Friend to Friend

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“Friend to Friend,” Liahona, Apr. 1999, 3

Friend to Friend

When I was a child, I lived in Zwickau, Germany. My grandmother had a friend with white, flowing hair. Her name was Sister Ewig, and she invited my grandmother to church. When our family went there, we saw many children. All of us were very impressed by the families, the children, and the music, especially the singing. I felt at home right away. My whole family—except me, because I was only six years old—were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I was eight, I was baptized in a public swimming pool by my father.

We met for church in an old villa. Our chapel had a stained-glass window of Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. Whenever the sun shone on it, I felt that the story it illustrated and what I had learned in Primary about the First Vision were true. I knew that was how Joseph Smith received his revelation and how the return to earth of Jesus Christ’s Church started. This testimony was very important to me, and I learned to appreciate Joseph Smith very much.

We had a pump organ in our chapel. I wanted to help at church, and pumping the organ was one of my jobs when I was eight and nine years old. It felt wonderful to contribute to sacrament meeting by pumping the organ so the congregation could sing.

One song, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” really impressed me. I felt very close to Jesus when I sang it. I knew He wanted me to be a sunbeam for Him. I have never forgotten that song—I still love it—or the testimony it gave me of the Savior.

When I was 11, my family had to leave East Germany. We moved to Frankfurt, West Germany. Until my father could find a job like he had before, he and my mother operated a laundry to make a living, and I was the laundry delivery boy. I saw some shiny red bicycles, and I wished I could have one to make my deliveries. But I needed a heavy-duty bicycle to pull the cart with the laundry on it. I rode around pulling that heavy laundry cart before school and after school. It was hard to see the other children play, especially during the winter months. But everybody in our family had to work hard, and I knew I was an important part of the family business. I felt needed and valued.

As I grew older, I learned not only the value of hard work but also about the blessings of doing things that at the time you don’t realize are important and good for you. During World War II, when I was very little, I came down with a lung disease, but no one knew it at the time. I knew I was easily out of breath when I rode the delivery bicycle. I thought it was because the cart was heavy. Later, when I joined the air force, I learned that because of that hard work, somehow my body had healed itself. I had built up endurance. I had built up immunity to disease. I had built up strength. When the doctors saw those spots on my lungs, they questioned me about them. They reported that the disease took care of itself, and they said I passed my physical. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to become a pilot. I have been a pilot for 35 years, and I was a chief pilot for Lufthansa German Airlines.

In 1951 and 1952 I attended the Frankfurt Branch, which was not as big as the one in Zwickau. The Frankfurt meetinghouse was small, and we had classes in the basement. I recall missionaries teaching us important gospel principles. One missionary, Elder Stringham, impressed me very much with his teaching about the Pearl of Great Price, especially where Moses is being taught he is a son of God. Another thing Elder Stringham taught me was the scripture that says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). This gave me comfort and courage, because at that time the future looked bleak in Germany. The city of Frankfurt was in ruins with bombed-out buildings. That teaching has stayed with me throughout my life. It taught me I need to be on the Lord’s side. I cannot afford not to be on the Lord’s side.

As a pilot, I flew all over the world. In all those 35 years, I never got tired of looking out the window at the stars, the clouds, the landscapes. I could see the beauty of the different countries with their different cultures. I know from going to those different places and seeing the people and the Church in those different places that the gospel is for everyone, no matter what nation you live in or what your traditions are. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The word of God, whether it is written in the scriptures or spoken by the living prophets, whether we read it in Church magazines or hear it at general conferences, is for every culture, in every nation.

I challenge you children to follow the words of the prophets. When you do, you will find the answers to your questions, whether you are 6, 9, 11, 19, or, like me, 57 years old.

1. From left: Two friends with two-year-old Dieter and his sister Christel. 2. Holding a favorite book at age 12.

Elder Uchtdorf; his wife, Harriet Reich Uchtdorf; and their children and grandchildren

Twenty-year-old Dieter F. Uchtdorf training for the German Air Force.