As an airline pilot, Elder Dieter Uchtdorf often enjoys viewing the earth from a lofty perspective. That perspective has enhanced his love for the creation and for the many different children of God he has met throughout the world, as well as in his native Germany.
Now he has been called to serve as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, to which he was sustained during April general conference."I love to fly," said Elder Uchtdorf, 53, during a Church News interview. "The creation is really something that I love very much. At 35,000 feet, you are not that high, but you see how beautiful the earth is."
At the time of his call, he was looking forward to another flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Vancouver, British Columbia, within the next several days and he used it during the interview to illustrate how being a pilot for Lufthansa German Airlines has increased his wonder at the beauty of the earth: "You go first over the greenery of Europe and then over the Atlantic - water everywhere. You come up to Greenland and it's ice, then over northern Canada and again lots of ice. Then you come down over these beautiful Rocky Mountains. You see the snow, and you see the green coming up."
Continuing, he spoke of previous experiences on the return trip: "The flight from Vancouver back is a tough flight because it's a night flight. But then the sun comes up and that is just great. It's like the resurrection. It's a new day. You have a new beginning."
A "new beginning" is what he is undertaking as a General Authority after serving as a stake president for nine years while living in Seeheim, near Darmstadt. He has been senior vice president of flight operations and chief pilot for Lufthansa German Airlines.
As he undertakes his new assignment, Elder Uchtdorf said he and his wife, Harriet, plan to continue living by the motto: "The gospel is a gospel of joy, of good cheer. There are good things ahead."
The call to be a General Authority came to Elder Uchtdorf while he and his wife were enjoying their annual April conference vacation in Salt Lake City. Speaking in English during the Church News interview, they delightfully expressed joy in the gospel as they shared their feelings about the new assignment.
While he said he was humbled by the new call, Elder Uchtdorf explained that his reaction to the calling from President Thomas S. Monson was that "when a prophet of the Lord calls you and asks you to accept a calling, what can you say? When you know that the Lord calls you, you know that the Lord will provide for everything. When you are on the errand of the Lord, you are carried [by the Lord]."
Sister Uchtdorf proudly pointed out: "Dieter is a great example for not worrying too much for the future. He is someone who takes things a step at a time, and I think that's so great."
While making flights around the world, Elder Uchtdorf has learned to appreciate the differences, as well as similarities, of all people.
"Visiting the different countries on this earth, you see the different kinds of people," he explained. "They look different, they have different cultures, they have different backgrounds, and different education. They are so different, but still they are the same when you get down to an individual basis. Whether it's in India or Pakistan, in China, in Russia, in the United States, in South America, or South Africa, wherever you go, when you get down to the individual, you find so much similar because we are all children of God. Yet there are so many beautiful differences."
Elder and Sister Uchtdorf have learned to appreciate the various characteristics of people in their own stake. "There is a whole spectrum of different social levels," Elder Uchtdorf said. "There are doctors, businessmen and technicians, widows and children, but in the Church there is unity and communication as equals, as children of God."
Sister Uchtdorf added, "We have 12 branches and wards in our stake, and we travel a lot to visit them. And it's always like home. Each ward and each branch is different, but we're like family."
Elder Uchtdorf was baptized in 1949 when he was 8 years old. His family had joined the Church after his grandmother was introduced to the gospel by a member as the two waited in a food line in Germany shortly after World War II.
"One of the things I appreciated very much as a youngster was the saying: `If the Lord is with you, who can be against you?' " Elder Uchtdorf said. "This somehow impressed me so much. It gave me strength to go ahead in difficult times. If the Lord is with you, what can go wrong?"
Growing up a member of the Church in Frankfurt he faced choices typical of youth throughout the Church. "When you are growing up in the Church, you have to make the decision: `Do you stand up for it or do you just follow the mainstream of the people?' " he said.
For him, it felt like the natural thing to be a member of the Church, he noted, "and I had the support of good leaders. I had some friends who I tried to teach the gospel, but they were not baptized. However, they did come to MIA and joined us there."
