Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Weihnachten - Consecrated Night

We love the German word for Christmas.  It is Weihnachten, which literally means consecrated night.  For us, this Christmas season was a time of consecration. We spent our Christmas weekend so differently than years past, but we loved each minute of it.  We felt that we were able to ponder much more on the condescension of our Savior, which in Greek means when He came and conformed willingly with the humble.  We are grateful for his birth, his life and his atoning sacrifice.

The photo below shows where we spent the early part of Christmas Eve, downtown in Frankfurt, listening to the Pealing of the Bells.  All the Churches ring their bells at 5:00 pm on Christmas Eve for 30 minutes.  Traditionally, many congregate to the center of the city where there are several churches.  The crowds were large, but not overwhelming.    Just the day before there was a Christmas Market at this location.  It was all taken down to make room for this special event.  We were grateful to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Downtown Frankfurt at the Pealing of the Bells
Listen to this 30 second video of the Pealing of the Bells to get a small feeling of what we were able to experience for 30 minutes.

Sister Rueckert in the middle of the crowds

A little better view of the many people enjoying the Bells

View of the big Christmas tree in this beautiful setting

As we left it was now totally dark

We came home from the Pealing of the Bells in time to participate in a very fun progressive dinner with several other missionary couples.  We went from apartment to apartment in our building for appetizers, soup, salad, dessert and finishing with some fun games.  We love the senior missionaries.  We are all away from home and missing our families, but we enjoy the love and service that we share.

Delicious appetizers to get started

Playing a little Christmas charades
After the dinner and games, we returned to our apartment and finally settled down to enjoy one of our special Christmas traditions, The Forgotten Carols.  Usually we attend in person, but this year we were able to watch the DVD of one of the past years.  The message is so powerful and it truly brings the Spirit of Christmas into our hearts.  We watched as our German Christmas Pyramid turned by the power of it's flames.

 We finally finished our glorious Christmas Eve and Santa finished his work.

Presents delivered and stockings filled

Fireplace going with soothing Christmas music

On Christmas morning we were awakened by our youngest son, who called us before he went to bed on Christmas Eve.  After that we were able to exchange our presents before going to worship in our Sacrament meeting.  We didn't need much but were able to get a few new neck ties for Elder Rueckert and shoes for Sister Rueckert.  We love having Christmas on Sunday, it helps us keep our focus on what is important.

Soon after coming home from Church we began joining with our family for their Christmas mornings.  We began with our children in Pennsylvania at our 1:30 pm (their 7:30 am).

We then continued the preparation of our German Christmas meal.  We had Roasted Goose, which is common in Germany.  It included our homemade cranberry sauce with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables.

The roast goose breast, seasoned and ready to eat

A meal fit for a missionary couple in Germany
We then had a break until those in Utah got home from Church. We enjoyed our own study and meditation time.  It gave us the opportunity to ponder more on our Savior.

 We had times scheduled with our Utah family each half hour from 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm our time and fit a few more in between.   By the time we were through we had visited with 11 of our children and their families, with one more visit made on the following day.  We wish we could have heard from all of them, but we are thankful for the opportunity to see so many and participate in their Christmas joy.  Most waited until they got on-line with us to open the presents that we had sent to them, which made it really fun for us.

Opening presents with us watching

Seeing this wonderful family for the first time since we started our mission.  Our two year old grandson was very willing to talk with us.

Sister Rueckert shared a German Christmas story (in German) with most of our grandkids.  Over 20 of them listened patiently before they opened their presents.
In Germany the 26th of December is always an official holiday, the 2nd day of Christmas.  We took advantage of this day at home to go to the office and organize our family history documents.  This was my greatest gift, to have so many names available to prepare for temple work.  This effort really will help me to be organized.  Thank you Sister Rueckert for all of your help and support in this work of love!
The Book of Rückerts, data from 17 different familienbuchs 

After going to the office, we were able to make a Christmas visit to our home teaching family, which had not been possible in the weeks before, due to different schedule conflicts.  We love them and enjoyed our visit.  We then returned home to make a Christmas video call with another of our children.

