Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A fresh start in England

We have just returned from nine successful days with our two new Self-Reliance missionaries in Birmingham and Manchester England.  We were able to attend 5 self-reliance groups and 2 stake self-reliance committee meetings and met with 2 returned missionaries, 2 PEF participants and 2 stake committee chairmen.  We were also able to attend the Preston, England temple with the two missionary couples.  In the middle of our trip, we took advantage of some open times to visit the birthplaces of William Shakespeare (Stratford upon Avon), the Beatles (Liverpool) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in England (Liverpool and Preston). 

With Elder and Sister Blumell and Elder and Sister Dudley at the Preston, England Temple
Sunday afternoon, February 12, we took a flight to Birmingham, England.  We were met at the airport by Elder and Sister Blumell, our SR missionaries for the Birmingham Mission and covering part of the London missions.  They are from Magrath, Alberta, Canada and have been serving since the first of November, last year.

We arrived in time to attend the final group meeting of a Finance SR group in Solihull, England.  They have had good participation in this group.  With the Blumells, there were 8 in attendance this evening.  Others that have participated regularly were not able to be there on Sunday.  This group was facilitated superbly by Peter (right most person in the photo).  He diligently followed the steps in the materials.  The interaction between each of the participants was amazing.

At the end of the group session, each of the participants shared their feelings about the benefit of the self-reliance group.  We were able to hear strong testimonies from each of the participants.  They all needed different things and came away with different results, but all were very positive.  From this group other groups will be formed and several are willing to serve as facilitators for other groups.

Those at the last meeting of the Solihull Finance Group
We stayed at a hotel right next to the self-reliance center.  They had a very British breakfast, which we enjoyed.  We have included a few photos of some of the British items.

Porridge with many tasty items to add to it.  I enjoyed this each morning.

Sister Rueckert especially liked the Crumpets, which were quite similar to pancakes

This is black pudding.  We didn't particularly enjoy it.  It was a like a black cookie without much flavor.
We were able to walk to the office on Monday.  We observed some holly and berries that were growing on the path.  These may seem like little things, but it was fun for us to be in the middle of many of the things that we have often heard about but not previously experienced.

Holly and Berries on the walk to the SR Center

Just a photo of the baby changing station.  Once again, we enjoy the different ways that the British have to speak English.
We went with Elder and Sister Blumell to the Wolverhampton ward where they had self-reliance groups going.  They facilitate two groups, one is a Starting and Growing My Business for one individual and then a Job Search group for four individuals.

My Job Search Group facilitated by Elder and Sister Blumell
We were also pleased to see our friend Jimmy Van Tonder again.  Jimmy had participated in our returned missionary group in our ward in Frankfurt and had since moved to Birmingham.  We were able to introduce him and another returned missionary (Eden) to the new My Plan for Returned Missionaries and get them started.  They will continue to be facilitated through this group by Elder Blumell on the upcoming Mondays.

With Eden and Jimmy, both returned from their missions last summer
After finally eating dinner, we returned to our hotel room.  The next day we were scheduled to spend time with our SRS managers in England.  However, they both came up sick, so we had some extra time to work from our hotel room in the morning, including a video conference with the PEF loan group led by our PEF Operations team.  We then went to a My Foundations only group with some older sisters in another ward.  This is another group facilitated by Sister Blumell, who has become a pretty accomplished facilitator.  She included all of the appropriate commitments, reporting, action partners and Ponder times that are needed to have success.  This was the first group meeting for these sisters.  They seemed to really enjoy the time together.

Four older Sisters from a very small ward.  They are the core women leaders in this ward and are the first participants in Self-Reliance groups in their ward
Elder and Sister Blumell took us to a nearby glass factory which is quite old and famous.  We were too late to catch a tour, but we did see the outside of the Red House Glass Cone in Wordsley.  This factory had built most of the glass and crystal that were used in the Titanic.

Outside of the Red House Glass Cone
Since it was Valentines Day and I had not bought anything for my Valentine, I found a nice necklace for her in the Creative Cone jewelry shop.  This jewelry is made on site.

My Valentine Present to Sister Rueckert

That evening we had a Valentine's Dinner with Elder and Sister Blumell.  They were such great hosts to us during the first four days of the week.  We really appreciate them.

Valentine's dinner with Elder and Sister Blumell. Chinese food, including roast duck
Wednesday was an open day for us, except for a Stake Self-Reliance Committee in the evening, so the Blumell's showed us some of the local sights.  We started with a short stop at the Warwick Castle.

Sister Rueckert with the Warwick Castle in the background.  This photo was taken from the bridge over the river

Closer up view of the castle with Sister Blumell and Sister Rueckert
View of the castle behind grass tennis courts.  Quite a picturesque view.
We then headed to the city of Stratford Upon Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.  There we were able to participate in a walking tour of the city.

Our tour included visits to the birthplace and grave of William Shakespeare and many city sights that are from the 1500s.

Lamp Post donated by Israel.  Depicted is a figure from  A Midsummer's Night's Dream and Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof

The following are found in the Holy Trinity Church which we visited:

Birth and death records of William Shakespeare.  His birth in 1564 was recorded in Latin, while his death in 1616 was recorded in English.
A copy of an original version of the King James Bible.  Some believe that William Shakespeare helped translate part of the Bible.  William Shakespeare would have been 46 years old at the time.  In Psalms 46, the 46th word is "shake" and the 46th word from the end of the chapter is "spear".
Shakespeare's grave.  Also the grave of his wife,  daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter are in this Church.

Along the street we saw buildings from his time, the 1500s:

Original House of Shakespeare's son-in-law and daughter, from the late 1500s

To the far left is the Guild's Church and in the middle is the school where Shakespeare would have studied his High School

It started to rain during the tour, but only towards the end

In front of Shakespeare's birth place, the home owned by his father and mother
Finally we stopped at the cathedral of Lichfield, before going to the self-reliance committee meeting of the Lichfield Stake.

Magnificent Cathedral, even longer than it is wide!
The Lichfield Self-Reliance Committee was well organized with wonderful participation from all members.  This is a committee that we had visited 16 months earlier.  They seem to be making progress.

Litchfield Stake Self-Reliance Committee
Thursday morning we (Elder and Sister Blumell and E/S Rueckert) got up early and began a 2.5 hour drive to the Preston Temple.  There we met Elder and Sister Dudley with whom we would spend the rest of the week.  We were able to do some initiatory work for some of our family names before participating in a wonderful endowment session.

Often I struggle being as alert as I would like during temple sessions.  This time, my mind was extremely alert and I learned so much.  When we go to the temple and listen to the spirit, we see God's plan clearly.  We see it's contrast to the ways of the world, which are clearly identified in our temple ceremony.  This was a wonderful experience for me.  Perhaps it helped that I was representing Sister Rueckert's 5th great grandfather, Johann Georg Sickel.

Together in front of the Preston England temple.  Our first ever visit.

Sister Rueckert in front of the temple

Elder and Sister Dudley are also from Magrath, Alberta, Canada. They are Self-Reliance missionaries serving in the Manchester Mission, just north from the Birmingham Mission.  They have just started their mission a few weeks ago.  They knew Elder and Sister Blumell before their mission.  Now they are serving Self-Reliance missions in neighboring missions.  We took time to have lunch with all six of us and gave them a chance to catch up a little bit.  Then the Blumells returned to Birmingham and we continued onto Liverpool where we had a stake self-reliance committee meeting scheduled.

Our meeting was actually with the Stake Committee Chairman and the Stake Self-Reliance specialist couple who had been recently called.  This stake had not recorded any self-reliance activity on-line since the beginning.  However, we learned that they had held some groups, but that none had been recorded.  Our manager, Les Pointer also attended and recommended an Area Plan fireside be scheduled.  This would address the three points of the Area Plan and would then focus on Self-Reliance. The intent is to include most elements of the My Path Devotional and divide into Self-Reliance Groups.  President Rigby, the stake committee chair agreed to schedule such a fireside for April 23.  That will give them 8 weeks to prepare and follow all of the steps outlined in our "How to Begin the Self-Reliance Process" document.  The first step is setting a date, so that was taken care of.  We were very optimistic about the strong spirit present in the meeting.  The committee is now scheduled to meet on a monthly basis, every third Sunday morning.  We were invited to attend the next meeting that Sunday to take the next steps to prepare for this fireside.

As an extra blessing, we discovered that President Rigby had served his mission in Magrath, Canada and knows many of the people that Elder and Sister Dudley know.  From the very beginning, the Lord has given this fine couple an opportunity to start developing important relationships with this good stake president's counselor.

We made plans to visit the full committee on Sunday morning, attend church in the Liverpool stake and then to have dinner at the home of President Rigby.

Meeting with Liverpool Stake self-reliance leadership

We stayed in a hotel in Liverpool that evening and were able to see a few sights in Liverpool the following morning,  We were able to see the docks where over a hundred thousand Latter Day Saints had departed for the U.S. to join up with the members of the early Church, including several of our own relatives.  It is estimated that 9 million individuals immigrated through this port.  The Church has built a monument, representing the many families that left to go to Zion.

Monument form the Church at the Albert Dock

By the monument, with Sister Dudley.  The family is looking westward for their journey

With Elder and Sister Dudley and Sister Rueckert.  The son in the family is looking backward, playing with a crab, signifying a deep association with the sea
Looking over the docks
Current vessels in the docks of Liverpool

We also took a few moments to visit "The Beatles Story".  This was an enjoyable walk through history of the Beatles music group, which began in Liverpool.  These were the rock stars of our childhood.  The exhibit did a very good job of showing the history of the Beatles from their beginnings in Liverpool until the present day.

In front of "The Beatles Story"

In front of one of the setups where the Beatles had played
An exhibit of the Casbah location where the Beatles had played before becoming famous
We than returned to Preston for a visit with President Ezard of the Preston Stake.  He is the Stake SR committee chairman and also the son of our Self-Reliance missionary which just began her mission in Croatia.  This gave us an opportunity to visit with him and discuss the Self-Reliance initiative in his stake.   He invited us into his home where we met his wife and children and were able to share some of the new materials that are now available.  We tried to understand the goals of his stake and offered our services and the initiative to help the stake reach their goals.  Their primary goal is to focus on reading the Book of Mormon.  He could see how the new My Foundation emphasis on reading the Book of Mormon can help.  He was also especially interested in the My Plan for Returned Missionaries to help the returned missionaries in his stake.

After this meeting we drove to Elder and Sister Dudley's home.  Since it was late, I was asked to do the driving.  This was my first opportunity to drive on the right side of the car and the left side of the street in over 15 years.  I am happy to report that I succeeding in arriving without any damages.

When we arrived home on Friday evening, we found an email that we had not seen earlier from some PEF participants in the Liverpool stake.  They had responded to our request to visit with them.  However, they had been available to visit on Friday.  Unfortunately, we did not connect in time.  We did discuss with them the option of visiting them at Church on Sunday which was arranged.

On Saturday we had some free time, so we drove back up to Preston and visited Church History sites in that city where the Church began in England in 1837.  After arriving in Liverpool, Heber C. Kimball and 6 others immediately went to Preston.  There they first preached the gospel in the Market Square, near the Obelisk.  We were able to visit that very location.  This was also the same location where President Hinckley first preached the gospel on his mission.

Market Square and the Obelisk, where the gospel was first preached in England

When Heber C. Kimball first arrived, they saw a banner that said "Truth will Prevail" that inspired them in their missionary efforts.  As we arrived we saw the words on the building to the side that said  "Everything is going to be alright".  That reminded us of President Hinckley's optimism.

Here Elder and Sister Dudley and Sister Rueckert give their encouragement as they stand on the very same obelisk.

Sister Rueckert at the base of the Obelisk
In their first preaching, the people responded very favorably to their preaching of baptism by immersion for those who are of the age of accountability.  In fact, they had a minister who argued for infant baptism that was led away by the crowd.

In the first week they had 9 individuals to be baptized.  They were staying in a nearby boarding house, which we were also able to visit.
Heber C. Kimball was sleeping in the top floor with his companion with the others on the second floor

The day of the baptisms came and the brethren suffered a significant attack by evil spirits trying to stop the work that was going forth.  This included Heber C. Kimball being knocked unconscious by the evil spirits.  In the end, they prevailed and the evil spirits left.  It was one more example of the devil trying to stop the great work that was about to begin.
On that day, July 30, 1837, the nine individuals went to the river to be baptized.  Two of them ran a foot race to see who could be the first to be baptized in England.  This occurred at the Ribble River.  The photos below are of that river and some monuments that have been put in the park nearby.

In front of the first baptism site.  It occurred on the other side of the bridge in the background

By the marker and tree established in 1987, the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the first baptism in England.  The Oak tree behind the missionaries was planted at that time.

Near a newer plaque commissioned by President Hinckley after the dedication of the Preston Temple in 1998, giving more recognition to the thousands of members that were baptized in Northwest England and joined the saints in the U.S.  This time a Maple tree was planted.  The Ribble River is in the background.

From that time forward the work of the Lord moved ahead at an amazing rate.  By the end of the year, several branches of the Church was established.  They met in the Cockpit or temperance hall for three years.  This location was the primary meeting spot for the Church for the first 3 years.  The following plaque identifies the location where this hall stood.

Elders Dudley and Rueckert near the site of the former Cockpit meeting hall
On Sunday morning we traveled back to Southport where we met with the Stake Specialists and the Agent bishop of the Liverpool Stake, making plans for the next steps needed for the April 23 fireside.   We then traveled to the Liverpool 1st ward to attend our Sunday meetings.  During Sunday School time we met with Alessandro Ginatto and his wife Isabel Ginatto.  Both are former PEF Loan recipients from Brazil.  Alessandro is now a counselor in the bishopric and his wife is the secretary of the Primary.  We had a delightful visit with them.  They have such a strong self-reliant attitude and have made great progress in 18 months in England.  They are paying diligently on their PEF loan.  We agreed to help them resolve some record keeping errors on the wife's loan and to help them receive the deserved loan incentives. This was one more example of great members from Brazil strengthening the Church in other lands.  There are 29 members of this ward that are from Brazil, including our high priest instructor.

Alessandro and Isabel and their beautiful family
After our meeting we went to the home of President Rigby where we were treated to a hearty lunch, prepared by his wife, Jenny.  As Sister Rueckert and I arrived at their door, their six year old son commented, "I have not seen a boy and a girl together.  We usually have two boys or two girls come"  We explained the concept of couple missionaries.  It is clear that this family often feeds the younger missionaries.    They are a great example of a the hope of this country, self-reliant and dedicated to serving in the gospel.

President Rigby and his wife, Jenny and their four children

We left their home and headed south to the Telford Ward, more than 2 hours away.  There we were able to participate in a Finance Self-Reliance group.  This was a very well run group, facilitated on a rotating basis by members of the group.  This group includes a non member, some new members and some less actives that are returning.  Each person is on a different step in their self-reliant path, but the process works beautifully.

Eleven individuals in the Personal Finance SR Group besides the 4 visiting missionaries

We drove back to the home of Elder and Sister Dudley, finishing a 15 hour day.  It was a holy Sabbath Day, but probably wasn't a day of rest.  We have really enjoyed getting to know Elder and Sister Dudley who have not yet been married a year.

                                                   Elder and Sister Dudley, Self-Reliance missionaries and newlyweds

We left the next morning to the airport, returning to Frankfurt.  We were pleased to have 9 days full of self-reliance activities, a temple trip and the chance to explore some local sights.  Most of all, we loved the time that we spent with Elder and Sister Blumell and Elder and Sister Dudley.  They are great missionaries that will bless many lives during the course of their missions.  We are so blessed to associate with such special people and with this inspired self-reliance initiative.

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