Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My Story by Joachim (Joe) Stephan

God speaks today. That is my witness.  In all my life I never doubted that God is. But there came a time when I yearned for a very personal contact with him. That time came when I urgently needed to have Him touch me.
I was born in Eastern Germany in 1933 two months after Adolph Hitler assumed power as dictator of Germany. I was a witness to many of the tragedies that befell my birth country but it was only in later years after I had become an adult that I understood more fully the events that affected my life and that of millions of peoples in Europe at that time.  It was when the war was over that I became aware that we lived only some twenty miles from the extermination camp Auschwitz. And it was then that I understood the meaning of the words my father whispered to my mother when he said that he had been some five miles from Auschwitz when he could smell the flesh (of the Jewish victims) burning.
My parents saw to it that I was raised in a strict Catholic environment.  Attending church and saying my prayers was part of my daily routine. But attending church and saying prayers were not only a discipline but were also driven by fear that was part of our daily lives. Although religious education was not a part of our education in school, praying to God for protection from harm and death came readily whether we prayed at home or in church.  In our churches then we had standing room only. We sang and prayed with fervor that God would protect us and our loved ones.  After all – in September of 1939 the war practically started in our back yard.
At first our armies appeared to be very successful in conquering much of Europe. But the time came when we found ourselves invaded by the Russians and Poles in January of 1945. Now our fear and anxiety level became even more intense.  Being German now became a great liability and it was not until we managed to escape to areas occupied by the Western allies that we were free to live a less hazardous life – yes even to speak the German language which had become “off limits” under the foreign occupation.
From 1946 to 1950 we lived peacefully in western Germany under occupation by British and American governance. I was free to continue my high school education. It was in 1950 that my world wonderfully changed when I was given the opportunity to go to the United States of America as an exchange student. I thought that the people in America would hold a grudge toward my countrymen – after all it was only five years after the war ended in which thousands of Americans died or were wounded. Instead of hatred we found only friendliness and warm acceptance by the American people.
It was that acceptance that caused me to want to become a citizen of this wonderful country. I lived initially on the farm of my sponsor but then decided to join the US Air Force.  Now going to church and praying was no longer a priority during the years when I became an adult.  I knew that God was out there somewhere but I no longer had the need to speak to Him urgently and fervently as I did when I feared for my life. But then I complicated my life by falling in love with a young woman also in the USAF. At first, with her it seemed that I found myself in paradise, but when she, after only a few months, expectantly rejected my love for her I was deeply crushed. Now again, I found myself turning to God but with intensity I never felt before. I had never doubted the existence of God – to me God and what the bible said he is was always a fact. But now I had a burning need to know Him more intimately.
I was no longer satisfied with praying to Him which seemed to me a one-way communication. Now it seemed to me that I was talking on a telephone from which the ear piece had been removed. I spoke but I could not hear him.
In my seeking I went to my chaplain to ask him for help. He almost angrily advised me that I should accept God’s voice on faith. I left him disappointed.  Other Christians gave me well-meaning advice to open the bible to receive my answers. There was a dusty bible in our barracks but I did not receive the answer from it either. I joined a meditative society that taught me meditative practices. I read that Benjamin Franklin had been a Rosicrucian also.  But it is near impossible to meditate in a noisy barracks occupied by 60 other men. So I found myself often at night, outside looking up at the stars because somehow I connected the presence of God with the starry heavens.
I spent some six months restlessly reaching out to God. And so it was that I stood on the second story balcony of the barracks that was my home at Maxwell Air Force Base located at Montgomery, Alabama. It was February 1954, a cold starry night. Somehow I related the magnitude and power of Him with the starry canopy above me. The sky was very clear and the stars above me sparkled brightly. I reached out for the steel bars of the balcony and pleaded with God. I wanted Him to speak to me more than ever.
I gripped the cold steel bars of the railing before me and looked intently to the shiny star canopy above me. I spoke silently within me, “God, if you really are – why don’t you ever answer!”
There was no reply. So urgently I pleaded again, “God – if you really are – why don’t you ever answer!!”
I stood there in silence. There came no answer. So a third time – almost angrily – I hissed between my teeth, my eyes closed this time, “God, if you really are – why don’t you ever answer!!!”
I heard a voice behind me “I am with you – wherever you are!”
I spun around to see who stood behind me. There was no one.
But then I heard the same voice again. It came from around me – from within me – I could not tell, “I am with you wherever you are!”
And then it seemed as if I was standing near a wall or a fence that had a split in it and for a fraction of time I saw His light! And then He was gone. And the words formed themselves in me, “Imagine He was there all the time and I did not know it! “
I stumbled along the platform behind the barracks where I had been standing: “Over and over I repeated “Imagine He had been there all the time and I did not know it! And I remember the joy – no the euphoria that flooded over me as I repeated the recognition “Imagine he had been there all the time and I did not know it!”
Inside the large stone and brick barracks structure were my comrades going noisily about their affairs – laughing, some cursing, some showering, and some telling stories – my joy flooded over me to a degree that ignored what was going on around me.
I had a hard time going to sleep that night. I was covered in goose pimples every time I recounted what had just happened to me. The next day was a Saturday. So when I awoke many of my comrades were still sleeping in the double decker bunk beds. I looked around slowly. I was friends with most them. But I was also aware that some the men were no favorites of mine. To say it straight forward: I deeply resented them for one reason or another. But strangely – that morning – I had a warm feeling toward them. I thought “these are my brothers “.
That seemed very strange to me when the night before I had loathed them. And the awareness formed itself in me that the experience the night before had filled me with a love that only He could have given me. And I remembered: “I am with you wherever you are”.  I had finally heard His voice. I had for the first time in my life been filled with His love. And that love had changed me. I was again overcome with euphoria and covered in goose pimples.
The feeling remained with me for a period of several weeks.  I loved recalling the experience of that night. But slowly it faded – not from my memory but from the intensity of that wonderful feeling that had come with it.
That experience changed me. I still love to remember it. Often I would love to relive it. But the least I can do today is to recount it to others.
When I was told the story of the Restoration for the first time I had no trouble accepting it. God speaks today! That is the story of the Restoration.  And that is my story!

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