Sunday, November 27, 2016

Giving Thanks for the Sunrise . . .

Our first Thanksgiving in Germany was very memorable, shared with good friends and fellow missionaries.  It was followed by a very difficult Black Friday.  Saturday was much better, including the Christmas Market in Erfurt, Germany, the city where Sister Rueckert's father was born.  Our third stake conference this month finished off our week.

Our week started out pretty normal, video conferences with both of our senior missionary groups and preparations for events to come.  On Tuesday morning, Sister Rueckert pointed out the window and I was able to capture a pretty amazing sunrise!

Wednesday we had another wonderful Book of Mormon class at noon.  That evening we enjoyed our Old Testament class.  When we returned we found that we had received a heart attack.  We're not sure the source of this but we are thankful for good friends all around us.  The treats and message left were tasty for our bodies and our souls.

We then went to work to prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner the next day.  Sister Rueckert cooked brownies and a pumpkin pie and then I worked on 3 pounds of cranberries.  I found that they didn't all fit into the measured out water and sugar that I had boiled.  It took a little improvising, but in the end the cranberries turned out well.

Most of the cranberries cooking

Finished products, cranberries and the pumpkin pie
The next morning we went to the office and then left in time for the Thanksgiving dinner at 1 p.m.  Sister Rueckert went home earlier to finish her yams, another contribution to the dinner.  There was a full committee of sisters working on this dinner, making assignments, following up, decorating, etc.  What an incredible effort and result.  Some of the photos below show some the amazing Thanksgiving dinner with around 80 individuals This included missionary couples, single missionaries and other Americans and guests.

Desserts, including several pies and other delights

Our cranberries, turned out to be almost all eaten, just about the right volume

One of the decorated tables
The main food table
Most of us sitting down and ready for the dinner to begin.
The food table from the other end after the first time through for everyone
For Sister Rueckert and I, this was the first time in our married life that we were able to sit down and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner together, without worrying about serving our children and grandchildren.  It was really nice.  Our total gratitude goes to those who spent much of the meal serving all of us.  We couldn't have had a better Thanksgiving dinner on our mission.  Our hearts are truly full of gratitude for all of our blessings and opportunities that we have had while serving in Germany.

We went back to work the rest of the day and prepared for our exciting plans for the next day.  Let me first tell you what we had planned.

Since last August, I have been communicating with the Pastor's office in Mülhausen, Germany, where many of Sister Rueckert's ancestors are from.  When we tried to visit them last August we had received no response from them.  We finally called and they told us that the office was closed until September.  So when I received an email in September stating that we could visit them on Fridays, we were excited. However, we did not have any more available time for family history visits at that time.  A few weeks ago, our manager told us that he would be flying to England on the evening of Thanksgiving to take a personal leave for that Friday and the weekend, so we decided to take a day off on Black Friday to visit the Mülhausen pastor's office.  We thought it would be fun to visit them in the morning and then spend the evening visiting the Erfurt Christmas Market which would be opening that week.  We have been corresponding back and forth for the last few weeks with our plans.  On Monday we received an email clarifying that they had original pastor books for births, marriages and deaths from the 1500s until the present.  We were really excited.  I have been on a family history high for some time.  This week I had just linked some people that we had met in Bavaria with my family line, so I was feeling pretty good about my family history efforts.  We spent time printing family group sheets and identifying all of the end of lines that we could search out.  We were told that they would be open from 8:00 am until noon.  I had made a reservation for a hotel to spend Friday night in the Erfurt area.

It turned out that there was an air pilot strike in Germany this week and our manager could not fly out on Thursday, but we went ahead with our plans anyways.  We went to bed at a good time on Thursday night and awakened early on Friday to be able to leave soon after 6:00 am.  We had what has been my normal Black Friday breakfast, leftover pie from Thanksgiving, and we were on our way.  This was our first major trip with the new car that was assigned to us last month.  In fact we had not even put gas into the car yet, since our travel around town has been limited.

We had never gone very far with the GPS in the car, so we knew we had some new things to learn.  In our experience, we have never fully trusted the GPS.  It seems to often want to take us off of the main road on detours, so often we resist the GPS suggestions.  This morning was no different.  We had been traveling for almost an hour when the GPS suggested a detour that would take an additional 20 - 30 minutes.  It stated that there was an incident ahead with a closed road.  We stopped and filled up with gas and evaluated the proposed detour.  We were anxious to get to the pastor's office and did not want additional delays.  The traffic had been perfect up to that point, so I (Elder Rueckert) decided to ignore the caution and went forward on our planned route.  After about 15 minutes we came to a complete standstill on the freeway.  It appears that the GPS was right, there had been an accident and the road was completely blocked.  Too late for us to leave the freeway!

