A German from communist-controlled Eisleben becomes a Lutheran in British Columbia.
Ann M. Ponath
“In spite of the countless times I have transgressed against my holy God, he assures me time and again that I am his forgiven child. Nothing and nobody bars my way to heaven! Now it is safe for me to die.”
Earlier this year, Forward in Christ asked readers what it means to be Lutheran (see insert). This inspiring quote arrived from Canada. Even more interesting—the writer, Monika Weihmann—grew up in Eisleben, Luther’s hometown. She commented: “Martin Luther was a real Mensch; he had his faults and limitations, yet the Lord used him so greatly. What a blessing he has been to all of us.”
Just how did a German from communist-controlled Eisleben end up as a Lutheran in British Columbia? Monika explains: “I was born in Eisleben when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Growing up under the communist regime, I was anything but [Lutheran]. Yet the Lord had plans and has been an everyday part of [my life] for 54 years now.”
Growing up in East Germany
Monika was born just two weeks after the end of WWII in May 1945. Her father, who had been in the German Navy during the war, did not return home to his family after the war. Her parents divorced, and Monika’s father eventually immigrated to Canada.
Monika says, “My mother had to fend for herself and two girls in post-war East Germany. Life was tough.” Her mother worked at a grocery store while the landlady “made sure my older sister, Erika, and I didn’t get into too much trouble.” Food stamps, stamps for coal, and supplies were often gone before you got to the end of long lines. “Everyone we knew was equally poor, but we all survived,” says Monika. “In retrospect, I can apply Matthew 6:26 to our situation, but no one in our world considered God at all.”
Under Communism, “religion was definitely not part of the ideology, but our family was never religious,” says Monika. “Church was for Christmas Eve, weddings, baptisms, and funerals.” As for Luther, Monika says everyone knew of him and the bronze statue in front of the church where he preached his last sermon. But she says, “In the East German version of history, Luther was the great ‘social reformer’ who went against the church and the corruption that was so prevalent.”
Monika was baptized in the Lutheran church “because that’s what one did then.” But things changed quickly. “By the time this first post-war generation reached the age of confirmation, the communist regime had devised a substitute in the form of ‘Jugendweihe,’ a so-called ‘youth dedication,’ where we dressed in formal clothing—exactly as if we were to be confirmed,” she says. “We had a convocation and promised to be true to our State as long as we lived.” Following the ceremony, there was a big family gathering, including Monika’s godparents. She says there were Christians in East Germany, “but not in my little world.”
Monika’s world changed when her mother took a job some distance away and left Monika with her grandparents for three years. “My grandmother became the dearest person in my life,” she says. Because she was living with her father’s parents, there was some contact with her father in Canada. Eventually the family planned that Monika would join her father after she finished primary school.
But there was another step along the way. Monika was reunited with her mother and sister in 1959. Then all three of them fled East Germany via train through the western sector of Berlin. They lived in several refugee camps until her mother and Erika relocated to central Germany. Monika worked as a live-in maid in Hamburg, waiting for funds to join her father in Canada.
Discovering her Savior in Canada
Monika’s adventure in Canada began in 1962. “My father had a new family there, including a half-brother and sister. There was a homestead with some animals and there was snow up to the roof which lasted until May,” she says. “My brother and I hunted rabbits in the bush behind the homestead, and we rode old Goldie bareback, because there was no saddle and only a rope for a bridle.”
Monika’s father also had a young neighbor, Fred, who “was like a son to him.” Fred was working in a gold mine in Yellow Knife when Monika first arrived, but once they met, “there was no doubt in our minds that we would marry,” says Monika. Fred’s Lutheran family “gently nudged” Monika to take classes at their church. “So this little communist was enrolled in confirmation instruction, and the Holy Spirit continued the work he had begun,” she says.
In 1963, Fred and Monika were married, and by 1971 they had been blessed with four children: Ingrid, Stephanie, Donovan, and Byron. “Although we had our babies baptized, it wasn’t until a concerned neighbor asked us to bring our children to Sunday school that we began attending a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod church in our small town,” says Monika. They quickly got involved in church—Fred becoming a church council member and Monika a Sunday school teacher—and it became an integral part of the family’s life.
Monika recounts, “God blessed us so richly. We were able to purchase a fuel agency, worked hard, and were involved in our community and church. Our children grew up in the relative safety of a small village. [We had] a large family and good friends.”
In 1982, they pursued an opportunity to serve a Lutheran mission in Ghana, West Africa, leaving two of their older children behind. At the end of 1989 they returned and settled in British Columbia. The Weihmanns’ children who had remained in Alberta had families of their own and were introduced to a WELS church. “Because they could not agree with the other synod’s practices, they all became WELS members,” Monika says. Monika and Fred were also compelled to leave their church as “the church situation deteriorated more and more” and joined WELS in 1994.
The closest WELS church is in Washington, two and a half hours away, but the Weihmanns are members at St. Peter, St. Albert, Alberta, where their family lives. “Every Sunday we join them via livestreaming, and at Christmas and Easter we drive the thousand kilometers to be together,” says Monika. “It is not an ideal situation for us here. We do miss the fellowship of believers, but all of our unchurched friends give us the opportunity to practice Christian charity and love as well as serious witnessing during our home devotions and conversations.”
A family favorite Bible passage is this: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). As Monika reflects on God’s guidance in her life and considers the Reformation’s anniversary from her unique perspective, she says, “God’s Word in its truth and purity has survived these many years and will continue until the Lord puts an end to this world. There may never be another Luther, but thank God there are still many Lutherans!”
Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017
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