Sunday, September 17, 2017

Instruments in the Lord's Hands

We just finished our week on a high note, with the concluding class of our Sunday Personal Finance self-reliance group in our ward.  We were reminded once more of the power of this inspired initiative.  We also had some special family history related experiences during our week in Frankfurt.  We testify that this is His work and we are blessed to be instruments in His hands.  Our preparations to return home continue with some challenges along the way.

Last session of our Personal Finance Self-Reliance Group
We had a pretty standard week of work.  We visited with several of our senior missionaries as we usually focus on this during the second week of each month.  We started with E/S Bradshaw in Hungary on Monday morning.  We were pleased to see that they had a successful My Path Devotional the previous day and had formed 5 self-reliance groups.  Wow!  What a great start to their mission.  They also have been asked to participate in the stake bishops training session later this month.  

We also met with our couples from Manchester England, Stockholm Sweden, Lyon France, Birmingham England, Scotland and finally with Sister Ezard from Croatia.  We love each of these visits and are inspired by the service of these missionaries.  Sister Ezard shared with us her experiences in personally working with a brother in Bosnia.  As she shared the doctrine with us that she had shared with him, we were also touched.  Our theme with the missionaries this week was treasuring up in our minds and then being led by the Lord (D&C 84:85).  He then reveals His will for us in different circumstances and we become instruments in His hands as we share what he prompts us to share. 

We also met with our SRS managers on Tuesday.  In fact on Tuesday we had Zoom conferences scheduled at 9:00 (Lyon France), 10:00 (Birmingham England), 11:00 (Area SRS Manager and Operations Manager), 12:00 (PEF Mentoring meeting with Ceu Cavaco and other PEF loan workers), 1:00 (Scotland missionary couple), 2:00 - 4:00 (SRS Management team meeting).  That made 7 continuous hours of Zoom meetings!

Zoom conference with our SRS managers

Tuesday night we were able to attend the Mid Month Movies Night for senior missionaries for the second month in a row.  The company and the popcorn was wonderful.  The movie was pretty good also, inspirational.

 On Wednesday, we returned to our German class in the morning and then went to our Book of Mormon class during the lunch hour.  We were taught by Elder Goodall this week from 1 Nephi 21 and 22.  The words of Isaiah truly came alive.  There was much discussion about one of our favorite scriptures from Isaiah, 1 Nephew 21:16 "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands".  Very inspirational, the following drawing was also shared with us.  It shows Our Savior passing the sacrament.  The reaction of those in the congregation is precious, especially the children.

Right after Book of Mormon class, we drove to Nuremberg to visit the "Gesellschaft für Familienforschung in Franken".  This is were we can access the familienregisters for so many of our ancestors.  Because of excessive rain and road construction, it took us almost 3 hours to arrive.  We went ready with three pages of names and villages to search out.  From 4:15 pm until 6:00 pm we accomplished our task and ended with 194 printed pages of names.  We then drove home that same night, another 3 hours, arriving just after 9:00 pm.  The drive went well until we hit some major road construction slowdowns that ended up with heavier rain and darkness.  We were very glad to be home.  

Sister Rueckert finding the "familienregister"s on the computer

Separating the printed lists that we took home with us

Most of these 194 printed pages had at least 30 names per page, meaning that we came home with almost 6,000 names.  If we tie in even 20% of them as relatives, that will still be over 1,000 names that can be ready for temple ordinances.  This just adds to our long list of family history and temple work to do when we get home.  We know that we have been led by the Lord to find these records.

Stacks of lists, stapled by name and location

Thursday we were back at work.  One of the tasks in front of us is working on getting subtitles for SR videos in the different languages.  It appears that some of this work finally got started for Hungarian this week.  We want these subtitled videos to be available on for the different country pages in different languages.  On Friday we quickly shared the transcripts for some of the videos that are not already translated word for word.

We are preparing for next week's Area Self-Reliance Committee meeting and for our upcoming SRS managers conference next month.  We are also organizing and preparing for upcoming trips to train the several new SR missionaries that will be arriving this month and next.

On Thursday night we met with our group of recently returned missionaries.  We finished lesson 4 of the My Plan for Returned Missionaries course.  This is always a highlight, to work with these young sisters who still have that strong spirit that they bring from their mission.

