I am excited to introduce Odette from Germany today as my guest poster for my Latter-day Saint Women Around the World series. One of my best friends is also from Germany and we met when she was foreign exchange student here in the US almost 12 years ago, so I really loved reading Odette's story. Her conversion story is really inspiring to me.
Hi, I am Odette. I grew up in a town called Rostock in the North-East of Germany right by the Baltic Sea. Its a rather small city with about 200.00 people. We moved into a small village about 30 minutes away from Rostock when I was 6, so I am kind of a country girl. I love animals and horseback riding. I am an only child and because my dad is a seaman, me and my mom were alone most of the time. My family is not religious and so I never even thought about God before I went to the USA for a year as an exchange student. After a few difficulties with my host family I ended up in Logan, Utah with a nice Mormon family. When I think back, I see God's hand in all of this. All the sudden I had 4 siblings, parents and a so-called normal family life. It was a big change for me but it helped me to find my way to God. I am currently living in Greifswald, Germany with my husband Ronny and our baby girl Amélie-Sophie. I am a stay-at-home mom and love to spend time with my little girl and watch her grow up.
Me, my mom and my American family on top of the conference center. ( Taken in 2006)
What is the dominate belief system in your country?
In Germany about 60% consider themselves as Christians ( 30% Catholic 29 % Protestants and 1% smaller denominations) , which does not mean they go to church. Because we have lots of immigrants from Turkey, Islam is considered the second largest religion (about 4 %). Other smaller religions are Buddhism, Jewish, and about 34% consider themselves not religious. Most only go to church twice a year. In my perspective its only the older people that go to church regularly. It also depends on the part of the country. Here in the North-East not many believe in God anymore because of the 40 years of communist rule. Only restaurants are open on Sunday. But they are starting to have a “Shopping-Sunday” where all the stores are open once a month.
How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
I first got to know the church in Utah when I was 16. I lived with a Mormon family and basically learned everything from them. They showed me how prayer works, had Family Home Evening with me and invited me to come to church with them. In the beginning I just stayed at home because I kind of enjoyed to have some quiet time alone. My host sister Kimberli took me to Young Women's activities and I soon started to find friends there. So I started going to church just for Young Women´s and then my little brother Cameron asked me why I did not want to stay for sacrament meeting. He told me how good it was and about the spirit he felt there. So I stayed and I soon realized what he meant. I felt the warm spirit and God's love for me, just pouring over me. I will never forget this feeling. I have been a church-goer ever since. I got to know the gospel and found a way to understand the scriptures even though it was not in my mother-tongue. After about 6 months I felt ready. I had been thinking about baptism a lot and I had prayed a lot and knew it was true. Everyone was so excited when they heard my news that I wanted to get baptized. My parents in Germany did not approve and thought this was just a phase I was going through, so I did not get their permission. It was a big challenge for my faith and patience. I had to wait till I was 18 and could decide for myself.
So after a year I went back to Germany and was all the sudden alone, trying to live by what I knew was right. It was hard but two angels ( aka. missionaries) were sent my way to help me through this. I had to start over and learn all about the gospel in German. They taught me, they were friends, and even kind of brothers. After my 18th birthday I finally got baptized on April 14th, 2007 in the Baltic sea on a beautiful sunny day. Since then I have grown in many ways. My testimony has become stronger and even more powerful. I started a family of my own with a nice Mormon man and continue to count my many blessings every day.
What is the LDS church attendance like in your area?
Our area is kind of rural with not many people. Our district consists of 6 branches. There are no stakes or wards in our area. Our branch is a combined branch out of two groups (Stralsund & Greifswald) and one branch (Wolgast). Currently we have an attendance of about 40-50 members every Sunday. Because we are combined out of three bigger cities, some members have to travel for a long distance to come to church. I think the furthest has to travel for almost 2 hours to get to church. Since we have lots of older members they have organized to share a car. So sometimes they travel for hours to pick everyone up and then 1-2 hours to get to church. We are lucky enough to have the branch in our city, so we get there in 10-15 minutes. We have lots of new converts and some families who have been in the church since 1930. Our ward consists of 4 big families with children. Three of them started out from our oldest member. He is almost 90 and had a big family with 6 children. Two of them are still in our branch and their children have families of their own here too. But we also have quite a few older single women and some young converts. We have more men in our branch and right now up to 10 children.
How far away is the nearest temple?
( Me and Amélie-Sophie in front of the Freiberg temple October 2011)
The nearest temple would be in Kopenhagen, Denmark. Its about 2-3 hours by ship. But we go to the Freiberg, Germany Temple. Its about 5 hours away by car. It is a miracle for the members in East-Germany. It was built during the Communistic regime in the DDR and dedicated in 1985. It was pretty busy because there were only two temples in Europe at that time. Not many people know about it in Germany but in Freiberg its pretty well known and kind of the town's landmark. It was re-dedicated 2002 and it now also serves those in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, and, before the Kyiv Ukraine Temple's 2010 dedication, Russia and Ukraine. Since then its not as busy as it used to be, but its always special to be there. Its the place where I received my endowment, was sealed to my husband and did lots of ordinances for my ancestors. I love the temple and I feel so much peace when I am able to be there. We try to be there at least twice a year. I am currently the only member in my family ( except my husband and baby) and so I am really trying to do my genealogy work. I have really seen many blessings doing so.
What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon?
I am still kind of shy about my religion. I really try to be a better missionary but its hard. Whenever they find out they are pretty surprised. Most only know about plural marriage but they are pretty open to my experiences. They think its brave to live as a religious person nowadays. Mostly they are pretty accepting. My family has gotten used to it even though they are not really interested in it.
How is missionary work in your country?
Its pretty hard to do missionary work but it has gotten better since President Uchtdorf dedicated the country for missionary work. Our area is still feeling the effects of the communistic times, so many people have hard feelings with God. We usually have about 5-10 baptisms every year. I think Germany in general is having a good number of baptisms but our area is still a little behind in the means of growth in the church. The missionaries have a huge area to cover and no vehicle to go to the small villages. Lots of new converts are usually young single adults.
How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children?
I think most families in Germany only have 2 children. Its unusual if you see a bigger family. In the church we have lots of families with more than 4-6 children.
How many sisters do you visit teach?
I currently have 4 sisters on my teaching-list. They are all inactive and most of them don't want us to visit. So its hard to visit teach. We mostly write letters. One time when I went to visit a sister, she was so happy because she had prayed for someone to come by. I just had a feeling to go by on that sister and see how she was doing. I was so glad I followed the promptings of the spirit and to help her see God´s love for her and that her prayers will be answered.
What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?
I think the greatest challenge is to teach Relief Society when sisters are so different in their knowledge and testimony about the gospel. We have a variety, from a member for 50 years to a member for 2 weeks. Its hard to answer deep doctrine questions and to not confuse new converts at the same time. We don´t have many sisters in our Relief Society because most of our sisters are serving in other callings in Primary and Young Woman, so that makes it hard to have good discussions and lessons.
What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?
The greatest blessing is to know and feel Gods love for me and to feel his guidance and help in my life. I am glad I can know that I can be with my family forever and I know what plans God has in store for me. I understand my purpose on this earth. It simply makes me happy and that is all that matters.
Thank you so much Odette! What a blessing for your little girl that you've made the choices you have.