Thursday, June 30, 2016

Temple, Tour, Travel and "Train"-ing in Spain

Just arrived home from our trip to Spain to work with our new Self-Reliance Couple, Elder and Sister Kimball.  We had a wonderful trip that included so many activities in just 5 days.  We felt that our visit was a success.  We were able to include a visit to the Madrid Temple on Saturday.  More details follow.

In front of the Madrid Temple, wonderful opportunity to attend the temple during our visit to Madrid

We arrived in Spain on Friday, June 24 and spent some time in the afternoon meeting with Elder and Sister Kimball who had arrived on their mission the week prior.  They will be serving with our Self-Reliance Services manager, "PAco" Serrano who took care of us during our visit.  Elder Kimball served his young mission in Mexico and speaks very good Spanish.  Sister Kimball served a young mission in Italy and will be able to transfer to Spanish without significant challenges.  They both have great attitudes and a wonderful spirit.

During our initial planning and getting to know you meeting we decided to include a trip to Barcelona in our plans so that we could participate in a graduation ceremony and My Path devotional that Sunday.  After the planning session, we attended a ward My Path Devotional on Friday night at the Alcala Ward.  The attendance was small at the devotional but two small Self-Reliance groups were formed.  After the devotional we went to the Miguel Cervantes plaza in Alcala, which is the home to Miguel Cervantes, the writer of Don Quixote, inspiration for  the Man of La Mancha.  This has always been a favorite movie of ours. We have been so inspired by the song "The Impossible Dream" from this play and movie.

Below are some of the photos that we took around the Miguel Cervantes plaza.

By Don Quixote and his side kick, Sancho in front of the home where Miguel Cervanvtes was born.
In front of the status of Miguel Cervantes
Storks on the top of one of the Church landmarks.  Storks are plentiful in this city and they make their nests everywhere.
Eating dinner at 11:00 at night with PAco Serrano and his wife Susi and Elder and Sister Kimball.  Spaniards only start thinking about eating after 9:00 pm.

On Saturday morning we went to a grocery store across the street from our hotel to buy food for breakfast and our meals on Sunday.  As we went to get a shopping cart a young man asked us what Christian church we were.  We tried to explain what Church we represented, but he wanted to know if we were Catholic or Evangelical.  Finally we got him to listen to a very brief explanation of the restoration.  He was pretty negative about religion because of his tough  circumstances.  We then told him that he was loved by the Savior.  He is from Nigeria and he says he is legally in Spain and Europe but does not have work, even though he is educated.  He serves in the parking lot, hoping for tips or assistance from others.  As our discussion continued, he became more positive and we told him about Self-Reliance  efforts that could help him to obtain employment also.  As we left the supermarket, he was much more positive.  We shared a pass along card with him and got this information so that missionaries could contact him.  We were able to share that information with missionaries the next morning.  We hope that something comes of it, he seemed to be sincere.

After eating our breakfast, we went to the temple for an endowment session with Elder and Sister Kimball.  Once again we had some wonderful insights.  Sister Rueckert is finding that some of her best self-reliance impressions come in this temple.  We than had a late lunch with PAco and his family.  We shared spiritual thoughts as all missionaries should do when asked to eat with a family.  We also watched a wonderful video of Elder Bednar, sharing his feelings about Self-Reliance in a recent question and answer event.  That evening we attended a talent show in the Alcala ward, which was a lot of fun.

The next morning we went to Sacrament meeting at the Madrid 6th ward and then got on a "fast" train to Barcelona.  Although 600 km away, we were able to arrive there in about 3.5 hours.  Speeds were up to 300 km per hour during the trip which did make a few stops along the way.

Sister Rueckert and Elder Kimball on the train

Sister Rueckert with the Kimballs next to the train, in the train station in Barcelona

When we arrived in Barcelona, we got checked into our hotel and then went onto the Badalona ward where the devotional would be held.  First we participated in a training of 5 ward facilitators, followed by a graduation ceremony for 38 Self-Reliance graduates and then a My Path devotional for two wards that meet in Badalona, a little north of Barcelona.  We were really impressed with this stake and this devotional.  It was presided over by the counselor in the stake presidency who is also the chairman of the stake self-reliance committee.  The devotional was facilitated by the stake specialist who is amazing.  The high councilor conducted the graduation ceremony and also was very active in the devotional.  We thought that this was incredible support by the stake committee.  It shows, as almost 40 individuals from the wards participated and joined Self-Reliance groups.  In this stake it is "cool" to participate in Self-Reliance activities.

Facilitated by Inés, our stake self-reliance specialist

Stake Presidency counselor helping participants in the devotional

High councilor, stake presidency counselor and bishop all supporting the participants in this devotional

Stake President's counselor joining in the facilitating.  He really understands the doctrine and the process.

After the devotional, the chairman of the committee took us to the stake center in Barcelona to show us where they want to establish a self-reliance resource center and gave us a tour of this beautiful building.

Barcelona Stake Center in the middle of Barcelona.  Unique style with the full facade appearing as our normal chapels.

With Elder and Sister Kimball in front of the stake center.  The Church logo is in Catalan, the local original dialect

We were so impressed with this Stake Self-Reliance committee.  They are powerful, we would love to see all stakes led in this fashion.  Sister Kimball had wondered about our quick plans to come to Barcelona but she became a believer very quickly through this experience.

We didn't arrive in our hotel until 10:00 pm.  We got up the next morning and took a three hour tour bus to see Barcelona before returning on a train to Madrid shortly after noon.  The following are photos from that tour:

Beaches that were cleaned up and established for the 1992 Summer Olympics

Other view of the palm trees and the ocean behind

Famous "bullet" building constructed with unique colors appearing in the reflections of the sun

We stopped at the Sagrada Familia site.  This is an amazing Church that has been under construction since 1882.  It was the dream of the architect, Antoni Gaudi.  Gaudi died in 1926, but construction has continued with the hope of being completed by 2026 on the 100 year anniversary of his death.  This is a very unique building, with heavy gothic portions and other very modern styles all intermixed.  We would have loved to take the tour inside which is supposed to be amazing, but we just didn't have time.  We are just glad that we were able to see what we could.

Model of what the Church should like like when it is finished

Side View

Sister Rueckert and front view

Another view from the side

Under construction, rear view

Together in the front of the "Familia Sagrada"

German engineering at work in Barcelona

We returned to Madrid on the "fast" train again, arriving shortly after 4 pm.  We continued on meeting with PAco and the missionaries on Monday evening and all day on Tuesday.  This included our monthly video conference with all of the senior Self-Reliance missionaries and a one hour meeting with President and Sister Pack of the Madrid mission.  We also gave special focus to the PEF Loan Fund, which is active in Spain. Elder and Sister Kimball will be the specialists for this loan fund in Spain.   Finally on Wednesday morning early, we left for the airport and returned to our home in Germany.

We believe that we learned a lot and hopefully were able to share and inspire.  We feel really good about the future of the Self-Reliance work in Spain and know that the Kimballs will be a great blessing to the Spanish members of the Church.

Photo of Sister Rueckert in the airport with one of the Spanish bulls.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Saying Hello and Goodbye

When we returned from our trip to the British Isles, we arrived home just in time to celebrate Fathers Day.  Little did we know that we had other special surprises awaiting us when we got back to our office.  One of the biggest surprises came in a visit from Heidi Patscha.  She is a secretary to the Area Director of Seminaries and Institutes.  She met us in the Monday morning devotional and told us that she had found out that we were related.  The next day she appeared in our office and showed us her connection through her family history line.  It seems that she had somehow seen our blog through Facebook and had noticed our entry in March 2016 about our family history visit to Erfurt, Germany. Since her mother was from Erfurt, she read further.  She also had seen the name of Thomas Rueckert as reserving temple ordinances for some of the relatives in that line.  So she put the pieces together and came and found us.

Sure enough, her grandmother was Frieda Auguste Verges, youngest sister (19 years younger) of Sister Rueckert's great grandmother, Friedericke Sophie Wilhelmine Verges.

When Sophie came to the U.S. with her husband, her younger sister, Frieda, was the only other member of the Church in her family.  She remained in Germany and ended up in East Germany after the Second World War.  Her daughter, Heidi's mother, was able to marry a member of the Church and moved to West Germany in the 1950s before the wall went up.  Heidi is  Frieda's granddaughter. Heidi's mother is now 90 years old and lives in Berlin.  She remembers traveling to Utah in 1995 and visiting with Debbie's father.

So when we went to Erfurt in March of this year, our goal was to find her father's home in Erfurt, Germany and to find a living relative.  The first goal and many other special blessings  had been completed, but no living relative had been found.  Now, a living relative found us and she works in the same office building as us.  What a tender mercy and the completion of those initial goals.

Sister Rueckert with  Heidi Patscha, her second cousin, once removed

This was the first of many special surprises for us this week.  When we arrived in our office on Monday, we found a card from our grandchildren and their parents, Dan and Amy Digerness.  We thought that the card was really special, so we include a photo of it below.  Sure enough, being a grandpa is the best!

This was also a week of farewells.  In our devotional on Monday night we heard from three dear missionary couples who are completing their missions.  They shared their experiences and testimonies with us.  This is one of the hardest parts of our missions, saying good-bye to these wonderful couples.  The three are Elder and Sister Baker (family history), Elder and Sister Biddulph (Mental Health) and Elder and Sister Hawkins (Finance and Mental Health).  The photos below do not include the Hawkins, due to my neglect in not taking a photo of them speaking.  

Elder and Sister Baker, Family History missionaries

Elder and Sister Biddulph, Mental Health missionaries
We managed to keep busy the rest of the week, once again getting caught up with back work and preparing for future self-reliance activities and trips.  On Tuesday night we took Sister Enger home from the German class that she teaches and then spent an hour with Sister Peterson, in Provo, via video who volunteers her time to help us with our German.

On Wednesday we had our last interview with Elder Timothy Dyches, the second counselor in the Area Presidency.  He will be completing his assignment soon and will be serving in Salt Lake City.  He has been the chair of our Area Self-Reliance Committee and has been our direct ecclesiastical leader on our mission.  He was so kind to spend over an hour with us.  He will surely be missed.

That night we held our Finance Self-Reliance group and then went home teaching to our wonderful family that is making such progress in the self-reliance groups.  They are moving next week into a new home that will better accommodate their family, supplied under the German social system.  On the way to their existing residence we passed what we always see as a very unique contrast of buildings in downtown Frankfurt:

This view of an older castle type structure right next to a very unique modern building.

We were not able to get a meal to eat until almost ten o'clock, but the opportunity to serve others filled our souls.

On Thursday night we were able to invite another missionary couple to dinner.  We are trying to do this when we are in town, so that we can get to know these amazing couples on a more personal basis.  We are inspired by their stories and their dedication!

On Friday morning we left for the airport for a visit to Spain.  More on that in the next blog.

Monday, June 20, 2016

To the Rescue in Great Britain with the self-reliance toolbox

Just finished our Self-Reliance visit to the British Isles.  One of our special moments was last Friday as we were able to see the painting that President Monson has named "To the Rescue".  It is in the Victoria and Albert Museum which is almost next door to the Hyde Park Chapel where we were visiting with our Self-Reliance missionary couple.  The following is from President Monson's conference talk in the Priesthood Session of April 2001 with the title of "To the Rescue": 

“Please don’t forget those of us who are out here—the lost Latter-day Saints. I know where the Church is, but sometimes I think I need someone else to show me the way, encourage me, take away my fear, and bear testimony to me.”
While reading this letter, I returned in my thoughts to a visit to one of the great art galleries of the world—even the famed Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. There, exquisitely framed, was a masterpiece painted in 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner. The painting features heavy-laden black clouds and the fury of a turbulent sea portending danger and death. A light from a stranded vessel gleams far off. In the foreground, tossed high by incoming waves of foaming water, is a large lifeboat. The men pull mightily on the oars as the lifeboat plunges into the tempest. On the shore there stand a wife and two children, wet with rain and whipped by wind. They gaze anxiously seaward. In my mind I abbreviated the name of the painting. To me, it became To the Rescue.

We heard that this painting was in this museum, so we made a quick stop on our way to the Hyde Park chapel.  The museum is so immense that we could easily get lost in it, so we went back to the office, looked up the talk and then the location of the painting.  With updated information in hand, we were able to find it and see the masterpiece first hand.  It is always better to see this type of art first hand.  You appreciate much more than can be seen by photos or understood by stories.

However, let's back up.  Our last blog ended while we were still in Ireland.  While at the airport to leave for Scotland, we had a fun missionary experience.  We were sitting waiting for our gate assignment when a person next to us started asking why we were called "Latter Day Saints".  He read it from our missionary badges and wanted to know if we were better than the earlier day saints.  It made for a fun discussion about the apostasy and restoration.   He told us he was going to look us up to find out more.  We only had a German pass  along card with us, but we shared it with him to show him access to  We obviously need to update our supply of English pass along cards.  Just wearing our missionary badges opens the doors to many conversations.

We traveled to Glasgow, Scotland by Ryan Air, a low cost air fare company.  It only cost us 9.99 Euros each for our one way ticket.  There are a lot of conditions, so we left one of our suitcases in Ireland with the plan on picking it back up after our return flight.  We were picked up at the airport by Elder and Sister Andrus and stayed in their flat, which has an extra bedroom.  After getting settled, we were on to a stake self-reliance committee meeting in Edinburg.  We stopped and had some fish and chips at a supermarket along the way.

We also had a self-reliance committee meeting with the Paisley stake the next evening.  Both of these committees had not been holding regular meetings but were willing to hold meetings for us to attend. So, our coming helps the stake committees to function.  In each case, they committed to hold another meeting in July and Elder and Sister Andrus were invited to participate.  We also noted the power and influence of a stake relief society president in the self-reliance committee.  In our first meeting, she took charge in the absence of the member of the stake presidency.  The photo below is of the committee in the Paisley stake, didn't get a photo the first night.

Stake specialist, stake presidency counselor, mental health advisor, stake relief society president and E/S Andrus and Sister Rueckert
In between "events' we usually take time for one on one conversation with the missionary couples.  This gives us a chance to learn how and what they are doing and share some of our insights and encouragement. it is also a great way to use the time in the car. when we travel  from location to location.  We had rain most of our trip, which is pretty normal for these countries.  The following is a photo of the windshield during one of our drives in Ireland. in pouring rain.

In Scotland, we had a few open hours before heading to the committee meeting on Wednesday night, so Elder and Sister Andrus showed us some historical sites in Stirling, Scotland.  This turned out to be a wonderful history lesson as we saw three sites that were all related to the establishment of Scotland as  an independent country in 1314.  The first battle took place in 1296 when a Scottish knight, Sir William Wallace, led a Scottish uprising against England.  This battle was the basis of the Brave Heart movie.  As a result of Wallace's bravery the Wallace Monument was constructed.  The following are photos that we took at that monument.  A highlight was a story telling knight that did an amazing job descriving the history in detail.

Wallace Monument 
Sister Rueckert with E/S Andrus at the monument
Wonderful monologue for 15 minutes with a delightful Scottish accent, we loved it!
Wielding the sword of the Scottish Knight
This battle gave courage to the Scotts who were clearly outnumbered by the English but the English did not give up.  By 1314, the English attached again, with the Scots clearly outnumbered.  This was known as the Battle of Bannockburn.  We went to the memorial of this famous battle that only lasted two days and resulted in the final defeat of the English.   They were led by Robert the Bruce, who became the King of the Scots.  

Outside of the visitors center around this battle site

By the statue of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots

After visiting these two sites, we visited the Stirling Castle which was the home of the Scottish Royalty for hundreds of years dating back to the 1100s.  This was the home of Mary, Queen of Scots and many other famous royalty.  The castle isn't as imposing from a distance but is amazing once you get inside.  You will see in the photos below, the inner courts of the castle, which includes palaces, living quarters, a Church and a great Assembly Hall.  Once again we had a wonderful Scottish tour guide.  I love their accent.  It was a delightful tour.  We had to leave before looking at very much of the interior since we had a meeting to attend, but the time spent was well worth it.  We feel like we have at least a beginners knowledge of Scottish History.  In the 1600s, the son of the King of the Scots married the daughter of the King of England and the two royalties were once again united.  They are still separate countries but under the same royalty ever since.

Approaching view of the castle, moat and all
View of the Wallace Monument from the Sterling Castle
The assembly hall, part of the castle complex
Elder and Sister Andrus inside of the courtyard, near the assembly hall

Elder and Sister Rueckert with the Royal residence and the Palace in the background

Other corner of the courtyard, with the royal residence and the Church in the background

Sister Rueckert inside the palace with a new friend
Our very Scottish tour guide

During our visit to Scotland we were told about Haggis, a very Scottish food.  It is made up of animal innards put into a stomach, sewed together and cooked.  It did not sound very enticing.  However, the next morning we went early to the airport and saw these Haggis specimens for sale.  We did not buy them but it validated what we were told.

We flew back to Dublin, Ireland on Ryan Air, were able to get our luggage back from Elder and Sister Pettit and then continued onto London, England by British Air.  We finally arrived in London and our hotel around 3:00 pm.  We then went to the Self-Reliance Center at the Hyde Park Chapel and met with Elder and Sister Vernon, self-reliance missionaries.

We spent time in the center meeting with those who come to the busiest self-reliance center in Europe.  As we talked to three individuals, each came to the center for help, but none had been involved in self-reliance groups.

Self-Reliance Center at Hyde Park, London with three patrons from three different stakes
After meeting in the center we had the opportunity to visit with three different stake self-reliance specialists.  We were very impressed with their understanding of the initiative and the process.  However, in each case, the stake committees had not been meeting.  We had delightful conversations with them and left them with the challenge to  schedule stake committee meetings. That way the committee can share their enthusiasm and council together to find solutions to move forward in a more effective manner.

Stake Specialist from Wadsworth Stake, incredible conversion story also

Two wonderful stake specialists from the Hyde Park and Romford Stakes

The next day we were invited to join the Regional Self-Reliance seminar that was taking place in London the same time that we were there.  We were invited to lunch which we accepted.  It was a wonderful experience to see Elder Gay and Mike Murray and the Area Self-Reliance and Operations managers  from the two Africa (West and Southeast)  and two Europe (Europe and Europe East) Areas.  During lunch we were able to sit with Mike Murray and enjoy his fellowship again.  After lunch we were asked to give a 3 minute report of our learnings so far.  As always, we left edified with these great people.

Door man at the building where the regional seminar was taking place.  He looked very British with his top coat and mustache.
Sister Rueckert near Green Park, just around the corner from the Regional meeting

That afternoon we once again met at the Self-Reliance Center with Elder and Sister Vernon.  Once again we met individuals who need self-reliance help but had not been exposed to Self-Reliance Groups and the new materials.  As we discussed this with Elder and Sister Vernon, we challenged them to start a self-reliance group right tin the Center with the people who come for help.  It will not only help the individuals but also will give the Vernons important experiences as they support the neighboring stakes.  As I had prayed that morning for guidance, this idea (which Sister Rueckert had mentioned the day before) was reinforced in my mind.  The Vernons agreed with the idea, so it became our primary action item for our London visit.

It was also during this afternoon that we took the opportunity to visit the neighboring museum that we mentioned at the beginning of the blog.

As we left the office that day, we once again saw the amazing street activity in London.  The following is a giant bubble blower and his street bubbles.

The next day, Elder and Sister Vernon picked us up at the hotel and we left for a training of the Crawley and Maidstone stakes.  The distance was only 40 miles away, but it took three hours to get there.  Amazing traffic in downtown London and all the way to Crawley.  It was quite an experience, one that we are not in a hurry to repeat.

Once we got there, we led a discussion about registering self-reliance activity and reporting.  We continued until 3:00 pm when we had to leave to go to the airport.  The training continued with Martin Gardner, our Self-Reliance Service manager.  The photo below is of those who were participating in the meetings.

Elder and Sister Vernon in front of the car that we traveled in on Saturday.

After delays at the airport due to weather conditions in Frankfurt, we finally arrived in Frankfurt and arrived in our apartment at around 11:30 pm, Saturday night.  We were exhausted and fulfilled and certainly glad to finally be home.

The next day we celebrated Father's Day.  Sister Rueckert was able to give me a wonderful card and a tee shirt that she bought in London.  We also heard from several of our children.  We love the Sabbath and wish we had more Sabbath time available each week.  It is certainly a delight.