Sister that returned recently from Spain, France and the Caribbean islands
View from a better angle of these three sisters

This has been a very wet week.  It has rained almost non stop all week.  The photo below shows the accumulation of water in our window box with our pepper plants.  The water has been there so long it is growing mold.

Early in the week, we received the box that we had sent home returned to us.  We had sent a lap top computer that was not allowed because it had a battery in it.  This was very disappointing, as we thought we had completed this task.
Returned Box, it had been opened on the bottom and rebound

This is our communication of what was wrong with the box
When we finally opened the box on Saturday morning, we found that some of the contents of the box had been broken.  That included the Christmas mugs that we had sent home and parts of our nativity set that we had bought in France.  We were heart broken.  We started the process of gluing the broken pieces together wherever possible.

Broken mug an backdrop of the nativity set

While we were trying to fix the broken pieces, we forgot about the cookies that Sister Rueckert was making for a ward activity.  This batch of the cookies got a bit overdone.  This was not what we had planned on when the day began, but it is what it is and we had to get over it and move on.

As we went through the box, we found items that we had not sent, including these boots and a wrapping cloth.  We suspect that most of the damage may have been after the box had been repackaged and returned with the additional items.  

We're still not sure if we lost other items from the box, but we are preparing to rebox and send some of the items.  We were able to mostly rebuild our broken items.  We will save them to be taken in our hand luggage when we return home.

Our breakables, put back together after much work by Sister Rueckert
We spent much of the day beginning the deep cleaning of our apartment before we leave.  Our time will be very limited in October and November, so we wanted to start what we could get done now. On Saturday we finished our bedroom, including cleaning under the bed, behind the dressers, washing windows, etc.  The photo below shows the fruits of our labors.  We believe that the bedroom will be ready to go.  We also were able to clean behind the refrigerator and the clothes dryer as well as the inside of the utility closets.

One super cleaned bedroom

Saturday afternoon we went to the ward to support a family history activity.  The youth had sponsored this activity for the members to come and identify ancestors that could be taken to the temple, specifically for their temple trip scheduled for this coming December.  We enjoyed taking this time to work on some of the names that we had gathered on the previous Wednesday.
Ward Family History activity

Ward Family History Activity

Member adding names to the tree.  Over 60 names identified on the tree.  We contributed about 10 to this tree.
The Sturm family is one that we worked on during this activity.  This familienregister is one of the many that we were able to gather on the previous Wednesday in Nuremberg.
Sample from our research.  We identified a relative in Sturm family #9
Strum Family number 9 also has 5 families coming from it and 4 generations before.  All pages have information on siblings

We finally came home and made a few birthday calls, especially to our twins, Lamoni and Pollyanna. As we talked to Pollyanna we were able to see our youngest grandchild, Paisley.  She should still be small enough to hold when we return in a few months.

Finally on Sunday we were able to attend our worship services and participate in a few more Self-Relianc groups in our ward.  I was able to facilitate our Portuguese My Foundations group during Sunday School.  Then both of us participated in the Personal Finance group that was completing our last group session.  This group had two missionary couples and Brother and Sister Vaughn.  They were not able to participate in the Wednesday night group due to conflicting Church callings.  However, we have really enjoyed sharing with them in the group.  We have all grown together in this process. At one point they shared the following "This class will be a touch point in our lives that we will always look to".  They showed their appreciation this day by giving a nice vase to each of the missionary couples.  The photo below is of ours, a beautiful memory of our days in Frankfurt am Main.  Thank you Martin and Jonette!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Good-bye to Poffertjes

We started and finished our weekly activities with late arrivals (after midnight) at Vienna, Austria and returning home from the Netherlands to Frankfurt.  In between we had a wonderful week of experiences during day time hours, including a beautiful P-Day in Vienna.  Our visit to  the Netherlands was our last, and included some positive Self-Reliance progress and tender farewells.

Visiting the sighs in Vienna with a personal guide and transportation

When we traveled to Hungary (see last blog entry) we found it much less costly to fly into Vienna, Austria and take a train to Gyor, Hungary.  This allowed us to delay our return by one day and enjoy a P-Day in the beautiful city of Vienna on Monday.  Our arrival by train was at 11:23 pm on Sunday evening.  By the time we got to our hotel, it was early Monday morning.

Our hotel in Vienna was across the street from the Schönbrunn Palace gardens.  The photo below shows the majesty and architecture of the hotel.

