Saturday, April 21, 2018

Back in Germany with Flat Stanley

We just arrived safely back in Germany for a 40 day family history experience.  We have spent much of the past 5 months after our mission preparing for this trip and are excited to see what the Lord has planned for us.  We have already seen a few miracles in the past few weeks which remind us who is in charge and that "man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend" (Mosiah 4:10).

We also took Flat Stanley along for the ride as part of a school assignment for our grandson Ashton.
This is an assignment for Ashton to gather photos of Flat Stanley in travels with others over the next two weeks.  He asked us to take Flat Stanly with us and take photos of him wherever we go.  Several of our blog photos are those that we took with Flat Stanley in the first part of our trip.

Back looking out at the skyline of Frankfurt, Germany from the apartment where we are staying for our first two nights.  Flat Stanley is enjoying the view with us.
Each of our days and weeks are full of opportunities for service and the joy that comes when we serve.  We will try to cover the past three weeks by general topic.

Jordan River Open House and Ordinance Worker Training

We had one more opportunity to take some of our grandchildren to the Jordan River Temple open house.  Since we are no longer in Utah, we have invited several others to participate.  On our last visit, we went with Gina and Pollyanna and their children.  As usual, this was a wonderful experience and an opportunity to teach our grandchildren about "Jesus' House".  Our granddaughter, Addisyn was looking for the bed where Jesus sleeps in "His house".

Gina and Pollyanna and their children with us in the Photo opportunity

In front of the Christus statue after the open house tour

These young children get heavy to carry after a while.  We took advantage of a ride back to our car in one of the carts that are provided to facilitate the experience for those who attend the open house.
Selfie taken by Pollyanna from the back of the cart

In the video that is shown at the beginning of the open house, we were pleased to recognize some of our friends from Germany, the family of Jonathon and Ashely Evans-Southall.  This video clip was from a few years ago, but it brought back fond memories of these dear friends.  During our mission we spent several family home evenings with them, participating in self-reliance lessons.

Jonathon and Ashley and their first son Noah

The whole family at that time, including their daughter Beth

We also attended our first training meeting as Temple Ordinance workers.  This was the first of two Sunday evening meetings.  Our session had well over a thousand participants.  It is amazing to be able to serve with so many  people who are consecrating their time to the service of others in the temple.  Unfortunately we will miss our first two Wednesday day time shifts while we are in Germany but will be there for our first Saturday evening shift on June 2.

About half of the participants waiting in line to receive their temple ordinance name badges after the training.

April Birthdays

Since we would not be around the last half of April, we needed to celebrate some grandchildren birthdays ahead of time.  This was for Tiancom (turning 7), Olivia (turning 3) and Charlie (who turned 5 while we were in Pennsylvania with him).

Tiancom, right now the only male "Rueckert" amongst our grandchildren

Olivia, opening her two Olivia books
Charlie opening one of his books on his birthday in Pennsylvania

Other Grandchildren time

 Our activities in the past weeks included visits to Layton (Ashton and Dawson), Hyrum (Ellie and Olivia) and Pennsylvania, (James, Thomas, Henry, Edward, Charlie and Timothy).  We also had a visit in our home from Natalia and Tiancom.

Ashton and Dawson at the playground
Natalia and Tiancom on the stair chair

Grandma reading a birthday book to Charlie

Ellie and Olivia at McDonalds while their parents where enjoying an anniversary date

Grandma reading the Olivia books to Olivia and her sister and mother

Ellie playing her first soccer game
Dinner at Burger King with the DeVore Family (and Flat Stanley)

Self-Reliance Courses and other graduations

Before our trip we were able to complete the 12 week Personal Finance class for our family members.  We are pleased with the six individuals who completed the training.  We learned a lot more about each of them and feel that each of them are making positive steps in their own financial and spiritual self-reliance.  The photos below show Melanie and James receiving their graduation certificates from the course.   

Graduation certificates for James and Melani
We also finished 10 weeks with our young missionaries at Welfare Square.  We will finish their course up with them soon after we return from Germany.  The photo below was with all of them in our 10th lesson.  Some will be finishing their mission before we return home.

With the young missionaries at Welfare Square
We were also blessed to attend the graduation ceremony for our exchange student daughter Giovanna.  She and her husband both graduated from LDS Business College.  We love being part of her family.  She always treats us with so much love.
Debbie and Giovanna
With Giovanna, her parents, and her husband Leo (also graduated)
Random Moments

There are always lots of little things going on that make our days special.  Here are a few of them:

The other day we found out that we had a bad outlet attached to our security system and our freezer in the garage.  As soon as we found out, we had a walk in visit from one of the great ladies in our ward.  She sent her husband over who knows a little about electricity and he identified and solved the problem the same day.  I believe that this is what a Zion society looks like.  No concern about cost or inconvenience, only about helping one another.  What a wonderful blessing to live amongst this type of people.

Our neighbor George LeBaron fixing our bad outlet.  Example of Zion!
Right before leaving for our trip, we had a double missionary Sunday.  WE started by going to a missionary talk for a young man who was my home teaching companion before our mission, Michael Nelson.  He was a great missionary companion and will be a wonderful missionary.  The double blessing of this was a chance to return to our long time ward and to renew acquaintances with so many.

After that we went to the missionary talks of Tom and Ruth Rich, a wonderful missionary couple friend that we served with in Europe.  As always, they taught with the Spirit of God and edified us.  One of the real blessings of these occasions is to see other missionaries from Europe that were also in attendance.  There were nearly 20 of our missionary friends there.  The photo below just reflects those that ended up in the photo at their home afterwards.  E/S Healy, E/S Burt, E/S Thomas, Sister Keyser, Sister Hacking and others were also there.  This was a great warm up for our return to Europe, with fond memories of every day of our mission.

E/S Mills, Rueckert, Rich, Swenson, Proctor and E. Jensen

Our tulips from Holland are starting to flower beautifully.  However, the best tulips will be coming after we leave town.    This is one of our best groups, still with flowers to come.

We were able to attend the BYU ballroom dancing show.  It was great, full of talented and modestly dressed young people.  It gives us hope for the future.
The first part of our trip, 4 days in Pennsylvania
When we visited our daughter and her family last December, we felt prompted by the Lord to spend more time with them and help more than we had in the past.  We believe that in President Nelson's words, we were to minister to them.  They are a wonderful family of 8 who have had their share of challenges in life, especially temporally.  However, they have never faltered in their desire to serve our Heavenly Father and teach their children the gospel.

Based on the promptings received, we decided to come and spend more time with them, participating and helping them facilitate their daily responsibilities.  We weren't sure how this would turn out, but we trusted that the Lord would guide us.  With humility, they accepted our offer.  In the end, it all turned out wonderfully and we were able to get to know this special family on a much more personal basis.
We finished our visit with a visit to some family historical sites, near their home and participating in a  major league baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tom's favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It also happened to be Charlie's 5th birthday.

Melanie and Timothy with Timothy's "Grandma" blanket that he had not previously received.  Debbie is now caught up.
The children around their new kitchen table, playing games together with their grandparents
Henry vacuuming the floor, his newly assigned responsibility in the dining area
Timothy asleep after a long day, while the parents were able to have a  night out without children
With Melanie's superior googling abilities, we were able to find the sites where some meaningful historical markers stood.  Each of these represented some of our ancestors who had originally settled in Pennsylvania many years ago.  The following is from the first Amish bishop in America who is our great grandfather:

3 generations of descendants of Jacob Hertzler
The next sign was commemorative of the site where an Indian massacre occurred with these Amish people.  Amongst the casualties was one of our great grandmothers and a few of her children.  Two of her children were taken captive and raised by Indians for 7 years.  There is quite a story attached to the Northkill Amish and our ancestor, Jacob Hochstetler.

With daughter, Melanie under the Northkill Amish marker

Thursday night we went to the baseball game.  We had planned this for some time and were very concerned about the weather.  It had been raining and been cold.  The good news is that the rain had stopped, but the wind made the 46 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature even colder.  All of the grandkids were willing to endure to the end of the game. They did not want to desert Grandpa.  Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Pirates did not win or even play well this night.  But we all had an experience that we will not soon forget.

With Charlie in front of the ball stadium on his birthday (with Flat Stanley)
Everyone "enjoying" the game.  Not too many other spectators were in our section.
Tom in his Pirates jersey in the Phillie ballpark

On Friday we drove back to Philadelphia to participate in an endowment session before continuing onto the JFK airport and our flight to Germany that evening.

With Flat Stanley in front of the Philadelphia Temple

Back to Family History

This is the purpose of our trip to Germany.  We have felt prompted to use some of our resources and time to pursue additional family history opportunities.  During our mission, we were blessed to find the names of many ancestors and other relatives.  However, that was not our full-time assignment, but merely time that we were able to squeeze out of our other missionary responsibilities.

Now, we will spend our full efforts for the next 40 days visiting parishes and archives and trying to find many ancestors that have not yet been identified.  We have spent the past 5 months summarizing the family history findings of our mission so that we could see where else we could search effectively.  We have been blessed to schedule specific visits with many parishes and archives and are looking forward to this opportunity.  While we have prepared we have already seen several "miracles" beginning to unfold.  Let me share a few of them:

We have been stuck on the Moeller line, Debbie's paternal line.  We had thought we had found more information about Johann Georg Moeller, but have determined that we were wrong.  We had been able to take a picture of the birth record of his son, which identifies his name and the name of his wife, but we have not known where to take the next steps.  I sent the photo of the birth record to Debbie's brother Doug who is much better than we on reading the old German Script and the language.  Two weeks ago he sent back his translation in which he says it identifies where the mother was from.  However, he could not decipher exactly what it was saying.  We decided that the place began with a G, had a b in the middle and Doug thought that there was a "l" or an "f" towards the end.  I began to search using the Meyers Gazeteer on-line tool to identify the original name of the city, using "*" as wild cards.  I spent over an hour on this without success.  So I decided to start looking at Google maps, identifying all of the cities and villages in the area where the son was born, which was in a little village named Dachwig.  

When I began to look, only 5 kilometers away, I saw a village with the name of Gebesee.  It fit perfect, the third identified letter was not an "l" or an "f", but an "s".  It was also close to the birthplace of the son.    I then looked at the records that will be available at one of the archives that we will be visiting this coming Tuesday, and the records of Gebesee are there.  As I made this discovery, the Holy Ghost came over me and I felt chills going up my spine.  I knew that I had been guided to find this.  We will still see what more we find, but I know that we are heading in the right direction.  When I showed the record to Debbie the next morning, she quickly agreed that the word did say Gebesee.  This is just one of many experiences that we expect to have during this visit.

Also, as we add records into Family Search we are becoming acquainted with other individuals who are our relatives, also working on these same family lines.  As I was working on records we had found in Muhlhausen, the home of one of Debbie's great grandfathers, I discovered another individual who had put many records into Family Search. Her name was Sharon Tristani.  I reached out to her and found out that she had spend years doing family history research for Muhlhausen, the city where her late husband's ancestors were from.  We were able to visit her in Orem and receive a flash drive full of her years of efforts.  Many have touched on Debbie's ancestors.  This was certainly a miracle and we are now going armed with some specific research needs for Sharon that I believe we will be able to find.

Debbie with Sharon Tristani in her home.  One of those angels who spends her life trying to  help our kindred dead.  She has identified around 5,000 individuals in the city of Muhlhausen from her work so far.

 Each day other occurrences are happening.  A week and a half ago, my mother received an email from a German who noticed that she was adding information to his family line.  This is based on information that we had gathered during our mission.  We have since entered into contact with this good German (we don't think he is a member of our Church) and we have been invited into his home this coming Friday.  He lives near where we will be staying, which is near some of the cities that we have visited in the past.

Just last night as I boarded the plane to Germany, I noticed one more email that my mother had forwarded to me of another person in Germany who has seen her efforts and wants to collaborate with us.  I have sent him an email and hope to make contact with him also during our trip.  Each one of these examples is a witness to me that the Lord's hand is in this work.  It can and will move forward if we do our part, for the greater blessings will come from above.

Today as we arrived in Frankfurt, we were able to go to the National Bibiliotek and found 9 more books of alphabetical listings from Church books in Erfurt and Muhlhausen.  An additional 8 books were not available at this site.  However, the people at the Library are willing to request those books from Leipzig, where they currently are located.  These will be available to us in 4 weeks when we are back in Frankfurt.

Nine additional reference books that we had not been able to access earlier.  Today we were able to add this to our resources as we look for our ancestors.  
In our recent stake conference we heard an amazing quote about family history and temple work from Wilford Woodruff.  I close this blog post with that quote which I believe with all of my heart:

“I wish many times that the veil were lifted off the face of the Latter-day Saints. I wish we could see and know the things of God as they do who are laboring for the salvation of the human family who are in the spirit world; for if this were so, this whole people, with very few, if any, exceptions, would lose all interest in the riches of the world, and instead thereof their whole desires and labors would be directed to redeem their dead, to perform faithfully the work and mission given us on earth; so that when we ourselves should pass behind the veil and meet with Joseph and the ancient apostles, and others who are watching over us and who are deeply interested in our labors, we might feel satisfied in having done our duty” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham [1946], 152).

Monday, April 2, 2018

Revelatory Changes, Ministering and Service

I know that President Russell M. Nelson is a Prophet of God!!  It has been revealed and confirmed to me.  The General Conference that just completed was an amazing experience for us personally.  Each session was inspiring and that inspiration continued to come quicker throughout the conference.   This was an appropriate culmination to the past few weeks which have been filled with spiritual experiences.

As we approached Easter and General Conference our focus was on preparing ourselves for these special days.  We were also preparing for a family activity on Easter and participating in the Jordan River Temple Open House.  We love being retired and being able to use our time in those things that matter most.  It brings us much joy!

We love participating in self-reliance classes with the young missionaries at Welfare Square.  Each week we are inspired by their service and their efforts.  We have enjoyed seeing them in other settings.  For example, I saw Elder Ben Milligan assigning lockers in the dressing room of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple.  Sister Rueckert thinks she saw Elder Swainston in the choir in the Saturday afternoon session.  Sister Rueckert's showed her love for these missionaries by baking these Easter cookies. 

Easter cookies for the young missionaries at Welfare Square
We have now completed 8 lessons with them and will complete lesson 10 before we leave for Europe.  We will finish up the My Foundation lessons when we return and then begin other self-reliance materials.  We have also completed 10 lessons in our family Self-Reliance  Finance course.  We expect to finish these lessons before leaving for Europe.  We have also made arrangements to begin Self-Reliance lessons in our ward when we return.  We love participating in these divinely inspired materials that bless lives both temporally and spiritually.

We continue to find more ways to involve others in the wonderful work of Family History and Temple Work.  We have had over 200 baptisms performed for our ancestors in the past few weeks by the youth in my brother's ward and by grandchildren of one of our neighbors.  We are sending another 100 names to another brother in California for his ward to perform next week.  In many of these cases those individuals involved will also help do the additional ordinances.

Last week I was able to pass some of the family history work to a 14 year old grand nephew who is excited about the work that we are doing.  He will begin entering data into Family Search and encourage his family to help with the temple ordinances.  We are loving seeing so many family and friends assisting in this great work that we have been blessed to be a part of.

We started our work as volunteer ushers for the Jordan River Temple open house last week.  We met initially at our ward meetinghouse for a general orientation with other volunteers.  We then took a bus to our assigned locations.  On Wednesday we were assigned to work at the meetinghouse next to the temple where visitors come initially.  There we helped them to get seated in different rooms where they watched an introductory movie before they began the temple tour.  It was rewarding to see so many come to the open house.  I (Tom) had the opportunity to escort those that spoke different languages to a multi-lingual room.  I was able to use my Portuguese with many of the Spanish speaking visitors.  Some even thought I was speaking Spanish.

Part of the presentation given to all volunteers

Sister Rueckert outside her room
Directing visitors to her room
 We went back on Friday and were assigned to work in the basement of the temple, which included the baptistry.  This day was specially busy as it was Good Friday and many schools were on spring break.  They estimated that we would have about 1,000 visitors per hour coming through the temple.  We experienced a steady flow of visitors, many families with their children and grandchildren. It was gratifying to see so many teaching their children and many other visitors who were seeing the temple for the first time.  We moved around from station to station, including helping people come up and down the elevators.  After 4 hours of service, we were physically tired but spiritually uplifted.

