Sunday, November 6, 2016

Making a "Splash" in Cape Verde

 We are so blessed to be with the faithful and humble people of Cape Verde.  Everywhere we go, we see a people that are receptive to the gospel.  They live on islands of the Atlantic Ocean, remote from the rest of the world.  They lack the comforts and conveniences of so many but make up for it with faith and humility.  We are inspired by them and also by the beauty of the ocean.  We are in a hotel on the coast of the island of Santiago.  The beaches are not great here, but the coast line is inspiring.

Photo taken from the back of our hotel
Our week started on Halloween.  Not so much to do with Halloween on this day, but we did get a photo of Sister Rueckert with some edible Halloween teeth.

The Halloween candy came from Constanza our administrative assistant
We were also pleased to receive a Halloween card from Daniel and Amy and their kids.  We loved the photos of Ashton and Dawson, Peter Pan and Schmee.

Cute family photos from Daniel and his family
We spent the first few days, meeting with SR couples from the eastern european countries and with our SRS managers on Wednesday.  We also prepared for our monthly Area Self-Reliance Committee meeting next week.  By Thursday morning we were ready to leave for our trip to Cape Verde and to spend the next 12 days communicating in the Portuguese language.

We stopped in Portugal for a few hours and had a wonderful visit with Elder Moreira, the Area 70, and Antonio, Elder and Sister Neisewender, Miguel and Ceu.  They are a wonderful team in Lisbon that always makes us feel so welcome.  After a few hours with them on Thursday we went back to the airport and continued our journey to Cape Verde, arriving on Friday morning after 2:00 am.

On the way to our hotel, the taxi drive noticed that we were missionaries and started talking to us.  He said that he goes to our Church and will be baptized in January, as soon as he gets married.  His girl friend is also going to get baptized.  We mentioned that we would be at stake conference this weekend and asked him to introduce his fiancé to us.

The next morning, at 10:00 am. we started by visiting with a young man named Dilson.  Dilson is a recipient of a Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) loan.  Since he was invited to visit with us, he thought we would be on his case for not being current on his loan.

Instead we asked him to tell us about his path to self-reliance.  He got a PEF loan a few years ago to go to a driving school.  His goal is to be a truck driver.  He worked hard to finish the 9 month course, finishing it perfectly, while many others dropped out.  After the course, he got a job with an employer that had him drive a business pickup.  Unfortunately, he had to work Sundays and only got paid half of the time.  Finally he got a job as a taxi driver, working for the owner of the Taxi.  He works every day from 3:00 pm to midnight.  He gets every other Sunday off, but is able to go to Church every week before his shift begins.  It appears that he is now self-reliant, since he is still single and living near his parent's home.  Although he has made great progress, he is still working towards his ultimate self-reliance goal.  He told us that now he is able to get married which he plans to do next month.  His fiancé is not a member of the Church but goes all the time.  It sounds like she could get baptized soon.  We asked him to introduce his fiancé to us at Stake Conference also.

Our experience with Dilson was really special.  As he shared his story, he began opening up and feeling more comfortable.  He began counting his blessings and recognizing the hand of the Lord in helping him move forward in his life.  As he shared his story we each got emotional as the Spirit was so strong.  Sister Rueckert felt that we should offer him a priesthood blessing after the meeting, which we did and he gladly accepted.  We also helped him understand how to receive the incentives offered in the Perpetual Education Fund for which he has already qualified.  This includes 25% incentive for getting good grades, graduating from his program and getting a job in his field.  As we finished he learned from our Manager how to make  payment on his account and he left for the bank to make his first payment in a while.  We also learned that his non member sister has served as his PEF Loan mentor and given him great support during his journey. This was a wonderful spiritual experience to begin our trip here in Cape Verde.

Dilson with Mendonça, our manager, reviewing his loan details.
We then went to the SRS office and met with Mendonça, Elder and Sister Lunt and Candida Barros, an excellent PEF volunteer.  There we discussed the PEF mentoring calls and talked about our experience with Dilson.  This is the way that all of our efforts should go.  Mendonça shared a wonderful spiritual thought about going after the lost sheep.  It all fit together wonderfully.  

While there we also had some visits from other Self-Reliance participants and the chairman of the Praia Stake Self-Reliance Committee.  I asked the chairman of the stake self-reliance committee how come the members were so receptive to the Self-Reliance initiative.  He said that it was because their government does not bail them out of their challenges.  They must work to eat and live. It reemphasized what we have always felt. Much of the government assistance that is offered in Europe and other areas of the world actually stand in the way of individuals becoming self-reliant.

