Monday, February 29, 2016

The Atlantic Ocean’s best kept secret

What a week!  We are currently sitting in the airport in Praia, Cape Verde, waiting for our flight that leaves at 12:55 a.m. for Lisbon, Portugal.  We have completed our trip to Cape Verde and we are overwhelmed with the blessings of the Lord that we have seen and experienced in this past week. 

Our week in Mindelo was full of many activities.  Primary activities were the Jobs Initiative visits with employers to build preferred partnerships with Church members looking for work.  This was the primary purpose of Brother and Sister Adams involvement.  Brother Adams and James Tavares, our manager, had 13 successful meeting with different employers where preferred relationships were created.   With other commitments we were able to only participate in one of these in MIndelo.

At the same time we had a film crew from Frankfurt in Mindelo filming some success stories of Self-Reliance participants.  In the end, we ended up spending most of two days assisting the film crew.  This included the wonderful stories of Jessyka and Fredson.  The filming involved their lives, recreating past experiences and involving their families.  One of the highlights was recreating Jessyka’s baptism with a reenacted baptism in the ocean.  We also played a major role in helping take care of Fredson’s two year old, Lehi,  while he wasn’t involved in some of the filming scenes..  Overall, we had a wonderful experience with each of these members and a different set of experiences than normal for senior missionary couples.

Elder and Sister Rueckert at the beach where we were filming the baptism

Filming of the Baptism - getting started
Filming Jessica with her sick father
Fredson with wife and son, Lehi
Sister Rueckert with Lehi, two year old son of  Fredson

Add to that multiple videoconferences with our Area managers, full-time missionaries and finance and legal people in the Area office.  We also met individually with one of the bishops and a few visits with the director of the Ashby Foundation, who has been doing wonderful humanitarian work in Cape Verde.

Hotel with over 1,000 rooms in Sal
By Thursday morning we were ready to go the island of Sal to begin working with companies and the leadership of the district there.  We had an amazing visit with one of the largest hotels on the island, visiting with their six-person HR team and receiving a tour of their facilities.  They employ 900 employees and will need an additional 500 as they open a new hotel later in the year.  Unlike the other islands, there are more jobs available than there are employees available.  However, this visit will help us to strategize on how to balance the opportunities with the needs. 
Meeting with HR group of hotel
Another photo from the tour of the hotel facilities 

We also were able to meet with some of the leadership of the district, and although the numbers were not as large, the discussions were still meaningful.

All of this was the way for me to celebrate my birthday.  Since our internet access has been very limited, I have not been able to respond to the many birthday wishes that I received on Facebook, messenger, voice male and email.  It is an amazing world that we live in where well wishes can be shared in so many ways.  To all, I thank you for your love and wishes. 

We did stay at a resort hotel on the beach, as that is what the majority of Sal is made of.  Hence the following two paragraphs.

To begin Friday morning, I went running on the beach for about a mile one way and then back.  The beaches are beautiful and clean, It was soothing to run on the beach and as I saw footprints of others in the sand, my thoughts went to the poem Footprints in the Sand.  I was so thankful that my Savior walks beside me and carries me in times of need.  I came back to our room rejuvenated.

We didn’t get as much scheduled for Friday, so after a meeting with our team, Sister Rueckert and I took a two hour P-Day break on the beach in the morning.  It was beautiful and we had a very relaxing and enjoyable time.  We both went into the water up to our waists and then Sister Rueckert watched as I spent an hour jumping into the waves.  We took some pictures, a few that I am sharing below.
Together on this beautiful beach

Sister Rueckert relaxing on the beach in Sal
Elder Rueckert as he is hit by a wave
On Saturday we returned to the island of Santiago, city of Praia.  After other preparatory meetings we held a leadership training meeting on Saturday evening.  Over 40 leaders were in attendance from the stake and district that are on this island.  One of the highlights was the announcement that a young man names Gerson, who we had met a week earlier, had been called as the stake self-reliance specialist.  Gerson has returned from his mission just 4 months ago and was looking for work.  He will be going back to school in the fall.  As he accepted the call from the stake president on Wednesday of this week, he was promised that he would find work.  The next morning he received a phone call that he had been selected for an IT position, which is consistent with his studies.  He was overjoyed and couldn’t wait to tell us.  We believe that he will serve a wonderful role in helping this stake progress even more with self-reliance and this jobs initiative. 

We had wonderful meetings once again in the Praia 5th ward. In Sunday School, we had a wonderful lesson on the teachings of Isaiah.  When they were talking about the mountain of the Lord and the temples, we were humbled as he asked by the raise of hands all who had been to the temple once and a few that had been to the temple twice.  He asked those who had been to the temple twice to share what they had learned from hearing the words in the temple a second time.  Both Sister Rueckert and I were overcome with gratitude for the privilege we have had to go to the temple on a regular basis and amazement on the challenges of temple worship for a people who are many hours on an airplane from any other temple.  Later I shared my thoughts with the high priest group, how I prayed that the day would come when they could have a temple in their country, on their islands.  One of the brothers told us that when they live worthy to hold a temple recommend, they feel like the Lord gives them the same blessings that others get from being able to go to the temple.  Once again I was overcome by their simple faith and strength in following our Savior, even with their limited means.

We finished our visit to Cape Verde with a devotional held today.  Overall, there was close to 200 members in attendance at the devotional.  This included talks by our manager, our Area SR manager, the stake president and myself and included a graduation for about 30 individuals who had completed the Self-Reliance courses, including several non-members.  After the devotional, many lingered, took pictures, etc.  What a wonderful overwhelming spirit that we felt and joy in seeing the work of the Lord progressing so well in this stake.
Scene on the road on our way to the devotional

Stake president addressing devotional  with nearly 200 participants
Graduated members of one of the Small Business groups.  Half of these are non members.
We leave Cape Verde with great hope for great people that are building up the Lord’s Kingdom in this very remote land.  Missionaries baptize each week in most of the wards, retention is strong and they are all working towards self-reliance in spite of insurmountable challenges.  However, they have been promised that the Lord will provide for his Saints and they believe it, and so do we!

Memorable experiences from this week as noted by Sister Rueckert

1.     On Tuesday we were helping the film crew capture Jessyka’s story for a video.  We were trying to figure out how we could reenact her baptism in the ocean.  We had planned on doing it in the Church baptismal font.  Brian really wanted an ocean baptism.  They were trying to figure out how to maybe do it on Wednesday.  I had the impression that I should suggest that we do it right after filming at the cemetery.  I made that suggestion and Brian got his baptism in the ocean.
2.     We were in a taxi on our way to the leadership meeting in Praia which began at 5:30 pm.  The main roads were closed because the cell phone company was celebrating their first year in business.  We had to take a different route to the chapel.  The traffic was horrible.  At one point we were stopped for several minutes.  We were all getting anxious. I had the feeling that I should say a prayer for Heavenly Father’s help.  I closed my eyes and offered a silent prayer.  I told Heavenly Father that I had the faith and knew that he could solve the traffic jam.  I explained how important it was that we get to the church in time to set up.  I explained the importance of this meeting and what we were trying to accomplish.  Again I declared my faith without doubt that Heavenly Father could solve the problem.  As soon as I opened my eyes cars in front of us started moving.  We were soon out of the traffic jam and arrived with 10 minutes to set up for the meeting.  I silently thanked the Lord for his tender mercies on our behalf.  Later I gave thanks and credit to my Heavenly Father  in my personal prayers before going to bed.
3.     During the Sunday evening devotional I was able to understand much of what Mendonça was saying in Portuguese.
4.     I was overcome with emotion when I realized the people in Cape Verde may only have one opportunity to go to the temple.  In the Sunday School lesson we were talking about the “mountain of the Lord” being the temple.  Some of the members mentioned their one time to the temple.  I never realized before then how many good members of the Church may have only one opportunity to go to the temple.  Tom and I have been able to go to the temple weekly for several years.  How very blessed we are!
5.     It was amazing to witness the strength of the Praia stake in Praia.  The saints are strong and dedicated to being disciples of Jesus Christ.  I was privileged to be able to play the piano for the hymns that were sung on Saturday evening and Sunday evening.  The saints sang with such volume that I could barely hear the piano playing.

6.     I had been pretty negative about this trip to Cape Verde for a number of reasons.  I decided a week before our trip to begin praying that I could have a positive attitude and try to be nice and pleasant to be around  I prayed that I could be calm and have peace in my heart.  Every time I said my prayers this is what I would pray for.  The trip is not yet over but the Cape Verde part is.  I can honestly say that my prayers have been answered.  It has been a wonderful trip.  My anxiety and fears ceased and I was filled with peace, calm and a sense of well being.