The fact is that we spent the next 6 HOURS STOPPED and waiting on the freeway.  Seldom have I felt so helpless.  I think I understood a little bit about people who have made mistakes and can't resolve them on their own.  I knew that I had not heeded the counsel of the GPS and now I was paying the price.   All of our plans went down the drain.  We tried to call the Pastor's office with no success. We were able to leave a message.  I was also able to send an email, letting them know of our situation.  We spent our time, listening to conference talks from the last conference, studying German and finally Sister Rueckert took a nap while I worked on a Sudoku puzzle.  It was a beautiful day outside while miles of cars were stopped for all that time.  It is hard to describe the immense frustration that we felt but we were helpless to do anything about it.

A small part of the long line of vehicles.  Many individuals out walking with nowhere to go.
Another view of the cars.  Ours is the small car that is turned facing the curve.  We were asked to give a jump to someone with car trouble.  We succeeded in helping,  but that was the last time that the vehicles moved in any direction.
Finally after more than six hours, the traffic started to move again.  Eventually we passed the accident site where a large semi truck had overturned.  There was a large crane at the site to lift the truck up from the side of the road.  We don't know what else had occurred, but finally we were able to move again.  We decided to still go to the city of Sister Rueckert's ancestors and perhaps look in the cemetary.  We finally arrived there at around 3:30 pm.  When we arrived, of course the office was closed and we found that there was no cemetery.  We asked a few people in German and they all said that there was no longer a cemetery.  We thought it was strange, but our understanding of German seemed consistent.

Entrance to the older part of Mülhausen

Another view of the older wall of the city

Sister Rueckert on the North side of the Church

Sister Rueckert on the South side of the Church
A pretty full view of this majestic old Church
Sister Rueckert under the light post on the side of the Church, decorated for Christmas
 Finally I thought to check to see if there was a different address on the email than the one that I had of the main Church.  I found that it was different, although in the same city of Mulhausen.  However, when we put the postcode into the GPS it showed a place more than 200 kilometers from there.  We thought that weird, but we took a few pictures of the Church and then left, heading to our hotel.

Pastor's office at the Bei der Marienkirche, address by the main church
 When we finally got to our hotel later that night, I checked the address on the email in Google Maps and found that it was from a different Mülhausen in a different part of Germany.  In other wards, all of this time I had been communicating with a pastor in a different city than I had thought.  Even if we would have made it through the 6 hour delay, we would have been at the wrong pastor's office! So now we found out that our dream was not even real.

We went ahead and put the address for our hotel into the GPS and proceeded towards the hotel.  Unfortunately the GPS took us to a road that was under construction prohibiting access in the direction we needed.  We could not get the GPS to change it's mind.  So we decided to head towards Erfurt and eventually the GPS would adjust.   When we finally got near Erfurt, it told us that we still had 80 kilometers to go.   Somewhat repentant for the problems of the morning we chose to follow the GPS.  We went past Erfurt by about 60 kilometers.  Apparently, I had reserved a hotel that was about 45 minutes away from Erfurt.  We kept going south and eventually through a 5 mile tunnel.  After the tunnel we turned back north for another 15 kilometers, climbing a mountain side in the dark and with significant fog.  The GPS was asking us to make turns that we could not see.  By this time, we had had enough.  When we got to the location, we could not find our hotel, since the GPS had not accepted the exact street address.  We asked questions and finally found our hotel, getting checked in about 6:30 pm.  The following are photos that we took the next day in daylight, but they relate to the end of this drive.

South entrance to the tunnel.  The sign states that the tunnel is 7,878 meters or almost 5 miles.
Larger view of the tunnel through the mountain

View inside the 5 mile tunnel

View of the mountain as we came down
We decided to not go to the Christmas Market in Erfurt that night. We had no desire to go back down the mountainside in the fog and we were exhausted after a very frustrating day.

We did not want to take any more chances, but wanted to recuperate for the following day.  We found a nice restaurant at the hotel and enjoyed a relaxing time for the rest of the evening.

