Monday, January 30, 2017

Dutch Treats

We just finished a fabulous trip to the Netherlands, full of special treats.  We love working with the Self-Reliance committees and specialists in this country.  They literally fed us and took care of us throughout our trip and also introduced us to Dutch architecture and food.  We also had a special experience performing baptisms for Sister Rueckert's ancestors in The Hague temple and were delighted to attend an all mens choir in one of the old Dutch Churches.  We have now visited the Netherlands enough that it is beginning to feel like our second European home.  However, we aren't quite ready to move into their "cube houses".

In front of the "Cube" Housing development in Rotterdam
Monday and Tuesday - Training of new Self- missionaries 

Our week began with a missionary training opportunity on Monday and Tuesday for Sisters Margit Ezard and Anne Lovell.  Sister Ezard is beginning her mission with this training while Sister Lovell has been helping in Self-Reliance in Frankfurt since she began her mission 6 months ago.  Sister Lovell will travel to Croatia to help as a companion with Sister Ezard on several occasions in the next six months.  Also participating in the training was Thomas King, our Area Self-Reliance Manager and Matthew Matthias, our Self-Reliance Services manager for the Eastern European countries.  On Monday we trained in the principles and processes.  On Tuesday, Matt Matthias shared the specific steps that are being taken in the Adriatic North Mission.  Sister Ezard participated in our Senior Couples monthly video conference meeting at 2:30 pm on Tuesday and after that we took her to the airport for her flight to Croatia.

As we took time to help her get her luggage checked at the airport, we had a wonderful chance to share last feelings and give a hearty good-bye.  We love the enthusiasm and positive attitude that Sister Ezard brings to her calling.  We feel that she has been sent for a purpose to this location.  We certainly have learned to love her in the few days that we had together.

Sister Rueckert with Sister Ezard at the airport
Wednesday - Catching up and getting taught

On Wednesday we felt that we finally had time to catch our breath before heading to the Netherlands on Thursday.  We made final preparations and followed up on our previous trip to Portugal and the missionary training.  We also had our weekly German lesson, participated in our weekly Book of Mormon lesson (at lunch time) and our Old Testament class that evening.

It turned out to be an amazing day as we were fed spiritually by others.  In our Book of Mormon class, Elder Peery spent the entire hour sharing thoughts about the translation of the Book of Mormon.  He had done a large amount of research and shared many quotations and comments about the actual translation process.  It is good to discuss these topics with other missionary couples.  As we reviewed  the known facts and pondered the challenges of that day, we were touched to see how the Lord worked with Joseph Smith.  We understood better how Joseph Smith learned to translate as the Lord taught him line upon line, precept upon precept.

In our Old Testament class, Sister Stay taught about Genesis chapters 2 through 4, moving Eastward.  She shared much symbolism from those chapters and outlined the physical locations from the creation, to Eden and moving eastward.  She opened our eyes, giving much more meaning to the Plan of Salvation and relating it to the temple, both ancient and today.

What an incredible opportunity we have to be taught by others and to be constantly learning!

Thursday to Sunday - Visit to the Netherlands

On Thursday we left for the Netherlands.  We drove and arrived in time to check into our hotel, have some dinner and participate in the Self-Reliance Committee meeting of the Rotterdam Stake.  This was the third time that we have met with this stake committee.  They continue to progress and have shared the principles and processes with all bishops and relief society presidents.  Additional specialists and facilitators are being called.

We had an additional meeting on Friday morning with Martha, the Stake Specialist, and Elder and Sister Goebel, senior young single adult missionaries.  We discussed how this initiative can help the young adults and planned for a meeting the next day with some returned missionaries from the stake.  We made plans for the presentation of the new My Plan for Returned Missionaries booklet to those returned missionaries.  Afterwards we sat and enjoyed a brunch together that had been prepared by Martha.  Sometimes in these more informal settings even more good is accomplished.  We left feeling that we were not only prepared for the next day, but also had greatly improved our relationship with these great people.

We took time to visit a nearby windmill, which is the home and business of one of the ward relief society presidents.  We took photos for our daughter Gina, for her Valentine surprise for her husband.  We also found the store to be delightful.

Sister Rueckert in front of the windmill.  The base of the windmill is  a store.
Store inside of the windmill
On our way to the temple, we stopped in Delft to visit the home of Delft Ceramics.  We didn't have time to take the tour, but at least took a few pictures from the car.

We then went to The Hague temple. Coincidentally three other senior missionary couples had arrived from Frankfurt and were on the same temple session with us.  

The Hague Temple before our session
We needed to get some of the male family names baptized so that the other temple work could be done.  We were able to stay after the endowment session and participate in a baptism session that evening.  I was allowed to do the baptizing for a youth group from a ward in The Hague.  The bishop's son was able to be proxy for the names that we did.

Those names included six direct ancestors of Sister Rueckert, including 3 of her 6th generation grandfathers, 2 of her 7th generation grandfathers and one 8th generation grandfather.  These are all names that we identified during our visits to Erfurt last August.  We both felt strong impressions of the spirit as the first baptism was done for Gabriel Moeller, her 7th generation grandfather.  

I also performed the baptisms for some of the young women of the ward and then I was able to be the proxy for these same ancestors as they were confirmed members of the Church.    What a joy it has been for us to not only be able to identify our ancestors, but to be able to perform or be proxy for the temple work for these same ancestors.  Words cannot describe the joy that we felt.

Sister Rueckert with cards of baptisms and confirmations completed of her ancestors in front of  The Hague temple

Names of ancestors, including Gabrial Moeller, Sister Rueckert's 7th great grandfather
Coincidentally, we were able to meet with the bishop of the ward who helped perform the confirmations.  He was aware of the Self-Reliance initiative and of the upcoming My Path Devotional that would be held. 

Saturday morning we met with two returned missionaries form the Rotterdam stake with Elder and Sister Goebel and Martha and her husband Andre.  One of the sisters had returned from her mission about 6 weeks ago.  The other had returned two years ago.  We love hearing the testimony and the strength of these great returned missionaries.  This new booklet is a wonderful way for them to remember the lessons learned on their missions and to use that same faith to help prepare for their own self-reliant path.  The meeting went very well.  We believe that the missionaries and stake specialist were able to understand the process and feel the spirit of this great work.

My Plan for Returned Missionaries with two sister missionaries
After spending time together for three days in a row, I believe that our relationship has been significantly strengthened with these great leaders.    Perhaps unplanned, but a very positive consequence of this trip.  We are more than missionaries, we are now friends.

Martha, our Rotterdam stake specialist and her husband, Andre, also on the stake high council
Elder and Sister Goebel, YSA missionary couple

After the training on Saturday, Martha and Andre took us to the market in Rotterdam, where we ate Poffertjes together, their treat.  This is a traditional Dutch delight.  They tasted so good!  We stayed after and watched them prepare them from the beginning.  Photos follow.

Sister Rueckert with Martha and Andre and Poffertjes

Absolutely delicious Poffertjes with butter and powdered sugar

In front of the Poffertjes restaurant
 These are made with a flavor of crepes, but cooked in a recess and then turned over while still moist on the top.  This allows them to puff out and become a Poffertjes.  The photos below show some of the process that we watched and photographed.

Turning them over at just the right time.
Finished products being removed from the forms
After this delicious treat, we took time to explore this unique center of Rotterdam.  We first heard some bell music and went to find the source.  It appeared to be coming from the nearby Luarenskerk Church.  As I went to see if we could go inside of the Church, I found the doors locked but a few people waiting at the front door.  They told us that a concert would be held that same day at 15:00.  Entry for the concert was 15 euros a person.  We thought that would be a fun experience.  Since it was a little after 1:00 pm, we saw a few of the sights first.

Laurenskerk in Rotterdam
Our first stop was the "round mall".  This is a very unique mall.

Round Mall

The mall is made of a few stories of shops and then another 8 stories or so of residences.  Inside the mall is open with  many unique shops.
In front of the mall, seeing through to the other side.

Ceiling from the inside of the mall, seeing the building on the other side

Inside the mall are many separate shops, most are food related.  Each is high quality.  We had the best macaroon cookies that we have ever had.  The following are a few photos of the shops.

Cheese Shop, large rounds of cheese

Spices and seasoning, each in their own pile

As we left the "round mall"  we saw an amazing landscape of architecture.  The following panorama photo gives a high level summary of the sights.

Cube Houses

We focused our efforts on exploring the "Cube Houses".  This is a development of houses built inside a cube that is resting on the point of the cube.  One of the owners decided to turn his house into a museum and charges 3 euros a person to see it.  Seems to be a profitable enterprise.  We went in and took a look through this fascinating living accommodation.  The floors are level but the cube approach creates very interesting walls and corners.
Outside the Cube housing complex
More cube houses in the rear

View of the Cube Houses and another interesting building behind
Stairs leading up into the "Cube House"

In the living room
In the kitchen

Stairways in between levels
In the upper room corner
View out of the upper windows

Het Urker MannenKoor "Hallujah"

As it was approaching 3:00, we went back to the Church.  We found someone at the entrance trying to sell a few tickets for their friends who had been too ill to attend the concert.  Thankfully we were able to buy the tickets from them.  We're not sure where we would have bought the tickets otherwise.  When we went in we found that this was a big deal concert.  It was an all man choir of about 70 men.  They also had guest artists, a female soprano, a few special organists and a guest piano player.  

Choir in this magnificent Church

Conductor leading the audience in one of the congregational songs
Beautiful Organ

Soprano guest artist - beautiful voice
We proceeded to enjoy a three hour concert of incredible talents.  Most of it was in Dutch, but some of the songs were sung in English.  I especially enjoyed singing "How Great Thou Art"  in Dutch with the entire congregation, probably over 300 individuals.

The concert ended with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a tremendous finish to a wonderful Dutch experience.

For Sister Rueckert, this was a highlight of our trip and one of her favorite experiences in Europe, participating in the music in these old Churches.  Let me just quote from her journal:

"The choir was amazing.  As I began listening to this music, I felt strong stirrings of the spirit.  My soul soared and I felt an amazing uplift.  This is what I love to do in Europe.  This experience brought back memories of the concert we attended in Frankfurt at Christmas time.  There are so many people throughout the world with amazing talents they have been given by God that they are willing to share with the world.  I am so very blessed to be able to experience such amazing music.  The spirit has always spoken to me most strongly through music and it continues to be the same."

This Church was originally built in the 1500s and  has been rebuilt after the bombing of Rotterdam in 1940.  The Nazi army invaded the Netherlands and met resistance.  They then bombed the center of Rotterdam with threats to continue if the Dutch did not surrender.  The war finished and the center of the city of Rotterdam was rebuilt, including this wonderful church and the incredible architecture that we experienced.

 Self-Reliance in the Apeldoorn and Hague stakes:

On Sunday morning we left early to drive an hour and a half to the Apeldoorn ward where a Self-Reliance devotional was held during the last two hours of the Sunday block  There was a missionary homecoming at sacrament meeting.  We were able to share the My Plan for Returned Missionaries with the returned missionary and observed the My Path Devotional.  It was shared by the Stake Self-Reliance Specialists, Carlo and Amanda Boos.  The photos below show some of the members who had signed up to join some of the Self-Reliance groups.

Groups assembling after the devotional.  The second man from the left is our stake specialist, Carlo Boos.

Those who signed up for the Finance group, including the wive of the stake presidency member who chairs the self-reliance committee.
After this meeting, Carlo and Amanda hosted us for lunch in their home.  We had a wonderful time getting to know them better and enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

After that meeting we traveled another hour plus to meet with the Stake Presidency counselor in the Hague stake.  We had a good update with him and also received some edible nourishment.  We finished a little after 7:00 pm and then began our drive back to Frankfurt, arriving home a little before midnight.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Hope shines brightly in Portugal

We are so impressed with our staff and missionaries and the priesthood leadership for Self-Reliance in Portugal.  Even more, we have seen the Lord's hand in this great work and in this great country.    We were able to participate in the self-reliance seminar for priesthood leaders this past week.  The seminar ended with a visit to the site of the new Portugal temple.  This site is symbolic of the hope that the members have, not only for a temple of the Lord, but also to become self-reliant.

In front of the temple site.  The backhoe in the rear is where the hole has already been dug to begin this special project.

Our week began with the many follow-up steps from our Area Review the previous week.  Much is needed to clarify and summarize our action plans and then execute them.  We have a full calendar planned ahead of us for the next several weeks.  We used the few days we had to make those plans and prepare accordingly.

On Monday night we were able to have dinner with Elder and Sister Jensen.  They arrived with us in Frankfurt just over a year ago.  It is always wonderful to spend time with these missionaries that we love.

We quickly got back into our normal activities, including our german classes on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.  On Thursday morning we awoke to a beautiful sunrise in Frankfurt.  It was a sign of the beautiful sun and weather that we would enjoy in Portugal.  We left that morning for the airport.

We were met at the airport by our Self-Reliance missionary couple, Elder and Sister Neiswender.  The weather was absolutely beautiful.  Full blue skies and sunshine with temperatures in the high 40s.  This was a welcome change from the near freezing temperatures in Germany.  
Campo Pequeno near our hotel.  Blue skies and warmer temperatures!
We also were able to meet with Julio, the first PEF Loan participant in Portugal.  He is currently working for a security company.  He plans on being the first PEF student in Portugal to pay off his loan later this year.  He is also an Elders Quorum President in his ward and a volunteer at the stake self-reliance center.

After getting settled in, we went to the Self-Reliance office and began helping in the preparations for the seminar on Saturday.  All the stake self-reliance committee chairmen and specialists were invited for a one day seminar on Saturday.  Besides learning from them, we also were assigned to share some thoughts about changing the culture of self-reliance within the Church in Portugal.  This was the primary purpose of our trip.

With a few schedule changes, we had time to go out to dinner with Elder and Sister Neiswender.  We had been encouraged to eat at a nearby famous "chicken" restaurant.  It was very good.  The photo below shows a little of the chicken being cooked.

Several grills of full chickens being grilled over charcoal

Friday morning we started visiting with participants of the Perpetual Education Fund.  Some were new participants, others had moved to Portugal from South America.  Each has a story.  We started with a sister who came with her husband from Venezuela.  She had a previous loan and they both received additional loans this year in Portugal.  They are faithfully paying their loans and preparing themselves for greater self-reliance, certainly a success story in the making.  We then met with a bishop who moved from Brazil 10 years ago.  At the time he was studying with a PEF loan in Brazil and stopped studying to make the move.  Although he is doing well in Portugal, we encouraged him to revisit his original dream, which has gone unfulfilled.  He is currently managing a Brazilian restaurant.  He has seven employees working with him, the majority are members of the Church.  The restaurant is closed on Sunday which allows all of them the opportunity to go to Church each week.  We also discussed with him how Self-Reliance could help the members of his ward.  That evening we visited with a sister who had just been approved for a PEF loan and has now been called as a Stake PEF specialist.  This is a role that we have encouraged in all of the stakes in Portugal.  As the number of participants increases, this will be more critical to help manage and bless the lives of the PEF participants in each stake.  The photo below is of a dinner that Elder and Sister Neiswender hosted for this sister, Julio (see above) and a district president from the Azores Islands that came to Lisbon for the training session the next day.  

On Friday, in between visits, we helped prepare for the training meeting to be held on Saturday.  It included the stake committee chairmen and specialists from 7 of the stakes or districts in Portugal.

The seminar began with a message from Elder Moreira, the Area 70 in Portugal.

He was followed by our Operations Team discussing the PEF loan program in Portugal, which just began officially this past year.  As I sat back and listened to Miguel Adriano and Ceu Cavaco share and respond to questions from the leaders, I realized that the PEF loan program was in good hands in Europe.  These two understand not only the processes, but more importantly the principles.  I felt such a feeling of gratitude to witness this program that I had been a part of for so long being administered so well.  We were also pleased to see our SRS manager being very involved in the discussion, also a key to the success of PEF loans in Portugal.

Miguel Adriano, our Operations manager and Ceu Cavaco, the PEF Loan supervisor
Next our manager Antonio taught the participants how to work in ward councils to strengthen Self-Reliance in the wards.  They divided into three different ward councils to role play three different scenarios for each of them.  It seemed very effective.

Sister Rueckert represented a primary president in this ward council.  The man with his arm on her shoulder was translating for her.  He was a stake presidency counselor in one of the stakes.
Second ward council break out group
Third ward council break out group
The seminar than broke for lunch.  The Portuguese love their squash soup and their cod fish casserole.

Squash soup, a Portuguese staple
Cod Fish casserole.  Cod Fish appears to be the national food of Portugal
After lunch Sister Rueckert and I led a discussion about changing the culture within the Church so that the Self-Reliance initiative can have a lasting impact.  The group had many excellent ideas to share.  Antonio, our SRS manager, than finished up sharing some successes and challenges and getting commitments from several of the stakes to hold job fairs in the coming months.

Photo taken of seminar participants at the end, after a few had already left
After the seminar we had the treat of visiting the site where the Portugal temple is being constructed.  The primary emphasis has been on the neighboring stake center.  However, the hole has been dug for the temple and footings are in place.  We had the project architect and project manager to share their views and experience about this project that is so important to the Portuguese saints.

Overlooking the temple construction site
More close up of the actual temple site.  Behind the backhoe is the hole for the footings of the temple.
The site is on the side of a major rail line.  The temple will be seen by all who pass by.  The rail station will also offer easy access to temple patrons.

After the visit to the temple site, we made one more visit to a PEF participant who had received his loan in Brazil before moving to Portugal in the past year.   As well as the other participants, he is doing well.  He shared with us the challenges and opportunities for immigrants to move to Portugal.

On Sunday morning we went to attend a ward where Elder and Sister Neiswender were speaking in sacrament meeting.  The first speaker was the ward self-reliance specialist who gave an incredible talk about the doctrine of self-reliance and her experience as the facilitator of a recent self-reliance group.  She was followed by Sister Neiswender who gave a significant talk on the value of work, all in excellent Portuguese.  This from a wonderful sister who has only been in Portugal for one year.  Her husband followed with another excellent talk.  He asked why are we receiving self-reliance emphasis at this time?  The answer is simple, because our Prophet has revealed this priority at this time.  An excellent example of being led by a living prophet.  As we finished, I felt like I had just attended the best sacrament meeting about Self-Reliance ever.  Elder Neiswender found out that the ward council was meeting after the Sunday block and arranged to take some time with the ward council to train them about self-reliance.  Once again all went well.  I had the same feeling about these great missionaries as I had felt the previous day about our employees.  They are so capable and are being led by the spirit in all that they do.

Elde and Sister Neiswender
With our dear friends, Elder and Sister Neiswender

Tis beautiful chapel next to a Catholic church.
The bishop from this ward was also an immigrant from Brazil.  His wife was the ward specialist.  His elders quorum president was also from Brazil as were many of the other leaders in the ward.  The church has struggled to grow in Portugal in recent years, but it appears to be receiving a strong boost from very capable immigrants, especially from Brazil.  We see the Lord's hand directly involved in blessing the saints in Portugal.

From mature and capable employees, dedicated and seasoned missionaries and devoted priesthood leaders, we leave Portugal with feelings of gratitude.  We know that the Kingdom of God in Portugal is in good hands as they prepare for the completion of a House of the Lord!