Sunday, August 21, 2016

Same gospel, same house, different century

Our theme this week is traditional missionary work.  We have experienced more traditional missionary work than ever before on our mission.  Certainly more than we ever expected!

Sister Rueckert and Sister Keyser with Cristian and Marianne and their neighbors.  You can see the Book of Mormon that we were able to leave with their neighbors.
We started out on Sunday afternoon, participating in a missionary discussion with a young man from Brazil named Vitor.  He has been in Germany for a year and speaks fairly good German.  He also spent time in the U.S. as an exchange student, where he learned English.  The lesson was given in English but we interjected some Portuguese into the discussion.  It is wonderful to be involved in seeing individuals learn about the gospel and making necessary changes in their lives.

A timed selfie. Vitor is in red, with full-time missionaries and Elder and Sister Healy.  Discussion was in their apartment.
We started our week with a devotional with Elder Paul V. Johnson, first counselor in the Europe Area Presidency.  He taught us the importance of contributing in our assignments, sharing challenges and ideas.  He emphasized that Church employees and missionaries should not say just what they think General Authorities want to hear.

Our Monday senior missionary devotional was presented by Elder and Sister Walker, who gave us a presentation on "Behind the Scenes with the Tabernacle Choir".  Much of their Public Affairs mission has been to prepare and accompany the Tabernacle Choir in their recent tour of Europe.  We enjoyed very much hearing many of the different stories from that experience.

Also on Monday, I finally finished identifying the photos from our first visit to the pastor's office in Burgbernheim. There were over 200 photos that we had taken, which represented almost 300 records that we needed to decipher and "index".  Since we had been to two additional parishes, the number that needed our efforts was nearly 1,000.  Although I have felt inspired to take these steps, I have been a little overwhelmed about how we would ever be able to get all of these photos reviewed and "indexed".  

On Monday night we called my cousin, Gloria, who knows so much more than us about Family History work in Germany.  We had a wonderful conversation and were taught much.  She then agreed to start helping us "index" these records.  I sent her about 50 photos of names with the "Goetz" name.  By the next day, she sent an email saying that she had gotten a good start and needed to verify a few of the difficult to read names with the Family History Library.  What an answer to our prayers!

We also sent around 40 photos of the 'Schwarz" name to Sister Keyser's daughter, Stephanie, who had offered to help.  The next day, she sent an email back, stating that she had completed this first group and wanted to know what to do next.  I then sent her over 90 photos of the "Schmidt" name to keep her busy.  By the next day she had already sent back family group sheets for all of the Schwarz names that she had completed.

We still have plenty of work to do, but with these two amazing helpers who speak German and know Family History, I am not so overwhelmed.  I received another witness that when the Lord asks us to do something, he will provide the means by which we can complete that which he asks us to do.  We have learned that we can still take advantage of being here to give special attention to family history without neglecting our self-reliance efforts.  What a blessing!

On Tuesday night we were able to have Elder and Sister Matheson to dinner with us.  They have been true friends to us on  our mission.  We have recently been assigned to be their home teachers, so we had a wonderful night including a home teaching lesson.

This week we spent much of our week in preparing for and learning from our monthly Area Self-Reliance Committee.  This committee is chaired by Elder Johnson, which is a new assignment for him. Two other members of the committee are also new in their positions, so this was an important opportunity for our committee to start over again.  After the meeting, some issues remained unfinished.  So we immediately went to work on our next meeting preparations.  The September meeting will be held early, on Aug. 31, due to conflicting schedules with the Freiburg Temple Dedication the following week.

We also finished our Finance Self-Reliance group on Thursday and our Sunday School class My Foundations group on the previous Sunday.  This is the culmination of over 12 weeks of effort.  We have found that the relationships that are built are lasting.  As part of our last finance group session, the participants share their testimonies about the experience.  We were thrilled to hear from Kiever and Natalia, both who bore strong testimonies of how the group had made significant changes in their finances and their lives.  Both had entered into the group with uncertainty about what would occur. Kiever told us that he had never thought that finances and the gospel could be taught together, but he learned that there is a strong spiritual link to finances.  Sylvia, our other group member, was unable to get back from her visit in France in time and missed our last lesson.  We will finish a final lesson with her on an individual basis.

Kiever and Natalia with Sister Rueckert

On Tuesday we called Marianne, the lady that we had met 11 days earlier in Steinach, Germany in the house built by my great grandfather.  We called to confirm our scheduled return visit  to her home on Saturday to meet her husband and to follow up on the Book of Mormon that we had left her.  We prepared ourselves to talk to her on the phone in German and discuss the possible answers.  She was very excited to hear from us again and said she was waiting for our visit on Sunday.  We tried to explain that we were planning on coming on Saturday.  She had commitments for the afternoon, so we agreed to visit her at 11:00 in the morning.  We also confirmed that Sister Keyser (my cousin) would be coming with us.  This was not as easy as it sounded, but we were pretty sure that we were committed to Saturday morning.

With these plans in place and unsure of what would occur, we left on Saturday morning for our next "missionary" adventure.  Traffic was good to us and we arrived at 10:30.  We were going to pass by the school and church before our visit. However, when we passed the house, her husband, Cristian, was outside of the house and waved us to come right in. 

We were received with open arms and incredible hospitality.  Their neighbor, Eberhard also came over to meet us.  He has been living across the street since 1971.   He seemed to have a special interest in our visit.  He had noticed our car parked near his home for a few hours during our last visit.  He also feels a strong attachment to the house.  They were close friends to the long time owner of the property, Helmut Vogel.  If we understood right, they owned the house when the Vogels moved.   In fact, they had retrieved old photos from the Vogel family, including the old photo of the house that is in our family history document.  They had framed this small photo and given it to Marianne and Cristian, who have it hanging in the entry way of their house.

Old photo of the house, hanging in the entry of their house

The photo on their wall, the same that is in our family history document

We are not sure how our ancestors got a copy of this photo, but it is the same photo.  We don't know how old it is, but it confirmed to us that we are talking about the same house that was built by our great grandfather in 1874.

We took a quick look at the house and then proceeded to the patio where we sat and talked for hours. Marianne had cooked some wonderful apple strudel, some hazel nut cake and had also cooked some pizza.  We were treated so well.  They also invited another neighbor to come over, Maria Petrosky, who is married to an American and had lived in the U.S. for a few years.  She served as our official translator to facilitate the conversation.  A little later, Eberhart's wife, Brigeeta, also joined us.

As I mentioned, we talked for hours, discussing the house, the previous occupants, our background and why we were in Germany.  Of course this led to more discussion of the gospel.  Eberhard shared his lack of confidence in religion and the bible.  This opened the door for me to share the missionary pamphlet on the restoration.  They were pleased to have something in German.  I had felt prompted during the week to obtain this pamphlet from the full-time missionaries and it certainly came in handy.  I also had brought a German version of the My Foundation booklet that we use in our Self-Reliance work and left it with them.

Throughout the discussion, Cristian was very polite and attentive.  He reviewed the pamphlet, the My Foundation booklet and our family "fan" chart with attentiveness.  We took a break in the middle of the discussion for Cristian to give us a detailed tour of the house, including the attic and the keller.  The photos below are from the tour of the house:

Living Room
Wood burning stove in living room


Upstairs bedroom

Guest room upstairs

The attic, perhaps much of it is original

Going down to the cellar

In the original cellar, additional foundation support is not original
Cristian, opening the cover to the original well

Original well, still functioning!

In total, the house has a large living room and kitchen on the main floor and two large rooms upstairs.  Somehow, the Rückert family, with 8 children lived in this space.  Additionally there is an attic and a cellar.  As I stood in this house, I imagined that it was in this house, the my grandfather and his parents first heard the gospel from his brother Leonhard in 1892.  Leonhard had been converted in Frankfurt, Germany and then came home to share the message with his family.  All of the brothers and sisters eventually joined the Church based on the testimony of Leonhard (Sister Keyser's grandfather).  Of all of the residences of my ancestors, this may be the most sacred because this is where they lived when they accepted the gospel.

As we have talked to the local people, we have emphasized that the Rückerts left this area because they joined the Church and went to America.  This easily opens up the conversation to the gospel.

After a few hours, Maria, our translator, had to leave and we were on our own to keep up the discussion.  In time, Eberhart and Brigeeta took us to their home to see their home and to get us the phone number of Helmut Vogel, so that we could contact him.  They were so kind and showed us photos from the Vogel family and this tractor below, which came from the Vogel farm.  We left them with a copy of the Book of Mormon.  They seemed somewhat interested and are certainly close friends with Marianne and Cristian.  They looked for a history book of the city of Steinach, could not find it but promised to mail a copy to us.  I look forward to having this history book.  We had seen it in our earlier trip, it is full of history that might relate specifically to our ancestors.

We also saw this genealogy chart on their wall from Eberhart's father
Finally we returned to visit more with Marianne and Cristian and talked much more about her experience with the Book of Mormon.  Sister Keyser had started this conversation with her while we were at the neighbor.  She had read a portion of the book, but said it was difficult to understand.  She shared many questions and Cristian seemed to be very involved in the discussion.  In fact he understands quite a bit of English but doesn't speak much.  Brigeeta also came back and listened intently to the conversation.   After a while, I suggested that perhaps we should get someone that speaks better German to answer their questions.  They agreed to have missionaries call them and schedule a visit.  The photos below where taken in their back yard.

With the three missionaries, Brigeeta and Marianne

With the two of us, Brigeeta, Marianne and Cristian (and Daisy, the cocker spaniel)

We finally left around 2:00 pm, having spent over 3 hours with them.  They are so kind and loving.  They left us with a few souvenirs from their home town in Romania and a few paintings that Marianne had painted.  We felt so much love from them.  We are excited to have missionaries answer their gospel questions.  Our relationship is very open and will continue independent of their response to the missionaries.  When we are in the area, we will certainly visit them again.

After leaving their home, we drove by the school and Church house where our grandfathers had attended.
Church House where they went to Church
In the cemetery by the Church.  We took several photos of headstones with names that may be related.

School house, the left portion is the older school with the farther right being added on later

After leaving Steinach an der Ens, we decided to visit the tourist town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which was only 12 kilometers away.  This town was founded in 1170.  It is well known for its well-preserved medieval old town, a destination for tourists from around the world. It is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

The old town is completely surrounded with the old walls and walkways.  We went through the Church where we entered the city and spent a few hours wandering through the town.  While there we were stopped by three different families that recognized our badges and were tourists visiting the cities.  This was within a block and half of walking.  Some of the photos below are from this visit.

Church where we entered the old town.

Outside view of one of the entrances into the old town.

Sister Rueckert wandering through the old walkways beneath the Church

Going up the old walkways above the Church

Going back down

Sister Rueckert and Sister Keyser outside one of the main churches in the Old Town

One of the buildings in the market square

Overlooking one of the walls of the old town, panoramic view

Finally we headed home on our almost 3 hour drive, with construction delays.  We were exhausted when we arrived home but knew that we had just experienced a wonderful day.  Sister Keyser is a wonderful companion to have with us.  We share more than just our ancestors!

Today, as we arrived at the German ward for sacrament meeting, we were greeted by the missionaries asking for our help.  They had a family at Church that was from Brazil and didn't speak any German and very little English.  So we sat with them during Sacrament meeting. I couldn't translate much, since I don't understand that much.  However, I could tell them what was going on and share a few items in Portuguese from my iPad.

This family has just arrived in Germany and was living in the train station until they saw some missionaries on transfer day.  They noticed their badge and remembered that the daughter had a friend that was a member of the Church in Rio de Janeiro.  They looked up the address of the Church and walked the entire distance to the chapel and waited at the door.  One of the Area 70s found them at the door of the chapel on Friday.  They have been given help by the local ward and with an individual who is helping them get their papers in order.  One of the daughters has a German father and thus they have rights to be in Germany.

We spent sacrament meeting with them and a little time afterwards.  We have volunteered for the missionaries to teach them in our apartment where we can translate.  We will see what will happen.  In the end, our week ended where it started with a true missionary experience.  We add to that our wonderful experience with Marianne, Cristian and their neighbors.  What a wonderful missionary week!