Sunday, April 17, 2016

Teachings, trainings, temple and tulips

We just finished a whirlwind week.  Starting with jam packed days in the office and finishing with three days in the Netherlands.  It is wonderful to have a Sabbath Day to worship, relax and prepare.  Two weeks each month we spend several hours meeting with other full-time missionaries by video conference.  It is uplifting to spend time to understand their challenges and to hear their successes.  Sometimes we are uplifted, other times we are overwhelmed with the challenges that they have.  That occurred this week as we met with a missionary couple in Kosovo.  We have no basis to complain about any of our challenges, they all are small in comparison with what others have to deal with. We also had the privilege to share thoughts about Self-Reliance in a lunch time presentation to employees and missionaries on Tuesday.  In between we worked with the Area Presidency with a letter and monthly report that will go to all stake and district presidents in Europe in the next week or two.

Our priority activity this week was to meet with members of the stake committees for the four Dutch speaking stakes, one in Belgium and three in the Netherlands.  On Tuesday evening we had an incredible experience with the member of the stake presidency of the Antwerp Stake, who recently received the assignment to chair the Stake Self-Reliance Committee.  When we were through with the video conference all we could say was "Wow!".  He was so inspiring and excited to take everything that we were sharing and put into practice as quickly as possible in his Stake.  Hopefully we will have other wonderful opportunities to meet with this Stake committee in person in the future.

On Thursday we took off driving to the Netherlands.  We left early enough so that we could arrive for a temple session in The Hague temple.  This was our first visit to this temple and our first visit to a temple since arriving in Europe in January.  It felt so good to be back in a temple.

After the temple session we had a quick dinner and left to participate in the Stake Self-Reliance committee meeting for the Rotterdam Stake.  This committee was chaired by the Stake President and had several specialists in attendance.  They have started moving ahead with the Self-Reliance initiative and asked us to share some of our thoughts.  It was a wonderful meeting with inspiring members of the Church who are dedicated to helping others to become self-reliant.  The photo below shows the Stake President, a SR Group facilitator and the Stake Relief Society President.  Another three members were there that were not in the photo.

We did not have any more meetings scheduled until Friday night, so we took some time on Friday to see the famous Keukonoff flower gardens.  This is the time of the year that the tulips and other flowers are in bloom.  Some of the tulips were still not in bloom and the day was rainy, but it was still a wonderful experience with beautiful flowers of all kinds.  Not only were the flowers beautiful but the overall gardens were full of fascinating trees, lakes and landscaping.  The photos below show a little of that beauty:

I always knew that Sister Rueckert had big shows to fill, but this is photographic proof.

By one o'clock we had seen enough flowers and rain.  With additional time available, we decided to visit the Windmills at Kinderdijk.  This is at one of the lowest spots in the Netherlands, six meters below sea level.  In the 1300s canals were dug to drain water from the swamp areas.  In the 1700s, windmills were built to use the power to pump the water to and from the different canals and up to the reservoir above, on the other side of the dyke.  It is the site with the largest number of the older Windmills in the Netherlands with 19 windmills.  A few of them are still in operation and is primarily a tourist site, since the water movement is now done by diesel pumping stations.  We found it quite fascinating and an important part of history for the Netherlands who were the most famous for reclaiming wetlands for agriculture.  An English saying says that "God created the world but the Dutch created Holland."

Two of the canals and the windmills that pumped the water from each.

The dyke which holds a reservoir of water on higher ground.

As part of this location, we were able to go into one of the working windmills and see the gears working from the wind blown energy.  Below is the gears at the top of the windmill.

And here is a link to a short video taken inside of the Windmill, while the "wings"  keep going by.   It was a cool experience.

Friday night, we had the chance to drive an hour and a half to the most northern stake in the Netherlands, Apledoorn.  There we met with the Chairman of the Stake Self-Reliance Committee.  We had a wonderful conversation for an hour and a half.  They had been reluctant to adopt the self-reliance initiative as has been proposed.  We were able to teach doctrine and testify as well as share experiences and answer questions.  We felt the spirit very strongly with us and the Stake President counselor responded very positively.  There is still work to do, but we felt that a very positive step was taken.  

On Saturday morning we had a meeting with the Chairman of the Stake Self-Reliance Committee of The Hague stake.  This was the most impressive of all of our experiences.  He and his stake have an incredible testimony of the initiative and are learning through a pilot Starting and Growing My Business course. It has been facilitated with English materials, since they were not available in Dutch.  The Chairman is participating in the group which is facilitated by the Stake Specialist.  As they finish (they have completed 9 weeks already), they plan on holding three classes in three different locations of the stake.  There was nothing that we could add but to offer support.  This chairman can be a major resource to the other stakes as they move forward.  In his words, he said that  he had doubts initially if it would work, but decided to have the faith to follow the process.  Now he has his own testimony!

All in all, this was a wonderful first week with the Dutch speaking stakes.   We weren't sure what to expect and we saw many different situations within these stakes.  However, we felt the hand of the Lord guiding us and we know that there are no challenges that cannot be overcome with the help of our Heavenly Father.  Priesthood leaders are inspired and our role is to guide and offer help, but they will make the difference.  We are so blessed to be able to know each of them and to be able to participate in this process.

We are feeling more comfortable driving around Europe.  This was a 4.5 hour drive from Frankfurt to  the temple at The Hague.  On the way and on the way back gave us an opportunity to listen to various sessions of the recent General Conference again.  We have now had the chance to listen to the entire General Conference twice.  We love the chance to listen to a talk and then take time to discuss it and think how we could apply it in our lives.

This type of travel also makes us very dependent on GPS, especially when we are in a country that we know little or nothing of the language.  Part of our discussions with driving were about the GPS.  With this, I will defer to Sister Rueckert's own words which are always better than mine:

"On the drive up to the Netherlands we relied on our GPS and Tom's iPhone for directions.  It came to me that these devices we use for guidance can be compared to a husband and wife's relationships in communicating, etc.  In a marriage one person is the GPS and the other is the iPhone.  Both will get to the same destination but the route is not necessarily the same.  It was our experience on this trip that both devices were needed to get to our destination  So it is with a marriage, both people have to work together to reach the ultimate destination, i.e. Eternal Life.  When we decided to rely just on the GPS we found ourselves in trouble.  More than once our GPS said "turn right now" when there wasn't a road to turn off or on to.  We would then get the iPhone out as quickly as possible to find out what we needed to do to get back on course.  Boy, doesn't that sound like situations in a marriage.  Sometimes we could trust the GPS and other times it seems to be the iPhone that was trustworthy.

There were even some stretches during the trip that both devices were in sync with each other.  These were the times when we felt at peace and had confidence that we were on the right track.  So it is in marriage.  We all have our ups and downs where one or the other is up and the other is down.  In these times we can trust the one who is up spiritually.  The best times are when both people in the marriage are in sync with God.  That is when you have peace and confidence that you are doing the right thing and traveling safely towards your destination.

One other analogy that I saw was when somehow we got off track on both devices and our "dot" was off in some field and not on any road.  That is when we felt panic.  We had neither device telling us where to go.  In those cases we had to be calm and trust that things would work themselves out.  Fortunately they did.  These times are the times of great challenges or crisis in our lives.  We need to remember not to panic and trust in the Lord that in time things will work themselves out."

Additional photos from Keukonoff:

Fields of tulips by the gardens, you can see many of the tulips are not yet in bloom

These are the "late bloomers"

One of the trees that looked like a face
Tulip fields, still beautiful without all in bloom

For the most part, these tulips were in bloom

Close-ups of some of the beautiful flowers: