U.S. President John F. Kennedy made a visit to five European nations in June, 1963. His first visit was to Germany where, in Berlin, he made his speech with the famous line “Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”
Kennedy’s speech in Berlin followed speeches in Cologne, Bonn, and Frankfurt. Everywhere he went, he was greeted by enormous crowds of enthusiastically cheering people. They must have been a blur to him – how could anybody know specifically who was in those crowds?
Well, when his car drove through Cologne, Kennedy did learn of one group, mostly Americans, who welcomed him to Germany. As the motorcade passed near the Deutzer Bridge over the Rhine, with Kennedy and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer standing in their car where they could be seen more easily by the public, Kennedy suddenly craned his neck to read a 40-foot-long banner stretching over the street. A camera caught him as he did so:
That banner was the project of six Mormon missionaries working in Cologne: Elders H. Kent Bowen, Kent M. Samuelson, Philip L. Walker Jr., Steven J. Mayer, Gary H. Fletcher, and Robert I. Day. It was a community project, of sorts: Made of donated materials, it was sewn on an old treadle machine by Sister Durst (I wish I knew her full name), a member of the Cologne branch. The banner was painted by the Berndt Company, and workers from the Adler Company raised it across the street. A chicken restaurant – named, um, the “Chicken Restaurant” – allowed the elders to anchor it to their building on one side of the street (giving them a free dinner when they went in to ask about doing that), and, astoundingly, the city’s traffic department erected a special pole on the other side of the street (a lamp post already stood next to the temporary pole, but city law prohibited the attaching of banners to lamp posts).
I know of no concrete missionary progress that resulted from this effort – how do you measure the infinitesimal steps that go into making someone aware that the Church exists? – but the elders felt that so much good will had been shown to them in making and raising the banner that the Lord had a hand in it.
And certainly, as this picture demonstrates, the banner was seen by the man it was intended to honor.
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