Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hyde Park, London Temple and the Alhambra

We just finished week two of our training trip.  The last four days have been in Southern Spain with Elder and Sister Rasmussen after spending four days in London with Elder and Sister Phillips.  These are each amazing missionary couples that are prepared and ready to work as tools in the hand of the Lord.  Our travels have included a visit to the London Temple and to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

Evening view overlooking the Alhambra in Granada Spain

Our week started last Sunday in the Lisbon airport after arriving at 3:00 am.  We waited in the airport until boarding our plane that left for London at 7:00 am, arriving at 9:45 am.  After a very long wait in the passport line, we were met by Elder and Sister Phillips who had just arrived as Self-Reliance missionaries in London two weeks earlier.  After a lengthy car ride through London, we arrived at the Hyde Park Chapel just in time for a 1:00 pm sacrament meeting of the Young Single Adult ward.  We found that there was a half marathon being run in Hyde Park which created quite a traffic jam.

The Sunday School class was especially well done in the Savior's way.  The teacher allowed each class member (about 60 in the class) to ponder what the gospel really meant in their lives and why they were coming to Church.  The discussion was masterfully facilitated and led to the importance of listening to Prophets in our day.  The testimonies and impressions shared by these young adults gave us much hope for the next generation of leaders.

After Church we went to the apartment of Elder and Sister Phillips who fed us a nice Spaghetti dinner.  After visiting for quite a bit more we decided to go to our hotel and get a good nights rest to recover from our previous night's adventures.

The next morning we went for an early lunch with the Phillips before beginning training.  However, there are no early lunches.  Restaurants only open at noon.  So we sat outside the restaurant and began talking about self-reliance for 45 minutes before lunch.

After a nice Italian lunch in England, we spent the afternoon training Elder and Sister Phillips in the Hyde Park Self-Reliance Center.  Once again we began with a meaningful discussion of Self-Reliance doctrine followed by a thorough review of self-reliance processes.  The Phillips came to their mission with a solid understanding of both the doctrine and the process.  They had participated with the self-reliance initiative in their own stake before their mission.  We did feel the witness of the Holy Ghost during our discussions and we enjoyed applying the processes to their unique situation in London.

We had not been successful in obtaining any visits with PEF participants yet, so I stopped and called several of the PEF recipients that are now attending the Portuguese speaking City Ward in London.  Not one of them picked up the phone, where available, I did leave a few voice messages.  I then sent a group email to 7 participants.  Within a few minutes one responded and said he would be available to visit with us the next day.  Later that evening another called back from one of the voice messages and also arranged for a visit the next day.  Right after the first email response a visitor came to the center who was from the Portuguese ward.  I asked him if he knew this individual who had responded and he said that he is the person that had baptized him a few years earlier.  He shared his phone number to send to this individual because he had not been able to attend recently since he is working on Sundays.  That is why he came to the center, to look for a better job that doesn't require Sunday work.  We have learned long ago that these situations are not merely coincidences, but blessings from our Heavenly Father when we put forth our best efforts.
Visiting with and training Elder and Sister Phillips
We worked right up until a family home evening that was held with the senior couples in the London mission.  We were able to see the mission president who we invited to meet with us the following day.  He consented.  We participated in a nice dinner and a evening presentation about changes in Family Search from a Family History missionary.  The discussion was especially about the status of of the digitalization of existing microfilms.   Just when I am trying to withdraw from Family History until the end of our mission, we got into a middle of a wonderful learning opportunity of some blessings of which we were unaware.

The next day we had a wonderful visit with President Mark Stevens of the London Mission.  Mark Stevens and I worked together many years ago at Deloitte and Touche and he has always been a kind and good friend since.  At the end of the discussion, we had decided that Elder and Sister Phillips would spend time with missionaries that are returning home, the Monday before they return. This will occur while they are awaiting their final interview with the mission president.  We are excited about this opportunity to teach these marvelous young missionaries about self-reliance when they are about to make that important next step in their lives.

After that we visited with one of the PEF participants from Brazil.  He had received one of the very first PEF loans in 2001.  Soon after, he moved to England with his family.  He had finished his education and started his chosen career in hotel management.  He has since started his own business  in event planning.  He has achieved temporal self-reliance and is an active member of the Portuguese ward.  As the discussion turned to the PEF loan, he asked if he could pay it off all at the same time.  We assured him that he could and will make arrangements for this to happen.  Once again, we find that most loan participants really want to pay their loans and eventually will when the timing and opportunity are right.  He also gave us updated contact information for many of those who were on our list and became a key contact for Elder and Sister Phillips to begin working with the Portuguese ward in the Self-Reliance Initiative.

Meeting with Otavio, formerly from Brazil
After that we had a productive visit with Elder and Sister Evans who are Pathway missionaries in London.  We all agreed that they and the Phillips will work to find ways to support each other and share their purposes with the priesthood leaders that they visit.  We pray that we can become better partners in this work of blessing the lives of Heavenly Father's children.

Meeting with Elder and Sister Evans, Pathway missionaries

While we visited the Phillips we stayed at a small but convenient hotel near the Hyde Park Chapel.  The price was reasonable, but the room was certainly one of the smallest that we have experienced on our mission.  Photos follow:

The entire hotel room, suitcase on the floor doesn't allow room to kneel by the bed, but it worked
Bathroom with the smallest sink that we have yet seen

Since we were close to Hyde Park, I took advantage and went for a run in the park on Monday and Tuesday mornings.  I loved it!  The park is enormous and full of history.  The following comes from Wikipedia:

Hyde Park is a Grade I-registered major park in Central London. It is the largest of four Royal Parks that form a chain from the entrance of Kensington Palace through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, via Hyde Park Corner and Green Park past the main entrance to Buckingham Palace. The park is divided by the Serpentine and the Long Water.
The park was established by Henry VIII in 1536 when he took the land from Westminster Abbey and used it as a hunting ground. It opened to the public in 1637 and quickly became popular, particularly for May Day parades. Major improvements occurred in the early 18th century under the direction of Queen Caroline. Several duels took place in Hyde Park during this time, often involving members of the nobility. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was held in the park, for which the Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton, was erected.
Free speech and demonstrations have been a key feature of Hyde Park since the 19th century. Speaker's Corner has been established as a point of free speech and debate since 1872, while the Chartists, the Reform League, the suffragettes, and the Stop the War Coalitionhave all held protests there. 

Some of the photos that I took during the morning runs:
Entering Hyde Park at Queen's Gate, our hotel was on Queen's Gate about 6 blocks away
Prince Albert Memorial
With Prince Albert Memorial behind

Peter Pan Statue
Kensington Palace, home of Prince Charles and his family
Speakers Corner where early missionaries and President Hinckley taught the gospel
Speaker's Corner in the background

On Wednesday we were able to go to the London Temple before going to the airport to catch out next flight.  The temple is fairly close to the Gatwick Airport.

With Elder and Sister Phillips at the London Temple

Beautiful view of the temple from behind the mirror lake and the beautiful reflection

Driving in London is always a challenge, but we made it through this visit.  As we were driving to the airport, Elder Phillips took a few wrong turns.  As the GPS was trying to get him back on the path, it directed us to turn where it was prohibited.  As he drove by, the GPS said "Just look at the map".  We broke out laughing.

We arrived that evening in Seville, Spain and were picked up at the airport by our new Self-Reliance missionary couple, Elder and Sister Rasmussen.  When we got to the hotel we took time to call our grandson, Kaleb, and wish him a happy 4th birthday.  His expressions are always so precious.  The following are a couple photos of him from our Zoom visit:

Kaleb with a birthday book that he opened from us
Always with a memorable expression
After a nice dinner with the Rasmussens we got a good nights sleep.  We spent the next day driving to the suburb of Seville where the Rasmussens will be serving and taught them for several hours in the local chapel.  On the way we had a short tour of Seville and took a few photos from the car.

A tower of some sort in Seville, photo from the car
As we trained, we once again we started with the doctrine and then the process.  We also completed the Facilitator guide which was really helpful as they were called on to facilitate a facilitator training the next evening in Granada.

Training Elder and Sister Rasmussen
That day we checked into a different hotel, since the hotel that we were in was filled for the night.  We thought that this was a very unique landscape.  In October the weather was at 93 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the summers it hits 120 degrees.  Needless to say, it is different type of vegetation that survives this heat. 

By a grove of tress next to the hotel.  Just dirt in between the trees, even the weeds can't survive.

Hotel Oromana in Seville, very Spanish
Fish plate that we had for lunch, sharing with the four of us

The next morning we drove to Granada where we would be holding an accelerated job search event on Saturday.  We also had facilitator training scheduled for that evening.  We arrived early enough to visit the Alhambra.  The following is the Wikipedia short explanation of this amazing place:

The Alhambra the complete Arabic form of which was Qalat Al-Hamra, is a palace and fortress complex located in GranadaAndalusiaSpain. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.[1] After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition), and the palaces were partially altered to Renaissance tastes. In 1526 Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better befitting the Holy Roman Emperor in the revolutionary Mannerist style influenced by Humanist philosophy in direct juxtaposition with the Nasrid Andalusian architecture, but which was ultimately never completed due to Morisco rebellions in Granada.

This marvel is almost always sold out.  On-line, entrance tickets are only available several weeks into the future.  By the time we arrived, early morning allotments were totally gone.  However, we were able to enter into the fortress and enjoy some of the sites, as many as we had time to see:

By one of the entrance gates

In front of the Alcazaba, one of the oldest sections of the fortress

Overlooking part of the Nasrid Palace,which we were not able to go into

In the courtyard of the palace of Charles V

View of the Nasrid Palace through a window in the exhibition hall

Outside of the palace of Charles V
That night we participated in the training of facilitators for the Granada Stake.  This stake committee has really taken charge.  The Stake Presidency counselor, high councilor and stake specialist have been especially involved.  A similar accelerated job search event was held last month in Malaga for half of their stake.  Over 20 individuals who had been unemployed for years have now been employed with only 5 that are still seeking jobs.  This week's event will cover the remainder of their stake.
Training of four facilitators, including stake committee, 2 missionary couples and a few employees

The next day we held the accelerated job search event.  27 individuals came besides the facilitators and stake committee and visitors.  Over 40 people in total.

Group being addressed by the stake presidency counselor, chairman of the stake self-reliance committee

Participating in Me in 30 seconds

With six individuals from my table that I helped facilitate
After the event, we were able to hurry to the top of the mountain to see the Alhambra during the sunset.  Unfortunately, the clouds impeded the magnificent impact that is normally seen each and every night.

Panorama view of the Alhambra at sunset

Close up of the Alhambra in the evening

The next day we enjoyed our Sunday meetings at the Granada ward.  It was a joy to see many of the individuals who had been with us the previous day, serving diligently in their ward.  We were also able to visit with another PEF participant who was also our High Priests group instructor.  He and his wife and his son have had loans from the Perpetual Education Fund and are on their paths to Self-Reliance.  His wife is in the Accelerated Job Search group to get a better job with her degree that she has recently acquired in nursing.

After the meetings we returned to Sevilla with Elder and Sister Rasmussen.   This 12 day journey will finally conclude in our next blog.  

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Third of the Way to the U.S.A., but still in Portugal

We are just finishing the first two legs of a long training trip.  The first stops were to do Self-Reliance training in Lisbon, Portugal for our SR missionary couple that has arrived from Brazil before they continue onto their mission in Cape Verde.  We then spent a day participating in the District Conference of the Azores District of Portugal which is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, directly in the path from Lisbon to New York.

By the Biscoitos pools on the Island of Terceira in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean
Our week started quietly enough with a normal day in the office.  It was the last day that we would be with Tom King, our Area Self-Reliance Manager, in Frankfurt until we go to our Team Seminar in Paris 3 weeks later.  We learned that the annual operations review from SLC that was scheduled for December of this year, has been rescheduled to be part of our Paris Seminar.  The related changes to the schedule was one of the topics of the day.  The others were a continuation of preparations for our long training trip to begin Wednesday.

Normally Monday night would have been our Senior Missionary family home evening, but it was postponed to the following week due to a German holiday on Tuesday.  However, many decided (including us) to listen to a class by Sister Stay who taught us more about the Muslim religion, including it's origins with Ishmael, son of Abraham.  This was scheduled since we were also invited to an open house at a local Muslim mosque the next day.

Sister Stay sharing insights into the Islam religion

The next day was a holiday, so the office was officially closed.  It was the German Unification day, celebrating when East and West Germany came back together in 1990.  We think it is one of the most meaningful of German Holidays.  However, we still held a Zoom conference with Elder and Sister Hardy who are serving in Greece.  After that, we went to the Muslim Open House, where we were warmly greeted.  The Open House was fairly simple and straightforward, with displays and guides to inform us.  The Open House was in the prayer room of the Mosque.

