Sunday, August 7, 2016

From Tiny Rückertshofen to Mighty Fortresses in two days

Each week of our mission just seems to get better.   Sister Rueckert said yesterday that she felt we were living in a dream.  Our experiences and opportunities are amazing.  The Lord guides us and blesses us in all that we do.  Sometimes we take a little longer to recognize the blessings, but so often the blessings are immediate.  This week was another week of immediate blessings.

Besides our wonderful self-reliance work, we realize how blessed we are to be in the land of our ancestors.  During this month, much of the country and the continent are on "holiday".  That makes some of the work a little slower but gives us the opportunity to take a few extra days and explore our heritage.  This week we have found "Rückerts" everywhere, including in the name of a street, a village, a  home and in the parish record books.  We have also found great beauty once again in Germany and have been able to have a very positive experience sharing the gospel. 

Entrance to the small village of Rückertshofen, that name sounds familiar
Our week started with our monthly Family Home Evening with the other missionaries in the Area Office.  One of the misisonaries is Sister Edmunds who had her own television show on KBYU as the “Food Nanny”.  She is an amazing person, full of incredible energy and kindness for all.  She also is a wonderful and creative cook.  She shared her cooking skills and some delicious samples with us.  These are some photos from that evening.

Missionaries eating and being taught by the 'Food Nanny'
Sister Edmunds, the Food Nanny
Most of the food served was based on her special bread, made with  special ingredients that she has found throughout Europe

This week’s activities in the office, included our monthly video conference with our SRS managers and several video conferences with senior missionaries in the Eastern European countries, including Greece, Albania (two different couples), Bosnia and Romania.  We love these pioneer missionaries who are making such a wonderful difference in the countries where they serve.  We began preparations for our annual managers seminar next month, our upcoming Area Self-Reliance Committee meeting and our visit to the Kaiserslautern Military Stake.

Tuesday we went to a local dermatologist to check on Sister Rueckert’s skin.  She needs semiannual check ups to make sure that we take care of any small skin cancer that might develop.  The good news is that there was no danger signs at this time.  On Tuesday night we had Elder and Sister Burt to our home for dinner.  They are the Area Medical Advisors, new to the Area in the last few months.  Besides being wonderful individuals, they are very important people for us to know.  If we get into any difficult medical situations, they are the first to guide us and direct us to our ultimate solutions.

On Wednesday morning we had a meeting with our new Director of Temporal Affairs and learned and shared with him.  He will be wonderful to work with as we go forward.  We went from there to our quarterly Zone conference.  There we were taught about acquiring attributes of Christ form Chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel.  We also heard from a few wonderful couples who will be finishing their missions in the next few months, including the Food Nanny.

Photo taken during Senior Missionary Zone Conference

Thursday we were able to participate in a video conference with the humanitarian senior missionaries of the Area and share a little about Self-Reliance and how they can be involved.  This group is led by our friends, Elder and Sister Healy.

Thursday afternoon we headed down to the Kaiserslautern Military stake, a two hour drive from Frankfurt (with traffic).  There we met with the Stake Self-Reliance Committee, including the stake president.  The committee is trying to decide how to continue with their self-reliance efforts while absorbing a new Self-Reliance and Family Resiliency course that has been developed for Military families.  Our position is that this new course, like the Self-Reliance groups are tools for Priesthood Leaders to use to help their members.  Dealing with family challenges before, during and after deployment are real needs within this stake.  The stake presidency listened and asked questions.  In the end they will deliberate and respond on how they want to move forward.  This is the correct pattern, letting the Priesthood leadership drive the efforts within the stake.  Fortunately, on the drive back to Frankfurt, the traffic was much better and we arrived in just a little over an hour.

The next morning, Friday, we woke up early to  head down to Marktbergl, a small town where many of my ancestors lived.  We had an appointment to review the pastoral books for this parish from 8:00 am to noon.  We left our home at 6:30 am and arrived there at 8:30 am.  We then spent three hours taking hundreds of photos of the pages of the books that had at least one entry with names that related to our heritage.  We had a little over 20 names that we specifically identified.  Like our previous experience, they had the actual books for the last hundred and twenty years and the rest is on microfiche.  In these books we did find some books of index, where alphabetically the last names are listed with identification of the book and pages where you can find those names for births, marriages and deaths.  This index does not give all critical information but can help us know where to find information that we might still be lacking, including in the books that are stored in Nürnberg.

Sign in  front to he Pastors office

Sister Rueckert taking photos of Birth Records  Fan charts and lists of names that we are trying to identify.

Sample of indexes that we found.  This shows all of the Rückert births in Marktbergl since 1804 up through book VIII.  The first six books will be found in Nürnberg, but we will know where to look in those books, saving significant time in the future.