As we reflect on the challenges of that day we see much to be thankful for.  

Restaurant in the hotel, beautifully decorated

Some nice German food.  Sister Rueckert had wienerschnitzel and I had Thuringia dumplings, red cabbage and rolled beef.

By the Christmas decorations in the restaurant
The next morning, the world seemed a lot brighter.  We had breakfast and than drove to Erfurt to visit the Christmas Market.    Below are photos of the drive and the fog.

After solving the parking challenge, we enjoyed a few hours at this Christmas Market.  Christmas markets are common throughout Germany.  This is the largest market in the state of Thuringia.  We enjoyed this uniquely German experience in the land of our ancestors.  The following are some of the photos from this Christmas Market.

At the entry of the Erfurt Christmas Market

One of the car rides, a German fire engine

By a life size nutcracker

By a train ride

Christmas decorations by the train ride
A large ferris wheel that is part of the Christmas Market

In front of the Ferris Wheel
On the Ferris Wheel

Photos taken from the Ferris Wheel

Photo of much of the Christmas market from the top of the Ferris Wheel

Photo of the old Church from the top of the Ferris Wheel.  The Christmas market is in the plaza in front of this Church.

Enjoying a bratwurst and hot chocolate

Above the crowds we see the Church, the Christmas tree and the market stalls

The most significant display, of the nativity.  Life size wood carvings

No trip to Erfurt is ever complete without stopping by the home where Sister Rueckert's father lived.  Here we are again.

The ride home went as planned.  We arrived home in time to be ready and participate in the Saturday night stake conference session.  Sister Rueckert sang in the choir.  This is the third stake conference we have participated in this month, including two in Cape Verde.  Each stake president organizes a little different.  Each is right for their stake.  We enjoyed the visit of Elder Mendonza, an Area Seventy from Spain.  He spoke with a translator on both Saturday and Sunday morning.  We very much enjoyed his message and all of the messages.  Since many in our stake don't speak German, there is translation service available so we were able to fully participate in all of the sessions.

We have learned much this past week, about repentance and the need for a Savior in our lives.  This was taught to us in a very difficult way, but the message was clear.  We were able to listen to most of the October 2016 conference during our travels and stops on the road.  We were also instructed by our local leaders.  We love the word of the Lord.  When we listen to the Holy Ghost there is always something for us to learn.  

We believe that the Holy Ghost is like the flame that powers the German nativity sets.  This photo below is of the large Nativity set at the Christmas Market.  The one below is the set that we purchased for us.  It is powered by the light and heat of the candles.  The impact of those candles turns the nativity.  The light that we receive from the Holy Ghost turns and guides us in our lives.

We are still learning how to make this work.  It is probably like the Holy Ghost, needing constant effort on our part.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Back home in time for the Queen's visit

After a long trip it is always good to be home.  It gives us a chance to return to routines and habits that strengthen our bodies and our spirits.  This time it also gave us a chance to participate in our ward's "International Night", which included a visit from the Queen of England.  More about that later in the blog.

The Queen of England was part of the exhibit of the United Kingdom in our "International Evening"
The day that we came home from our trip to Cape Verde, we started experiencing some physical discomfort.  Sister Rueckert had swollen legs and I had a severely sore hip that made it very difficult to walk.  Perhaps it was because of the unique travel plan that we had taken with multiple flights, lots of waiting, uncomfortable seats in the airplane, etc.   We find it interesting that it did not impact our trip or our purposes on the trip, but it only hit us as we returned. Whatever the cause, it took a few days of adjustment before we felt that our physical well being had returned.  We are thankful to have things back to normal.

We had a group video conference with our Eastern European self-reliance missionaries scheduled for the day after our return.  Somehow it didn't get onto our calendar, but it had been in our minds.  However, the day we returned we had a senior moment.  We got into a discussion with our manager and totally forgot the meeting.  Only after the scheduled time did we look at our emails and see that they had been waiting but we were not there.  The missionaries were all understanding and expressed gratitude that it was not them that had forgotten.  We have rescheduled this meeting for tomorrow and we will try again.

We don't have much chance to just relax.  We are catching up on a few things and preparing for  our Area Self-Reliance Committee and our Area Review from Salt Lake City.  This  includes a visit from Elder Joseph Sitati, one of the members of the PEF Self-Reliance Committee.   A side benefit is that brother Jorge Alvarado, our first contact at HQ, is able to bring our medications for the last year of our mission, so we are especially thankful for that. 

On Wednesday night, Sister Rueckert decided to prepare a pumpkin pie as a trial before next week's Thanksgiving celebration with senior missionaries and others.  This isn't as easy as it sounds, since Germans don't eat pies or have the necessary ingredients.  One of our senior missionaries is a former marine, so he has access to the military base.  This has become the source for cans of pumpkin and other important ingredients for our Thanksgiving dinner.  Sister Rueckert was able to get enough ingredients for two pies and made this pie successfully.  We thought it warranted a special photo.

We shared a slice with our Area manager on Thursday and then served the remaining pie as part of our dinner with the Sister missionaries that night.  It tasted really good!

On Friday night we made arrangements to go to the National Library which is very close to our home in Frankfurt am Main.  In this library they have a few hundred Familienbuchs, which are books of family genealogy for several cities in Germany.  Most are not from cities where our relatives lived, but we found a few that were in some neighboring cities.  We reserved the books ahead of time and registered ourselves for our own library cards.

Familienbuchs that we reviewed and our library cards..
The first book was from a city in Bavaria, somewhat close to where the Rückerts are from.  The next two books were the only two that they had from the state of Thuringia, which is where Sister Rueckert's  family is from.  We could not check them out, but could spend time in the library reading and taking digital photos of the pages.  That is how we spent our Friday night date night.  We are not sure if we can tie these names into our family tree or not, but we got copies of many of the names that matched the surnames of our descendants.

One of the pages with names of Rückerts
One of the pages with names of Möllers
 The wonderful thing about these books, is that the handwriting has already been put into readable type and the names have been organized into alphabetical family listings, similar to family group sheets.  If we can find these for the identified communities where our ancestors lived, much of our genealogy work is completed.  These books generally are not available on-line and cannot be purchased.  So the only way to access them is through personal visits where they are located.

Let me give a little personal history of these books.  When the Nazis were persecuting the Jews, it became very important for each German to trace their genealogy and to verify that they did not have Jewish ancestry.  As a result, these types of family trees became common throughout the country.  Although the atrocities of the Holocaust are horrifying, the incredible genealogical resources that resulted are amazing.  Several of these books are available for the state of Bavaria, where the Rückerts came from.  They are held in Nürnberg.  We are scheduled to visit this location next month.  We are excited for this visit, for several of these books match the actual cities of my (Elder Rueckert) ancestors.

Earlier that day I participated in a conversation with a member of a stake presidency who had concerns about having members sign their name to a self-reliance group registration form.  I have heard of data privacy concerns for years from Europe and I have felt frustrated, feeling that the prevailing attitude was excessive.  However on this occasion I starting feeling empathy with this good stake presidency member.  Perhaps I have been in Germany long enough to begin to understand their concerns.  I still believe that their concerns are excessive in our situation, but I also realize that I have never lived through what they have.  I have seen the history and the terrible effects of the past century.  All people were identified and many were systematically eliminated.  It is harder to say that their concerns are unreasonable when they have actually had such a problem in their country.  I hope that I will be more understanding and flexible on this issue going forward.

On Saturday we had a true P Day with a chance to relax and prepare for the next week.  It was nice.  That evening our ward had an "International Evening".  Our international ward is a ward of members that don't speak German as their native language.  However, they come from all over Europe and the world.  In fact, today we had our annual sacrament meeting put on by the Primary.  At the beginning we had several children say the phrase "I know the scriptures are true" in their own language.  It really is an amazing ward.

This "International Evening" is an annual event where the members from the different countries represented in our ward create tables of displays and foods from their countries.  This is an amazing evening that helps each member to share their heritage.  The food was also very delicious and abundant.  Some of the photos below are from the different tables and displays.

The Spanish table

The Italian table

From the United Kingdom
One of the missionary tables, including Books of Mormon
One of the families had lived in Burkina Faso in Africa
The German Table
The Portuguese table
The French Table
Part of the American table, including Tex Mex food

Overal view, the event was very well attended
 Finally they had music and landmarks shown from each country.  It was fun to see each group join in and sing their national anthems.

 We were pleased to learn that the granddaughter of our home teaching family had come home from the hospital.  We then were pleased to see her and the family in attendance at this event.  This is a photo of this little baby that we had only seen through the window previously.