A new convert also started attending MIA when Elder Uchtdorf was a young Aaronic Priesthood holder and made a dramatic impression on him. It was Harriet Reich, who was baptized at age 13, along with the rest of her family, after the missionaries knocked on their door and taught them the gospel.
"I always loved her," Elder Uchtdorf said. "I fell for her from the very beginning, even as a deacon. She was a very beautiful girl. She still is."
The feelings were not exactly mutual for several years, Sister Uchtdorf recalled, even though they enjoyed learning to dance together during their MIA years.
He served in the German Air Force from 1959 to 1965. In 1960, he left Germany for Phoenix, Ariz., to receive cadet training and his pilot's wings. When he returned to Germany two years later, Harriet didn't greet him with open arms. She said so many of the German boys who served with the U.S. military returned and "felt like they were generals and couldn't even talk anymore in German.
"Then at an MIA meeting I saw Dieter back from the United States with his hair cut so short and his jeans and his special shirt and I thought, `Oh no!' But after the meeting we said hello to each other and he was talking perfectly in German without any accent. ("So I was in good shape," Elder Uchtdorf interjected with a laugh.) That was very impressive."
Elder Uchtdorf recalled, "She had a handsome friend, but I thought that was no problem for me. That positive approach worked again. I didn't back off. I thought, `That's who I want.' "
While they went through their courtship, his hair grew longer ("I knew she liked it that way," he said) and they were married Dec. 14, 1962, in the Swiss Temple.
One source of joy in the Uchtdorf's lives is their two children.
Antje, the oldest, met an American, David Evans, when he was visiting Germany. They were married in the Swiss Temple and then they attended BYU where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees. They now have twin sons and live near her parents in Germany.
Sister Uchtdorf said: "We never thought that they would move to Germany, but then they called one day and said, `We decided to move to Germany.' Can you imagine how happy we felt."
The Uchtdorf's son, Guido, is studying business administration and engineering after serving in the Washington D.C. South Mission and a year in the German military.
Another source of joy for the Uchtdorfs is the growth of the Church in their native land.
"Years ago, President Monson came to Germany and dedicated the land again and blessed it," Elder Uchtdorf said. "That's when the wall was still up. It was a terrible situation in East Germany. I thought that Germany would be reunited at some time, but I thought it would be my great-great-grandchildren who would see it.
"But after President Monson's blessing, things changed quickly. We had a temple built in East Germany, the political situation changed completely, and the wall fell down. You can take the blessing and check all the things President Monson said and they've all been fulfilled."
Elder Uchtdorf has taken an active role in strengthening the Church in Germany. He was called as president of the Frankfurt Germany Stake in 1985 and then became president of the Mannheim Germany Stake when boundaries were changed. He was vice chairman of the temple committee for the Frankfurt Germany Temple and served in several other Church positions.
He and his wife have been active in missionary work, feeling that they have an edge in that department because of the conversion of their own families.
"I'm a result of the member-missionary program and my wife is a result of the full-time missionary program because two young American missionaries rang the doorbell," Elder Uchtdorf explained. "So we appreciate both ways of getting members into the Church."
They look forward to sharing the joy of the gospel with everyone as Elder Uchtdorf fulfills his new calling, and reminding them "to be full of cheer, of hope, of courage, looking forward."
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Family: Born Nov. 6, 1940, in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, to Karl Albert and Hilde Else Opelt Uchtcorf. Married Harriett Reich Dec. 14, 1962, in the Swiss Temple. Parents of two children: Antje Evans, 29, and Guido, 24.
Education/military: Served in the German Air Force, 1959-65; received cadet training and pilot wings at Phoenix, Ariz., in 1962; graduated from airline pilot school in Bremen, Germany, in 1965; attended Business Administration School in Cologne, Germany, and International Management Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Employment: Senior vice president for flight operations and chief pilot for Lufthansa German Airlines, and check and training captain for Boeing 747s; various management positions with Lufthansa including head of airline pilot school, director of inflight services, and head of cockpit crews from 1972-85; airline captain since 1970.
Church Service: Stake president, stake mission president, high councilor, stake missionary, counselor in elders quorum presidency, and Young Men president.