Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Power to Astonish!

 The Power to Astonish!  This was the theme of our annual seminar with the Self-Reliance Services Managers in the Europe Area.  The seminar was held this past week in Madrid, Spain.  The results of this seminar and the activities of this week were absolutely astonishing! 

Our Self-Reliance Team after completing an endowment session in the Madrid, Spain Temple

Our week began with a busy Monday before heading to Madrid.  We had last minute preparations for the managers seminar and had our second session of "My Continuing Mission" with Pedro Santos.  It is great to see the spirit of a returned missionary.  He had done all of the assignments from the previous week and has a good start to his own personal plan for his life.  We also had our monthly senior couple devotional that evening.  Elder and Sister Galbraith, Public Affairs missionaries, shared with us experiences and perspective on the Freiburg Temple Open House and dedication. 

On Tuesday morning early, we got on a plane to head to our seminar in Madrid.  We arrived early to help with last minute preparations.  However, the major efforts needed were simply to pick everyone up as they arrived from the different locations in Europe. With a little time available, we went early to the temple and completed the initiatory work for those that were baptized the previous week at The Hague Temple.  There was only about 6 or 7 names for each of us to do to complete what we began the previous week.  We were then able to sit in the peacefulness of the temple and wait for our Self-Reliance team to arrive.  

As they arrived, I gave some of our family names to several of our managers.  In total we were able to have 10 males performing an endowment for a "Rueckert" in the same temple session.  Sister Rueckert and I were asked to be the witness couple for the session, which was a special treat.  The session was held in English, since that was the predominant common language.  We had never done a temple session with our managers before.  As we were able to see each other in the celestial room after the session, many had spiritual experiences.  We all felt a strong feeling of unity and love for those we work with as we shared this special experience.  What a wonderful way to begin our astonishing week.

Full photo of the Madrid temple in the evening, after our temple session

After the temple session, we went to the Mercado de San Miguel for an evening of "Tapas".  These are small portions of all types of food.  Throughout the market, you choose and buy what ever small items you would like.  The photos below show a little of the variety:

Outside of the mercado as we left

Inside the mercado, standing room only
Sister Rueckert with our French Manager, Momo, near sea food options, including a major fish head

With members of our team (Mendonça - Cape Verde, Les - England, Thomas King - our Area manager and Ether - Italy)
 Wednesday morning we continued our seminar.  It began with a doctrinal discussion of D&C 109:22 from the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer. This verse promises power, His name, glory and angels  from our temple service. This was a perfect tie in to our seminar theme.

Thomas King, our Area manager, then facilitated a discussion on The Power to Astonish, including materials that had been shared in his regional training seminar a few months ago.  Thomas is an excellent manager and did a wonderful job of coordinating and organizing this seminar.  His message started with a review of the recent conference talk from President Monson "A Sacred Trust".  That set the tone perfectly.

We were privileged to have Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Europe Area Presidency join us by video conference at 11:00 am.  His message was powerful and added to the great spirit that we had felt. He shared his experience of the years that he served on the Board of Directors of the Perpetual Education Fund and his perspective on the expanded role of Self-Reliance.   We were encouraged to serve priesthood leaders by helping them with their needs and goals rather than "dumping" additional responsibilities on them.  We love the support that we are receiving from Elder Johnson, who is the Chairman of our Area Self-Reliance Committee.  It was clear to all that he understands the blessings of this initiative. His counsel is invaluable.  

After his presentation, we continued with our review of The Power to Astonish.  So many quotes and scriptures support our opportunity and privilege to access the powers of heaven in the work that we do.

After lunch, Miguel Adriano led the discussion of Power to Astonish, part 2.  Our team is very participative and they added great insight to the discussion.   Once we start sharing scriptures and insights, there is unlimited participation and the Spirit is so strong.  I finished up the day sharing ideas on how we can have the continuing momentum of the work that has begun.  The managers shared some of the experiences of the most successful stakes in the Europe Area to help us see how the culture is beginning to change.  Once again, more ideas than we had time to include.

On Thursday, the training continued, beginning with a doctrinal discussion around the quote from President Benson, "When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power."  This is so profound and once again our managers had many insights.  One of my favorites came from PAco, our Spain manager.  He shared a quote from Seneca, a Roman philosopher "I do not obey God, I am in agreement with him."  That summarizes it so simply!

The rest of the day we had break-out sessions and continued discussion about many aspects of our work.  We were privileged at 3:00 pm to have Elder Joseph Sitati of the Seventy participate with us via video conference.  Elder Sitati is the General Authority responsible to supervise the Self-Reliance efforts in Europe.  He taught us from the scriptures in the Whys and Hows of Self-Reliance.  Another Spiritual Feast.

We finished our seminar with a testimony meeting.  Most were able to share their feelings of love and appreciation for being involved in this great work.  We felt more unity and power amongst our team than ever.  We love working with them, they have become our best friends and associates during our mission.  The following are a few photos taken during the Thursday morning doctrinal discussion.  You can see that the entire seminar was facilitated, not taught.  No one standing in front, everyone participating.

On Friday morning we had time to make one more visit to the Temple before returning to Frankfurt.  Our German manager, Günter and our Area Manager, Tom King went with Sister Rueckert and I as we did some family sealings.

Photo outside of the temple.  Appeared appropriate before going in to seal children to parents.

Inside the sealing rooms, we felt the abundance of the Spirit.  There were others in the session with us.  The sealer spoke only Spanish, so all the work was done in Spanish.  The session lasted for an hour and a half and still all of the family names (ours and others) were not able to be completed.

It was a spiritual experience to kneel across the alter with my wife and participate in sealings of couples that are our relatives.  The culmination was probably when we were able to be sealed for Sister Ruecker's 5th great grandparents (Moellers) and to have her 4th great grandfather sealed to them.  Sister Rueckert had been able to complete the endowment for her 5th great grandmother on the previous Tuesday.

We were also able to have children sealed to my 8th, 9th and 10th great grandparents, including many that died as infants.  Emotions were high and many tears were shed.  We were also able to witness a brother from Spain have his parents sealed together vicariously and then be sealed to them.  We could feel that incredible power first hand as we watched this special sealing occur.

What a wonderful way to finish our "Astonishing" week.  Below is a photo of the names of the individuals whose work was done in the Madrid temple this week, either in the initiatory sessions, the endowment session or in the sealing work that was performed.  Many of these names have been discovered in our family history work last month.

Couple sealings on the left and the family work done for Sister Rueckert's great grandparents.  Also the children by family with my 10th, 9th and 8th grandparents.  Additional work done in endowments and initiatory work on the right.

On Wednesday evening, we also were able to attend a Flamenco performance in Madrid with our Self-Reliance team.  This was an astonishing cultural experience.  The following is the Wikipedia description of Flamenco:

 Flamenco (Spanish pronunciation: [flaˈmeŋko]) is an artform native to the Spanish regions of AndalusiaExtremadura and Murcia. It includes cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping).

The following photos are from that evening.

In front of the Flamenco house

Photo from the stage of part of our group.  We had dinner before and during the show.

Clapping, singing and dancing

Men behind the dancer are singers with a very unique singing style

Dance includes feet stomping

Guitarrist, singers and dancers

Grand finale dance

After the performance we walked around downtown Madrid with our group.  The following are some of the photos of the walk before we returned to our hotel:

This was a hotel in the background, but we thought it looked a little like the Nauvoo Temple from the distance

The middle spot of Spain.  Equal distance from the East and West of the Iberian Peninsula.
Main plaza of Madrid