossible on that day in October 1970, but since that time, all German people living in Poland have been given permission to move to West Germany.
It is very possible that the promises of those blessings for the Saints of Selbongen might soon be fulfilled!
Other interesting stories and articles about countries in Central Europe may be found in the following past issues of the Friend: Italy, November 1971; Austria, June 1972; Germany, December 1971; Spain, April 1973; France, June 1971; Switzerland, December 1972; and The Netherlands, April 1971.