Monday, February 29, 2016

The Atlantic Ocean’s best kept secret

What a week!  We are currently sitting in the airport in Praia, Cape Verde, waiting for our flight that leaves at 12:55 a.m. for Lisbon, Portugal.  We have completed our trip to Cape Verde and we are overwhelmed with the blessings of the Lord that we have seen and experienced in this past week. 

Our week in Mindelo was full of many activities.  Primary activities were the Jobs Initiative visits with employers to build preferred partnerships with Church members looking for work.  This was the primary purpose of Brother and Sister Adams involvement.  Brother Adams and James Tavares, our manager, had 13 successful meeting with different employers where preferred relationships were created.   With other commitments we were able to only participate in one of these in MIndelo.

At the same time we had a film crew from Frankfurt in Mindelo filming some success stories of Self-Reliance participants.  In the end, we ended up spending most of two days assisting the film crew.  This included the wonderful stories of Jessyka and Fredson.  The filming involved their lives, recreating past experiences and involving their families.  One of the highlights was recreating Jessyka’s baptism with a reenacted baptism in the ocean.  We also played a major role in helping take care of Fredson’s two year old, Lehi,  while he wasn’t involved in some of the filming scenes..  Overall, we had a wonderful experience with each of these members and a different set of experiences than normal for senior missionary couples.

Elder and Sister Rueckert at the beach where we were filming the baptism

Filming of the Baptism - getting started
Filming Jessica with her sick father
Fredson with wife and son, Lehi
Sister Rueckert with Lehi, two year old son of  Fredson

Add to that multiple videoconferences with our Area managers, full-time missionaries and finance and legal people in the Area office.  We also met individually with one of the bishops and a few visits with the director of the Ashby Foundation, who has been doing wonderful humanitarian work in Cape Verde.

Hotel with over 1,000 rooms in Sal
By Thursday morning we were ready to go the island of Sal to begin working with companies and the leadership of the district there.  We had an amazing visit with one of the largest hotels on the island, visiting with their six-person HR team and receiving a tour of their facilities.  They employ 900 employees and will need an additional 500 as they open a new hotel later in the year.  Unlike the other islands, there are more jobs available than there are employees available.  However, this visit will help us to strategize on how to balance the opportunities with the needs. 
Meeting with HR group of hotel
Another photo from the tour of the hotel facilities 

We also were able to meet with some of the leadership of the district, and although the numbers were not as large, the discussions were still meaningful.

All of this was the way for me to celebrate my birthday.  Since our internet access has been very limited, I have not been able to respond to the many birthday wishes that I received on Facebook, messenger, voice male and email.  It is an amazing world that we live in where well wishes can be shared in so many ways.  To all, I thank you for your love and wishes. 

We did stay at a resort hotel on the beach, as that is what the majority of Sal is made of.  Hence the following two paragraphs.

To begin Friday morning, I went running on the beach for about a mile one way and then back.  The beaches are beautiful and clean, It was soothing to run on the beach and as I saw footprints of others in the sand, my thoughts went to the poem Footprints in the Sand.  I was so thankful that my Savior walks beside me and carries me in times of need.  I came back to our room rejuvenated.

We didn’t get as much scheduled for Friday, so after a meeting with our team, Sister Rueckert and I took a two hour P-Day break on the beach in the morning.  It was beautiful and we had a very relaxing and enjoyable time.  We both went into the water up to our waists and then Sister Rueckert watched as I spent an hour jumping into the waves.  We took some pictures, a few that I am sharing below.
Together on this beautiful beach

Sister Rueckert relaxing on the beach in Sal
Elder Rueckert as he is hit by a wave
On Saturday we returned to the island of Santiago, city of Praia.  After other preparatory meetings we held a leadership training meeting on Saturday evening.  Over 40 leaders were in attendance from the stake and district that are on this island.  One of the highlights was the announcement that a young man names Gerson, who we had met a week earlier, had been called as the stake self-reliance specialist.  Gerson has returned from his mission just 4 months ago and was looking for work.  He will be going back to school in the fall.  As he accepted the call from the stake president on Wednesday of this week, he was promised that he would find work.  The next morning he received a phone call that he had been selected for an IT position, which is consistent with his studies.  He was overjoyed and couldn’t wait to tell us.  We believe that he will serve a wonderful role in helping this stake progress even more with self-reliance and this jobs initiative. 

We had wonderful meetings once again in the Praia 5th ward. In Sunday School, we had a wonderful lesson on the teachings of Isaiah.  When they were talking about the mountain of the Lord and the temples, we were humbled as he asked by the raise of hands all who had been to the temple once and a few that had been to the temple twice.  He asked those who had been to the temple twice to share what they had learned from hearing the words in the temple a second time.  Both Sister Rueckert and I were overcome with gratitude for the privilege we have had to go to the temple on a regular basis and amazement on the challenges of temple worship for a people who are many hours on an airplane from any other temple.  Later I shared my thoughts with the high priest group, how I prayed that the day would come when they could have a temple in their country, on their islands.  One of the brothers told us that when they live worthy to hold a temple recommend, they feel like the Lord gives them the same blessings that others get from being able to go to the temple.  Once again I was overcome by their simple faith and strength in following our Savior, even with their limited means.

We finished our visit to Cape Verde with a devotional held today.  Overall, there was close to 200 members in attendance at the devotional.  This included talks by our manager, our Area SR manager, the stake president and myself and included a graduation for about 30 individuals who had completed the Self-Reliance courses, including several non-members.  After the devotional, many lingered, took pictures, etc.  What a wonderful overwhelming spirit that we felt and joy in seeing the work of the Lord progressing so well in this stake.
Scene on the road on our way to the devotional

Stake president addressing devotional  with nearly 200 participants
Graduated members of one of the Small Business groups.  Half of these are non members.
We leave Cape Verde with great hope for great people that are building up the Lord’s Kingdom in this very remote land.  Missionaries baptize each week in most of the wards, retention is strong and they are all working towards self-reliance in spite of insurmountable challenges.  However, they have been promised that the Lord will provide for his Saints and they believe it, and so do we!

Memorable experiences from this week as noted by Sister Rueckert

1.     On Tuesday we were helping the film crew capture Jessyka’s story for a video.  We were trying to figure out how we could reenact her baptism in the ocean.  We had planned on doing it in the Church baptismal font.  Brian really wanted an ocean baptism.  They were trying to figure out how to maybe do it on Wednesday.  I had the impression that I should suggest that we do it right after filming at the cemetery.  I made that suggestion and Brian got his baptism in the ocean.
2.     We were in a taxi on our way to the leadership meeting in Praia which began at 5:30 pm.  The main roads were closed because the cell phone company was celebrating their first year in business.  We had to take a different route to the chapel.  The traffic was horrible.  At one point we were stopped for several minutes.  We were all getting anxious. I had the feeling that I should say a prayer for Heavenly Father’s help.  I closed my eyes and offered a silent prayer.  I told Heavenly Father that I had the faith and knew that he could solve the traffic jam.  I explained how important it was that we get to the church in time to set up.  I explained the importance of this meeting and what we were trying to accomplish.  Again I declared my faith without doubt that Heavenly Father could solve the problem.  As soon as I opened my eyes cars in front of us started moving.  We were soon out of the traffic jam and arrived with 10 minutes to set up for the meeting.  I silently thanked the Lord for his tender mercies on our behalf.  Later I gave thanks and credit to my Heavenly Father  in my personal prayers before going to bed.
3.     During the Sunday evening devotional I was able to understand much of what Mendonça was saying in Portuguese.
4.     I was overcome with emotion when I realized the people in Cape Verde may only have one opportunity to go to the temple.  In the Sunday School lesson we were talking about the “mountain of the Lord” being the temple.  Some of the members mentioned their one time to the temple.  I never realized before then how many good members of the Church may have only one opportunity to go to the temple.  Tom and I have been able to go to the temple weekly for several years.  How very blessed we are!
5.     It was amazing to witness the strength of the Praia stake in Praia.  The saints are strong and dedicated to being disciples of Jesus Christ.  I was privileged to be able to play the piano for the hymns that were sung on Saturday evening and Sunday evening.  The saints sang with such volume that I could barely hear the piano playing.

6.     I had been pretty negative about this trip to Cape Verde for a number of reasons.  I decided a week before our trip to begin praying that I could have a positive attitude and try to be nice and pleasant to be around  I prayed that I could be calm and have peace in my heart.  Every time I said my prayers this is what I would pray for.  The trip is not yet over but the Cape Verde part is.  I can honestly say that my prayers have been answered.  It has been a wonderful trip.  My anxiety and fears ceased and I was filled with peace, calm and a sense of well being.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Blown away and 77° in Cape Verde

Right now it is 77° Fahrenheit outside on a Sunday afternoon in Cape Verde.  We have discovered that this is the perfect place to visit during the winter months.  We left Frankfurt on Wednesday afternoon, arriving in Lisbon, Portugal three hours later.  After a five hour layover we continued on to Praia, Cape Verde, arriving a little after midnight Cape Verde time and 2:00 am,  Frankfurt time.  We were able to get to a hotel and finally sleep without any major difficulties.  The next day we spent time with our SRS manager, Lucilino Mendonça, as we visited a few businesses and spent time preparing for activities that will be occurring later on our trip.  The photo below was taken in the waiting room of the one of the businesses.  The waiting room is like an outdoor patio, with this banana tree growing.  We had a very nice visit with this company which provides a human resource service for many small companies, including being the legal employer for over 200 employees.  It may be my favorite waiting room that I have ever seen.  It generally only rains here during the month of August, so this works really well.

That night we took another flight to the island of São Vicente, city of Mindelo.  This will be our home for the next week (Thursday night until the next Thursday morning).  Here we will start the "Jobs Initiative" which we continue in several other islands in the next two weeks.  When we got off of the plane, we were met with incredible gusts of wind.  We believe that they were actually moving the airplane.  Those gusts of wind have continued until today.  They seem to be slowing down and according to forecasts should be gone within the next day or two.

Well we continued onto our hotel, had a dinner and got some sleep.   Below is my dinner plate, when I ordered a "Grouper" fish. You get the entire fish, bones, head and all.

 This city is somewhat small, only 88,000 inhabitants and the streets are wonderfully clean.  There is a comfortable feeling of peace and community. We can walk to most locations.  When we did take a taxi to the stake center, it cost the equivalent of US $2.00. The next day, after working with our SRS manager, James Tavares, we had a few moments to take some photos outside of our hotel. 

View over the bay at sunset

Very unique tree across the street from our hotel

Sister Rueckert with a view of the park across the street and the edge of the bay.

Lonny and Glenda Adams, former self-reliance missionaries in South Africa, were to meet us that night in Mindelo.  They are offering their services, as specialists in this Job Initiative.  Unfortunately, their flight from Lisbon, Portugal left late and they missed their connection between two islands.  So we didn't see them until Saturday morning.  After taking two days to get here, they suffered the dismay of being stuck in the elevator as they were going to their room at the hotel.  It only lasted a few minutes, but we felt really bad for them.  Later that day we went with them to a small grocery store to buy some food that we can eat in our hotel rooms.  I found there a very unique shopping cart. As you can see in the photo below, it is like a small hand basket, but it has wheels on one end.  So you can roll it along the floor and still lift it by the handle.  Sometimes you find really unique things as you visit new places.  Brother and Sister Adams are the couple int he photo below with Sister Rueckert.

We were able to have a wonderful meeting with the Stake Presidency in Mindelo Saturday afternoon as we learned of their challenges and concerns.  We loved their  interest in and support of the Self-Reliance Initiative.  They have the distinction of having the most participants registered on-line in My Path Devotionals in all of Europe with 232.  Almost 200 of those attended devotionals since January 31 of this year.  It was good to understand their feedback before we begin the priesthood training later today.  Later on we met with James and the Adams in his office and continued our preparations for the Jobs Initiative.  During that time we were able to be there while some new converts were baptized.

This morning we attended our Church meetings in one of the wards in Mindelo.  I was very impressed.  The talks in sacrament meeting were excellent.  Both Sunday School and Priesthood meetings were taught with excellent lessons.  There are many returned missionaries in these wards who provide great leadership and service.  Also many new converts and investigators.  The missionaries are working hard and are effective.  I am amazed at the power of young missionaries as they love the people, especially their investigators.  We saw one new member being confirmed and four new ordinations to the Aaronic Priesthood.  The sacrament meeting was full and all meetings had great participation.  This may be far from the center of the Church, but I feel like the Church is in good hands and the future is bright for Cape Verde.  Below is just a photo that I took of many of the people in the foyer after Church meetings, including a young missionary next to Sister Rueckert.

Well, we just got back from the stake leadership training meeting.  In my opinion, it went very well.  Of the five wards in the city, four of the bishops were there, most with a counselor and a self-reliance specialist.  The missing bishop was out of town and we will meet with him later this week, although his ward specialist was in attendance.  We also had the full stake presidency and the stake self-reliance specialist.  I shared most of the doctrine and the self-reliance process.  James and Lonny Adams did most of the sharing of the jobs initiative emphasis.  The leaders seemed very involved, had great questions and discussion.  At the end of the 2 hour meeting, it felt like we were all together with clear roles and direction.  It felt unified.  I know that the Lord was with us.  This is just a start, but what we have set in process should bless the lives of the 300+ members that they have identified as looking for work within this stake.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

One egg says it all!

This is an egg that we bought at the Easter Market in Frankfurt yesterday, I will use it as my theme for the week. First we bought it at the Easter Market, a large market specializing in Easter.  The eggshell was died red and than the color was etched off to create the design and the message.  It becomes meaningful because we bought it on the day that we were celebrating Valentine's Day, the day before February 14, which is the Sabbath.  The third message of this egg is the mixture of German and English.  The word "Ei" in German means egg, but it is pronounced as an English "I".  So literally it means Egg Love You, but of course we read it as I Love You.

It has been a productive and enjoyable week in Frankfurt, Germany.  We have been busy preparing for a two week  trip to Cape Verde and Portugal.  We will be leaving on Wednesday of this week.  We will update more about this trip when we are experiencing it.  We have also expanded our role of Missionary Contact Couple to include 5 senior couples that are serving in the Eastern European countries but who have an assignment from their mission president to work with Self-Reliance within their mission. It has been great to talk to missionaries serving in Greece, Romania, Albania and Bosnia this week.  They are amazing missionaries that are dedicated to serving the Lord.  The challenges that the Church faces in these countries can be overwhelming, but with faith, these missionaries move forward making a significant difference. 

There are many things that add to our joy as we serve in Frankfurt, Germany and we would like to share some of the uniqueness of this beautiful part of the world.  One of our favorites is the view of the skyline of Frankfurt from our apartment.  The following is a photo we took on a clear night this week.  It's not as good as seeing it in person, but it is still a beautiful site.

Also this week, during our German language class, we saw this beautiful rainbow after the rain of the day had stopped.  The rainbow is over the apartment building where we live.

In Germany, Valentine's is not such a major holiday as in the U.S.  Probably only 30% of the people celebrate.  However, we did, since we have the privilege of serving together. We are not only missionary companions but also each other's "Valentine".  It was a little different, but we did manage to find some roses and chocolate and the egg that I showed above, at a much better price than we would pay in the U.S. during this time of year.

Some of the decorations that Sister Rueckert made for Valentines

For our Valentine's dinner, we had reservations at the Chicago Meatpackers, a restaurant in Frankfurt that serves American food, especially beef.  We had perhaps the best ribs that we have ever eaten.  They were wonderful! This restaurant even had free parking right next door.  It finished off a wonderful Valentines celebration, which we completed before the official Valentine's Day.

Hard to see but the wall in the restaurant has "Chicago" stuff

During the day we visited the Easter Market.  These are held all over Germany.  This one was held inside an old monastery.  Entrance fees are minimal and there are many people selling easter eggs and decorations, food, etc.  The following are a few photos that we took:

Front door with the Easter Market advertisement

Our Easter Bunny bread.  Tasted good!

Our purchases for the day, Easter Market and Valentines combined
Spiritual insight of the week:

I wanted to share what I had learned in my study of 2 Nephi chapter 2.  I have always heard the controversy of why did God ask Adam and Eve to obey conflicting commandments.  Recently I read Elder Gerald N. Lund's summary of what President Howard W. Hunter taught as follows:

Lehi makes five important points as to why the Fall happened and how it helps the Lord fulfill his divine plan of redemption (See 2 Nephi 2).

  1. Opposition is necessary for man's progression (v. 11)
  2. The Lord set up opposing choices (v. 15)
  3. He gave man his agency (v. 16)
  4. In order to make that agency operative, both choices had to be enticing (v. 16 and also D&C 29:39)
  5. God allowed Satan to operate in the Garden and in this world to allow the negative option to be enticing in opposition to the positive one.
This helped me to understand that even though Adam and Eve had not yet eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Our Heavenly Father already set up the two choices in a way that Adam could be "enticed" and experience the law of opposition, which was necessary for man's progression.  

What I find out over and over again, is that those things that I don't understand are because of my lack of understanding, not because there are errors in the doctrine or the gospel.  I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and love to have my understanding expanded as I study the scriptures and the words of latter day prophets.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Three firsts in Frankfurt: Area Presidency Mtg., Zone Conference and Städl Art Museum

Another week in Frankfurt and it turned out wonderful!  Our preparation of the prior week was not in vain.  We had an incredible meeting with our Area Presidency on Tuesday.  Our presentation went well and the Area Presidency had a lot of interest and questions.  We feel like we have made a clear step forward in understanding.  The Area Presidency asked for a one sentence summary of what we do so that they can  better respond to questions from priesthood leaders.  We have kicked this around for the last few days.  This morning, after pondering, Sister Rueckert came up with the following excellent sentence that just flowed into her mind.  It may be helpful to others that may not understand completely our role.

"The Self-Reliance initiative is Priesthood led and provides tools, materials and a group process that enables people to act towards their goal of temporal & spiritual self-reliance."

It is wonderful to know how well the Spirit helps us in our work.

In fact, we had a lot of interface with the Area Presidency this week as well as leadership from Salt Lake City.  On Monday, we had an Area wide devotional with Elder Paul Johnson, first counselor in the Area Presidency.  He shared with all of us the recent efforts of the Area Presidency in training the stake presidents throughout the Area.  It always helps us to understand their perspective and direction so that we can make sure we are supportive of these, our priesthood leaders.  For this devotional, Sister Rueckert was the pianist, including beautiful prelude music.  At the last moment I was asked to lead the music, which I did at Sister Rueckert's surprise.

As I mentioned earlier, we had a wonderful meeting with the full Area Presidency on Tuesday.  On Wednesday, we had a missionary zone conference and Elder Timothy Dyches, second counselor in the Area Presidency addressed us on D&C section 4.  On Thursday, we had our monthly meeting with  the Area Self-Reliance Committee, which is presided by Elder Dyches.  Four days and four opportunities to hear from our Area Presidency.  Add to that on Wednesday afternoon when we participated in a regional video conference with our headquarters team, which included Elder Robert C. Gay and Elder Joseph Sitati.   We always love hearing from these brethren whom we consider our friends.  So it was a full week of opportunities to learn from those who have been called by the Lord to lead us.

As noted, on Wednesday we had our first missionary zone conference.  It was with all of the senior couples who serve the Europe Area.   Elder Dyches addressed us, as did Elder and Sister Castleton, who will be finishing their mission in the next month.  We also heard from Elder Mills, who is our zone leader.  Each of them spoke on different verses from D&C Section 4.  We also had a special musical number with an ensemble of ten missionaries, including Sister Rueckert.  We were well fed spiritually and then had a wonderful lunch prepared by some Portuguese sisters that live in Frankfurt. The following is a photo taken at the zone conference.  It is a pretty amazing group, we are very much enjoying our association with these wonderful senior missionaries.

On Saturday, we decided to venture out in the city of Frankfurt.  We visited the Städl Museum, which is the largest art museum in Germany.  We ended up spending over 4 hours there and had to finish up to leave before they closed.  It was a beautiful day and a wonderful visit.  Below is Sister Rueckert in front of the museum.

We started on the top floor of the museum which included art from 1300 to 1800.  There was a clear theme, as most of these works of art were created for Churches or Castles during the renaissance period. I come to a realization that being an artist was a busy profession, as many of the magnificent pieces of art were for altar pieces int the many churches.  Each was specifically commissioned to be painted with specific content.  Most took several years to pain and are exquisite in detail and beauty.  One of the artists of this time stated that the purpose of art was to promote Christianity.  Most of the art was centered on our Savior, his virgin mother or other religious scenes.  There was a feeling of sacredness and respect on this floor.  Below you will see a few photos of art on this floor, including a couple large pieces that were painted specifically for this museum in the early 1800s.

Three pieces of art that would have been on the sides of the altars.  The first is  a lady holding the impression of the Savior on a cloth, the second is Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, the third is the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Son and a dove representing the Holy Ghost.  The uniqueness of this artist is that he was able to make things look 3 dimensional.  The painting on the right looks very much like a sculpture, but it is not.
Samson and Delilah by Rembrandt, painted in his early career when he was only 30 years old.

Painted very specifically for this Museum, depicting the more secular community on the left and the religious community on the right, all worshipping the Virgin Mary and her infant son, the Savior.

This one was painted to offset the above photo, which was considered a Catholic view.  This one showed one of the reformers under trial and was considered a protestant painting to balance the religious preference in Germany.

As we moved from the top floor to the more recent paintings, we were able to see a clear change in the style and focus of the artists.  Religious paintings stopped being prevalent and the focus was more on portraits and landscapes and political messages.  The feeling wasn't the same.  Certainly it didn't feel sacred.   This floor included a few pieces from Picasso.

 As we ventured to the basement, we entered into the modern art display, post World War II.  Some didn't really appear to be art to us (see the left) while some did get better, albeit with questionable meaning.

This week's Scriptural Insights:

Today I finished my study of Mosiah 3:19.  I have studied this scripture  and all the chains of scriptures that come out of the references to it for the past month.  I consider it to be an amazing scripture and I have learned so much in my study.  The strength and result of this process is consistent with President Spencer W. Kimball's following statement:

"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."

My notes and references go on for pages, but perhaps I can summarize with the following short reference to some of the scriptural terms:

For the natural man is an enemy to God
  • the devil has power over them
  • they receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God
  • but to be spiritually minded is life and peace
and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit
  • yielding their hearts unto God
  • where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty
and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord
  • put off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ
  • then is his grace sufficient for you
  • calling upon God he received strength
  • But I [Jesus] have prayed for thee
  • Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a might change in us
  • Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God
and becometh as a child, submissive,
  • whoso repenteth as a little child, Behold, for such I have laid down my life
  • ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along
  • I have fed you with milk, and not with meat, For ye are yet carnal
  • ponder upon the things which I have said, prepare your minds, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth
  • strong meat belongeth to them who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil
  • God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance
  • Counsel with the Lord in all they doings
  • Draw near unto me
  • God knows thy thoughts and the intents of they heart
  • Be thou humble

humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord teeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.