Sunday, October 30, 2016

From Start to Finish in many ways

While at home in Frankfurt, we were able to participate in or witness several acts of "finishing" as well as some new "starts".  One activity was the culmination of a major project to benefit the refugees in Europe held on Friday evening.  Some of the sisters in our ward and the German ward did a project to supply newborn boxes for the new babies being born to refugee families.  This photo shows Sister Rueckert, Tom King (our Area Self-Reliance Manager) and his granddaughter, Elizabeth finishing the packing of one of the last boxes that was prepared.

Finishing up the packing of the boxes for newborn refugee children
We started our week with a family home evening and dinner at the home of Tom and Raelene King.  It was a delightful evening and a delicious meal.  They have become very special friends to us. This was also our first trip in our new car since i got my drivers license back the previous week  

No travels this week, but there are always many things to keep us busy.  On Tuesday we had our monthly meeting with senior self-reliance missionaries around Europe.  This was also a sad finishing moment as two of our couples will be leaving in the next few weeks.  As well as being a great session to share ideas, it was also an opportunity to thank them for their friendship and service as they finish up their missions.  The two couples are Elder and Sister Michaelis (upper left of screen) who have been serving in Birmingham, England and Elder and Sister Anderton (third from the left on the second row) who have been serving in Lisbon, Portugal.

Every Tuesday evening we many opportunities to study German.  Sister Rueckert starts with the German class with Sister Enger.  After that we go to our hour and a half German class with Sister Rika.  We finish with our one hour German session with Sister Peterson, in Provo, by Zoom.  After all this, Sister Rueckert does her daily DuoLingo session and I work on my Rosetta Stone lessons.  With all of this constant effort, we are feeling that the German language is making more sense.  Still an incredible amount to learn and to understand, but we are not so overwhelmed.  On the theme of finishing, I was able to finish my second unit of Rosetta Stone this month, my best month ever.

The photo below is of our young return missionaries who have been participating in our "My Continuing Mission" class.  We aren't finished yet, but only have two more lessons to review together.  We love meeting with Pedro and Jimmy.  

The previous week we received notice that Debbie's great aunt Vera passed away. This is the relative that we visited in the hospital in Berlin last August.  She was 90 years old.  Her funeral was held on Friday in Berlin.

On Friday evening we participated in the service project to pack boxes for the refugees.  80 boxes for newborns were completed with about 30 for toddlers and a large amount of additional clothing was boxed for refugees in Ukraine.  This had been organized and prepared over the past several months.  Friday was the culmination as the packages were assembled and packed.

Many of the tables that are filled with items to pack into each box.

Other boxes of items to include
Diapers that had been purchased.  Each newborn box had three packages of diapers.

Sister Bausman giving initial instructions.  She is one of the organizers of this event and is a dear friend and wonderful example.  The sister next to her with the child is one of the organizers from the German speaking ward.

Receiving initial instruction .

My job was to help prepare the boxes for packing.  Elder Stay and I created the 80 boxes for the newborn kits.

Trying to keep up.  Those on the stage behind us are packaging the materials for the refugees in Ukraine.

Many helping hands filling and packing each of the boxes

Sister Rueckert ended up on the "finishing" end of things.  Here she is taping shut one of the boxes that are filled with diapers, clothes and other baby supplies.

As I finished "starting", I was able to help Sister Rueckert "finish".  Each box needed to have labels on four sides to identify it as for a male or female baby.

Working together with the "Mormon Helping Hands" vests

Carrying the finished boxes to the stage for storage until they are loaded on the trucks
Saturday we took advantage of our P Day and went to visit our home teaching family at the hospital.  The oldest daughter of the family had a baby earlier this month.  Due to complications the baby was taken early and born at 3 pounds.  She has now grown to 4 pounds.  However, the only ones who can be with the baby are the parents.  Visitors can only watch and see through the window, outside of the room.

This little baby girl is so small and beautiful.  Although we couldn't hold her we were able to marvel at this very special "Start".
Neusa, the mother, with her little girl

Sister Ruckert holding up our baby gift to the window for the mother to see.

