Sunday, January 31, 2016

An "egg"cellent preparation week in the office, Saturday at Marburg and the impressions of the Holy Ghost

There are a lot of differences in lifestyle and culture in Germany.  One is the total use of the metric system.  We know that is the case in most locations outside of the U.S., but Germany has taken it to a new extreme.  Take a look at the carton of eggs and tell me what is metric about it.

Hopefully you identified it.  You do not buy eggs by the dozen but by the ten.  However, we must say that we love the eggs here.  They have bright yokes and are very delicious.

Anyway we have had a wonderful week, staying in Germany.  It has been a week of preparation for:
  • An upcoming jobs initiative in Cape Verde (Last few weeks in February)
  • A presentation to the Area Presidency about our Self-Reliance reporting (this Tuesday)
  • Our monthly meeting with our managers (tomorrow)
  • For our Fifth Sunday lesson in our international ward about Self-Reliance (today)
  • For our monthly Area Self-Reliance Committee meeting (Thursday of this week).
(By the way, we felt really good about our fifth Sunday lesson today.  We were able to feel the spirit as we shared spiritual truths and testimony.  Our prayers were answered.)

Add to that, we got registered officially to stay in Germany as missionaries, got a membership in a "Costco" like store and on Friday we had the official annual cleanup day in the office.  This happens once a year when everyone in the office is to clean out old files, storage boxes and all of the offices.

After so much preparation, we felt it was time to take a preparation day in Germany.  On Friday night we ventured downtown to a Japanese restaurant and found that we actually understood some of the items on the menu.  We work hard on our German in the evenings and these are the moments that we start at least recognizing a few words.

On Saturday, we went with Elder and Sister Jensen, a missionary couple that we met in the MTC and arrived in Frankfurt the same day that we did.  They are serving a mission for legal counsel in the Area office.  The following is a photo with them and us inside of Saint Elizabeth's Church in Marburg, Germany.  Marburg is a little over an hour north of Frankfurt.  It is one of the oldest cities that did not have significant destruction during World War I and II.  It was a cold and rainy day as we traveled, but the impressive sights and good company made it worthwhile.

The Church of St. Elizabeth in Marburg was built between 1235 and 1283 over the site of the grave of St. Elizabeth  It is the first church  built in a purely Gothic style.  Let me share with you the story of Elizabeth, which we found fascinating:

Elizabeth, daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, was born in 1207 and at the age of four came to Thuringia in order to be brought up together with her future husband, the son of the count of Thuringia.  When she was fourteen they were married and very soon had three children, but she became a widow at the age of only 21 when her husband, count Ludwig IV of Thuringia, died on a crusade.  She left the splendid court of the Wartburg and chose to live in poverty in Marburg, where she founded a hospital with a chapel dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi.  She spent the rest of her life caring for the needy, in accordance with the words of Jesus: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me." (Matthew 25:40).

After her death in 1231, at the age of 24, pilgrimages to her grave began so that in 1232 a bigger church had to be built.  In 1235, after Elizabeth had been canonized by the Pope, the foundation of the present church was laid under the patronage of the Teutonic Order of Knights.  The Church is full of a canopy over her grave, relics, stain glass windows and many statues and a triptych which sows real scenes from the life and death of Elizabeth.  That is the backdrop of our photo above.    Other photos follow:

Sister Rueckert in front of the High Altar and the beautiful stain glass windows behind.
Stain Glass windows depicting the life and service of Elizabeth

The Golden Shrine was designed in 1240 for the relics of St. Elizabeth.  It is made of gilded silver and copper, richly decorated with precious stones.
Front of the Church
Back of the Church
Elder and Sister Rueckert behind the Church
After visiting the Church we were also able to visit the Castle of the Landgrave.  It was first built around 1000 AD and is situated at the top of the city.  We were especially impressed to learn that Martin Luther and other reformers met in this castle in October 1529 at the Marburg Colloquy.  The Marburg Colloquy was a meeting at Marburg Castle which attempted to solve a disputation between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli over the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper.  