Translation: October 3, day of the open door
Mosque that we visited
Tour guide explaining their religion, mostly in German. 
The green names across the top of the room are the 99 different names for Allah that the Muslims use.  This particular sect is the Ahmadiyyah sect.  They are not accepted by other Muslim sects and are a very peaceful people.  We had met one of their members who was a taxi driver that we had talked to some time ago.  They were very kind, the refreshments were good also.

We then spent our afternoon in the office with final preparations for our trip the next morning.  We then met with our Returned Missionaries that evening.  They were all there, except a new missionary who had returned the previous week.  We have not yet met him, but they committed to meet the next week on their own and invite him.

Somewhere during this week, Sister Rueckert reached a significant milestone in her Duolingo training in German.  She worked this program as far as it would let her earlier in the year and achieved 49% fluency by their measurement.  Then it would not let her progress further.  Recently she found a newer version of Duolingo and has again followed this course.  Finally on this week, she achieve 50% fluency.

The next day, Wednesday, we began our 12 day training trip.  Our first stop was Lisbon, Portugal.  There we met Elder and Sister Portela, a self-reliance missionary couple that arrived that same day from the Brazil MTC.  Since they came from Brazil, they did not receive the normal Self-Reliance training that is given in SLC.  They will be serving in Cape Verde.  We had planned for them to stop for two days in Lisbon and receive additional training and orientation from us and our Self-Reliance Operations Team who are based in Lisbon.

Waiting for a taxi at the Lisbon, Portugal airport. Very long lines, just to get to the waiting queue.
We spent Wednesday evening with them and immediately fell in love with them. They are amazing people, with a very strong testimony and desire to serve.  Elder Portela is a former stake president, temple sealer and patriarch.  They have lived in several locations in Brazil and are both pioneers, being baptized even before my days as a missionary.  They have a very strong desire to help the Church progress in Cape Verde and seem willing to do anything.  We are truly blessed to have this caliber of missionaries to serve in Self-Reliance.

At Campo Pequeno, where we had dinner with the Portelas on Wednesday evening
On Thursday, we held a full day of Self-Reliance training.  Since their English language abilities are limited, we held the training all in Portuguese.  This sometimes leaves Sister Rueckert out of the mix, but she does a wonderful job of trying to keep up with whatever she can.  In fact, she facilitated our Facilitator Training group to show them how easy it is to facilitate a group, doing it without understanding the language.

Sister Rueckert facilitating the facilitator training in Portuguese with Elder and Sister Portella
On Thursday we held our training straight through the lunch hour so that we could finish early enough to visit a few sites in Lisbon, since it was the first visit to Portugal for Elder and Sister Portela.  We took them to the Jerónimo Monastery, built in the 1500s.  Like us from the U.S., people in Brazil do not see buildings or historical sites dating back 500 years.

Elder and Sister Portela, with Sister Rueckert outside of the Jerónimo Monastery

Sister Rueckert in the inside court of the Monastery

The seats in the Church for singing and praying for the monks.  It reminds me of the seats that are described for  King Noah and his priests in the Book of Mormon
Seat identified for the apostle Thomas, my namesake

All of us together in the inner courts of the monastery

Sister Rueckert with a few view of the inner court and the steeples and dome of the Church

Outside of the Church that adjoins the monastery
 After our visit to the monastery, we decided to eat dinner at the world famous Belem Pastaís restaurant.  Since this was a holiday in Portugal (their independence day), the restaurant was especially busy.  This is us once again in a line, awaiting a table to sit at.

A dozen world famous Pastéis de Belém

The story of the Patéis de Belém, made originally by nuns from the "Convento dos Jerónimos"

On Friday we continued our training with Elder and Sister Portela on the PEF Loan program and their role with this in Cape Verde.  They were primarily instructed by Miguel Adriano, our Operations manager, and Ceu Cavaco, our Loan Supervisor.  We continue to be impressed with their depth of understanding and perspective with the PEF loan program.  I spent most of the last years of my career administering this program.  However, I love the way they understand and teach.  It was a wonderful day of training.

Miguel training the Portelas
All of us together at the end of the training
We then went to the airport for our trip to the Azores islands, which left a few hours before the Portelas were flying to Cape Verde.  Ceu took them by the site of the Lisbon Temple before they went to the airport.  Even though we did not go to the temple site, this photo is a recent update of the Lisbon Temple shared with us by Ceu.

Updated photo of the Lisbon Temple construction

The next leg of our trip was to participate in the Azores District Conference.  This conference was dedicated to the topic of Self-Reliance and is being presided by our Self-Reliance manager, Antonio Paulo, who is also a counselor in the mission presidency.  This district is on a few islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Our flight was about 3 hours long, going directly west.  We were told that this took us about 1/3 of the way to the United States.  We also advanced an additional time zone.  

We arrived at our destination about 9:30 pm and were able to be lodged at a pretty cool hotel at a real good cost.  Our room was one of the largest that we have stayed in.  It also was next to a marina, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Our hotel room
The balcony of our hotel room
Overlooking our hotel from a nearby fort
The next morning (Saturday) we took an early morning walk and explored our surroundings.  Just next to our hotel was an old fort from the 1500s.

Outside of the Fortress of Sao Sebastião
Going into the fort area
Only to find a modern hotel inside, with a beautiful evenly spaced pine tree

Once inside the fort we were able to explore and enjoy the beautiful views.

Looking out over the Atlantic Ocean
Looking down at the cost below the fort

Looking back up to the top of the fort. Sister Rueckert is at the middle of the top in her pink top

Looking back at the fort from the hotel on with a beautiful sunrise
Our district conference meetings did not begin until the afternoon, so we took advantage and visited the island with Antonio Paulo's wife, Joanna, and another couple that was also visiting from Portugal.  We were able to see the beautiful city and the countryside, including some amazing coastal views.

Overlooking the city of Angra do Heroísmo

One of the beautiful Catholic Churches in the City
A vacated house became the place to display the work of an artist in the doorway and windows.
One of many houses dedicated to the Holy Ghost.  These are locations to begin Catholic processions.

The countryside is divided into smaller lots by stone fences.  These are everywhere, we have never seen anything like it 
Overlooking the countryside, all divided by stone walls and with cows within many of the pasture areas
Overlooking the countryside on this beautiful island of divided fields

Another view of countryside and the ocean

View of amazing natural swimming area at the Biscoitos area

Panaroma of this beautiful coastal area with natural bathing ponds

We finally met up with the District Leadership and Antonio Paulo for lunch.  Another amazing experience.  Seafood without end:

The District and Mission Leadership that was in attendance with E/S Rueckert

All of this seafood was perfect for the eight of us

Finally we started the District Conference.  This was the location of one of the branches.  The other two branches on a different island joined by video conference.  Elder Rueckert participated for 25 minutes in training Priesthood Leadership while Sister Rueckert helped train the Relief Society leadership.  We pondered quite a bit about this assignment and decided to let the Spirit guide us.  We each ended up taking different approaches but felt that it was what the Lord wanted us to do.  We each did focus on the doctrine of Self-Reliance which is so well summarized in D&C 104:15-17.  When we do  this, the Holy Ghost testifies to those who participate.

Priesthood Leadership participating with those on the other island joining in by Zoom
Elder Rueckert during the Priesthood Training Session

In the Saturday evening session, we also had the opportunity to share some thoughts.  Sister Rueckert was asked by some of the other sisters to share her story of becoming the mother of 17 children.  She shared it wonderfully as a lesson of trusting in the Lord when your life doesn't go as you had planned.  That was our theme of the conference, to Trust the Lord who knows what is best for each of us.  He will always bless us as "seemeth him good".  We have learned this principle with all of our hearts and love to share our testimonies about it.

Sister Rueckert addressing the adult session of the District Conference with a  translator

With Antonio Paulo and his wife Joanna. They have become dear friends to us.
As the Saturday session came to a close, we were taken to the airport by the local branch president.  This gave us a chance to talk more specifically to him about his ward and potential Self-Reliance activities.   He is a good man who has been guided by the Lord to establish his life in this area and help build the kingdom.

After a two hour delay in our flight, we have finally arrived in Lisbon at 3:00 am.  We are now waiting for our next flight at 7:00 am to London, where our training experience will continue.  That will be included in our next blog.