We also walked around the old Church in Marktbergl, the site where many of my ancestors had been christened and married.
Sister Rueckert in front of the door to the Church with the date of 1805 above the door
Elder Rueckert in front of the old Church

The pastor and the secretary were both there and they were very friendly and helpful.  The secretary, who also was at the previous parish that we had visited in Burgbernheim told us that there was a Rückert street in that city.  As she finished her shift at noon, she took us to that small street.  This was a special treat for us.  As has been the case in our Family History efforts, she told us to follow her.  She was on a  bicycle but the street was only a half kilometer from the Church.

The secretary leaving the parish on her bicycle

Us following the secretary on her bicycle

Photo of Elder and Sister Rueckert on Rückertweg, taken by the secretary

In German, "weg" means "way".  So this is Rueckert Way

Other than visiting the pastor office, we had no other visits scheduled.  The family that we have visited before was not available this day.  So we thought that we would see if we could visit a small village nearby named Rückertshofen, since we liked the name.  We planned on eating lunch there and then visiting a famous city of Rothenburg which was also nearby.

 On the way we decided to stop in the city of Steinach, which is where my grandfather lived after his family lost the family farm in Hochbach and before they moved to the United States.  I had thought that they were only there for a few years.  However, the family history states that a certain house in Steinach was built by my great grandfather in 1874.  This would have been out of the proceeds of selling the 100 acre farm in Hochbach.  So they must have stayed there for 20 years or more.  We thought it would be good to see if we could find the house, since it seemed quite unique from the photos that we had in our history.

We went into the very small village of Steinach and looked at all of the 15 to 20 houses, not able to find one that appeared the same as the photos.  We stopped in a bakery to buy a treat to tide us over until we had lunch and asked if anyone recognized the photo of the house.  After asking others in the bakery, the answer came back negative.  However, they said that this was the train station of Steinach but the next village was Steinach am der Ens.  I then remembered that that was the actual village we were looking for.  In that city was the school and church where the Rückert family participated in their youth.  Before we left however, one of the ladies told us that they knew a Rückert in a neighboring village and then shared the name and phone number of the person.  We thought we might visit there on our way home.

Our next stop was Steinach am der Ens.  The city was a little bigger, but it was easy to drive by most of the homes.  We saw some homes that were similar to our photo but nothing that matched well enough to feel that we had found the house.  As we were driving on one small street, we saw an older lady outside.  We stopped and showed her the photo and asked if she had seen this house.  She called her son who came to help.  As he looked at it, he thought it was the last house on the right as we left the village, even though the outbuilding has since been removed.  We had a nice conversation with these individuals and were able to leave them with a pass-along card before we left.  Once again, wonderful German hospitality.

As we drove to the identified house, we pondered if this could really be the same house or not.  Available photos were from many years ago.  We parked the car and I started taking some photos of the house when a lady came out of the house and asked what I wanted.  I tried to explain, in broken German, that my great grandfather had built the house.  She lit right up. Someone had come with a similar question a few years ago.  She invited us to look at the house from the back yard and then we sat down on her patio and had a wonderful conversation.  She is from Romania, but has lived in Germany for 26 years. They purchased the home three years ago.  They have made some significant remodeling of the house because of a major flooding issue that they had in the foundation of the home.  Much has been changed from the original house, but it is still the house built by my great grandfather.    She (Marianne) loves the house!

View from the entry side of the house.  Address is Haupstrasse, 14

Photo from the front of the other side of the house

We were able to carry on a conversation with this sweet lady for an hour and a half.  She spoke a little English and we spoke a little German.  She had all kinds of questions about religion.  She has studied with the Jehovah's Witnesses but has stopped attending their Church.  She is a very dedicated women to God.  She reads her Bible every day and prays to the Father through Jesus Christ.  She believes in three individual people in the Trinity.  Our discussions were thrilling to us.  At one point, I returned to the car and got a Book of Mormon and a pass-along card for her.  She accepted it with happiness.  We believe that she will certainly read the Book of Mormon.  We asked if we could stop in again sometime when we are in the Area. She invited us specifically to return in two weeks and meet her husband.  She says he will be interested to know about the man who built this house.

Photo of the patio behind the house with our friend Marianne

So we did not go on this trip contemplating another missionary experience, but once again it happened, better than ever before.  We're not sure where this will go, but we are thrilled to be able to share the gospel and the Book of Mormon with individuals who are good and sincere.  We certainly feel like we have been led by the Lord.  Each time we come into this area, things happen outside of our plans.  We believe that they are not coincidences, but that we are being led by our Heavenly Father.  We don't know where all of these contacts will lead, but we are trying to do all in our power to open doors and opportunities.  We are so grateful to have a Heavenly Father that knows all, including the hearts of the individuals on this earth.  He knows who is ready to hear the gospel and he knows how to put them in our paths.  We need to know how to follow promptings and to be prepared for all things!

As we went through the city, we also saw this sign on a house, another Rückert!  We didn't go into this house as it appeared to be unoccupied, but there was a Rückert there once.

We were now running out of time for the day but still continued onto Rückertshofen, still hoping for some lunch.  The village is so small that we did not see any commercial locations, but we saw a lot of other interesting sites.

The first home we saw was the one below.  We loved the small children clothes hanging high in the sky to dry.

Entry to Rückertshofen, near Adelshofen

We then saw this house with beautiful flower pots:

House or building in Rückertshofen
 When I was taking the photo above, someone came out and I asked him if there were Rückerts in the town and he said about 30 of them.  I didn't see enough houses for 30 people, but I guess there must be a little that we missed.  I asked him if the town was founded by a Rückert.  He said that it was named for a small river, a really, really small river about 500 meters down the road.   So we went looking for the Rückertshofen river.  Along the way we saw this unique area with a large scale chess set on the lawn.

House and yard in Rückeretshofen

Full scale Chess Set

Area on the side of the farm that looked like it could have a river.
As I got close, I could see a river bed, but not much water.  The photo below was the only wet spot that I could find.  As I was told, the Rückertshofen river was a very small river!

 We finished up our visit to Rückertshofen without a chance to eat lunch but decided to head home.  We had a commitment to spend the evening with some other missionaries in a "game night" and Sister Rueckert wanted to cook some cookies before, so we headed home.  We did stop at a gas station and found a little food to eat along the way.  Even with a 30 minute traffic delay we arrived home shortly after 6:00 pm, with just enough time to have fresh cookies at 7:00 pm.  What a wonderful day, ending with good friends.

The next day we had planned to take a  Rhine River Cruise.  We had planned this a few weeks ago, but delayed due to rainy weather.  This week it also rained almost every day, but the forecast was for partly cloudy on Saturday, so we bought tickets and planned to go with Elder and Sister Proctor.

Saturday morning we were on our way to Rüdesheim where we would board the boat.  This turned out to be a wonderful, peaceful day.  We traveled down stream for about 25 kilometers in just under 2 hours.  In this stretch there is a castle about every 2 kilometers.  The following photos are of several of these castles.  What an amazing trip, beautiful land relaxing.

Elder and Sister Proctor

This castle is truly build upon a rock.  Very impressive!

Lots of vineyards planted alongside the castles and throughout the Rhine River Valley

Sisters Rueckert and Proctor on the Boat, castle in the background

Famous Loreley Rock

A few of the cargo boats that we saw along the way:

Cargo of Wire

Boat laden down with loads of wire

Boxcars of cargo

At the city of St. Goar, we got off of the boat and went to visit the Rheinfels Castle.  This castle was originally built in 1245 by the Count of Katzeenelnbogen as a means of consolidating the very profitable activities of the customs point on the Rhine.  From there many additions were made to the castle and ownership passed to different owners over the years.  In 1794 the troops of the French revolutionary army marched up the Rhine to take the castle and it feel into their hands without resistance.  As a consequence the French blew up up the external notifications in 1796 and year later, the castle itself.  Since that time Rheinfels has been a ruin.

Photos below show the extensive ruins that still exist at this location.  There were banners throughout the castle due to a weekend celebration.

Photo with Sister Proctor in front of our Boat, after disembarking

Train that took us up to the Castle

Outside View of the Castle

Elder Rueckert in his armor

Sister Rueckert with Elder and Sister Proctor

Panoramic View from the highest tower of the Castle.  Two additional castles are across the river at the two ends.

Overlooking the Rhine from the highest tower of the Castle

Four missionaries on the highest tower of the castle

View of much of the castle from the highest tower

Overseeing the castle from the tower

After enjoying the time at the castle we returned home, going upstream on the boat.  This took an extra hour of travel, but we found the time to be therapeutic, time to relax and ponder.  As we looked at the castles and churches we wondered what spiritual significance we could learn from them.  

The first is the importance of building our castles on the rock.  We saw some incredible structures built right on the rock. Certainly, after many centuries they still stand.  As we were taught by the Savior, the wise man builds his house upon a rock.  We know that the true rock to build on is the Savior Jesus Christ.

Additionally we thought of the purposes of many of these castles, which was for protection.  In testimony meeting today, Sister Rueckert shared the words of the hymn, A Might Fortress is our God.  He certainly is the fortress that we need to protect us in times of trial or crisis.

We certainly feel a need to continue to build our spiritual castle.  As these castles were built over many years, our spiritual castle also takes a lifetime and more to build.  Each addition to our spiritual castle takes more time and effort, but as we add to it, the glory comes from He who guides and blesses us, even our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.  As we stood and watched the beautiful scenery and castles on a day of perfect weather, Sister Rueckert summed it up by saying:  "It feels like we are living a dream".  We are so blessed and we are so grateful for the many blessings that we are receiving from our Heavenly Father.
Today in our Fast and Testimony meeting, right after Sister Rueckert bore her testimony, we were so pleased to hear our home teaching family share their testimonies.  Sister Mendes with her daughter Melissa translating and her son Wilson.  We love this family and are thrilled to see how our Heavenly Father is blessing them.  They have received hope in their lives and are progressing to become Self-Reliant, both spiritually and temporally.  We love them and the privilege we have to be their friends.

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