Our assignment on the back of the badge
Usher badges that we word

Together with our usher badges

On the bus from the initial meetinghouse to the temple with other volunteers
Outside the temple after our volunteer assignment

After our ushering assignment on Wednesday, I was able to go back through the open house with some of our children who had not yet had the opportunity.  It was rewarding to take Ben, Camila and Kari through the tour.  I had mentioned to Ben that he should dress up for this occasion.  He went out and bought a new shirt, pants and shoes for the open house.  Ben had remembered that he was sealed to us in this temple many years ago.  He also reported special feelings while in the Celestial Room.  I know that the spirit of this temple will be felt by all who have softened hearts.  I am excited to see the softening of Ben's heart as he has grown older.  He is certainly making progress.  Kari was also a wonderful help with Camila.  We took her through the tour in a wheel chair to make it easier for her.  She was carrying an Easter bunny that Beckie and her kids had given her earlier that day.  She loved it so much, that she would not leave it in the car.

In front of the Christus with Ben, Camila and Kari

Our souvenir photo from the open house.

That same night, Kari took me for a belated birthday dinner.  It was great to have one on one time with this special daughter who has grown so much in the past few years.

We were also blessed for Debbie to be accepted as an organist in the Jordan River Temple.  This has been a lifelong dream of hers.  After practicing on the organ for a week, she passed the audition and now is getting ready to serve once the temple is dedicated.  Between our shifts as ordinance workers, Debbie playing the organ and our normal temple visits, the temple will be a big part of our life.  No complaints from us.

Debbie auditioning with the person responsible for all volunteer organists in the temple
Sunday night after conference, we had our annual Easter Dinner with all of our children and grandchildren.   We prepare for days ahead of time for these activities. Debbie always puts her special touch into the activity.  This time she made paper carrots full of Easter candy for all of the grandchildren.  The photos below show some of the grandchildren with their carrot of candy.

Box of carrots made with love 

Ellie and Olivia
River's children
Aria and Paisley

Addie and Hudson

Camila with her sons, Caide and Isake and Pollyanna's kids, Aria and Paisley

Since Russell M. Nelson became our new President of the Church, we have been listening and studying all of his conference talks from the time he was called as an apostle in 1984.  We finished this marvelous journey on the Thursday before conference.  What a joy it has been to ponder his direction to us over the past 34 years.  We have learned to know him and love him even more.  We have both felt that our testimony of his role as a prophet has been strengthened through this process.  Two blogs ago, I shared some of my favorite quotes from the first 17 years.  I would now like to add some additional quotes that have been so meaningful in the past 17 years.

