MUNICH, Germany — After Elder Hudson Werlich from Arizona got his mission call to the Alpine German-Speaking Mission, his grandfather shared a scripture with him that he said would help him in his service.
“And he that reapeth receiveth great wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: … both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. … One soweth, and another reapeth. …” (John 4:35-38), Elder Werlich read out loud as he spoke during a meeting in the Munich Germany Stake Center on Monday, April 17.
Elder Werlich said that scripture hit home for him on his mission. And he has felt blessed as he has followed his grandfather’s advice to “find joy in the work and find joy in serving the Lord.”
After Elder Werlich bore his testimony, his grandfather — Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — then expounded upon that scripture to the approximately 170 full-time young missionaries and senior missionaries gathered together.
“I know this is a difficult mission,” Elder Rasband said. “You should all celebrate everyone’s success. Some of you plant the seeds and some of you harvest the seeds. But all of your work, every day is part of the harvest.”
He told the missionaries about a time when he and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, led the New York New York North Mission, and he transferred a Spanish-speaking missionary to Norwalk, Connecticut. The young man said at the end of his mission that all he did was hand out the Book of Mormon on the street. He felt that he didn’t have any success.
But a year and a half later, the next missionaries in that area received a phone call from a woman who wanted to know more about the Church. She had been going through a hard time and felt that she needed to read a book on her shelf that had been given to her on the street. She could not put it down and wanted to know more. That led to her family being baptized into the Church.
“Elders and sisters, my message is this — you do not know the value of your current labors,” he said. “You don’t know who you are giving copies of the Book of Mormon to, you don’t know who you are leaving your testimony with that it’s planting a seed deep in their heart, or maybe even the children’s hearts. You don’t know the impact in the future of your current labors today.”
Elder Rasband told the missionaries to open their mouths, be finders, do good and help gather Israel in Europe.
Be Book of Mormon missionaries
Elder Rasband is in Germany during a three-country European ministry tour that began in France on Friday, April 14. After a visit to Armenia, he will travel to South Africa.
The Rasbands told the missionaries how much they loved Germany, having lived in Frankfurt, Germany, from 2000-2003 when Elder Rasband served in the Europe Central Area presidency. Prior to his Church leadership responsibilities, his business ventures brought him to this country and surrounding nations.
As he did with missionaries in Paris a few days earlier, Elder Rasband invited the Alpine missionaries to help flood their mission with the Book of Mormon by sharing a digital copy in that moment with someone in their phone.
“We need you today as missionaries, but we also need you for the rest of your life,” he said. “You need to be Book of Mormon missionaries.”
Sister Rasband advised the missionaries to express gratitude in their prayers and be specific in their prayers. She also said to praise the Lord in prayer, which will allows the missionaries to grow closer to Him.
“I know it is important that we each make the decision in our lives of who we will be, who we want to become, and who we want to stand for. I hope you will choose to stand for your Savior Jesus Christ in every way and everything you do,” Sister Rasband said.
From the opening hymn — “How Firm a Foundation” — and throughout the meeting, Elder Chance Smithson from American Fork, Utah, said he felt the Spirit strongly. “The biggest thing for me was recognizing that it is hard, but it is the Lord’s work. The hope that comes from being with an Apostle is amazing.”
Sister Kezia Tripp from New Mexico felt a renewed focus on love. “Elder Rasband shared that Christ loves us, God loves us,” she said. “We learn about Christ in order to love Him more so we can serve His other children.”
Joining together in service for Turkey
Following the meeting, the Rasbands joined the missionaries in a service project to benefit the survivors of the earthquake in Turkey.
They worked in an assembly line fashion, putting soap, towels, toothbrushes, tissues and other supplies together and then boxing them to send to the Turkish consulate.
“My heart is really tender toward our members and our missionaries and all who are helping with these relief efforts,” Elder Rasband said as he helped package hygiene kits. He told the missionaries around him, “When you go back to your wards and branches, you share my love and appreciation with them.”
This service is part of a much larger effort from the Church to help those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. By March, the Church had contributed over $11 million in aid. Additional assistance is being planned.
Elder Rubén V. Alliaud, a General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the Europe Central Area presidency, said after the earthquakes, the area quickly organized an emergency response committee.
“This is part of who we are. This is part of how we live and work, that we mourn with those that mourn,” he said during Monday’s service project.
Elder Alliaud said the Church is not alone in their efforts — the members in Germany and in the area have also worked continuously with partner organizations to aid Ukrainian refugees.
“We try as much as we can to invite all to come unto Christ and as we do that, we invite all to serve,” he said. “We work with many good organizations and also people who love to serve their neighbors.”
The missionaries felt energized by the service project. As Sister Atalya Murphy from Syracuse, Utah, unpackaged bulk items, her heart was turned to those in Turkey who would be helped by her efforts. “It’s good to be doing a little something that can help others,” she said.
Sister Erin Martin from Las Vegas, Nevada, said she meets a lot of immigrants and refugees who have come to Europe to build a new life. “It’s nice knowing we can join the Savior in his work, lightening people’s loads,” she said.
Gathering Israel in Europe
The Alpine German-Speaking Mission covers parts of Austria, Switzerland and Germany. The mission leaders, President Scott M. Naatjes and his wife Sister Jodi Naatjes, said they also have several missionaries who were assigned to speak Russian, Ukranian and Persian. And a few native Spanish speakers were also called to their mission.
“The Lord is truly gathering scattered Israel to these lands as these missionaries are always among the busiest in the mission,” President Naatjes said.
He said turmoil in places like Ukraine and Afghanistan has further opened and softened hearts toward the many immigrants and refugees who gather to Europe for safety. Ward and branches have begun having Sunday School classes and even sacrament meetings in foreign languages to support the spiritual needs of these vulnerable groups.
“The members and missionaries have worked together to collect and distribute clothes, food and necessities, teach language classes for both German and English, and held celebrations and game nights,” President Naatjes said.
Elder Nathaniel Mariska from Nebraska said those efforts are almost where he sees the most success. “It gives us a chance to lift like the Savior did. We do a lot of German teaching classes, and it gives you a lot of chances to teach. You teach with actions instead of teaching with words.”
Around 1.4 million Turkish people live in Germany, said Elder Bernhard Cziesla, an Area Seventy in Germany. The Church’s relief efforts have led to more exchange with the Turkish community in Germany and united many of the members and missionaries.
For the past year, immigrants and refugees have been moving to Germany from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine.
“The German membership has been friendly and hosted many members and nonmembers coming from Ukraine,” Elder Cziesla said. “This has strengthened some of our wards and will for time, as we expect a high percentage of the immigrants to stay.”
When the members get involved and join the missionaries as they teach, Elder Cziesla said they see significantly higher rates of people being baptized and integrated into wards and branches.
“We see more and more non German-speaking leaders appointed by inspiration helping those that come to be integrated and nurtured,” he said.
President Naatjes said there is a special bond between the missionaries and the members in Germany, Switzerland and Austria — with many members reaching out in love like a parent or grandparent would.
“The missionaries and members love each other, build each other’s testimonies and commitment, and minister, teach and fellowship together,” he said.
President Naatjes said the missionaries will never forget being able to sit in the presence of, learn from and serve side-by-side with an Apostle on Monday.
Said Elder James Allred from Burley, Idaho, after the day together, “It’s always just a wonderful experience to see a man of the Lord and to have that witness in person. It really helped me and testifies that this work is really true. I know that Elder Rasband is an Apostle and I’m grateful to be able to say that I was here.”