Friend to Friend

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“Friend to Friend,” Friend, Aug. 1986, 6

Friend to Friend

Elder John Sonnenberg

Elder John Sonnenberg’s parents joined the Church in Germany just prior to his birth. His father had been a Lutheran, his mother a Catholic. The missionaries knocked on the door of their home in Schneidemühl and said, “We’re missionaries from America. We have the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we would like to teach it to you.” His father invited them in, and the missionaries taught them the gospel. Elder Sonnenberg’s father joined the Church first.

His mother, a brilliant lady with a photographic memory, “was a little resistant to their message. She wanted to prove the Book of Mormon. Upon reading the challenge given in the tenth chapter of Moroni, verses four and five, she recognized that the Book of Mormon could only have been written under the instrumentality of Jesus Christ. She came to know for herself that it was of the Lord.”

Elder Sonnenberg’s father emigrated to America in 1927, going ahead of the family to earn enough money to bring them over. A year later Elder Sonnenberg and the rest of his family sailed to America on the Columbus. “It was a scary trip for my mother,” he recalled. “She had three little children to care for, and she spoke no English.

“On arriving in America, we moved to a suburb of Chicago. Because we couldn’t speak English, we were frequently ridiculed. Mother often escorted us to school for our protection. My brother and I, in turn, were very protective of our little sister.

“We attended the Logan Square Branch in the Northern States Mission and usually had to walk the five miles to get to church, but we enjoyed it. Sometimes we had enough money, three pennies or so, to ride the streetcar. A number of the members were of German extraction, and we were greeted with open arms. Two of my choice teachers were President Marion G. Romney’s sisters, Merlyn and Jasmine. Joseph Janse and Carl Waldvogel also spent much time with us. We lived very humbly, and they looked after our needs. I have a well-worn copy of the Book of Mormon that was presented to me when it was new by my Primary teacher for good attendance in 1929, my first year in America.

“When we left Germany, the country was in the midst of skyrocketing inflation; a million marks wouldn’t even buy a loaf of bread. Upon arriving in America, we found it in the throes of the Depression. My father’s professional skills as a tool and die maker were in short demand, and he couldn’t find work. My mother, however, was able to find housework. Because she was an extremely good cook, she also was able to get a job with a German salad-making company. She worked hard just to put food on the table for us. Then Dad got a job as a maintenance man, and I helped him during much of my growing-up years. We would go early in the morning to about fourteen or fifteen different buildings and shovel coal into the furnaces.

“Because we had to work hard, we developed strength. My brother and I participated in basketball, baseball, football, tennis, table tennis, and swimming and became quite good. Our classmates began to accept us more readily. Our family still enjoys sports together.

“My father was the oldest of eleven children, and he was the only one who accepted the gospel. Some of our children who have gone on missions to Germany have testified to my relatives, but none of them have yet accepted the gospel.

“I was born in a land that is now behind the Iron Curtain. Probably one of my choicest experiences was to be at the dedication ceremony of the Freiberg Temple. The temple is very near the place where I was born. It was a soul-stirring experience to see my own people waving white handkerchiefs to President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Thomas S. Monson as the bus pulled away at the conclusion of the dedication.

“My suggestion to children is this: Live each day so that the Holy Ghost will be your constant companion. Serving the Savior will bring abundant blessings to you, and family ties will be made stronger and homes will be more heavenly. Sustain your leaders and follow their counsel.”

Freiberg Temple