Elder Hans B. Ringger: 'One of the truly great souls'
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Elder Hans Benjamin Ringger, who served as a member of the Seventy from April 6, 1985, until he was granted emeritus status on Sept. 30, 1995, passed away at his home in Basel, Switzerland, on Oct. 18, 2010, at age 84. (Please see Church News, Oct. 23, p. 13.) The Church News invited Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, an emeritus member of the Seventy, to share some of his reminiscences of Elder Ringger.
Throughout my life I have been blessed with wonderful teachers, professors and mentors. There was none better than Hans B. Ringger.
I first met Hans in the late 1970s when I worked for the Genealogical Department (Family History Department now), at a meeting in the Frankfurt chapel. He was teaching local Church leaders the importance of, and how to do, genealogical research. At the time he was a Regional Representative, already working extensively in the German Democratic Republic (GDR/DDR). I was a Church employee responsible for gathering genealogical records from Eastern Europe. Little did I realize at the moment the friendship that would eventually ensue and what a tremendous impact Hans B. Ringger would have on my life.
In 1987 Hans entered my life in a major way. In that year the Austria Vienna Mission was divided to form the Austria Vienna East Mission, a mission specifically dedicated to the establishment of the Church in the Eastern Southeastern countries of Europe. LeAnn, Bradley, Stephen and I arrived in Vienna on June 29, 1987. On the day of our arrival Hans came to Vienna to meet with Spencer J. Condie, the outgoing Vienna mission president, and me. From our discussions in this first meeting I knew that Hans was an extraordinary man for what would become an extraordinary season of Church expansion in Eastern Europe.
Hans Ringger was indeed a visionary man. Despite the challenges, he always saw possibility and purpose and had the ability to draw me and others into his vision of our work.
As Eastern Europe began to open to the missionaries and the Church, Hans often quoted to me and the Austria Vienna East missionaries his altered version of a statement attributed to Horace Greely: "Go east, young men; go east!" He loved this, as did the missionaries. Over the four years of the Austria Vienna East Mission, the missionaries were assigned further and further east. In 1990 four independent missions were created within the boundaries of the Austria Vienna East Mission. I was extended into a fourth year of service with only the twelve missionaries then laboring in the former Yugoslavia. Immediately I was directed to expand Church activity into Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine.
Hans gave me a specific instruction to begin this last year of my service. With a serious, but humorous tone, he told me, "Now, go destroy your mission!" I always tried to be obedient to Hans' directions. I went to work and on Feb. 3, 1991, shortly after my release and call into the Seventy, the Austria Vienna East Mission ceased to exist. However, over 20 missions now operate where in 1987 there was only one. This great achievement is a lasting tribute to Elder Hans B. Ringger, to his testimony, energy and, most of all, to his vision.
He was a consummate planner and always knew how to bring his vision into reality. With the collapse of the Soviet state in 1991, unprecedented opportunities for the Church presented themselves. I was now serving as a counselor to Hans in the Europe Area Presidency. We spent hours together poring over maps, thickened with transparent overlays, making lists of Russian cities by their populations, and writing plans on just how we should expand the Church into the former Soviet Union.
Hans was absolutely committed to the direction of the Twelve who taught us to expand from centers of strength. Hans' idea was to build hubs of strength in the most populous cities of Russia. In these cities, missions could be established and from them expansion carried out to the lesser populous cities.
But plans were not enough. Hans wanted to visit each city before we sent missionaries into them. Wherever possible, he wanted to meet government and other religious leaders. Hans and I traveled from one end of Russia to the other, sometimes by plane, but often by train. He wanted to have a feel for the vast beauty of Russia and the train provided that opportunity. He did not want to miss one inch of the countryside and the deep feeling it engendered in him.
A love for Russia and the Russians grew deeply within him. He truly became one with them and felt the years of their pain and anguish. This transparent love endeared everyone he met to him and he made lasting friends wherever he went.
Hans Ringger was blessed with an unbelievable sense of timing. He always knew when something should be done. The work leading up to the Warsaw Poland Mission is an example. By July 1990 changes in the political atmosphere of Eastern Europe made independent missions possible in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Poland was the catalyst. In October 1989 Hans and I were in a meeting with Dr. Rydlewsky, the Polish Minister of Religious Affairs. Hans brought up the idea of an independent Polish mission and the Minister was favorable to the idea. In a subsequent meeting with government officials in Warsaw, Hans told me that he had the distinct impression to recommend a Poland Warsaw Mission. Agreement was reached. Later in the evening he called Elder Russell M. Nelson, who at the time was providing apostolic oversight to Europe, to report this new development. They calculated that at the very moment of Hans' inspiration to recommend an independent mission, Elder Nelson was praying over the very same issue in Salt Lake City.
Hans Ringger provided many leadership lessons for me personally. Early in my tenure as mission president I was overwhelmed with the challenges, including missionary visas, how to handle financial matters, instructing new members and leaders, and how to deal with the growing geographic complexity of the Austria Vienna East Mission.
I called Hans to outline my problems. Within a very few seconds he interrupted my conversation with the unforgettable words: "President, we sent you there to solve the problems, not complain about them. Now, do you have any other questions for me?" "No," I meekly said. "I didn't think so," was his reply. "Now you just go and have a good day now!"
Without question this was one of the most influential leadership lessons of my life. I knew that Hans would not permit me to transfer my obligations to him or to anyone else. He helped me see that the Lord had sent me to do a work and that I had better get after it. I have often reflected since, that on that day I became a mission president.
On May 1, 1990, Hans came to the mission home in Vienna to participate in a testimony meeting with the elders who had been prepared to enter Czechoslovakia the next day. It was a wonderful meeting, full of spirit and testimony. As was my custom I pronounced a blessing upon the missionaries at the conclusion of our meeting. Hans was not satisfied.
"President," he said, "that was nice, but it isn't enough. I want you to give each missionary his own individual blessing." I followed his instruction. It was a wonderful experience for me and for each of the missionaries who would be the first to return to Czechoslovakia in 40 years.
Hans B. Ringger was my friend. I love him and his death creates emptiness in my soul. I count it one of the greatest blessings of my life that I was privileged to be taught by and work closely with one of the truly great souls of this dispensation, Elder Hans B. Ringger.