Inspirational quotes from some of the talks of President Russell M. Nelson:
  • To set our house in an order pleasing to the Lord, we need to do it His way
  • The only duration of family life that satisfies the loftiest longings of the human soul is forever
  • Think of it: When a mother bears and cares for a child, she not only helps the earth answer the end of its creation, but she glorifies God!
  • Peace can prevail only when that natural inclination to fight is superseded by self-determination to live on a loftier level
  • One can think a prayer, especially when words would interfere
  • And when your wife is sealed to you, her power and potential will increase yours
  • If a family problem has not yielded to prayer and fasting, a mission might be considered
  • This [celestial] rest is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can according to the laws of that kingdom, enter it and enjoy its blessings.
  • When sore trials come upon us, it's time to deepen our faith in God, to work hard, and to serve others.  Then He will heal our broken hearts.
  • If couples contemplate often - - with each other in the temple -- sacred covenants will be better remembered and kept.
  • Spiritual security will always depend upon how one lives, not whee one lives.
  • Thus, when Jesus said "repent," He asked us to change -- to change our mind, knowledge, and spirit - - even our breath.
  • Our ministry is to bless the lives of all who will learn and follow the "more excellent way" of the Lord.
  • Do not try to control your children.  Instead, listen to them, help them to learn the gospel, inspire them, and lead them toward eternal life.
  • Celestial marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other relationship.
  • As we partake of the sacramental emblems worthily, we are further promised that we may always have His Spirit to be with us.  That is spiritual sustenance that cannot be obtained in any other way.
  • "Real intent" means that one really intends to follow the divine direction given.
  • We live to die, and we die to live again.
  • Our degree of gratitude is a measure of our love for Him.
  • The attributes by which we will be judged one day are all spiritual.
  • The desire to serve is a natural outcome of one's conversion, worthiness, and preparation.
  • A strong human spirit with control over appetites of the flesh is master over emotions and passions and not a slave to them.  That kind of freedom is as vital to the spirit as oxygen is to the body! Freedom from self-slavery is true liberation!
  • Keeping divine commandments brings blessings, every time! Breaking divine commandments brings a loss of blessings, every time!
  • Senior leaders are constantly being tutored such that one day they are ready to sit in the highest councils.  They learn how to hear the voice of the Lord through the whisperings of the Spirit.
  • When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, "What sign do I want to give to God?"
  • No other work transcends that of righteous intentional parenting!
  • Faith in God engenders a love for the Sabbath; faith in the Sabbath engenders a love for God.
  • We know that the culminating act of all creation was the creation of woman!
  • Sisters, do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit?
  • The Lord loves to do His own teaching in His holy house.
  • Priesthood power can also calm the  minds and heal fractures in the hearts of those we love.
  • joy is a gift for the faithful.  It is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ.
  • His Son, Jesus Christ gave his life for us.  All so that we could have access to godly power - -  power sufficient to deal witth the burdens, obstacles, and temptations of our day.

With all of this study, Debbie and I felt that we were prepared and anxious to hear the word of God from our new President Prophet in this conference.  Our hearts were right and our testimonies strong of his calling.  However, as general conference began, we had many more witnesses.  Each session was full of powerful thoughts and messages.  We started with the solemn assembly and felt the power of sustaining our new President and all of the apostles, including the two new apostles.  

Each of these were friends of our family in different ways.  Elder Ulisses Soares had been my boss for many years in Brazil and a close friend of the family.  Elder Gong had been the stake president who had called our son Sam as an Elders Quorum President and met with him on a monthly basis.  I had also had the privilege to be with Elder Gong in his apartment in Hong Kong.  Our joy was full as the conference just began.

Elders Soares and Gong

In the talks of Saturday morning, Elder Anderson had said "Don't be surprised if your personal views are not initially in line with the Prophets words.  These are moments of learning." (paraphrased from my notes).  That certainly prepared us for the remainder of conference.

Inspirational talks continued throughout the day and in the priesthood session, the revealed changes to the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums were shared.  We heard the words of the entire First Presidency, totally in harmony with the renewed focus of ministering through a combined priesthood quorum.

On Sunday morning, we heard from several leaders from around the world, including our dear friend Elder De Feo, who gave us our exit interview from our mission.  We love him and we certainly loved his message of love.  He practices what he preaches.  And then we heard from the complete First Presidency, once again in a coordinated effort to teach us of the power of the Holy Ghost, small and simple things and the principles of revelation.  As I listened to President Nelson teach us about revelation from his own experiences and by precept for us to apply in our lives, I was overcome by the Holy Ghost.  I knew that a prophet of God was speaking to us as a prophet of God.   I knew that he was the voice of the Lord to all people on earth.  As the session completed.  I just sat overcome with gratitude for a living prophet.  

We all need to receive our very specific witness of our prophet.   Debbie had received her witness during the solemn assembly, as she had the opportunity to raise her hand and sustain President Nelson as the President of our Church.  She had just finished reading the biography of President Nelson that we bought earlier in March.  I thought that I had received mine, but it came so powerfully during his talk, that I cannot deny it.  In President Nelson's words "Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true."  As he taught about revelation, I received revelation.

When we thought that are hearts were full and overflowing, we learned in the afternoon about the change from home teaching and visiting teaching to ministering.  Elder Holland's words expressed it well. "The most memorable moments of life are when we feel the rush of revelation.  I don't know how many more rushes we can handle this weekend."  And then at the end of the conference President Nelson announced 7 new temples, including one in India and in Russia.  One more rush of revelation.

Now what remains is to put into practice what we learned, especially the specific promptings that came to us during the conference.