Sister Rueckert in front of the Parkhotel Schönbrunn
We spent our morning walking through the Palace Gardens and to the Palace.  We then took a tour of the 1,441-room Baroque palace, which was amazing.  No photos were allowed inside the Palace, but we found the audio tour very informative and the decor exotic. FromWikipedia:

  "The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodeled during the 1740–50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa[3] who received the estate as a wedding gift. Franz I commissioned the redecoration of the palace exterior in the neoclassical style as it appears today.
Franz Joseph, the longest-reigning emperor of Austria, was born at Schönbrunn and spent a great deal of his life there. He died there, at the age of 86, on 21 November 1916. Following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy in November 1918, the palace became the property of the newly-founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum."

Sister Rueckert at the back side of the Palace
Looking out from the back of the Palace at some of the Gardens and the  "Gloriette"
The front of the Palace
From the entrance to the Palace grounds
We then took the metro to the old town part of Vienna, beginning at the St. Stephens Cathedral.  As we got out of the metro, we were convinced to buy some tickets to a classical concert that evening.  That left us the afternoon to see all that we could.  We found part of our answer in the form of a charming bicycle transport.  He took us through much of the downtown area in just over a half hour.  He was also a knowledgeable tour guide, answering questions and taking photos for us.  In the end we paid him his fee with a tip and a pass along card. 

St.. Stephens Cathedral

Our Transport and Guide with a monument and the outline of the Rathausbehind

Some of the photos form our little tour, which give an idea of the amazing architecture everywhere:

In front of the Hofburg, 
Another view of the Hofburg, closer up

Museums Quartier
Palais Herberstein
View of the Rathaus
Opera House
Parliament Building
Motzart Memorial
Can't remember the name of the building, but it looks cool
We then took time to explore by foot, including walking down the amazing pedestrian streets.  Vienna is known for their coffee houses and cafes where individuals can stop and get a coffee or a drink and spend hours relaxing and in conversation.  This is Vienna!

Sidewalk cafes near the Albertini Art Museum

Sidewalk cafes on the walking streets
World famous chocolate cake from the Sacher Hotel.  It was really good!
Walking down the pedestrian streets
During this visit I finally understood the name of Wiener Schnitzel.  It apparently was created in Vienna, which is Wien (in German).  Hence Wiener Schnitzel is schnitzel from Vienna.  

We had to taste the Wiener Schnitzel which was very tasty
Finally we finished up our day at the House of Music, attending a concert with music from Motzart, Strauss and others, reminiscent of the music played in Vienna at that time.

We had front row seats, up front and very personal
Performance included 4 different opera singers and a dancer
This was the end of a perfect day in a beautiful part of this world.  The next morning I was able to go jogging in the Schonbrunn gardens before we checked out.  The gardens are immense and the atmosphere invigorating.  I was able to run and explore most parts of the gardens:

The obelisk fountain on the eastern portion of the gardens
A selfie  amongst the beautiful garden trails
A special location for pigeons to roost in the center of  one of the gardens
Photo of the Palace taken from the gardens
A view of our hotel from inside the gardens
We then went to the airport and returned to Frankfurt in time to spend the afternoon in the office, getting caught up on work.  That evening we had the privilege to meet up with Jeff Braithwaite and his wife, who were visiting from SLC.  Jeff is the controller of the Self-Reliance Department and replaced me in that role.  He is also a good friend from many years.

We went to get ice cream with the Braithwaites and President and Sister Johnson, our Area President.  We were then able to visit in the Johnson home, where the Braithwaites were staying.  We were pleased to learn that our request for additional budget funds for our expanded missionary force was accepted in SLC.  This was a wonderful visit and an opportunity to get to know President Johnson and his wife better.

The next morning (Wednesday) we were able to resume our German class which had taken a summer break.  This has proven to be very helpful in our progress to understand the German language.  The photo below is of our German class meeting in Sister Keyser's apartment:

That night we met again with our recently returned missionary sisters for lesson 3 of our My Plan for Returned Missionary classes.  They are always a delight to be with.

On Thursday morning we finished up our work in the office and our preparations for our last visit to the Netherlands.  On Thursday afternoon we drove to the Netherlands, arriving at our hotel in Zoetermeer.

The next morning we were able to hold a video conference with our missionary couple in Spain and then attend the temple.  We were only able to do initiatory work for a few and then we were able to participate in an endowment session.  We were proxy for Sister Rueckert's 7th great grandparents Jeremias Hopher and Martha Catariina Eisenhardt.  They are now ready to be sealed together.

After the temple session, we went to our scheduled Self-Reliance activities in the Rotterdam stake.  There we were able to participate in the training of ward self-reliance specialists that was organized by Martha, the stake self-reliance specialist.  All of the specialists were there!

Training of ward Self-Reliance specialists in the Rotterdam Stake
Martha has worked very hard to get the self-reliance initiative started in her stake and her efforts are bearing fruit.  The training session went very well.  After the training we had a meeting with the Stake Self-Reliance Committee.  President Bijkerk told us that the Self-Reliance initiative was emphasized in his recent meeting with the Coordinating Council.  This meeting also went very well, the new "agent" bishop had been in the previous meeting and was very supportive.  We left the meeting feeling like this stake is finally getting moving.  A devotional was held a few months ago and new SR groups are starting.  Unfortunately, Martha has moved to the Antwerp stake and will need to be replaced.  President Bijkerk told us that the new specialist should be sustained next month in their stake conference.

President Bijkerk and Martha, the stake specialist during the Stake Committee meeting
Martha, Stake Relief Society President and
"Agent" Bishop
On Saturday we went back to the Temple for one more endowment session.  This time, Sister Rueckert was proxy for Anna Jckelsheimer, who is my 8th great grandmother.  I had a very special experience when doing the proxy work for her husband in The Hague temple the last time that we were there.  Sister Rueckert also had a very special experience with Anna.  We feel that they are certainly waiting for their work to be done.  These are the moments that make our family history efforts even more rewarding.  I was also able to be proxy for a Johann Adam Rueckert, who is a distant relative.  This is the same name as my grandfather.  He was born in the same region as my grandfather 15 years later.  That made it a very special temple session for each of us.

The Hague Temple with beautiful gardens on a day that the son began to shine again
After the temple session we visited the city of Ghouda, which is nearby.  That is where the famous Ghouda cheese comes from.  We eat it all of the time in Germany.  There we visited an amazing Cheese store with many different flavors of cheese available.

In the 't Kaaswinkeltje Cheese store in Ghouda, Netherlands

With an incredible variety of cheeses.  We were able to taste sample of many different flavors.
Many flavors and colors of cheese
More cheese for sale
We also found out that poffertjes, one of our favorite Dutch foods, were first invented in Ghouda.  So we decided to have a meal while in the vicinity.  As we walked to the poffertjes restaurant, we were told that we had to cross the canal.  We then discovered a delightful bridge over the canal being moved up so a boat could go by.  The bridge was manually moved.  We found it a delightful example of many things Dutch:
Canals in the streets, bicyclists waiting to cross and going down the street, bridge elevated
Manually lowering the bridge
Finally we made it to the restaurant.  There we had a ham, bacon, cheese, onion and mushroom pancake which we found to be enormous and delicious.  We then had poffertjes for dessert.

Stuffed Pancake

Finally we went to the Apeldoorn Stake Self-Reliance training.  The meeting was conducted by the stake self-reliance chairman and had representatives from most of the wards.  If there was no ward specialist, they had members of the ward council, either the relief society president or a priesthood quorum leader.  We felt that President Kempenaers did a wonderful job of exercising the priesthood keys.  Devotionals had been held in each of the wards, but no groups had begun for lack of organization and facilitators.  In this meeting we trained members about the role of the SR group facilitator and challenged them to ponder and let the Holy Ghost identify at least one person in their ward who can facilitate a SR group.  As the meeting ended, they appeared ready to take the self-reliance initiative one step further throughout the stake.

President Kempenaer instructing the ward leadership in the doctrine of self-reliance
Some of the participants in the training.
Mor participants in the training
Once again we left enthused about the future for Self-Reliance in this stake.  We weren't sure what we would experience on this trip, but it far exceeded our expectations.  We have been working wth these stakes for the past 18 months and the progress has been slow, but it is now starting to accelerate.   We left the meeting at 9:00 pm and made the drive back to Frankfurt, arriving a little before 1:00 am.

This was most likely our last visit to the Netherlands on our mission.  We have learned to love the priesthood leaders and the members in these stakes.  We have had incredible experiences in The Hague temple.  This has been our second home in Europe as we have visited here each quarter for the past 18 months.  We have said our goodbyes, including to the poffertjes, windmills, tulips and cheese.  We will miss them!