Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Faith Rewarded

We just returned from our trip to Cape Verde.  Once again, in Mindelo, we found the Church strong and growing with many examples of faith.  One of our favorites is the family of Fredson, who is a PEF loan recipient and a graduate of a Self-Reliance course. This family was the focus of one of our Self-Reliance videos that was filmed during our visit last February.  Their continuing story just keeps getting better.  See more details below.

Fredson and his family.  A perfect example of the faith and the future of the Church in Cape Verde
This is part III of our trip to Cape Verde.  This blog focuses on our time in Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente and our final day in Praia.  We arrived in Mindelo last Wednesday night about 10:00 pm.  We had to get up early the next morning and go to the Church house by 5:30 am to participate by video conference in our Area Self-Reliance Committee.  The internet in the hotel was not adequate for our connection.  As we connected into the wired connection to the internet at the Church, our participation in the meeting went very well.  We love meeting with our committee, it was well worth the early morning rising.

The committee and also Miguel Adriano who normally joins by video.

We returned to our hotel to start our day with better preparation and breakfast. We began our scheduled activities with our SRS manager, James Tavares.  First we went to the home of a less active Perpetual Education Fund participant.  As we heard her story, we worked with her to find how she could improve her life.  She is currently working and still in the process of completing the steps to obtain her graduation certificate.  She had stopped coming to Church some years ago because she was offended.  Sister Rueckert shared a powerful testimony about overcoming offensive behavior from her own life which brought the spirit strongly into the discussion.  We invited her to participate in a Self-Reliance Course which would help her accomplish three things.  First it would help her to find a better job.  Second, it would qualify her to receive all of the PEF loan performance incentives and third, it could strengthen her spiritually so that she could return to activity in the Church.  She agreed to accept our invitation.  We also felt prompted to offer her a priesthood blessing which she accepted.

After this first visit, we went to the Stake Center to meet with our Church Service missionary couple, Elder and Sister Fortes.  There we spent the next few hours reviewing their involvement with PEF loan participants and Self-Relaince groups.  We also were able to give them more thorough training on helping the PEF loan participants to receive the performance incentives that are offered.  We have found that this becomes a wonderful way to help the participants.  Rather than being a bill collector we become agents to help them receive the performance incentives that are available.

James Tavares, SRS manager, Elder and Sister Fortes and Sister Rueckert
After lunch, we met with a couple of the bishops in the stake to review their understanding and testimonies of the Self-Reliance initiative.  We also had them complete a simple survey about how they were using the Self-Reliance tools.  Through this discussion, one of the bishops said that he would now start involving his Ward Council more heavily in the Self-Reliance process.  He had previously relied quite heavily on our SRS manager, who is also the chairman of the Stake Self-Reliance Committee. 

Two bishops from the Mindelo Stake

While we were at the meetinghouse, we met some young missionaries who stopped by.  We always ask them where they are from.  One was from Mapleton, Utah, which is where our son-in-law, Danny Ferguson was raised.  Elder Nemelka was shocked when we asked him if he knew the Ferguson family, since he had dated Danny's sister before his mission.  He knew our daughter, Gina well and our little granddaughter, Addisyn.  It is always amazing the connections that we are able to make in the Church.

With Elder Nemelka in Mindelo, Cape Verde

That night we got to bed earlier and were able to get a solid night's rest for the first time that week.  We started the next day visiting a small school that is teaching students in English, computers and refrigeration and air conditioning.  The owners are a man and wife who also former PEF participants and ward Self-Reliance Specialists.  They are currently providing the refrigeration class for 10 new PEF loan recipients.  Even though we went to talk about their school, we were able to clear up a discrepancy on payment dates. The member brought his loan totally current from his phone while we met with him.  We concluded that their school could be a blessing to members. We  will wait and analyze the success of the current 10 participants in finding work after they complete this six month course.

With business owner and PEF loan recipient
When we went back to the office, we were thrilled to meet our good friend Fredson, who happened to stop in.  He updated us on his progress since we last met in February.  I would like to take this opportunity to summarize his incredible story of faith.  

Fredson first participated in  a Self-Reliance group on a different island.  He felt inspired by his patriarchal blessing to get an education, which was not available on his island.  So a year ago, he moved to Mindelo with his wife and son, leaving a good job behind.  With faith, and following what he had learned in the self-reliance group, he immediately found work in Mindelo at a local hotel.  With that he was able to provide for his family and go to school with a PEF loan.  Based on this great story, we made him the focus of a video that was produced last February and has now been shared throughout the Europe Area.

Since then, his employer told him that he would need to start working afternoons, which would not allow him to continue his studies.  Determined to follow the guidance from his patriarchal blessing, he quit his job and started looking for a better solution.  As he looked, he found other jobs, but with the same inflexibility of schedule and the same low pay.  After being unemployed for 30 days and doing everything in his power to serve in the Church, study and look for a better job, he received the blessings of our Father in Heaven.  His home teaching companion had a dream where he saw Fredson managing his small store and other members of their ward working in several stores.  He approached Fredson and offered him a job that works perfect with his school, pays more part-time than his previous full-time job and is in the field of his studies (Business and marketing).  This member will be moving to another island where his wife has found work and will leave Fredson in charge of his store.  He also plans to open two more stores in the near future and will leave Fredson responsible for all of them.

This is a perfect example of the scripture in D&C 104:15 which says "My purpose is to provide for my saints".  Fredson has been obedient to spiritual and temporal laws and the Lord blessed him in ways unimaginable.  Fredson is currently serving in a bishopric and has recently had a second son  born. He and his wife are both returned missionaries and are raising a family up to the Lord.  They represent all that is good in Cape Verde, a dedicated and faithful young family, working diligently towards self-reliance and serving the Lord.

With Fredson on Friday Morning

After lunch we were waiting at the Church for our manager to return and I took this picture of Sister Rueckert.  Soon after this picture she broke out into a hysterical laugh.  It was a windy day and she was watching a small bird trying to fly and being swept away by the wind.  Unfortunately, we didn't get it on the camera, but it was an example of the incredible wind that is here.

On my iPhone app for Weather, it always shows us the weather with icons for rainy, sunny, etc.  For Mindelo, the app shows wind on many of the days, including this one.  You will also notice that the weather has been in the 80s or high 70s all during our trip.  We have been fortunate to have some clouds and wind to keep it from being too hot.  All this while it has hit freezing temperatures in Frankfurt.

On Friday afternoon we met with the manager for a large security firm that had just gotten the contract for security at the airport.  He would be needing 44 new employees.  The photos on the screen are of 8 members of the Church which will be beginning their training at the airport.

We also visited with a few more recipients of PEF loans.  One is a lady who has taught school for several years and is now getting her official teaching certificate.  As she finishes the course, she will be doubling her salary.  This is such a blessing for these members!  We also met with a member who just finished a course to work on cargo boats in the ocean.  He will be working for 9 months on the sea and then 3 months home.  During the time he is on the sea, all living expenses are paid. His work will pay him enough to help him build and pay for his own home in not too many years.  We worry about his wife and young child but trust that the Lord will bless them.  We also talked to another young man who just finished his bachelors degree and will be marrying in March.  Then he will move to the island of Santiago (city of Praia) where he expects to find work in his chosen field.  In each case, after identifying their successes, we were able to get commitments from them to bring their loan status to current so that they could reap the promised incentives and blessings.

On Saturday morning we took some time off and spent time with our Manager and his family.  We first went to see the Logos Hope ship which was in the port of the city.  This is a ship that is sponsored by a Christian group in Europe who visit cities around the world, bringing great inspirational books and messages of goodness.  They also do different activities for the communities that they visit.  Those who serve on this ship are all volunteers and live on the ship for a year or two while they travel the world.  It was quite fascinating.  Below are a few photos from that visit.

With James and his family in front of the ship "Logos Hope"
In the giant bookstore on the ship

Going into the ship

With James and his family with their books to buy
Elder Rueckert as the captain of the ship

A photo of a German cruise ship that was also in the harbor.
After visiting the Logos Hope, we took a tour of the island, driving to the top of the highest mountain for some wonderful views of the scenery.  The following are some of those photos:

Panoramic view from the top of the island.  You can see the city to the left and coastal area to the right.

View of the city below and the ocean beyond

A view in another direction of another beautiful coastal area of the island
Similar view, but with a corn stalk being blown away by the wind
Closer up view of this same beautiful coastal area

Another panorama view of the city
That afternoon we returned to finish preparations for our talks in the Saturday evening session of Stake Conference.  We came and met with another bishop in between the Priesthood leadership and Saturday evening session.  In the Saturday evening session I was able to speak for about 20 minutes and then Sister Rueckert shared a few thoughts and her testimony.  She shared the experience of Fredson, reminding all that God knows each of us, loves us and is in the detail of our lives. 

Sister Rueckert speaking with our manager translating

On Sunday morning we were told to go to the chapel near our hotel and there would be buses to take the members to stake conference.  We arrived and found some members waiting, but not that many to fill three buses.  As we boarded the buses, we found that they stopped along the way to the stake center.  Each bus was filled to overflowing.  It appears that there were other buses from other parts of the city also.
Getting on the bus for Stake Conference

This is on the bus on the way home, standing room only

Stake Conference was wonderful, filled to capacity.  The focus of the meetings was to judge not, but to be loving and kind.  The message came across very well.  We were overwhelmed by the singing of the choir which was very well prepared.  Sister Rueckert reminded me on the way to the conference that this might be our last time with these saints.  That made it even more emotional.  After the conference we met with Fredson and his family for the photo at the beginning of the blog.

Photo of the choir before the conference.  They are wonderful members with great talent and enthusiasm
After returning to our hotel, we did our Sunday activities until 5:30 pm.  We then returned to the Church close to the hotel to visit some self-reliance groups that were in process.  We have made this walk to and from the Church a few times each day.  We have learned to love the small town feeling that is here. The following photos are of the plaza that we walk by, including a free concert that was showing as we returned from the chapel that night.

Getting ready for a city concert on Sunday night

Community together at a Sunday night concert.  We thought we heard LDS music playing during part of this concert.  We could hear it from our Church house.
Church House near by
When we arrived to visit the Self-Reliance Groups, we found that they were short some facilitators.  One group of two young non members was wanting to start the first lesson of My Job Search.  We were asked to facilitate this class.  So we did!  It was a wonderful experience to work with these two young ladies.  They worked through the spiritual portion and created some wonderful "Me in Thirty Seconds" for them to present to others during this week.

Facilitating the My Job Search Group

With these two non members who we learned to love  after spending two hours with them

After summarizing our visit and saying some good byes to James, we returned to our hotel and on to the airport on Monday morning.  We flew to Praia and would only take the next leg to Lisbon, Portugal the next morning at 2:00 am.  We spent most of the next day working in the office in Praia, including an additional training visit with Elder and Sister Lunt.  They will start making the home visits to PEF loan participants as part of their missionary assignment.  We love them and their goodness.

With Elde and Sister Lunt
Finally we finished up our visit with a dinner with our Manager and his wife.  Fittingly we ate at the restaurant that serves Tuna on the Rock, which was the first dinner we ate in Cape Verde 15 months ago.  They are a beautiful family, one more that inspires us.  They had their youngest child with us at the restaurant.
'With Mendonça and his wife and son.  Outdoors with the water beating against the shore.  Beautiful setting, beautiful people.
Just a little food section to finish.  We were told that we needed to eat lobster in Cape Verde since it may the most affordable that we would ever find it.  So we did.  The following are photos of some of the great fish meals that we enjoyed in these past few days:
Lobster for the two of us.  Tasty, but a bit of work to consume.
Tasty fresh grouper.  Our manager taught us how to eat all of it.

Tuna cooked on the hot rock.  Just turn it over yourself.

Dinner with the tuna steak, finishing cooking.  Our personal favorite.
 On Monday night was the time to see the Super Moon.  This was our view from Cape Verde.  Unfortunately, cloud cover prohibited better viewing, but we did see it.

We finished our trip by taking the 2:00 am flight to Portugal and then another 3 hour flight to Frankfurt, arriving in our apartment today at 2:00 pm.  We are exhausted but fulfilled.  Upon arriving home another test of faith was confirmed.

When we were planning this trip, Sister Rueckert came down with a urinary infection.  Knowing that she has a special challenge with her bladder, we didn't take this likely.  We went to a doctor who gave her medication to treat the infection.  With the medication she felt much better, but a few of the symptoms continued.  We were certainly worried about having any medical complications while in Cape Verde.  Even though the people are humble and faithful, the medical care is limited.

We considered having Sister Rueckert stay home.  On the Monday before we left, Thomas King and I gave Sister Rueckert a blessing, which was powerful and essentially said that her faith and the Lord's will were in agreement and that the remaining symptoms would be healed.  We felt an incredible peace and made plans to continue.  On the Monday night, some of the symptoms returned.  Nothing incredibly dangerous, but the fears of possible complications stayed in our mind.  I personally had a long conversation with the Lord that night and I asked for a sign to make sure that all would be well.  We received that sign with her condition the next morning exactly as I had requested.  Again, we felt peace.  Later in the day, some of the challenges returned and again on Wednesday.  We both were letting doubt and fears override our faith.  As we discussed this with our manager on Wednesday afternoon, we were reminded of the scripture in D&C 6:15, where Oliver Cowdrey was reminded by the Lord that he had already enlightened his mind at a previous time.  We had both thought of the same scripture during the day.  As we discussed this with our manager, we felt the instant peace, knowing that we had already received our answer two days before.  We were letting fear replace faith.

With renewed faith, we chose to move forward.  We have made this scheduled trip and been rewarded with many spiritual blessings, including participating in 5 different priesthood blessings given to others.  We have come home safely and all symptoms have stopped during the trip.  God made this known unto us, but we needed to have faith to move forward.  For us this has been a wonderful trip and like Fredson, our faith has been rewarded.