Monday, October 17, 2016

Vive la France

Just returned from an amazing trip to southern France.  So much to share, so many wonderful people and incredible experiences.  The prime focus of the trip was the Nice Stake Young Adult Self-Reliance conference.  Many other self-reliance activities and sites we visited are included.
Participants in the Nice Young Adult Self-Reliance Conference
It all started on Thursday afternoon, August 13 as we flew into Lyon, France.  We were picked up by our Self-Reliance senior missionaries, Elder and Sister Geddes.  One of the priorities of our trip was to get to know them better and participate in SR activities with them.  We have found this to be an effective training method, to discuss, experience and review.  Certainly it worked well again.
We started with a meeting with the Lyon Stake Self-Reliance committee on Thursday evening.  This was a special meeting scheduled to coincide with our visit.  President Lepore, stake president, conducted the meeting. The stake specialist (and high councilor) and the stake relief society president joined us by Zoom and the stake family services specialist also attended.  President Lepore is very positive and supportive of Self-Reliance efforts and is requesting that each ward have at least their first Self-Reliance devotional this year.  Most of the units in the stake now have ward specialists.  Things are moving well, the first of their ward devotionals was scheduled for the following Sunday.  We were be able to participate in this devotional.

President Lepore, E/S Geddes, Stake family services specialist, Sister Rueckert and other participants joining by Zoom.

After a successful stake committee meeting we spent the night in a local hotel before heading to Nice, France the following day.  The timing of our visit was to participate in the Nice Stake Self-Reliance young adult weekend.  Nice is on the shores of the Mediterranean, about a six hour drive from Lyon.  The next morning we began the drive with Elder and Sister Geddes.  We did take some time to visit a few cultural attractions along the way.  We will include that later in the blog.

Facebook advertisement of the Nice SR Weekend activity

We arrived in Nice in time for the Friday evening activities, which included an opening address by the Stake President, initial practices to sing the new "One by One" song in French for the Face to Face acitivity with Bishop Causseé the following day.   The activity ended with a buffet dinner and dance for the young adults.  This was  a wonderful way to get to know some of these young adults, as we were able to engage in some one on one conversation with those who spoke enough English to converse with us.

Nice stake president addressing the young adults

Dorothy, stake specialist, rehearsing with young adults, including the stake president

The next morning we left early to return to the stake center.  However, on the way we drove down the  Promenade des Anglais, the main road along the beach of the city.

Street sign of the Promenade des Anglais

This street is important for a few reasons.  First it is the main promenade of the city, going by the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea.  This is part of the French Riviera.  However, more importantly, this is where the terrorist attack occurred just three months ago.  While many spectators were on the street watching fireworks, a large truck drove down this street and  killed over 60 spectators and injured many others.  Friday was the 3 month anniversary of that attack and additional flowers were placed at the memorial of that attack.

The beauty of the coast of Nice seen from our windshield
View of the flowers and the memorials as we drove by
View from our car as drove by on the way to the stake center.  This shows the armed guards and part of the memorial.
The self-reliance activity began with a breakfast and then a My Path Devotional for all of the young adults.

Devotional participants watching the initial "I Will Provide for  My Saints" video

After the devotional, Sister Rueckert and I shared some thoughts with the young adults.  We both had similar experiences this week of very specific impressions of what we should share.  We wanted them to know that they were children of God and that they had a responsibility to serve.  That is the purpose of all Self-Reliance efforts, to get individuals to be in a position to serve others and help build Zion.

Sister Rueckert during her presentation
Sister Rueckert presenting with her translator at the side.  Dorothy Houasse, stake specialist, is the first lady to the right of Sister Rueckert.
After our presentations, lunch was served, another rehearsal was held for the One by One song and then  the first session of the Self-Reliance Groups was held.  This was based on the groups that were formed in the devotional that morning.

More rehearsals

Lunch prepared for all of the young adults

We participated in a small Education group that was facilitated by Elder and Sister Geddes.  No photo was taken, but there was some personal miracles occurring in this group as one of the young men had some strong spiritual manifestations for his personal life.  This is what these groups are about, individuals sharing their feelings and discovering, through the Holy Ghost, what God wants them to understand and do.

Starting and Growing My Business group

Personal Finances group
My Job Search Group

After the Self-Reliance Groups, some additional self-reliance activities occurred. Once again rehearsals occurred for the One by One song and then a light dinner was served.  At 6:00 pm a testimony meeting was held, many testimonies were shared.  The meeting finished in time to be ready for the meeting with Bishop Causeé and his wife.  They were visiting in Preston, England and had arranged to participate by video conference with these young adults.

Young Adults singing "One by One" to Bishop Causeé and his wife
They performed the One by One song marvelously.  The spirit was strong for all that participated.  Then, some graduation certificates were given to some SR participants who had previously completed courses. For the next hour and a half,  Bishop Causeé addressed the group and answered specific questions.  His wife also participated in the answers.  The young adults love Bishop Causeé, wh is from France.  The spirit was strong and the comments were mostly centered around Self-Reliance.

Bisho Causseé and his wife on Video with the young adults

This was a wonderful way to culminate the two days of activities.  We give strong congratulations to Dorothy Houasse, the Stake Self-Reliance Specialist who organized this event.  She had wonderful support from other Self-Reliance specialists, the Young Adult organization and from Momo, our SRS manager.  Also, the Stake president and his counselor were in attendance at the different sessions.  We were so impressed at all of their efforts.  Even more, after spending 24 hours with these great young adults, we learned to love them deeply.  Some were non members or new members.  Many were recently returned missionaries. We learned of many of their challenges and their desires to grow and become self-reliant. We feel like they were more than acquaintances, we truly left friends behind at the end of the day.

After the activity we decided to go with Elder and Sister Geddes and have dinner that evening.  As we drove by, we saw a Hippopotamus restaurant, so we had to eat there.  All that know Sister Rueckert know that she has a passion for Hippopatami ( Plural?).

In front of the Hippopotamus restaurant

The beautiful door mat

Sister Rueckert in heaven, with the hippopotamus

The next morning we left early to drive two hours for a 9:00 o'clock sacrament meeting in Vitrolles, France.    In the back of this chapel are several olive trees.  Prior to this trip I had never seen an olive tree up close.  The photos below are of those trees and some of the olives.  It is now past the harvest season.

Olive tree with a few of the remaining olives

Several trees in the area behind the church
Our Self-Reliance manager, Momo, has a daughter that lives in this ward.  She was so kind to prepare a picnic lunch for us to eat on our journey this day.  We have found that as we try to observe the Sabbath, there are always ways for us to do that, even when traveling.  Often we find angels like this who help take care of us.  The following photos are of us with Elder and Sister Geddes and Momo by the Olive trees.

After this stop we continued on to the city of Valence where a My Path Devotional was scheduled at 2:00 pm.  The drive was an additional 3 hours and we arrived just in time to participate.  Elder and Sister Geddes were to facilitate their first devotional.  The ward had prepared well, sharing the My Path booklet with all of the members even before the devotional.  We had four tables complete, about 25 participants.  In the end, 3 self-reliance groups were formed.  There was plenty of success and certainly lessons learned.  The following are photos of the time at the end while the groups are being formed.

Sister Rueckert organizing the Starting and Growing My Business group at the back

Appears chaotic, but a lot of good organization is going on

After the Devotional, we drove back to Lyon, France, arriving at about 8:00 pm.  The next morning we spent a few hours with Elder and Sister Geddes, as they showed us a few sights in Lyon before we went to the airport and returned home to Frankfurt.

We feel like this trip was a total success.  Besides participating in SR Devotionals and groups and committees with Elder and Sister Geddes, we were able to spent 12 hours in the car with them, traveling around southern France.  During this time, we had many conversations about processes, preparations, review and many opportunities to get to know them on a personal basis.  They are an amazing missionary couple. They both taught at BYU Idaho before retiring as they were beginning their mission.  She taught the French language and he was the Dean of the Art department and took annual trips of students to Europe to study art.  They are well qualified to serve this mission in the French speaking countries of Europe.  More than that, they are an amazing couple with genuine love and kindness for everyone, especially to each other.  We learned so much from them and look forward to serving with them for the remainder of our mission.

On the day that we arrived in Lyon, we had a few hours to see some sites.  On the trip to Nice, we also stopped at a few locations.  On Monday, we took another few hours to see the sites of Lyon.  On the first two days we had constant rain, but we made up for it with good company.  The following photos are from some of the sites that we visited:

Lyon, France on Thursday: 
In front of Roman ruins in Lyon, France.  This was a stronghold of the roman empire.

Better view of some of the Roman ruins

View of the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France.  Note the golden statue of Mary on the top of the  Basilica.  Sister Geddes calls it the "Angel Maryoni".

One of many photos from the inside of the Basilica of Notre Dame

Ceiling of the cathedral
In Avignon, France on Friday:

In front of the  Le Papais des Papes, palace of the Pope based in France during the 14th century .  This is the largest Gothic palace in all of Europe.
Another "Angel Maryoni" at the top of this palace

On the Pont d"Avignon in front of the Papal palace. This was the location of the famous french song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon".   This is a song the Sister Rueckert learned when she studied French years ago.
Another photo showing the river on both sides of the bridge.
Les Baux-de-Provence:

While on the bridge the rain started coming down faster and continued most of the rest of the day.  We were able to visit another fort at Les Baux-de-Provence.

Approaching the fort

This is the fort from a distance

Inside the Fort area on a rainy day
Carrières de Lumières:

When this fort was built, significant blocks of stone were taken out of the mountainside.  They have now taken the quarry where the rock was taken out, and turned it into an amazing art exhibit.  There are multimedia shows of the works of different artists and display them on the walls, ceilings and floors of the stone quarry. The following photos come from this exhibit, with paintings superimposed on the open quarry.

Outside the Quarry
Inside the Quarry in between shows
Another view in between shows

Art appearing on the different faces of the quarry

Other images on the stone

Detailed Mosaics

Additional images of paintings

Another view of the quarry in between shows

Lyon, France on Monday morning:

This morning we had a special guided tour of the Lyon Cathedral by Elder and Sister Geddes.  Their experience in art and cathedrals made this tour of a cathedral of the 1300s be true educational experience.  I learned to see so much symbolism throughout the cathedral which made it so much more meaningful.  A few examples follow:

The statue of Stephen, the martyr.  You can see the stone by his feet symbolizing that he was stoned.  The Palm branch in his arms shows that he was martyred.  He is looking into heaven where he saw Jesus Christ and God the Father. 
Sculpture of John the Baptist with course clothing, a lamb at his side, signifying the Lamb of God and his hand pointing up to Jesus Christ.

Painting of Saint Blandina, a young Christian who was finally killed by sword after the wild beasts would not harm her.  Once again, she is lying down, showing that she died a martyr, also with the Palm branch.  The sword that eventually killed her lies to the side of her body.

I thoroughly enjoyed this personal tour from Elder Geddes.  I look forward to visiting more cathedrals and to look for the symbolism that I learned about today.  We also saw this stain glass window of Melchezidek.  We don't see this much, as he wasn't mentioned very much in the Bible, but obviously his great stature was recognized in this stain glass in the cathedral.

Finally views of the Notre Dame cathedral visited the previous week seen from below:

Overall view of the Lyon Cathedral,Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon . Elder and Sister Rueckert next to the statue of  John the Baptist sprinkling Jesus Christ.

We finished our morning with a wonderful French lunch of Crepes: