“Reaching People in Their Life Situations,” Global Histories: Austria (2019)
“Reaching People in Their Life Situations,” Global Histories: Austria
In the late 1960s, 15-year-old Eva Grünauer was on a Latter-day Saint youth trip when Erwin Roth worked up the courage to tell her that he liked her. “I thought, ‘Yes. He’s it,’” she recalled later. “In one moment, that was totally clear.” The two were married in their 20s and started a family together. As their family grew, so did the Church in Salzburg, from a small group into a stake.
Along the way, the Roths faced many of life’s trials, and Eva often felt grateful for the spiritual assurance she had about her relationship with Erwin. “Sometimes you feel so burdened by life,” she observed. “For me, it’s always been important to be able to have something to fall back on, to be able to say that I’m in exactly the right place.” She also found great strength in temple worship. “It gives me the feeling of being close to Father in Heaven. I need that again and again.” For Erwin, whose father died when he was very young, the temple also played a significant role in providing the assurance of an eternal family.
As they served in the Church, Eva and Erwin sought opportunities to share the same spiritual joy with others but learned to be sensitive to others’ life experiences in the process. As she listened carefully to single sisters in her stake, Eva soon recognized that even those with a firm testimony of the importance of temple work might not find the same comfort in temple attendance. “Even in the temple, being alone is not pleasant,” she explained. She also came to recognize that temple worship could raise more questions than it resolved for some people. “For someone who, for example, as a woman is now attracted to the same gender, the prospect of maybe finding an eternal partner in the next life who is male … is not a comforting proposition.” No matter the circumstances, she focused on ministering to sisters. “My goal was simply to reach the women in their life situations,” she said.
In one case, Erwin worked with an elderly sister who had been active since she was a girl. “Generations of priesthood leaders, home teachers, and visiting teachers had constantly been working with this sister to get her to the temple for her endowment,” he said. As branch president, he asked this sister if she wanted to share why she was hesitant. “You’re the first one who’s asked me why,” she said. She then confided that she’d been abused by her father and did not want to be sealed to him. Erwin assured her that she could go to the temple for her endowment without being sealed if she wanted. After seventy years of carrying a pain she struggled to talk about, she finally was able to resolve her concern.
“I’ve always made sure that I’m not shy about getting to the bottom of things,” Erwin said. Eva noted that in many cases, true service requires more than good will. “Even when you want to reach them, they may not let you reach them because they feel embittered,” she said. “That requires endurance and simply to show them over time, ‘I care about you’ [though] it often takes a while before that person really says, ‘Now I believe you.’”