Outside photo of the Castle

Photo of a smaller model to show the overall castle area

Painting hanging in the castle which depicts the Colloquy of Marburg, with Martin Luther and the other reformers
Elder and Sister Rueckert outside the castle overlooking the city (rainy and windy)

One of my insights from my personal study this week has to do with the impressions of the Holy Ghost.  I felt that the words of President Boyd K. Packer describe so well how delicately the Holy Ghost communicates to us.

"We cannot express spiritual knowledge in words alone.  We can, however, with words show another how to prepare for the reception of the Spirit.  The Spirit itself will help. 'For when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.' (2 Nephi 33:1).

Then when we have a spiritual communication, we can say within ourselves, this is it!  This is what is meant by those words in the revelation,  Thereafter, if they are carefully chosen, words are adequate for teaching about spiritual things.

We do not have the words (even the scriptures do not have words) which perfectly describe the Spirit.  The scriptures generally use the word voice, which does not exactly fit.  These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes, nor heard with our ears.  And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears. . .

Should an angel appear and converse with you, neither you nor he would be confined to corporeal sight or sound in order to communicate.  For there is that spiritual process, described by the Prophet Joseph Smith, by which pure intelligence can flow into our minds and we can know what we need to know without either the drudgery of study or the passage of time, for it is revelation."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Shroud of Turin, Seminar in Italy and thoughts about the scriptures

Last Friday we had a "P morning" while in the city of Torino (Turin), Italy.  That morning we spent an hour going through the museum of the Shroud of Turin.  The Shroud of Turin is a length of linen cloth bearing the image of a man that is believed by some Christians to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth.  The interesting thing is that there are marks and signs of a human body that have been transferred to the cloth.  Some believe that it occurred with a type of unique heat process that may have occurred at the time of the resurrection.  While the transfer of the images to the cloth cannot be explained, the identifications with Jesus of Nazareth are very interesting.  It includes blood stains at the places that are identified with his side, the wrist that would have been against the cloth and the bottom foot. It also shows lacerations on the head and the back.

There have been several conflicting scientific tests and a confusing history prior to the 1300s.  However, since a few years after that,  this cloth has been held in Turin.  It has withstood a fire and a flood and has suffered some damage.  It has been put up for public display periodically and has significant photographs with special abilities taken over the years.  The last public display was last year.  Right now it is in safekeeping in the cathedral in the city.  The museum shows many of the photographs and features a copy that is displayed.  Although there are differing views, we found it to be quite interesting.  We were impressed and had a very enjoyable tour.  If it is true or not does not change our faith in the Savior, but the concept is fascinating.  Some of the photos follow:

Elder and Sister Rueckert in the chapel where the copy of the Shroud of Turin is displayed.  The original is currently being preserved and is not available for public display at this time.  See a close up of the Shroud in the photo below:
You can see on the cloth, the imprint of a man with his arms folded in front of him and his legs brought together at the feet.  This is on the left side.  The right side shows the back side of the same man.  This impression on the cloth also includes blood spots around the feet, the wrist and the side, where the Savior would have had his side lanced.  There is also specks of blood on the forehead and on the back part of the head and shoulders.  The impression appears to have come from some type of radiation type transfer that cannot be explained.  Those who believe that this is from Jesus of Nazareth believe that this occurred when he became resurrected.  The larger light spots are where cloth was added behind the cloth to cover holes caused by the heat of a fire, so ignore the bigger spots, which are man made and pay attention to the lighter impressions.  Special cameras and negatives of the cloth show the impressions in a much more noticeable way.
Hologram created from the images on the Shroud.  This shows better what impressions are on the cloth.
As we were leaving from the airport in Germany, we had an opportunity to share our first pass along card with someone who was helping us through airport security.  He noticed our badges and started talking to us.  Having the badge on makes sharing the gospel even easier!  On our way to Italy on Thursday, we flew over the Swiss Alps.  It was quite a sight as we saw the snow covered mountain peaks poking out of the clouds.  The following are a few photos that we took out of the plane.  They show a little bit of the amazing view that we had:

The reason for our visit to Torino (Turin) was to participate in a My Path Devotional on Thursday evening.  Of course this was all in Italian, but we understand the process and were able to understand quite a bit of what was occurring.  There were almost 40 people there, including leaders and about 24 joined Self-Reliance Groups.  This was totally done by a church service missionary couple which has been called as the Stake Self-Reliance Specialists for the Alessandria, Italy Stake.  We were impressed with their commitment as they handled it from the beginning to the end.  They were also supported by other committee members, including the Stake Presidency counselor and the agent bishop.  This devotional was for three of the wards that live in Torino.  Once, the devotional was over, we checked into a local hotel.

My Path Devotional in Torino, Italy
The next morning we spent some time in the museum (see above) and then we met with a member with a small business idea for lunch and then continued onto Milan.  In Milan we worked for a few hours and checked into a hotel that night.  The travel time with our manager, Ether, is always valuable as we are able to discuss many aspects of the self-reliance work in Italy while traveling.

The main purpose of our visit was a seminar of all self-reliance specialists and chairmen of  the self-reliance committees (counselors in stake presidency) in Italy.  It started on Saturday at noon and went until Sunday afternoon.  Sister Rueckert and I each made presentations on Saturday, along with Ether and our Italy Self-Reliance missionary couple.    The spiritual thought on Saturday and all of the Sunday discussions on doctrine were made by several of the participants.  On Sunday our session began with a wonderful message from Elder De Feo, the Area Seventy for Italy, on Self-Reliance.  He shared some scriptural insights and thoughts that were new to us, but very meaningful and inspirational.  We feel that all that participated should be returning to their homes, instructed and edified.  Hopefully this is a new beginning for Self-Reliance in Italy as they now have all of their materials available in Italian and the stakes and districts were all represented.

Previous to this trip we continued in our daily routine, which includes time for exercise, scripture study and language study.  We have found this missionary routine to be very helpful and helps us to learn and grow.  During our study this week, I found several insights about the study of the scriptures.  I wanted to share a few of the quotes that touched my soul while I studied Lehi's dream of the Tree of Life and the rod of iron.   They have helped me to be more diligent in my scripture study.   I hope that they can be helpful for any others who read this:

From President Spencer W. Kimball: "I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away.  If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns".  I have heard this quote many times, I love it.  It always reminds me of the importance of "immersing" ourselves in the scriptures.

From Elder David A. Bednar:  "It is significant that the second group pressed forward with faith and commitment.  They also had the added blessing of the rod of iron, and they were clinging to it!  However, as they were confronted with persecution and adversity, they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.  Even with faith, commitment, and the word of God, this group eventually was lost - perhaps because they only periodically read or studied or searched the scriptures.  Clinging to the rod of iron suggest to me only occasional 'bursts' of study or irregular dipping rather than consistent, ongoing immersion in the word of God. In verse 30 we read about a third group of people who pressed forward 'continually holding fast to the rod of iron until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.'  The key phrase in this verse is continually holding fast to the rod of iron."

President Ezra Taft Benson: "[Lehi] saw that if people would hold fast to that rod, they could avoid the rivers of filthiness, stay away from the forbidden paths, stop from wandering in the strange roads that lead to destruction . . . [It] has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life".

May each of us be more diligent to continually hold fast to the iron rod, immersing ourselves in the scriptures, so that we can resist evil and find joy in this life!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Missionaries for real and here to stay!

We've now been in Germany for 5 days (as missionaries).  The jet lag is going away and we have settled into our routine once more.  Only this time, we are here to stay.

So far, we have been working in the office each day.  There has been a lot to get caught up on.  Most of our work days have gone well past 6:00 pm.  The good news is that we are settling into a routine, if there is such a thing.  We are also planning and organizing many additional activities for the coming weeks and months.  To begin with, we will be making a visit to Milan, Italy this coming week.

Each morning we exercise and study the scriptures before we have breakfast.  Then Debbie makes us a lunch to eat at the office.  We normally don't get to the office before 9:00 am, to make sure we give priority to our daily missionary routine.  Maybe that is why we have to stay so late!

At night we make, eat and clean up for dinner, study German and read Scriptures together.

We have gotten settled pretty quick.  We got our exercise bike back and it is functioning well.  We have been able to use it for exercise in the mornings since it is a bit cold outside.  We didn't have a car assigned to us, we were to share with another missionary couple.  Then on Thursday we heard that there was another car available, which we picked up on Friday.  That worked perfectly for us to go out for our Friday night date which was at a very nice (and expensive) restaurant.  We had a four course meal, including a liver salad, a cheese soup, pheasant on sauerkraut and a Snow Ball desert.

We also were able  to make larger purchases on Saturday to stock up our apartment with food.  We even found some chicken breasts and ground beef to put into our freezer.

Debbie continues to do her Duolingo study of German each and every day. This weekend I finished my first unit of German on Rosetta Stone.  Today we decided that we should try to speak more German to each other in our apartment.  Making progress . . .

Yesterday we bought some materials for Debbie to decorate our wreath on our door, it looks very professional and inviting.

We also had a little snow falling yesterday.  Today when we woke up we found an inch or two of snow on the ground.


We participate in activities with other missionaries whenever we are able.  This week we participated in a Sunday devotional shared by one of our missionary couples that are incredibly talented in music.  We were taught how to increase our understanding and appreciation for music.  In our Wednesday noon Book of Mormon class we had a wonderful lesson on prayer.  We were very uplifted by the lesson that was taught by Elder Berkhahn, the Executive Secretary to the Area Presidency. It is an amazing experience as we had 17 missionary couples in the class and they have deep testimonies and experiences.  We reviewed the Savior's teachings on prayer in 3 Nephi 13, including a very insightful study on the Lord's Prayer as it was given to the Nephites.   We went home that night and began to study ways that we can improve our prayers, especially to follow the patten set by the Savior.

We especially enjoyed references to Prayer in the Gospel Dictionary.  I will copy in two paragraphs that we found especially insightful.  Rather than commenting on them, I will leave them for any readers to review and ponder.  It will bring new understanding and meaning to your prayer experience:

“As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

. . . Christians are taught to pray in Christ’s name (John 14:13–14; 15:7, 16; 16:23–24). We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ—when His words abide in us (John 15:7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Safely "home" in Germany, last thoughts from the MTC

We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany this morning and spent a day in the office.  Our Area Self-Reliance Manager and the Welfare Manager and the missionaries on our floor prepared a welcome to Germany luncheon for us.  That was so nice and needed, we were very hungry.  It is great to serve with good people that are dedicated to this work and who follow the example of the Savior.

Our lead photo on this blog is the same one that we gave to each of our children for Christmas.  We hope that they keep it close so that they and our grandchildren will remember why we are not near.  We have truly been called to serve by our Heavenly Father through his living prophets.  We feel it and want all to know that we are trying to do the will of Our Father.

As we finished up our week in the MTC, we continued to be blessed with spiritual experiences.  They take you out of your comfort zone, but you go through the experience with growth and confidence.  The role playing appeared very real, certainly the emotions that we had were real.  As we taught and testified, the spirit confirmed to us and those around us that we were doing His work.  This photo is from one of the "standard" photo shoots in the MTC.  Of course, we are pointing to the Europe Area, which is where we are now serving.  It was taken by a sister who had arrived at the MTC the day before.  She and her companion are going to serve in France.  This same day was Debbie's birthday.  We celebrated that night by going to the Provo Temple and having a nice meal together at P.F. Changs.


 After finishing up at the MTC, we had another weekend to make final preparations and say more good byes before leaving on the plane on Monday morning.  Finally, the moment arrived, Jacob awoke early to take us to the airport at 4:30 am.  All arrangements worked as planned.  We had about 5 hours laying over at the Atlanta airport.  Then we continued onto Frankfurt that evening, arriving this morning at 8:20 am (Frankfurt Time).  After all this excitement and a full day of work, we are ready to go to bed and begin overcoming jet lag for one last time.  As I look up at our wall in our bedroom, I see a new wall hanging that we brought with us from the U.S. on this last trip:

With my sweetheart by my side, we are now "home".  We pray for our family and loved ones.  However, the majority of our time and energy will be devoted to helping build the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Finally Missionaries and loving it

We made it to the MTC, we are officially missionaries!

I am writing this blog from our room at the MTC.  It is Wednesday night and we are finishing our third day, only two more to go.  Let me back up to Sunday to give a better summary of our time as missionaries.

On Sunday we had a special moment as we were set apart as full-time missionaries in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  This was our first formal meeting with our stake president, President Sofft.  First, a few interesting side notes:

  • Our original mission papers were submitted by President Naylor of the West Jordan Heritage Stake, before we moved to our condo.  In our final interview, President Naylor told us that his wife's grandfather was one of the early converts in Frankfurt, Germany.  He shared with us a copy of the story of this grandfather who was introduced to the gospel by Leonhard Rueckert, my grandfather's brother.  His history identifies Leonhard Rueckert as the first member of the Church in Frankfurt, Germany (back in 1892 or 1893).  I have since shared this history with members of my extended family, including several descendants of Leonhard Rueckert who received this document with great joy.
  • Our current stake president, who set us apart is President Sofft.  His wife is a descendent of Leonhard Rueckert also.  He has been to the home of our great grandfather and his wife's native home in Germany, the same ones that Debbie and I visited some 16 years ago.  We were able to catch up on some family history stories with President Sofft before the setting apart.

My mother was in attendance at the setting apart, as was our son Sam and our daughter Beckie and our granddaughter, McKenzie.  So that included at least 4 generations of our family together at this special time.  I was set apart first, with my son, Sam, being part of the circle.  That is special as I remember being in the circle when he was set apart as a full-time missionary.  After my setting apart, I was able to stand in the circle as my sweet wife Debbie was also set apart.

The blessings were wonderful and the spirit was strong as we were promised physical, emotional and spiritual health as well as many other specific blessings.  However, I felt the spirit the strongest as I was formally set apart as a full-time missionary.  It was as if the Holy Ghost landed directly on me.  I had the same feeling repeated as Debbie received the same pronouncement.  Finally we were missionaries after spending the past six months acting the part without the official setting apart.  As we went home, we put on the missionary badges that we had received in our Self-Reliance missionary training that we had participated in during the month of November 2015.

Monday morning, after holding a video meeting with our management team in Europe, we drove ourselves down to the MTC in Provo, Utah.  We were part of 90 senior missionaries that entered into the MTC that day.  Since then we have been involved in a wonderful MTC experience, including a recorded devotional with Elder Bednar and a devotional in which Bishop Dean Davies of the Presiding Bishopric spoke to all of the missionaries at the MTC.  We have been trained in key principles of Preach My Gospel and given missionary lessons with other senior couples and to volunteers that come from outside the MTC.

One thing that I have found, is that the spirit down here is amazingly strong.  I have been overcome by the spirit on many occasions.  Most know that my emotions are very much on the surface.  It started when we sang Called to Serve that first day and has repeated every chance that I have to teach gospel principles or share my testimony.  I know that this gospel is true!  I am so thankful that I can represent my Savior as a full-time missionary.  This is the fulfillment of a dream that I have had for over 40 years since I returned home from my mission to Brazil.  I have the most wonderful companion in the world as I serve with my wife.  It can't get much better than this!

It is great to get to know many of the other missionary couples.  Each has a different story and a different calling, but all are dedicated men and women who are consecrating their lives.  We are in a district of 4 missionary couples for our role playing opportunities.  One is going to Australia on a medical advisor mission, another is going to Texas to work in a mission home and the third is going to Rochester, New York to work as MLS missionaries, working with members and leaders.  We are asked to step out of our comfort zone as we learn to teach the gospel in the Lord's way.  Of course, this only helps us to grow, which is one of the key activities for all full-time missionaries.

Prior to this week, we were able top make final preparations for our mission.  It is amazing how things come together when we do our part and the Lord fills in the gaps.  We had a wonderful New Years Eve with many of our children and grandchildren.  On January 2, we had a party with Debbie's siblings and all of their posterity.  This was the final farewell for some of our children that live further away.  During this party, we were able to bring Camila and her kids and they had a wonderful time together.  For me, this was the highlight of the party, seeing the wonderful love between children and their mother!

On Sunday, besides the setting apart, Pollyanna and I were able to visit Camila and celebrate her 33rd birthday.  I was also able to give Sam a father's blessing.  Several of the family came over a one last game night on Sunday night.  Before it got too late, we went to bed as good missionaries do and got ready to go to the MTC the next day.

Tonight we participate in one more meeting with Europe at our midnight.  Tomorrow we will celebrate Debbie's birthday while here in the MTC.  This will include a visit to the temple tomorrow night and a dinner out.  We will finish up our time here on Friday afternoon and then have one more weekend at home before taking an early flight on Monday morning to Germany.