News Release

The Interview with Elder Uchtdorf That Was Never Published

Journalism is a fast-paced business. Today’s hot topics can be forgotten tomorrow. Even carefully crafted articles sometimes never see the light of day. In September 2019, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave an interview that was never published. For an entire hour, the Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints answered the questions of a renowned journalist.

The occasion was the open house of the Germany Frankfurt temple. But as the audio recording shows, it is about more than just this holy house. The conversation revolves around faith in God and a willingness to serve others, which are ultimately about Jesus Christ, according to the former chief pilot for Lufthansa.

“In the Book of Mormon, we read that we can become perfected in Christ. That does not mean I am free from sin. No, the sacrifice and grace of God lead me to perfection,” Elder Uchtdorf explains in a quiet room in the temple annex. Those who are willing to repent and take advantage of the atonement will find answers to life’s difficult questions.

The journalist then asks whether Elder Uchtdorf has ever had any existential doubts. The 78-year-old responds with a no, but acknowledges, “I know of no one who does not go through phases with questions, profound questions. Phases of doubting oneself. That happens.”

He always returns to the basics. “That is the wonderful thing about the temple,” the Apostle emphasizes. “We are pointed to Jesus Christ, to his role. To the purpose of life. To the fact that we have a Heavenly Father who sent us here for a reason. Specifically, so that we can learn and progress and come to understand who we are.”

Elder Uchtdorf does not always have an answer to every question. If young people ask him such questions, he is open about that. Fake certainty does not help. The questions often concern the periphery of faith. But it is the core that is key. Love God and love thy neighbor is how Jesus Christ responded to the question about what commandment would be the most important, explains Elder Uchtdorf.

“That is what we preach, and we connect it with service,” he states. “Come and see. Come and help. Come and stay,” is his message to those who are uncertain. It is all about the application, he says. That is why Jesus also proclaimed, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

“If I apply what Jesus Christ teaches, I receive my own witness,” explains Elder Uchtdorf. Just as the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the Book of Mormon as a further testament stand as witnesses of Jesus Christ, so does personal discipleship lead to knowledge and confirmation, he adds. Even as a youth, he was impressed by how the gospel worked in his everyday life. “A theology merely reveling in theory wouldn’t have fascinated me.”

Elder Uchtdorf was born on November 6, 1940, in Ostrava in what is now the Czech Republic. As a child, he had to flee with his family twice. He also talks about that in the interview and how the Uchtdorfs were introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through an acquaintance of his grandmother in Zwickau.

The entire family joined the Church and moved to Bergen-Enkheim and then to Frankfurt. Elder Uchtdorf remembers that those times weren’t always easy. As a refugee child, he was sometimes mocked as a “potato beetle” and disdained.

“During these difficult years, the Church and my faith were an incredible help to me,” he recalls. “I have experienced for myself what the message of Christ can do for the one.” As a twelve-year-old, he was ordained as a deacon and passed the sacrament during worship service. “That gave me an inner strength and built me a bridge to Christ.”

Thinking back, Elder Uchtdorf said, the characteristics he acquired in his early years from his service in the ward benefited him later on. “What I saw and experienced helped me to overcome challenges throughout my life. That included the openness to learn and willingness to be there for others.”

In 1994, he was called as a general authority and left his long career as a pilot behind. “I thought that it would only last a few years and we would always live here in Germany,” Elder Uchtdorf explains.

Ten years later came the calling as an apostle, a commitment for the rest of his life. He and his wife Harriet had always agreed that the Lord should not be preempted. Neither of them ever felt that serving in the Church was a sacrifice. “Whatever we did, we received blessings that we were grateful for,” he added.

“When we realized that we would live the rest of our lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, we did feel like that would be a sacrifice,” Elder Uchtdorf remembers. “Our friends were here [in Germany], our children were here, their families were here. And over there we would basically be ‘childless parents.’ But, of course, we said that the Lord has called us, and we will go.” Some years later, their daughter moved with her family to Utah to support her parents.

The newspaper writer then steered the conversation to the Word of Wisdom. This revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith inspires individuals to maintain their health. The fact it includes abstaining from coffee is particularly impractical for journalists, the interviewer indicates.

“I adhere to it because I love God and have realized it is actually good for me,” Elder Uchtdorf responds. As a young man, he thought about what was promised to those who followed the revelation. They “shall run and not be weary,” it says in the book called Doctrine and Covenants. But during his time in the military, he realized he was still running behind half of his company. Many of the others who smoked like chimneys and drank alcohol at the time, however, do not run fast anymore. Some of them cannot run anymore at all. But that is not what it is about.

Those who keep God’s commandments cannot always expect a prize. “The prize is the inner strength one gains,” the apostle adds. And he re-emphasizes the two great commandments. “That’s the foundation of it all,” he says.

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