Saturday, December 23, 2017

Post Mission Testimony of Jesus Christ

This is our first post-mission blog.  It coincides with the time that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on this earth.  The prevalent theme of these past weeks has been our Savior, Jesus Christ. We have testified of His goodness as we have shared our mission experiences when His hand guided us in His work. We have sought His guidance to reach out to each of our children and grandchildren in His way and in His time.  We have rejoiced in family history and temple work for our ancestors so that they can participate in the blessings of His atonement as sacred ordinances are performed on their behalf.  As we have celebrated the Christmas season, we have been reminded over and over of His goodness and love as he came to this earth to minister to each of us.

Perhaps our thoughts are best summarized by the beautiful portrayal of the Nativity as shown in the newly created Bible videos.  We have been touched more this year than ever before by the power of this message.  Perhaps it is because we have served Him for the past two years.  Perhaps it is because we have studied His life as we followed President Nelson's urging to read and ponder all of the Topical Guide references to the Savior.  Somehow something is different and we are thankful for that.  We urge all to take time this season to watch and ponder this video, clicking on the following link:

We have been told that after being engaged in important priorities each and every day of a mission, it is difficult when we get caught up in daily activities that may not be as significant.  We have prayed hard to pursue important purposes in our lives and have seen the hand of the Lord in these weeks since returning from our mission.  We will share our thoughts and experiences with the types of priorities that we have felt prompted to pursue.

Family Time

Of course, one of our top priorities back home is to strengthen our relationships with children and grandchildren.  With a large family, that takes quite a bit of effort.  Since returning home we have spent time with 15 of our 17 children and 34 of our 37 grandchildren.  This has been made up with Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, birthday celebrations, attending school Christmas programs and visiting with as many in their homes as possible.  Our Christmas present to our grandchildren this year is for them to have positive memories with their grandparents.  Each is to choose a date that they can spend individually with Oma and Opa.  So far this has been well received by those who have already received their Christmas presents.  We look forward to these meaningful relationships.  The following photos capture some of these initial visits.

Visit with our daughter Camila who is in a health care facility.  She has suffered damages to her mind but still has a beautiful smile and a sweet spirit.  We have been  privileged to visit with her on a weekly basis since returning home.

Visit to our son Daniel with his family in their new home

Thanksgiving dinner with 36 of our family members, many of them in this photo.

A few more from Thanksgiving in this photo

Oma with two of her granddaughters in Hyrum, Utah

Hudson on his first birthday

At Hudson's birthday party, Gina and her family, Pollyanna and Aria
River's family at Joseph's 13th birthday party

Three of Camila's children, Caide, Kaisha and Isake
Oma listening to  Beckie's children sing, Kaleb, McKenzie and Abbie
A special evening with Arianna, Ammon's daughter

We visited Melanie's family in Pennsylvania.  Here they are in the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown watching a science experinment
A few seconds later, as the soapy solution was mixed with the freezing liquid nitrogen
One on one visits with Charlie and Timothy in our hotel room in Pennsylvania

Playing games with Henry and Edward
Games and Family History with James Preston and Thomas
Our annual Christmas party with over 40 members of our direct family
Our youngest granddaughter, Paisley with Aide, Lamoni's girl friend
Two of Abe's kids, Tiancom and Natlaia, with their mother Renica

Christmas Programs with grandkids:

Ashton's 1st grade class
Aria in her preschool program
Abbie with her 2nd grade glass
McKenzie with her 4th grade class

Kaleb with his preschool class
Necessary Medical Check-ups

We have had many medical check-ups, from colonoscopies, dental exams, medical exams, dental work for Tom and Bladder and Kidney checks for Debbie.  Not the funnest part of our life, but an essential step to maintaining good health.  This has certainly took much of our time of the past weeks.

Debbie, with her IV in place, ready for her colonoscopy
Rekindling the memories of our mission

We have taken advantage of every chance positive to relive the memories of our mission and our time in Germany.  We have been to two German Christmas Markets, one in SLC and one in Pennsylvania.  We also have spoken at two different sacrament meetings about our mission experience.  Each time we are able to feel again the hand of the Lord during our mission.  We have also reported to the Self-Reliance department at Church headquarters in two different visits.  We love this work that we were privileged to participate in.  We were also able to participate in a Europe Area missionary get together at the home of Elder and Sister Hacking.

Debbie at the SLC German Christmas Market

German Christmas Market at This is the Place Heritage Park in SLC

Pennsylvania Christmas Market with St. Nicholas

Senior missionary friends after our second sacrament meeting talks

Debbie with three of her siblings after our second sacrament meeting talks
Europe Area Missionary get together at the home of James and Diane Hacking
More missionaries, same get together
Meaningful Christmas Activities

We have done our best to enjoy the sweet spirit of the Christmas season through special presentations, including the First Presidency Devotional (watched at home) and attending the Forgotten Carols presentation, one of our favorite Christmas traditions.  We have also participated in our wonderful ward Christmas party and a few family traditions of Christmas Caroling, visiting the Elves at Gardner Village and seeing the Christmas lights.

Watching the First Presidency Devotional from the comfort of our home

Our ward Christmas Party, amazing people and a wonderful spirit
Christmas caroling with daughter and grandchildren
Serenity enjoying hot chocolate after Christmas Caroling and watching our German Nativity set
Visiting Elves at the home of Bruno and Cari Vassel
Visting elves at Gardner Village

Christmas lights at the Provo Town Centre Mall with Kari and Serentiy

One of our favorite Christmas traditions

Family History and Temple Work

Every chance that we have, we are moving forward with our family history and temple work.  We now have four generations working on getting our family history finds into Family Search.  Our grandson, James Preston, in Pennsylvania, has taken one of the lines, our son Jacob, is working  on another line and my mother is taking a third line.  Nearly 100 names have been put into our Family Tree so far with thousands more to do.  

We have been able to do baptisms in the new Philadelphia temple with our son-in-law, daughter and grandson and have attended the Logan temple during our visit to Jared and his family.  We have had to take the long drive to the Oquirrh Mountain temple (almost 10 minutes) since the Jordan River temple is closed.  We also have a made a visit to the Salt Lake Temple.  Each experience is meaningful as we see the ordinances performed for our ancestors.  We love this work which may be the most meaningful of all that we are doing.
Selfie in front of the Logan Temple

With our grandson and daughter in front of the Philadelphia temple

The beautiful Philadelphia Temple

With daughter and grandson in front of the picture of the Philadelphia baptistry in the visitors center

I have been reading the Book of Mormon in German (and English).  I have been overwhelmed about the witness that this book is of our Savior.  In 1 Nephi chapter 19, Nephi is explaining the need to only write that which is sacred on these plates.  He then immediately begins talking about the coming of the Savior to t

his earth.  He emphasizes that the God of our fathers yields himself up to the trials of this earth.  I testify that this baby Jesus that was born, was indeed the son of God, even Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament.  He willingly came to this earth in the most humble circumstances and suffered in the most extreme way so that we could return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.  This is our testimony at this Christmas season and always.

I Nephi 19:6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weaknesswhich is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naughtand trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
And behold he cometh, according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem.
And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.
10 And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Saying Good-Bye to Germany and our Mission Blog

We made it through the toughest week of our mission, going home.  It was full of farewells, final work efforts and an amazing exit interview with Elder De Feo.  It finished with warm welcomes from our family and friends and the challenges of transitioning back.
Our Release Letters from our Mission

We started the last week of our mission with our last Sunday, attending the meetings in our International Ward.  I was able to finish the 11th week of our Portuguese My Foundations group, which would be completed the next week, after our departure.  Fond farewells were shared with different ward members and we then returned to our apartment.  We were able to make a farewell visit to the Mendes family later that day.  We had not seen them in Church for several weeks and wanted to give our good byes to them.  We had a wonderful visit with Sister Mendes and her son Wilson.  We pray that they can overcome the challenges that they encounter in their lives.  Serving them as home teachers has been a big part of our mission.

The next three days were spent continuing our transition with Elder and Sister Carroll, including video visits with many of our Self-Reliance missionary couples.  We participated in the first two together and then we joined in the others just long enough to give our farewells. We spent much of our time at our apartment cleaning the apartment and packing our bags.  We also spent the time to finish the tasks that needed our attention.  

Giving our farewell with Elder and Sister Bradshaw, in Hungary
On Monday evening we were invited to dinner with Elder and Sister Rich.  They have been dear friends with us throughout most of our mission.  The meal was authentic U.S. roast beef from the American Commissary acquired from their son who lives in Germany with the military.  The time with the Riches was even better than the meal.  We love them.  It was a wonderful evening after a very busy day.

Elder and Sister Rich serve as Area Auditors, the meal was authentic U.S. roast beef
Tuesday morning we mailed our last package home, including most of the items we had received in Paris a few weeks earlier.  Everything else had to fit into our suitcases.
Last package sent home through DHL

Later that day we had a final farewell luncheon with the Self-Reliance team.  That was followed with a meeting with with Tom King, E/S Carroll and Jennifer, our administrative assistant.  We had outlined the several tasks that were in process and shared our thoughts to the entire team.

Elder and Sister Carroll, Jennifer Laird, Tom King, E/S Rueckert
After this meeting, we had our exit interview with Elder Massimo De Feo.  What an amazing treat.  He asked us what we had learned on our mission.  We shared with him our feelings about trusting the Lord and seeing his hand throughout our mission.  He then asked us how it had changed us.  He told us that those blessings that we had seen are "not the full blessings", only the portion that we had seen.  He said that the Savior had walked with us throughout our mission, and that sometimes we recognized it and sometimes we had not.

He read Doctrine and Covenants 31 with us which was given to Thomas Marsh.  In verse 2 it said that he had many afflictions because of his family.  He likened this revelation to us.  In verse 6 it said, "Behold, very I say uno you, go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them."  He emphasized that the Lord will prepare a place for "them", our family.

Elder De Feo thanked us for the Lord Jesus Christ, for our service on our mission.  He again emphasized that we had only seen a part of the blessings.  He promised us that we would see blessings in our family when we return.  He said that we would recognize some of these blessings immediately, others would happen over time.  He said that we believe in vicarious blessings in the Church and that our family would certainly be blessed because of our service.  We should trust that these blessings will happen with our family.

Finally he said that we had seen the hand of the Lord so that we could testify to others, especially to our family.   He encouraged us to share this testimony often in many settings.    He then offered a prayer on our behalf, blessing us with safety, blessing our family, etc.

Elder De Feo has so much trust in and testimony of the Savior.  It is amazing.  He knows and testifies and we feel it from him!  

As we left the interview, we also had a great good-bye from Elder Paul V. Johnson, our Area President.

We left this interview in awe, overwhelmed with gratitude for the Spirit that we had felt and for the blessings that were promised to us.  We just stood in the hallway, holding each other in gratitude and appreciation.

We took some time to go to an empty office and wrote down as much as we could remember of what was said and what we had felt.  The Spirit was so strong at this time, words cannot express.

That night we finished cleaning the apartment and fueled and cleaned the car.  Sister Rueckert gave me a haircut.  With our preparations basically complete, we were able to enjoy our last day in Germany without stress.

Sister Rueckert got her hair cut on Wednesday morning and I finished recording the expenses and receipts of the past few weeks.  Finally, we went to our farewell luncheon with the senior missionaries and our Book of Mormon class.

Sister Rueckert sharing her testimony with the senior missionaries
Sister Keyser sharing her last testimony.  She would be going home the following week.

Reviewing our Farewell booklet from fellow senior missionaries

We spent the remainder of the afternoon completing other tasks that were still outstanding for our missions.  We were able to finish our last day serving until the end, which is what we really wanted.  That evening I took extra clothing that we were leaving behind to the Red Cross deposit.

Kleiderspende is German for Clothing donations, with our bag of clothing

German Red Cross contained for clothing donations
That evening we had time to enjoy a meal with E/S Carroll as we showed them last things about the apartment, how to use the appliances, etc.  We then spent some time in a last Zoom conference with our friends Cristian and Marianne.  We had an old laptop delivered to them so that we could continue our communications with them as we left Germany.  It took over an hour of working with them, we were not able to get a Skype account to connect.  From there we went to using Zoom and finally had success.  We are glad that we had time to complete this important contact before leaving Germany.

Marianne and Cristian Zooming with us on our last night in Germany

Finally after completing all other preparations, I was able to complete  the last level of Rosetta Stone German lessons.  Although far from fluent, I was able to finish this goal, just before midnight.  Sister Rueckert had achieved 69% fluency in Duo Lingo a few days previously.  We have not become fluent German speakers, but we have accomplished a lot of study and our understanding is so much better.   We feel like we had given it our best efforts.

The completion of unit 20 of Rosetta Stone German lessons

69% fluent and 73 continuous days of Duo Lingo success

The next morning before we left for the airport, we took our last photo with the Frankfurt skyline in the background.  This is by far our favorite view of our mission.  We then went to the airport, driven by Elder and Sister Lindsey, humanitarian missionaries.  They are the third humanitarian missionary couple that we have served with.

With the Frankfurt skyline behind us

Our living room as we left it.
In front of the airport, before checking into our flight to return to the U.S.
 As we checked in at the airport, we received one more tender mercy.  We met Sister Jenkins, who was also on her way home.  Sister Jenkins had started her mission serving in the International Ward 18 months earlier.  We had worked closely with her during the baptism of the Brazilian family over a year ago.  She had been the missionary who had received the referral of Jan Holman, who was recently baptized in our ward.  We were able to give her that good news.  She shared with us her last baptism the previous Saturday.  It was of a lady who had first came to a Self-Reliance group in the Heidelberg Stake where she was serving.  Through the Self-Reliance group she gained fellowship and testimony and is now a faithful member of the Church.  What a wonderful joy we were able to share as we were each leaving our missions.

Sister Jenkins with E/S Rueckert in the airport
Our flight was to JFK in New York where we connected to another flight to Salt Lake City.  Our second leg was delayed which caused extra wait in New York, but we finally arrived in Salt Lake City a little after 8:30 pm on Thursday, November 16, 2017.  As we arrived we found our wonderful family members waiting for us, next to Sister Jenkins family who was waiting for her.

Family awaiting in the SLC Airport, 7 of our children with their families and Tom's mother
This sign was a fitting summary of our homecoming

Photo taken by our 4 year old grandson, Kaleb, that evening in our home

The next day, we worked on getting transportation and phones resolved, not an easy task.  We also talked with 3 more of our sons who we had not seen the night before.  That night we enjoyed a Bells concert at the tabernacle.  This was a wonderful treat for our first night home, although we were a bit tired by the end of the concert.

Bells Concert at the Tabernacle

Elder and Sister Rueckert in front  of the Salt Lake Temple
 Saturday morning we were able to participate in the graduation from Nursing School of one of our daughters.  This daughter, KariLyn, lost her husband two years ago as we were starting our mission.  Now, two years later, she is a registered nurse, ready to better care for family in a self-reliant way.  One of the great family successes of our mission.

With Sister Rueckert, daughter KariLyn and Aunt LuAnn who is also a nurse
KariLyn with her four children and her Aunt who "pinned" her

Finally we had one more special moment in our first days home.  We were invited to the 70th wedding anniversary celebration of our dear friends Walter and Betsy Thomas.  They made a point of inviting us to this special celebration.  Walter has been crippled from an accident over 30 years ago and Betsy is now blind.  However, they never complain but bring joy and happiness to others around them.  As was described by one, being in their presence makes us better people.

Betsy and Walter with their daughter Tony addressing the celebration

Finally on Sunday morning at 10:30 am, we met with our Stake President and were officially released from our mission.  He read to us the release letter from the Europe Area Presidency, which brought back all of the feelings of this past two years.  This has been the most amazing experience of our life.  

We have seen the hand of the Lord throughout this mission and as Elder De Feo expressed so well, we have the responsibility of testifying to others.  We testify that He lives, that He is all powerful and all loving.  If we will but open the door, he will come into all of our lives and provide us all of the blessings that we need and want, well beyond our expectations.  

We will be eternally grateful to all who have participated in this journey with us.  You have all been instruments in blessing our lives.  Thank you!