Close up photo through the window

Being held by her father

On Saturday I was also able to "finish" the identification of the images that we had captured at the Ergersheim pastor's office a few months ago.  This now completes this second phase of images.  They are still being indexed by our two angels in the U.S. who continue to make progress.  We have identified about 1500 names of potential relatives in these images.  Work continues to organize the names into family trees.

Some of the work is becoming more personal and exciting.  The image below is the marriage record of George Andreas Rückert from 1907.  It ties to the photo of his gravestone which we captured at the cemetery.  George Andreas is the third great grandfather of Werner Rückert who we have met in the city of Buchheim.  We hope to prepare a more complete genealogy of this family to share with them at Christmas time when we return to make another visit. We also have additional information for others that we have met.

Goerg Andreas Rückert, born 1873 and his wife, born 1880.  Also includes information of his parents born in another city. We still need to gather more information out of this neighboring city.
Georg Andreas's gravestone and that of his son, Michael

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Opening our Hearts, Minds and Trunks

On Wednesday we had our devotional of the year.  It was part of the Area Review, which is carried out by a team of General Authorities from headquarters.  This review was led by President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and included President Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy and Bishop Causse, Presiding Bishop.  As part of their review of the Europe Area, they took time for a one hour devotional on Wednesday with Church employees and missionaries throughout the Europe Area.  We had six general authorities, including the three members of our Europe Area Presidency and all of their wives in attendance. 

Elder Kearon spoke, representing the Area Presidency and Sister Wendy Nelson spoke, representing the wives.  We also heard from the three visiting authorities.  Each spoke on schedule, allowing about 20 minutes for President Nelson at the end.  The talks were wonderful, expressing so much love and gratitude to the employees and missionaries.  Sister Nelson gave an excellent personal example of the Holy Ghost giving us individual insights, telling us that the Holy Ghost is "one size fits all".  President Nelson shared his appreciation of the Europe Area Plan and than stated the Lord's plan for all of us, which is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man".  He told us that all the work that we do relates to the Holy Work done in the temples.  We need the ordinances to be performed so that the Power of God can be manifest.

At the end of the devotional, all of the general authorities and their wives greeted each person individually in the foyer.  A significant amount of time in a very busy schedule showed us once again their love and gratitude for all.

Our week began on Monday with another devotional with our senior missionaries.  We were able to participate just hours after returning home from our trip to France.  We were taught by Elder Matheson, who spent his career in this field, including teaching at BYU.  He gave us many good ideas to ponder and put into practice.  He used to share this type of presentation at BYU Education week.  We are blessed to be instructed in so many ways.

The remainder of the week was filled with our normal responsibilities and activities.  One of our favorites is our weekly meeting with our returned missionaries in our ward.  We have been helping them on a series of "My Continuing Mission" lessons, now on week six.

However, as the week moved on Sister Rueckert was becoming weaker.  Finally on Friday we took her to the doctor to treat a urinary infection.  She is now on the mend, but has taken some needed time to rest and recover during this weekend. This included bringing home take out Chinese food for our date night.  On our date night we saw a very good Christian movie called "War Room".  It is certainly worth a see.

Back downtown in Frankfurt as we went to visit the same urologist that we had visited a year ago.
Yesterday (Saturday) we had our ward trunk or treat Halloween party.  Our international ward really gets into this party.  Very impressive costumes and preparations!

Elder Rueckert heading to the Halloween party, with the only costume we could find in what we brought on our mission.  He was a Russian Pirate.

One of our ward members wants to "Make Halloween Great Again", a little spoof on our U.S. elections

This is our favorite little family.  They are truly "Incredible"

Very extensive displays near the trunks.  This one is from Minecraft

This is our our administrative assistant and her husband.  We love them!
I thought they were rolling out the red carpet, but Sister Rueckert says it was a big tongue.

This is from the ghostbuster family.  Their children had matching costumes.