One of the participants had just entered a Job Search group with a strong need for a job.  He said that he watched the video of Rafael, finding a job in six days and then followed the same steps. He also found a job in six days!  He used the skills that he had learned, including his "me in thirty seconds".  He worked so well the first day that he was hired permanently. This is a great success story, one more miracle happening right before our eyes.  

Elder and Sister Lunt also shared several stories of individuals who have been in Self-Reliance courses and also participate in their institute classes.  Several have been non members who have since been baptized.  We were overwhelmed at the number of successes that we are hearing about in Cape Verde.

Lunch provided by Elder and Sister Lunt.  Also includes Mendonça, our manger, and the young man that found a job in six days.  He also found a lunch on this day.

After lunch we went to visit PEF participants with Mendonça.  We visited a young lady who had taken out a PEF Loan a few years ago.  She also had completed her course and was working in her field.  She still has goals to achieve in her career, but has gotten a good start.  As we talked with her, we explained how she could also receive the incentives offered for PEF loan incentives who accomplish their goals.  We also let her know her correct loan payment since she had left school.  With new knowledge and encouragement, she should once again be current in her loan payments in the near future.  She really appreciated the visit in her home and welcomed others to visit her.

PEF participant with her graduation certificate from her course.

PEF Participant with Sister Rueckert
When returning to the chapel we saw a new Starting and Growing My Business group beginning.  These are some members that will be participating in a humanitarian project to help some of them to become chicken farmers.  As a prerequisite for this course, they are learning how to grow the business before they start.  This group is being facilitated by Paulo, one of our successful participants in an earlier course.

We then went to meet with a very special group of individuals.  This is a small group of non members who have completed two self-reliance groups. They were each invited by members or other non members to participate in these groups.  They said that the love and acceptance by the members helped them to want to stay.  They have enjoyed the experience so much, that they have now bonded with strong friendship.   Their service project was a special day of service for a handicapped sister of one of the group.  They expressed gratitude for their faith that they are feeling and the increased abilities that they have gained.   They told us that they were quite sure that they would all become members of the Church in the near future.  After attending the Saturday session of stake conference they told me that they would begin participating in Family History the next week.

Discussing their experiences with these special non members.  Two others also graduated but were not present this evening.  One of them showed up a little later.

With five non members and their member facilitator on the right.
The next morning we had some time to catch up on some sleep and to explore our surroundings.  We were able to enjoy the coast of the island, which came up against the back of the hotel property.  We also went up the coast a little further to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the waves splashing against the rocks.
Behind the hotel, the Atlantic Ocean behind us.
A close up of one of the waves hitting against the rocks
Further down the coast, other beautiful waves splashing against the rocks
The sun glistening on the water.  We are enjoying temperatures in the 80s.
A group enjoying a barbecue on the coast
A little later we had a lunch at the restaurant next door, beautiful view!

After our little break, we got ready to go to stake conference.  We learned the night before that I was to speak at the Saturday night session of conference as well as the Sunday session.  I spend time on Saturday to prepare myself.  We also had planned to meet with the bishops after the priesthood leadership meeting.  Just after 4:00 pm we received a phone call from Mendonça saying that the stake president was waiting for us to arrive, since I would be speaking at the priesthood leadership meeting.  We left immediately for the Church and arrived in time before I would spend 30 minutes talking to the priesthood leaders.  This was not the audience that I was prepared for, so the Spirit had to take over.  I felt that the talk was a little disjointed, but it seemed to go well.

While I was in the priesthood leadership session, Sister Rueckert joined the meeting where Relief Society presidencies were being trained.  She had no translator, but seemed to understand the basics that they discussed about visiting teaching.

Sister Rueckert with the kind and loving sisters from Cape Verde 
With this change, I was not speaking in the evening session.  However, we stayed and enjoyed the session sitting with the congregation.  The meeting was sensational.  Many members shared their thoughts and testimonies about two of the Area Plan priorities, "Bring a Friend" and "Find an Ancestor".  They speak with such faith, as they openly want to invite others to participate in Church activities.  They are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and rejoice in sharing it with their family and friends.  This was so refreshing.  

We were also able to meet several missionary couples that are serving in Cape Verde.  Everywhere we go we feel a special bond with other senior missionaries.  We went home tired but fulfilled.

The next morning we went to stake conference to participate and speak in the meeting. This stake was just created four years ago.  They now have 13 wards and branches and expect to divide the stake next year.  Each week they have from 8 to 12 new baptisms.  The stake presidency is powerful, the messages are full of faith.  We left inspired by their examples.  The choir that sang was beautiful.

In the general session, the stake relief society gave a strong message on the role of women. I spoke about the need to build Zion, by serving one another.  This is the purpose of self-reliance, so that we can care for and serve others. After my talk, they had several testimonies of individuals who have participated in Self-Reliance courses.  This is the third of the Area Plan priorities, to become spiritually and temporally self-reliant.  The stake president finished the meeting with a strong message about the Sabbath Day.

The chapel and cultural hall were filled and overflowing, five minutes before the conference started.
This hallway by the chapel was turned into an overflow section.  It was also filled to capacity and  the conference was shown on the screen in the rear of this photo.  This photo was taken after the meeting was over.

Photo of the beautiful choir singing.  This also shows the mission president and his wife and the stake presidency.

Back rows of the choir, the mens section

Dilson who we had met on Friday with his fiancé

Our SRS manager, Mendonça, with his wife and youngest child

Sister Barros, Mendonça's mother-in-law with her youngest son.  She is also our most active volunteer and is an inspiration to all.
 After the Conference Session we went home with Elder and Sister Lunt and enjoyed a wonderful lunch.  We also were able to share a little more about Self-Reliance with them.  They want to take a  more personal role with the PEF loan participants, meeting with them in their homes as we have done the past few days.  We believe they will make a wonderful impact and will also be able to involve them in Institute classes.

At 3:00 pm we returned to the Church to make more visits with Mendonça.  We visited another family who were finishing their studies that were funded by PEF loans.  Once again we were able to discuss their path to self-reliance and explain the PEF loan incentives available to them.  Misunderstandings on some of the points of their PEF loan were resolved.   We are finding that one on one meetings with participants can be very fruitful and rewarding.

We then met with a single mother at the Church house.  She was not able to complete her educational course and is struggling in her self-reliance efforts.  We discussed possible solutions for her and emphasized that our Heavenly Father will know how to best help her as long as she keeps trying.  I felt impressed to share a quote from President Monson who has said "One of God's greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying gain, for no failure ever need be final."  We told this sister to not worry about paying the PEF loan until she is able to become self-reliant to care for her and her young daughter.  She said that she felt guilty about not being able to make the loan payments.  We agreed to reduce the loan payments to a very low amount that she felt comfortable making.  What great faith and commitment she showed! Sister Rueckert again felt inspired to ask us to offer her a priesthood blessing.  She was overjoyed and grateful to receive a blessing from the Lord to help her on the path to self-reliance.

We finished our day attending a meeting of the Praia Stake Self-Reliance Committee.  This was an extra meeting held for our benefit.  We asked many questions to understand the many wonderful steps they are taking. All of the wards keep holding devotionals and starting additional self-reliance groups.  Bishops and ward specialists have running lists of individuals that want or need to be involved in the next devotionals and groups.  The chairman of the committee doesn't see them meeting all of their self-reliance needs any time soon.  The sake staffs a self-reliance resource center for 20 hours a week with multiple volunteers who also call and mentor PEF Loan participants.  For self-reliance missionaries, this is like Christmas.  They are doing everything that we have ever hoped. The committee asked for more ideas of ways that they could improve.  This humility is exactly the attribute that helps them to function so well and receive so many blessings.

Praia Stake Self-Reliance Committee, including Sister Rueckert and Mendonça
 In Saturday night session, we heard the testimony of this sweet Sister who had returned from her full-time mission in Brazil the day before.  We had the opportunity to get to know her a little bit.  She was a member of the Church for only one year before submitting her mission papers.  Her testimony grew tremendously on her mission.  She is living in the home of one of the members, since her family no longer lives in Cape Verde.  She is the only member of her family that has joined the Church.  She is now home and trying to find her path to Self-Reliance.  She represents the strength and faith of these people and also their challenges and needs.  What a joy it is to see individuals like her who know how to trust in the Lord in all things.
Sister recently returned from her mission in Curitiba, Brazil
We are overwhelmed at the many examples of faith that we have seen in just a few days.  The "splash" that they are making in the country of Cape Verde is making a tremendous impact.  We believe that Zion is being built here and we are thankful to be able to participate in a small way.

During the next few days we will visit a district on the other side of this island and fly to two other islands to visit the stakes there.  We will give further updates in our next blog post next week.