Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Touching lives; refugees, members and investigators

While we were in Portugal last week, the two wards that meet in our Church house were finishing an amazing service project for the refugees.   It was called "Welcome Bags for Refugee Children"   It started with some sisters in the German Ward that meets in our building and grew to include both wards and so many more.   They put together a huge project involving hundreds of people who collected, sorted, organized, and packed 1,061 Welcome Bags for refugee children in 6 refugee camps close by. The bags were donated by IKEA and they were filled with diapers, clothes, socks, underwear, coloring books, colored pencils, toys, toothbrush, toothpaste, blanket, and towel--by gender and age!!! 

By the time that we got home from Portugal, we were able to participate in the last hour and a little bit of the project.  Most of the work was in sorting and preparing all the materials to be put into each bag.  That evening all helped to fill each bag individually.  We were able to be part of that process.  It was totally amazing.  This story has been documented by many in a much more thorough way with so many wonderful photos.  I believe that it will appear in the Church news.  However I will share some of the photos that I took that night and our impressions as well as some of the facts that we have been able to pick up from others.

When we arrived at 7:30 pm, all of the helping hands shirts were in use.  So Sister Rueckert and I just joined in with our normal missionary attire.  We immediately were put to work walking the different bags, which were identified by gender and age, to fill them with all of the items that had been donated and sorted.  Different individuals were assigned and ready to hand the different items out and then we brought the completed bags back to those who were ready to organize and load them onto the trucks.  With many many hands helping, this process finally completed a little before 9:00 pm.  So even though we were only able to help for a little over an hour, we were immensely touched by the goodness that filled the Church.  We saw youth and adults, members, missionaries and non members all working side by side in a wonderful spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, all in the cause of helping those who needed assistance.

This is where we started picking up one of the age and gender specified bags which already had  blankets and towels.

First stop was to get tablets, colored pencils, toothbrushes and toothpaste
Sister Rueckert among those with "helping hands" shirts

The chapel area had rows for each age and gender where we could pick up the right size and type of clothing to put into the bags.

This is the "toy" room where toys were added to each bag, again age and gender specific
This man was one of several refugees that were there to help others.  They did most of the organizing of the completed bags.
Taking the completed bags to the trucks.

Loading the trucks.

Three trucks were loaded that night.  The next morning the bags were delivered to 6 refugee camps nearby.  It was reported that the refugees were on hand to receive the bags and were amazed at the generosity and what each  bag contained.  For one camp, this was the first donations that they had received.  Another camp was having a celebration when the trucks arrived and had invited some of the community dignitaries to join in as the welcome bags were delivered.

Although our part in this miracle was very minor, it is wonderful to be part of a larger community that does so much to help others.  This goodwill has in turn attracted many of other faiths who also chose to participate.  Many who donated, including large companies, felt impressed to offer donations that were not typical for them. We know where those promptings came from.

The next day was our first My Path workshop in our ward.  This was our chance to practice what we preach.  We always tell others how this should be done and we have attended many.  We have worked for weeks in preparation for this night, meeting with our bishop and our ward council and receiving their wonderful support.  We have had facilitators called in our ward and we have been able to train them.  Materials have been ordered and publicity and invitations were given to many.  In the end we waited to see what would happen in a ward that is mostly self-reliant, with the majority of our members being Church employees.

We have a specific assignment to home teach a family that came from Cape Verde and Portugal.  The mother doe snot speak English or German, only Portuguese.  That is where I come in.  We visited them in their home the Sunday before.  This is a wonderful sister who has three children, 16, 18 and 20 living with her in pretty humble circumstances.  We invited them all to participate in our My Path Workshop.  All four came and also another older daughter and a non member friend.

We were not disappointed.  Even after all the efforts of the previous days in the service project, we still had over 30 individuals show up for the workshop.  Sister Rueckert facilitated the workshop, but we had each table of individuals working independently.  What I really liked was seeing many of the members who were temporally self-reliant, in attendance helping those who had more challenges.  To me, this is what the Lord means when he says "it that it must needs be done in mine own way . . . that the poor may be exalted  in that the rich are made low" (D&C 104:15-17).

At the end of the workshop, individuals joined in 5 different self-reliance groups.  This is the beginning of their journey to self-reliance.  This week all of the groups are beginning and will continue to meet weekly for the next 12 weeks.

Sister Rueckert doing the overall facilitation.

Members working together, includes a non member and a less active member

Strong member helping a new convert

Working in groups at each table
Calculating their expenses as they review their personnel budget

Completing the worksheets

Individual help, including a new convert

Answering questions
Explanation to this wonderful sister who wants to come back to Church
Explaining the Self-Reliance Groups
Asking all to get up and move to the groups that they will join
By Sunday we were ready for the Self-Reliance Groups to begin.  We also decided to do a small group experience with our new members from Iran.  I worked hared to translate our first Foundations lesson into Farsi using Google Translate.  Unfortunately it translated by letter, not by word.  I will try again for our next session next week.  These nine new members will all be getting their work permits soon and are anxious to begin working.  Each has previous qualifications while in Iran. Their biggest challenge right now is their lack of speaking German.  We're not much help on that side.
The intent of our little meeting was mostly to bring more fellowship with these new converts and to try and teach them a little bit of self-reliance.  We made a start and will continue to try in the coming weeks.  Some great sisters from Italy and other members provided a meal for all.

This is a young man from Afghanistan who met the missionaries on the bus.  He stated in Church (his first week) that he has found his home and is planning on getting baptized.  On Friday he was not ready to join the My Path Workshop. By Sunday he has now joined our Starting and Growing My Own Business Self-Reliance Group.  

The girl in the photo is from Viet Nam.  She showed up at the Church on Thursday to help with the refugee project.  She had read about it on-line and felt impressed to help.  She spent most of the day helping and enjoyed it so much that she didn't want to leave.   She was invited to come to Church on Sunday and she came and joined us with the integration activity and dinner.  She is now meeting with the missionaries.

These experiences have gotten us more heavily involved in missionary work in our own ward.  I love working with investigators and new converts.  They are so humble and open to learn new things and do their very best.  There is much we can do to help, but we always are strengthened and benefited more than what we give.

We love being missionaries and serving in this part of the world with wonderful members, missionaries, nonmembers and new members.  Through all of this, we are overwhelmed at the goodness around us and the potential to build the Lord's Kingdom.