As the ward part ended it was time to sneak a peek at our family Halloween party which was just getting started in the U.S. The following are a few of the photos of our children and grandchildren which we took from the Zoom video conference.

A couple of super three year olds

Three siblings and their dad

Two sisters and their mother
Little Red Riding Hood with the wolf and the Grandma (from a text message, not through Zoom)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Vive la France

Just returned from an amazing trip to southern France.  So much to share, so many wonderful people and incredible experiences.  The prime focus of the trip was the Nice Stake Young Adult Self-Reliance conference.  Many other self-reliance activities and sites we visited are included.
Participants in the Nice Young Adult Self-Reliance Conference
It all started on Thursday afternoon, August 13 as we flew into Lyon, France.  We were picked up by our Self-Reliance senior missionaries, Elder and Sister Geddes.  One of the priorities of our trip was to get to know them better and participate in SR activities with them.  We have found this to be an effective training method, to discuss, experience and review.  Certainly it worked well again.
We started with a meeting with the Lyon Stake Self-Reliance committee on Thursday evening.  This was a special meeting scheduled to coincide with our visit.  President Lepore, stake president, conducted the meeting. The stake specialist (and high councilor) and the stake relief society president joined us by Zoom and the stake family services specialist also attended.  President Lepore is very positive and supportive of Self-Reliance efforts and is requesting that each ward have at least their first Self-Reliance devotional this year.  Most of the units in the stake now have ward specialists.  Things are moving well, the first of their ward devotionals was scheduled for the following Sunday.  We were be able to participate in this devotional.

President Lepore, E/S Geddes, Stake family services specialist, Sister Rueckert and other participants joining by Zoom.

After a successful stake committee meeting we spent the night in a local hotel before heading to Nice, France the following day.  The timing of our visit was to participate in the Nice Stake Self-Reliance young adult weekend.  Nice is on the shores of the Mediterranean, about a six hour drive from Lyon.  The next morning we began the drive with Elder and Sister Geddes.  We did take some time to visit a few cultural attractions along the way.  We will include that later in the blog.

Facebook advertisement of the Nice SR Weekend activity

We arrived in Nice in time for the Friday evening activities, which included an opening address by the Stake President, initial practices to sing the new "One by One" song in French for the Face to Face acitivity with Bishop Causseé the following day.   The activity ended with a buffet dinner and dance for the young adults.  This was  a wonderful way to get to know some of these young adults, as we were able to engage in some one on one conversation with those who spoke enough English to converse with us.

Nice stake president addressing the young adults

Dorothy, stake specialist, rehearsing with young adults, including the stake president

The next morning we left early to return to the stake center.  However, on the way we drove down the  Promenade des Anglais, the main road along the beach of the city.

Street sign of the Promenade des Anglais

This street is important for a few reasons.  First it is the main promenade of the city, going by the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea.  This is part of the French Riviera.  However, more importantly, this is where the terrorist attack occurred just three months ago.  While many spectators were on the street watching fireworks, a large truck drove down this street and  killed over 60 spectators and injured many others.  Friday was the 3 month anniversary of that attack and additional flowers were placed at the memorial of that attack.

The beauty of the coast of Nice seen from our windshield
View of the flowers and the memorials as we drove by
View from our car as drove by on the way to the stake center.  This shows the armed guards and part of the memorial.
The self-reliance activity began with a breakfast and then a My Path Devotional for all of the young adults.

Devotional participants watching the initial "I Will Provide for  My Saints" video

After the devotional, Sister Rueckert and I shared some thoughts with the young adults.  We both had similar experiences this week of very specific impressions of what we should share.  We wanted them to know that they were children of God and that they had a responsibility to serve.  That is the purpose of all Self-Reliance efforts, to get individuals to be in a position to serve others and help build Zion.

Sister Rueckert during her presentation
Sister Rueckert presenting with her translator at the side.  Dorothy Houasse, stake specialist, is the first lady to the right of Sister Rueckert.
After our presentations, lunch was served, another rehearsal was held for the One by One song and then  the first session of the Self-Reliance Groups was held.  This was based on the groups that were formed in the devotional that morning.

More rehearsals

Lunch prepared for all of the young adults

We participated in a small Education group that was facilitated by Elder and Sister Geddes.  No photo was taken, but there was some personal miracles occurring in this group as one of the young men had some strong spiritual manifestations for his personal life.  This is what these groups are about, individuals sharing their feelings and discovering, through the Holy Ghost, what God wants them to understand and do.

Starting and Growing My Business group

Personal Finances group
My Job Search Group

After the Self-Reliance Groups, some additional self-reliance activities occurred. Once again rehearsals occurred for the One by One song and then a light dinner was served.  At 6:00 pm a testimony meeting was held, many testimonies were shared.  The meeting finished in time to be ready for the meeting with Bishop Causeé and his wife.  They were visiting in Preston, England and had arranged to participate by video conference with these young adults.

Young Adults singing "One by One" to Bishop Causeé and his wife
They performed the One by One song marvelously.  The spirit was strong for all that participated.  Then, some graduation certificates were given to some SR participants who had previously completed courses. For the next hour and a half,  Bishop Causeé addressed the group and answered specific questions.  His wife also participated in the answers.  The young adults love Bishop Causeé, wh is from France.  The spirit was strong and the comments were mostly centered around Self-Reliance.

Bisho Causseé and his wife on Video with the young adults

This was a wonderful way to culminate the two days of activities.  We give strong congratulations to Dorothy Houasse, the Stake Self-Reliance Specialist who organized this event.  She had wonderful support from other Self-Reliance specialists, the Young Adult organization and from Momo, our SRS manager.  Also, the Stake president and his counselor were in attendance at the different sessions.  We were so impressed at all of their efforts.  Even more, after spending 24 hours with these great young adults, we learned to love them deeply.  Some were non members or new members.  Many were recently returned missionaries. We learned of many of their challenges and their desires to grow and become self-reliant. We feel like they were more than acquaintances, we truly left friends behind at the end of the day.

After the activity we decided to go with Elder and Sister Geddes and have dinner that evening.  As we drove by, we saw a Hippopotamus restaurant, so we had to eat there.  All that know Sister Rueckert know that she has a passion for Hippopatami ( Plural?).

In front of the Hippopotamus restaurant

The beautiful door mat

Sister Rueckert in heaven, with the hippopotamus

The next morning we left early to drive two hours for a 9:00 o'clock sacrament meeting in Vitrolles, France.    In the back of this chapel are several olive trees.  Prior to this trip I had never seen an olive tree up close.  The photos below are of those trees and some of the olives.  It is now past the harvest season.

Olive tree with a few of the remaining olives

Several trees in the area behind the church
Our Self-Reliance manager, Momo, has a daughter that lives in this ward.  She was so kind to prepare a picnic lunch for us to eat on our journey this day.  We have found that as we try to observe the Sabbath, there are always ways for us to do that, even when traveling.  Often we find angels like this who help take care of us.  The following photos are of us with Elder and Sister Geddes and Momo by the Olive trees.

After this stop we continued on to the city of Valence where a My Path Devotional was scheduled at 2:00 pm.  The drive was an additional 3 hours and we arrived just in time to participate.  Elder and Sister Geddes were to facilitate their first devotional.  The ward had prepared well, sharing the My Path booklet with all of the members even before the devotional.  We had four tables complete, about 25 participants.  In the end, 3 self-reliance groups were formed.  There was plenty of success and certainly lessons learned.  The following are photos of the time at the end while the groups are being formed.

Sister Rueckert organizing the Starting and Growing My Business group at the back

Appears chaotic, but a lot of good organization is going on

After the Devotional, we drove back to Lyon, France, arriving at about 8:00 pm.  The next morning we spent a few hours with Elder and Sister Geddes, as they showed us a few sights in Lyon before we went to the airport and returned home to Frankfurt.

We feel like this trip was a total success.  Besides participating in SR Devotionals and groups and committees with Elder and Sister Geddes, we were able to spent 12 hours in the car with them, traveling around southern France.  During this time, we had many conversations about processes, preparations, review and many opportunities to get to know them on a personal basis.  They are an amazing missionary couple. They both taught at BYU Idaho before retiring as they were beginning their mission.  She taught the French language and he was the Dean of the Art department and took annual trips of students to Europe to study art.  They are well qualified to serve this mission in the French speaking countries of Europe.  More than that, they are an amazing couple with genuine love and kindness for everyone, especially to each other.  We learned so much from them and look forward to serving with them for the remainder of our mission.

On the day that we arrived in Lyon, we had a few hours to see some sites.  On the trip to Nice, we also stopped at a few locations.  On Monday, we took another few hours to see the sites of Lyon.  On the first two days we had constant rain, but we made up for it with good company.  The following photos are from some of the sites that we visited:

Lyon, France on Thursday: 
In front of Roman ruins in Lyon, France.  This was a stronghold of the roman empire.

Better view of some of the Roman ruins

View of the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France.  Note the golden statue of Mary on the top of the  Basilica.  Sister Geddes calls it the "Angel Maryoni".

One of many photos from the inside of the Basilica of Notre Dame

Ceiling of the cathedral
In Avignon, France on Friday:

In front of the  Le Papais des Papes, palace of the Pope based in France during the 14th century .  This is the largest Gothic palace in all of Europe.
Another "Angel Maryoni" at the top of this palace

On the Pont d"Avignon in front of the Papal palace. This was the location of the famous french song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon".   This is a song the Sister Rueckert learned when she studied French years ago.
Another photo showing the river on both sides of the bridge.
Les Baux-de-Provence:

While on the bridge the rain started coming down faster and continued most of the rest of the day.  We were able to visit another fort at Les Baux-de-Provence.

Approaching the fort

This is the fort from a distance

Inside the Fort area on a rainy day
Carrières de Lumières:

When this fort was built, significant blocks of stone were taken out of the mountainside.  They have now taken the quarry where the rock was taken out, and turned it into an amazing art exhibit.  There are multimedia shows of the works of different artists and display them on the walls, ceilings and floors of the stone quarry. The following photos come from this exhibit, with paintings superimposed on the open quarry.

Outside the Quarry
Inside the Quarry in between shows
Another view in between shows

Art appearing on the different faces of the quarry

Other images on the stone

Detailed Mosaics

Additional images of paintings

Another view of the quarry in between shows

Lyon, France on Monday morning:

This morning we had a special guided tour of the Lyon Cathedral by Elder and Sister Geddes.  Their experience in art and cathedrals made this tour of a cathedral of the 1300s be true educational experience.  I learned to see so much symbolism throughout the cathedral which made it so much more meaningful.  A few examples follow:

The statue of Stephen, the martyr.  You can see the stone by his feet symbolizing that he was stoned.  The Palm branch in his arms shows that he was martyred.  He is looking into heaven where he saw Jesus Christ and God the Father. 
Sculpture of John the Baptist with course clothing, a lamb at his side, signifying the Lamb of God and his hand pointing up to Jesus Christ.

Painting of Saint Blandina, a young Christian who was finally killed by sword after the wild beasts would not harm her.  Once again, she is lying down, showing that she died a martyr, also with the Palm branch.  The sword that eventually killed her lies to the side of her body.

I thoroughly enjoyed this personal tour from Elder Geddes.  I look forward to visiting more cathedrals and to look for the symbolism that I learned about today.  We also saw this stain glass window of Melchezidek.  We don't see this much, as he wasn't mentioned very much in the Bible, but obviously his great stature was recognized in this stain glass in the cathedral.

Finally views of the Notre Dame cathedral visited the previous week seen from below:

Overall view of the Lyon Cathedral,Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon . Elder and Sister Rueckert next to the statue of  John the Baptist sprinkling Jesus Christ.

We finished our morning with a wonderful French lunch of Crepes: