Saturday, May 28, 2016

On top of the world looking down on creations; among angels

What another wonderful week!  We would call this as our temple week, since we were able to visit the Bern, Switzerland temple for the first time.  However, the week was full of so many other glimpses into the eternities, from family history to God's creations and noting some of the "angels"  among us.

Elder and Sister Rueckert in front of the Bern, Switzerland temple
Our week started with our normal work in the office, if that can be called normal.  We worked on preparations for future trips to Spain, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.  

On Monday night we had our monthly devotional with the other Europe Area missionaries.  We are now in charge of these devotionals, so this was our first time.  We were blessed to have Elder and Sister Leimer speak to us on the Refugee situation.  Elder Leimer is a Church employee and an Area 70.  He is German and his wife is American.  Sister Leimer has been spending a lot of time volunteering with the refugees in Germany.  One group started living in the school gymnasium where her son goes to school.  Elder Leimer shared with us some overall perspective on the refugees, where they come from, the process, etc.  His wife shared very personal experiences with some of the refugees that she has been involved with.  She started making a personal difference in several of their lives, even before we were urged to do this by Sister Burton.  The devotional was amazing, many tears were shed.  As we talk about angels amongst, we certainly fill like Sister Leimer is one of those angels who with many other "angel" sisters in this area have done so much to help those in need.

 On Tuesday, we had a wonderful meeting with our full-time missionary couples.  We see so many angels, both with the Elders and the Sisters in the great work that they do.  On Tuesday, Sister Rueckert attended the weekly German class.  It is taught by Erika Enger, who is as close to an angel as we have seen.   Her husband passed away last year but she carries on helping others.  Specifically, she prepares a weekly lesson for the missionaries, to help our German.  Each week she comes up  with new ideas and prepares treats and handouts.  This week she taught the sisters to create an imaginary rhubarb cake, teaching them the ingredients and terms.  At the end of the meeting, she shared a rhubarb cake with all that she had previously made and brought with her.  This is just one example of our weekly acts of service.

Eldler and Sister Rueckert give her a ride home each week that we are in town to try and improve our German.  This week was no exception.  On the way home, she asked us to stop at her garden plot.  Although she lives in an apartment building, she rents a garden plot for her to grow flowers, fruits and vegetables.  We fell in love with this area.  It is quite a large area with individual plots side by side.  Each plot includes a work shed for the person that rents it.  The following photos show Sister Enger and a few shots of her plot.  Of course, she cut off a head of her lettuce to give to us, again a normal act of kindness that she routinely does.

Sister Enger with the bag to put our lettuce in
Her garden plot along the path of other garden plots
Her shed at the rear of the plot

Some of the strawberry plants in her garden

On Tuesday, when we arrived home, we found that Sister Enger had left her backpack on the back seat of our car.  It included her cell phone, wallet with Id and other personal items.  Not knowing exactly where she lived, since she is in an apartment building, I searched the backpack for specific address and phone numbers.  I found a phone number but upon calling it, there was no answer.  So I headed back to her apartment.  I found her name on the outside of the building and got no answer when buzzing up to her apartment.  I tried for quite some time, but was unable to reach her.  I went back to the car and searched again in her backpack to see if she was also without her keys.  Finally I went back to her apartment building and pondered if I should try to contact a neighbor.  While waiting and pondering, she appeared and opened the door to the building.  She had just returned from the garden plot where she had returned in search for her backpack.   Of course we both rejoiced to get her backpack returned to her.  The next day, not surprisingly, she sent us a wonderful e-card of thanks.  Our hearts are full every time we think of this sweet lady and her kindness to us and others.

Since Thursday of this week was a holiday in Germany and the office was closed, we decided to take a trip to the temple in Bern, Switzerland, which is 4 and a half hours away from Frankfurt.  We invited another new couple, Elder and Sister Healy to go with us.  They work with the humanitarian efforts and missionaries throughout the Europe Area and had just arrived in Germany in the past month.  So part of our goals for this week was to organize this trip and make it meaningful.  One of the first steps was to get a hotel room to stay at, since the temple housing was fully reserved.

We have heard over and over how expensive things are in Switzerland.  When we started looking at hotels, most cost $300 to $400 a night or more.  However, we found one hotel at Moosegg for only $110 a night, including breakfast, so we decided to book rooms for us and the Healys.  The internet said it was only 12 kilometers form the temple, so we thought it was worth a try, even though we could tell that it was off of main highways.  We also prepared temple cards for additional family names that we had identified in the past few months and were excited to perform temple sealings for several family names where the other ordinances had already been completed.

Our plan was to take an enjoyable trip to Bern, Switzerland on Thursday, spend all day on Friday in the temple and then return on Saturday.  We would then also be able to see a few sites on the way down and on the way back.  Sister Rueckert has captured much of this so well in her journal that I will quote her throughout the remainder of the blog.

On Thursday morning, we drove a few hours and decided to stop for a break in Strasbourg, France.  It was just across the border from Germany and not too far out of our way.  This had a special place for me, for it is the capital of the Alsace region of France, where many of my relatives on my mother's side came from (the Youssey line).  This has been the main focus of much of my family history work over the past few years.  We didn't plan on doing family research at this time, but it was great to be this close and get a little feel for the area.  We plan on returning on another time to the actual location of my great great grandparents marriage and see what else we can find.

Strasbourg is the home of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.  The city is on the border of France and Germany and has moved from one country to the other several times in the past two hundred years.  It sits on the French side of the Rhine River and is currently part of France.  The Alsace region was specifically identified as an area with religious tolerance in the 1600s and 1700s, which led to many moving to this region for religious freedom.  This included my relatives who had moved from Switzerland to this region before continuing their movement to North America.

On this trip we just stopped into the city and visited the famous Notre Dame cathedral of Strasbourg, which is patterned after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  The following is from Wikipedia:

At 142 metres (466 feet), it was the world's tallest building from 1647 to 1874 (227 years), when it was surpassed by St. Nikolai's Church, Hamburg. Today it is the sixth-tallest church in the world and the highest extant structure built entirely in the Middle Ages.

The site has been the site of churches since the Roman Empire, but this specific cathedral was built, beginning in 1176  with the tower being completed in 1439.  We were able to spend a little time walking around and visiting the inside of the cathedral.  Sister Rueckert captured the essence of this visit: 

"The Cathedral of Norte Dame was amazing.  It's spire rose high into the sky.  The architecture was ornate with unbelievable carvings all over the outside walls.  The stained glass windows were the most beautiful I have seen so far.  We had a sunny day which allowed the sun to shine through the windows and deepen their colors.  Many of the stained glass panels depicted stories of religious events.  There was soft chant music being played as we walked quietly through the cathedral.  It gave an atmosphere of reverence and I think people were more quiet than they would have been without the music. . . I felt a great deal of peace and calm here.  We actually met some people from Utah who were members of the Church.  It seems wherever we go we can make connections with members of the Church."

Sister Rueckert sitting with Elder and Sister Healy

After leaving the Cathedral, we walked to the waterside, as this city has canals running throughout the city.  It gives it a little bit of a "Venice" look.  It was nice to have Elder and Sister Healy with us, for they have lived in Belgium, French Speaking before.  Sister Healy felt comfortable with the language as she could speak and understand French.  Elder Healy said he said that this felt like home for him.

This is a photo of Sister Rueckert with her French attire.

After buying a lunch to eat on our way, we continued on our way to our hotel.  We found that it went into the Swiss Alps, with incredible scenic views.  Again from Sister Rueckert:

"Our hotel was in Moosegg, Switzerland and we put the address in the GPS system and began a journey that led us to the top of the world.  For the most part we were able to follow the GPS but occasionally we found ourselves on a cow path or a wrong street.  It was an adventure.  The scenery's unbelievable.  I kept saying Wow around every turn.  We were taking pictures almost constantly thinking each shot was the best ever.  We saw Swiss Chalets, cows with delightful cow bells, lush green fields and trees everywhere.  The mountains were majestic and the rolling hills made me want to break out singing, 'The Hills are alive with the sound of music . . . There was no doubt we were definitely in Switzerland.  We followed the GPS along a winding road that kept going higher and higher.  Of course more pictures had to be taken along the way."


This was Sister Rueckert's favorite site, a beloved Hippo in front of a chalet

'We did reach our destination and checked in the hotel.  The views were breathtaking wherever you looked.  After getting settled  we spent some relaxing time on a deck looking out over rolling hills, valleys and snow peaked mountains in the distances . . . we just couldn't get over how beautiful everything was."

The photos do not appropriately show the snow capped mountains behind the scenery:

Taken from outside the Hotel Moosegg

"Since there was no other restaurant that we knew of nearby we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. Everyone had told us that Switzerland is very expensive.  We experienced some steep gas prices when we filled our tank after we entered Switzerland.  Elder Healy had checked out what we thought was the hotel restaurant and told us that a hamburger with fries was $35.  Prices went up from there.  There were some things that were $29, the 'daily specials'.  We got seated and were handed the menu!  Wow!  We could have a seven course meal for $83.00 a person.  The cheapest thing on the menu was the $35 hamburger, the daily specials were only for a different part of the restaurant without the view."

Elder and Sister Healy, Elder and Sister Rueckert at the Moosegg Restaurant
  We will never forget the most expensive hamburgers any of us had ever eaten.

The $35 hamburger was good and had asparagus and an egg on it.  
"I just couldn't get over how beautiful this place was.  I literally felt like we were on top of the world. After dinner we all went for a short walk to just take in all we could of this wonderful place that was created for our enjoyment.  It gave me pause to think of how many other unbelievably beautiful places God has created for his children to enjoy.   I sure don't want to take this 'kind ' of opportunity for granted.  I had a wonderful day from beginning to end.  I was excited for what the next day would bring as we were going to spend the day in the temple."

Some photos from our after dinner walk: 

"We enjoyed breakfast early the next morning so we could get an early start on our day in the temple. Tom had several ordinances he wanted to have done.  We were hoping to be able to do baptisms, initiatory, endowments and sealing, all in one day.  We had prayed that this would be our blessing.

"Upon our arrival at the temple we saw a group of four young people who were waiting outside.  We first asked them if they would take a picture of the four of us which they gladly did.

Then I told Tom that maybe they could do the baptisms for us.  They were more than happy to help us.  We talked to them for a few minutes before going into the temple.  This experience helped my confidence grow that we would be successful in our desires.  We signed up to do a 3:30 sealing session, a 1:30 initiatory session and went on a 10:30 endowment session."

We came prepared with several family names and work to be done.  We hoped to be able to have baptisms done for about 12 family names.

We were able to go right into a endowment session, which was wonderful.  It is great to see the temple full of patrons.  Our session had 70 seats and all were filled with additional chairs brought in.  The session was in German and we had English headsets.  Personally, I received special personal revelation of concepts that I had not considered before.  It is amazing on how this works, after many years of attending the temple, there is always more to learn.  I was also especially impressed on how simple Heavenly Father's plan is for us.  We need to return often to the temple to remember the basic gospel truths which are so different from the world's views.  For me, I was totally edified and uplifted!  A special treat also during this session was to be there with Elder and Sister Leimer (who had done the devotional with us earlier in the week) who were going through with their son for his first temple experience.

After the endowment session, we were able to receive the names of those who had received their baptisms earlier and then do the initiatory work for them.  The Swiss temple serves many different countries and languages.  Just during the initiatory process, I received the blessings and promises in German, French and Italian.  What a blessing to know that our Heavenly Father understands all languages.

After the initiatory ordinances, we were able to eat a lunch in the temple cafeteria from some vending machines.  Then at 3:30 we were back in a sealing session, where we were able to have 10 couples sealed together and about 12 sons and daughters sealed to their parents.  I love this experience.  It is always a culmination of all of the family history and temple work that has been done.  Once we get to this point, we are able to see families sealed together.  In four of these cases, the endowments had been performed vicariously for the individuals on that very day.  

Once again, there was 5 couples and two single sisters in the sealing session.  They were from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the U.S. (a young couple on vacation) and us missionary couples from the U.S. and from Germany.  The sealings were performed by a French sealer.  Copies in different languages of the sealing ordinance was shared so that all could understand the ordinance.  

There were so many family names brought to the temple by each of the patrons that it took an hour and a half to complete them all, but they were completed.  I was overcome by how well the European Saints are bringing family names to the temple.  This is one of the goals of the Area Presidency and it obviously is being followed by the faithful saints.

From Sister Rueckert again, "We  were able to complete almost all the temple work we wanted to do. We decided against a second endowment session at 6:00 because we didn't feel good about driving up the winding road back up to the top of the world in the dark.  We could have done all the ordinances if we had stayed for the second endowment session.  Ot os pretty amazing to spend an entire day in the temple.  There is such an attitude of love and service felt in the temple.  Everyone is so kind and helpful . . . the Celestial room was "heavenly".  I got there quite a while before Tom so I took the opportunity to pray.  I prayed for my children.  I also said a prayer of gratitude for all my blessings.  I felt very close to my Heavenly Father."

What a wonderfully fulfilling day in the temple, experiencing a little of all of the ordinances performed in the temple.  Our greatest hopes were fulfilled in a glorious manner.  We left the temple full of the spirit.

On the way back to the hotel, we decided to stop in Wattenwill, Switzerland, which was 30 minute south of the temple.  This is were my ancestors that went to Alsace, France were originally from.   My great great grandfather lived there in the 1600s and several generations before him.  Although we weren't sure exactly where, the city is small and beautiful.  Again, it is in the middle of the Swiss Alps and full of beauty.  The following are some of the photos taken of the area around and the city, looking down from above:

We chose to find a less expensive dinner solution and found a pizzeria, which only cost US$ 13 for a take out pizza for one person.  The pizza actually turned out very good and was more than sufficient for our dinner needs.  This is the sign of the pizzeria with the name of Wattenwill.  Also Elder and Sister Rueckert in the home of my forefathers.

Once again we returned to our heavenly hotel.  It rained all night and this morning when we awoke, we were able to see these beautiful sites,

we were up above the clouds.  These are the same views we had earlier, but with the clouds:

This is the view of our hotel as we left this morning.  We will leave with fond memories of our time there, even with the $35 hamburger.

On our way home, we stopped at Basel, Switzerland.  This had been the home of the first mission in Switzerland.  One of the early mission presidents was Joseph Cannon, the grandfather of Sister Healy. and the son of Elder George Q. Cannon.  Her father had lived there when he was 2 years old until he turned 5.  Today is his 92nd birthday and he is still alive.  So we walked around the neighborhood and took pictures of things he might remember.  Unfortunately, the mission home where he lived has been torn down and replaced with other buildings, but many of the other buildings from 90 years ago are still there.  For Sister Healy, this was another wonderful Family History moment.  She is sending the photos to her father for his birthday.

From Sister Rueckert again, "Sister Healy was happy to take several pictures of structures that were there when her father was there as z child.  She felt chills as she thought of her father walking these streets we were walking on.  She thanked us over and over for stopping in Basil. We knew from personal experiences how it feels to walk where those you love have walked and lived.  After my recent experience in Erfurt I could not deny Sister Healy the same opportunity and joy I felt when I found the home of my father in Germany"

Sister Healy taking pictures of a Church in the neighborhood

"The trip to Switzerland will rank high on my special experience list of European experiences during my mission.  I am so glad Elder and Sister Healy came with us.  We grew to love and appreciate them as we learned about their life's story and journey that has brought them here for such a time as this."

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