As we worked in the office today, we were almost alone.  We did have a nice video conference with our full time Self-reliance missionary couples throughout Europe. This is truly a holiday time for Germans, so we don't expect much work to occur until next year.  We plan on leaving tomorrow to visit the temple in Freiberg, Germany.   We think this is a good way to finish our year.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Home" for Christmas;Visiting relatives, finding ancestors

We continue to see the Lord's hand in our work as missionaries in the land of our ancestors.  The past 5 days included more family history miracles and the hand of the Lord in meeting and visiting living relatives.  We also have finished our Christmas preparations, including visiting our last Christmas Market in Nürnberg, the city where my grandmother was born.

German Christmas Display from Brother and Sister Berkhahn
On Monday, we had a special Christmas devotional with the senior missionaries.  Brother and Sister Berhkhahn shared with us German Christmas traditions and some spiritual insights on the Christmas story.  Brother and Sister Berkhahn were recently released as the Executive Secretary to the Area Presidency. They are German and were the perfect choice to help the senior missionaries gain more understanding and meaning to our Christmas in Germany.

They shared with us the traditions of the 4 Advents (4 Sundays before Christmas - 4 candles) which adds meaning and peace to the German traditions.

They also shared many German traditions and brought tasty German desserts to enjoy after the devotional.

We were also able to sing some German carols, ending with Stille Nacht.  Sister Rueckert and I are in charge of the senior missionary devotionals.  We felt strong inspiration to invite Brother and Sister Berkhahn.  They exceeded our expectations.  It was a wonderful way to start the last week before Christmas.

We had planned to take some time off on Wednesday and Thursday to visit the land of my ancestors.  On Wednesday we went to a Franconia Family History Association based in Nürnberg.  I had joined this association earlier in the year.  Besides being individuals who have the Spirit of Elijah in their hearts, they have access to incredible family history tools.

One of their prize possessions are the books of Fritz Mägerlein.  He was an author of German History and for some reason he created books of genealogy of the middle Franconan region of Germany.  This includes 77 books for many of the cities where my Grandfather's ancestors came from.  These books are not generally available but can be researched in this location in Nürnberg.
Sister Rueckert looking up names and cities on the computer from the Fritz Mägerlein books.

These books are so amazing, let me just give you one of many examples that we were able to identify on Wednesday.  The fan chart below is one that we were using for a starting point in this work.  You can see that in the pink area below we have some open spots.  It is of one of our ancestors that was born in the city of Huttenheim.

On-line we were able to go to the Huttenheim book and look under the name of Gruelich.  When we did that we identified the following page with the name of my 6th great grandfather and his family, which includes my 5th great grandmother.

Family number 3 is of George Kasper Greulich, my 6th great grandfather
With that information we also see his complete family and his father's family (item number 2) and his grandfather's information (item number 1).  The information of many of the descendants of this 8th great grandfather follow in the next 6 pages.  After showing 20 families, the last page shows all of the families in a form of a genealogical chart. 
Genealogy links to the 20 families listed on these pages, just of the family Greulich in Huttenheim.
With just this one example, we can fill in much of the open pink space on the above Fan chart and identify over 100 relatives for one family name.  We proceeded to print out over 100 pages of this type of information in just a few short hours.  Literally there are thousands of names that we can put into Family Search and begin to do their temple work, all related to my great grandmother.

We are so overwhelmed by the doors that are being opened to us.  We can only imagine the hands of our ancestors that are helping.  We know that they are involved in this great work and have been waiting for hundreds of years for the chance to get their ordinances performed.

We also found many other resources in this association, including a CD Rom of many of the names within the region and throughout Germany.  We were able to buy this CD for only 15 Euros and paid only 10 cents per copy, instead of 30 cents for those who are not members of the association.  We also bought a few books about the area where my grandfather was born, with historical information and the names of residents of those cities.

Going to this location was my best Christmas present ever.  Not only do we have many more resources, we can give the spiritual opportunities to many ancestors and relatives.  

The individuals at this location were so helpful.  This was the last day the library was open this year.  It is open on Wednesdays during most weeks of the year.  We will certainly be back and have now made contact with these individuals who have the spirit of Elijah without knowing it.  The individual on the left saw what we were doing and noticed that we had relatives with he name of Endress from Ulsenheim.   He showed us his bound family book with 35,000 names.  It includes some with the name of Endress from Ulsenheim and also a few pages of Rückerts from the surrounding areas.  We printed out this information from his family history and will see where we can tie into his ancestry.  In my email of gratitude that I sent to them, I told them that they had the Spirit of Elijah quoting from Malachi.

Member of Board of Directors of the Association and the Librarian
After finishing at the library, we went to check into our hotel.  We then took a subway to the Nürnberg Christmas Market.  This is supposed to be one of the best in all of Germany.  We were able to enjoy sights that now have become familiar to us.  After visiting for an hour and a half, we found that the market closed at 9:00 pm before we were quite finished. We think that this is in response to the terrorist attack at the Berlin Christmas Market earlier in the week.  We saw quite a bit of Police presence including vehicles blocking main entrances.  We were thankful for the protection but had to leave before we bought our traditional Gingerbread cookies.

Sign above the entrance of the market

Sign gives us direction to the Christkind market

As with most markets, this one is around some of the old Churches in the city.  The plaza around the churches becomes perfect places to set up the markets.

Closer view of the Church

In front of the multi story Christmas Pyramid, built to resemble the pyramid that we have  as our German Nativity set

View further away from the Church
Large Nativity at the Christmas Market, also one of our favorites

Specialty ginegerbread cookies.  We should have bought some while we  were first looking.

In the subway station.  An opportunity to use my warm winter hat.

By the subway train, after exiting near our hotel

On Thursday morning we left to go back to my Great Grandfather's house in Steinach and visit with our friends Marianne and Christian.  Every time we visit we are treated so well.  Marianne prepared a wonderful lunch for us and provided more food than we could eat during. This included a Romanian rice, carrots and pea dish that was very tasty.  Of course she made us take her special Christmas cookies home with us.

Marianne's dog Daisy was very much a part of the visit.  She loved to be part of everything.

Marianne has received visits from the missionaries but at this time she is wanting to join the Jehovah's Witness church.  We spent hours in more conversstion.  We know that the special friendship we have are independent of what religion she follows.  She is just a "good" person.  Her husband had preferred a Romanian Book of Mormon so we were able to give that to him.  We think that he might have a little more interest.  We did also leave another German Book of Mormon for Marianne.  She had given her previous copy to her sister who was "curious".

Let me now give you some background for the remainder of our day on Thursday.  When we had been in Buchheim in July, our other friend Dorota Rückert had introduced us to individuals who may have been relatives based on the names of their relatives.  We had pondered how we could relate more meaningfully with them, rather than just say that we could be related from 300 years ago.

While pondering this one day in prayer, I was prompted to work on their personal genealogy to show how they were related to us.  This has subsequently become one of my personal goals in the evening hours.  In the past two months I have been successful in tying each of these two individuals into our family line.  This has been based on the research that we had done in their city during a visit in August and some excellent indexing work done by my cousin Gloria.

However, one of the individuals who had taken us to the cemetery was Günter Meyer.  He had shared some genealogy with me, showed some tombstones and given me his email.  Somewhere in the process, I had misplaced the page on which he wrote his information.  I have searched and searched and prayed, but with no success.  I wrote emails to Dorota (who couldn't meet with us on this trip) but she had not sent on his contact information.  I had also sent an email to the other contact, Carola, without response.  Last Saturday, I called Carola who agreed to let us visit her and her father after she got off of work at 7:00 pm on Thursday. I asked her for her specific address and if she could get me contact information for Gunter.  As of Wednesday morning we did not have any additional response.

Trusting in the promptings that I had received, we prepared a packet for both Carola and Gunter with their genealogy tracing  back into our family line.  It actually was a pretty nice fan chart for other information that I was also able to find for their other lines.  We also shared a letter, translated it into German and shared it with a gift wrapped Book of Mormon.

Wednesday night when we got home from the Christmas Market, Carola had sent us an email, confirming our visit with her father the next day and with a phone number for Gunter.  Thursday morning I called the number with no answer, I left a message.  We proceeded to visit Marianne and tried calling again, still no answer.  In the middle of the afternoon I called and got a lady who did not speak any English.  Our communication was inadequate and she hung up.  As we visited with Marianne, we explained our situation and she made a follow-up phone call.  Finally at 4:30 she was able to talk to the daughter of the family, who said that her parents would be home at 6:00 pm.

At 6:10 we got ahold of Günter who agreed that we could come over in 30 minutes.  This did not give us much time before we had to visit Carola, but we went with a prayer in our hearts.  When we arrived we were welcomed with so much love and kindness that we were overwhelmed.  Günter and his wife Barbara both speak a little English.  When they found that we were from Utah, they brought out a photo book of a vacation 5 years ago that they took to the U.S., including Zions and Bryce Canyon.   They were so kind, we felt like we were old friends.  They were very interested in the genealogy work and asked if they could get a copy.  Of course, we had planned on leaving all that we had done with them.  We also got further data to complete the most recent information.  Barbara's mother had passed away just a few months ago, so we also updated that information.  We shared contact information and they gave us multiple phone numbers and email addresses.  We promised to visit them when we next come down to Bavaria and as we left, we left them with our gift.

Günter, Barbara and their daughter Lisa

Photo of the four of us, taken by Lisa
We then left to visit Carola and her father.  It turns out that Carola had a company Christmas party that night, but her father was waiting for us with a friend that could translate for us. They had a full table of food waiting for us.  The father, Eckhard, was a pig farmer and certainly a specialist in sausage.  This was an authentic farmer meal, presented with much love and kindness.

They offered us beer which we refused because we don't drink alcohol.  They then offered us alcohol free which we accepted.
 Eckhard was ready with several photos of his family which we took pictures of and identified the people in the photos.  As we shared the geneological sheets, he kept bringing more photos of more grandparents.  It was a wonderful evening with a dear man who seemed to appreciate the work we had done in identifying his ancestors.  Once again they asked if they could have the papers we were sharing which we left with them.  We also gave our "gift" to them as we left.
With Eckhard Kister.  His mother was a Rückert.
 We left Buchheim after 9:00 pm.  Even though it was raining and dark, we were able to be safely home in Frankfurt by a little after 11:00 pm.   Thus we concluded another adventure where we know that we were guided by our Heavenly Father.  We love doing this and our testimony of trusting in the Lord continues to be strengthened.  He is in charge and this is his work.  We are grateful to be his servants.

On Friday we went into the office and worked a little and then made final preparations for our Christmas holiday.  The photo below is of our Christmas tree that Sister Rueckert has decorated so well.    We do have a few presents that we are giving to each other.  Mostly we are just enjoying our time together serving the Lord and focusing on our Savior in the land of our ancestors.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joyeux Noel

A week full of Christmas joy, finding more ancestors and a farewell to Elder and Sister Matheson. We emphasize our Savior in our Christmas activities which extended to Strasbourg, France.  We also got a few days in of Self-Reliance work.  The nativity set below was our Christmas gift to ourselves, we found it at a French Christmas Market.

Our week started with a farewell luncheon for Elder and Sister Matheson.  It was held in the Sun Flower restaurant.  The photo blow shows the Welfare and Self-Reliance departments that participated.  Elder and Sister Matheson are the first couple to the right.  They have just finished 23 months as Family Services missionaries.  Their replacement has still not arrived, so they are continuing their mission from their home in Provo. They have been some of our closest friends during the time that we have been in Europe.

We were allowed to take Elder and Sister Matheson to the airport on Tuesday morning, leaving home at 5:00 a.m.  As we watched their efforts to organize and prepare for their return home, it seems much easier to just stay on your mission.  The night before they left, they were notified by the Area Seventy in France that he had just called some mental help advisors.  This was one of their missing pieces and came as a tender mercy to them as they honorably completed their mission.

Elder and Sister Matheson, Sister Rueckert and Gilles, their manager at the airport

Senior Missionary Couples 

This was our week to meet with most of our full-time self-reliance missionary couples, including our new couple that has been recently called to Manchester, England.  Our Monday and Tuesday were filled with these individual video conferences.  Each meeting is uplifting as we hear of their experiences and successes. We love associating with other senior missionaries.  They are all  individuals who are consecrating their lives to help build the Kingdom of God.  Each comes with different personalities and strengths, but their consecration is universal. 

On Wednesday we had our weekly Book of Mormon class with the senior missionaries. Each time we meet together, I am in awe at the gospel understanding that is in that room.  Sometimes in my life as I have studied the scriptures I have felt a little alone in my gospel study, not sure how the rest of the world is doing.  When we are together it becomes clear that throughout the Church there are faithful saints who study the scriptures and do all in their power to follow the example of the Savior.  This is one of the many ways that we personally benefit from our mission.  

On Wednesday night our ward did some Christmas caroling in one of the main commercial areas of Frankfurt.  Several of the senior missionaries that participated went on the train together.  The following photos are of the missionary group before the caroling began.

After leaving the subway with the commercial area of Frankfurt  in the background

In front of My Zeil store
Close up of the reindeer display.  The store has an opening going into the upper floors.  This display shows the reindeer climbing into that opening.
Christmas Caroling

As several other ward members met us we moved to a more open section of thel area and began to sing.  We sang Christmas Carols out of the hymn book, focusing on the Savior.  This became a spiritual experience for those of us who participated.  The spirit was strong, many stopped to listen and the young full-time missionaries were active in talking to those who passed by.  One Sister missionary told me that when we were singing it became very easy to approach those that listened.  They were successful in placing many Books of Mormons and made several appointments.  This was one of the highlights of our Christmas Season so far.  It occurred one day before the Light the World challenge to worship with music, but that was close enough for us.

Singing near the fountain (to the left) in a large open area

More and more members arrived, adding to our numbers
Passers By stopping to listen

The following are several photos of missionaries (and our ward mission leader) talking to interested individuals.  Besides a wonderful spiritual event, it was a super missionary activity.

Family History

During the Christmas Caroling, one of the ward members shared with us a special experience that he had with his daughter the previous week. She was baptized and confirmed for several of our family names.  He told us that while performing the confirmation of his daughter for one of the "Rückerts"  he felt a very strong presence in the room of the person who was being confirmed.  This just helps us with more energy to pursue our family history opportunities.  This was one of my relatives who has received the gospel, now being set free with her ordinances performed.  We know that they are helping us on the other side in the work that we are doing.  This showed up again in our experiences of the next day.

Thursday morning we awakened early to make one more effort to visit the Pastor's office in Muhlhausen, where several of Sister Rueckert's ancestors are from.  This is the trip that ended poorly on the day after Thanksgiving (six hour wait on the Autobahn, etc.).  This time all went well.  We arrived on time and had the full attention of Dr. Kublik.  He offered to let us stay until 3:30 pm.  He not only allowed us to come and stay, but he spent the  entire time helping us.  The archive had books from 6 different churches in the area dating back to the 1500s and 1600s.

Shelves of old record books of births, marriages and deaths

Dr. Kublik, who was so super helpful

Dr. Kublik, using his experience and language to decipher the older handwriting
We started our efforts with the latest information we had on a few lines.  To begin with we checked out the 1783 marriage record of Georg Christoph Wender only to find the name of his father on this record.  This started an effort to correct data in Family Search.  After hours of work we were able to get the right marriages, birth dates and wives for Georg and his father Ernst as well as others from the Wender family.  We also found some wives and their families to add to the family tree.  This is work that probably could never have been done without the able help of Dr. Kublik

Original marriage record of Ernst Christoph Wender from  1783

 We finished our day at 3:25 pm when we found the marriage record of Herman Christian Müller, another of Sister Rueckert's ancestors.  Again, we were able to find information on the wife (previously unavailable) and her father.  Her mother was noted on a birth record of a granddaughter.

1738 Marriage record of Herman Christian Müller.  With  Dr. Kublik's help we identified the wife, Anna Dorothea Höpher and her father.
These are just a few examples of what we were able to accomplish on this trip.  In total we added 9 direct ancestors to Sister Rueckert's line and identified many other relatives.  We also took copies of images from several of the marriage books for further research.  Dr. Kublik told us to come back again next year and spend a few days.  He seemed not only willing but anxious to continue helping us.  We once again were amazed at the hand of the Lord through Dr. Kublik.  This is clearly the Lord's work.

We went back to work on Friday morning.  We had scheduled to go to Strasbourg, France with another missionary couple that afternoon.  Unfortunately, they were ill and not able to go with us.   So we went alone with plans to return on Saturday during the day.  Strasbourg considers themselves to be the Christmas Capital of the world.  Supposedly they were the first to have Christmas markets.  We had also heard that they had a special section dedicated to Portugal.  They are also in the region of others of my ancestors on my mother's side (however no family history on this trip).  Since they are only a couple hours from Frankfurt, we thought we could see some Christmas markets from two other countries in one visit. The hotel was walking distance from the Christmas markets which covered quite a few different areas of Strasbourg.

As we walked into the main plaza, we saw the largest Christmas tree we have yet seen in Europe.  It was beautifully decorated.   The many photos below and a few explanations hopefully give the reader a taste of a European Christmas Market.  It also will help remind us of the experiences that we have had.

Sister Rueckert in the plaza with the Christmas tree in the background.

French for Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas

Together in front of the tree

From the other direction
 One of the focus of this Christmas market is their Notre Dame cathedral.  Not only are there markets around it, but there is an incredible nativity setting inside.  This was probably the highlight of our visit.

Decorations in the back leading up to the Notre Dame Cathedral

 The nativity was set up sequentially, from the annunciation to Mary, the meeting with Elisabeth, the traditional nativity with the shepherds, as separate visit by the Wisemen and the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple.  We loved it.  The photos below are shown individually of each segment for a better view of the overall nativity.

An overall view of the size of the nativity in the Church
The visit to Mary by the angel Gabriel.  Behind is the meeting of Mary and Elisabeth.

The more standard nativity with Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the Shepherds

View from the stable scene, showing the camel and elephant with the wisemen

The wisemen visiting an older baby Jesus

The presentation in the temple

The other side of the cathedral with Christmas markets in front
We were looking for a French nativity to add to our collection of nativity scenes.  We found one that we fell in love with.   This is the one that we featured in the beginning of the blog.

One of the clear differences with the German Christmas markets is the food.  There were minimal signs of bratwurst in France.  Instead, crepes seemed to be the food of choice.  We had a very delicious egg, ham and cheese crepe made in front of us, which was a fun experience all in itself.

Preparing the crepe

adding the egg

Adding cheese
Folding the crepe over the ham

Delicious final product

We then went to the Portuguese Christmas Market and enjoyed some Portuguese dessert and other wares.  A few sights on the way:

Entrance to the Portugal Market

Some Portuguese delicacies, including their beloved dried Codfish (on the right)

We had our Portuguese dessert

We then moved onto the other section of the Christmas Market, several blocks to the side of the main market.  We found that they had even better items for view and sale, a very exhaustive selection.

Live Christmas trees were also available

Thousands of small figures

All you need for a do-it-yourself nativity set

We have seen too much emphasis on the Christmas scenes that do not include the Savior or the nativity.  In this example, only a few sets on the second row up include an actual nativity.  The rest are pretty and ornate, but exclude the Savior.
Big time Gingerbread displays and breads.  Very delicious!

More Christmas scenes with some nativities

Christmas tree ornaments

Of course plenty of food options
After several hours we were exhausted and returned to our hotel.   Actually the weather has been fairly mild this Christmas season which makes these outdoor markets more enjoyable.  Hot food and drinks also help warm us up during the visit.

We drove home on Saturday and were able to enjoy our ward Christmas dinner and program.  Plenty of food and many musical numbers.  The photo below is of our ward choir singing a few songs.  There were plenty of individuals sharing their talents and a few separate groups.