Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ministering among "Freunde"

A good week at home got much better with a Saturday visit to Bavaria.  We visited the old Rückert home in Steinach with some visiting Rückert relatives.  That started a magical Saturday where we felt guided by the Lord while strengthening relationships with some of our dear friends and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are grateful that the Lord allows us to have these experiences.  We know that He lives and loves all of His Children.

With Mike and Mimi Keyser, Christian and Aurelia Tocaci in front of the old Rückert home in Steinach, Germany

Our week began with a German holiday on Monday.  It was May 1 or Labor Day.  Since we had been gone so much, it was a day to catch up on several things in the office and in our apartment.  We certainly need a day like this once in a while.
On Tuesday, we were invited by our Area Manager, Tom King, to join him in a Zoom meeting with Ian and Linda Carroll.  They are his friends from Australia who have been very interested in serving in our role when we finish our mission.  They were scheduled to open their mission calls while we watched through technology.  We were happy to participate and were thrilled to know that they had in fact been called as Europe Area self-reliance missionaries, reporting to the MTC in October 2017.    This was almost exactly two years after we had opened our missionary calls.  

Joining by Zoom for the opening of the missionary call for Ian and Linda Carroll

We had previously met the Carrolls by video and we know that they will do a wonderful job in carrying on our efforts when we are finished with our mission.  When someone is actually called to replace you, you realize that the mission does have an end.  Fortunately, that is still six months away.  We still have much to do.

Ian and Linda Carroll with their mission callings

Our week was busy, participating in our monthly meeting with our Self-Reliance Managers and our Area Self-Reliance Committee. We also worked on many other tasks, including meeting with a few of our missionary couples.  We are working hard to set appointments with several parishes in the regions where the family of my grandmother was born so that we can visit them when my mother and cousin Gloria come in a few weeks. We are excited to open another chapter in our family history endeavors.

Zoom meeting with our Self-Reliance professional team

This week new General Authority assignments were announced.  We learned that Elder Paul Johnson will be our new Area President, with President Kearon now being called to the Presidency of the Seventy.  Elder Massimo De Feo will be the new member of our Area Presidency.  We met him in Italy over a year ago before he was called to be a General Authority Seventy.  He spoke in a Self-Reliance training meeting and was amazing.  He has a strong understanding of Self-Reliance.  It will be a pleasure to have him in Europe with us.

We also became aware that Elder Robert Gay has been called to be the Area President in the Asia North Area and Elder Joseph Sitati was also given a new assignment at Headquarters.  Both of these wonderful General Authorities have spent the past 5 (Elder Gay) and 4 (Elder Sitati) years serving on the PEF Self-Reliance Committee. We have had the privilege to get to know each of them well.  We love them and will miss our association with them in the Self-Reliance initiative.

We held our Health and Well-Being Self-Reliance Group on Tuesday evening and learned about and committed to a better Exercise program.  Today we participated in one of our Personal Finance groups and also recommitted to reviewing our finances in a weekly family stewardship meeting.  As long as we participate in Self-Reliance groups, we are committed to individual improvement.  We can't complain about that.

On Friday we met with our missionary couple in Spain and discussed the plans for Saturday.  It has been planed that every ward in Spain would hold a Self-Reliance devotional on May 6.  This is a very ambitious effort.  We know that it will take Self-Reliance to a higher plane in Spain.

Friday night we were invited to a Brazilian dinner and social.  This was at the home of Elder and Sister Garret, Family Service missionaries.  Elder Garret had served his young mission in the same original mission that I did in Brazil.  We have many stories that are only understood by those who served in that mission.  They also invited our administrative assistant, Constanza with her husband Kiever, who is from Brazil.   Constanza brought feijoada, a Brazilian national meal made of black beans and pork parts.  The food was delicious and the company was even better.  Constanza is expecting her first child and will be on maternity leave in July.

Elder and Sister Garret, Kiever and Constanza, Sister Rueckert 

On Saturday we were invited to go to Bavaria with Sister Keyser (my second cousin) and her son and daughter-in-law (Mike and Mimi Keyser) who had arrived on Friday to make a visit.  We had planned this for a little while and made a call to our dear friend Marianne to arrange the visit.  When we called we found out from her husband that she was in a Clinic.  He told us we could still visit, so we did.
Sister Keyser, Sister Rueckert, Mike and Mimi Keyser, Christian and his mother Aurelia in front of the house built by my Great Grandfather.

Marianne's husband, Cristian welcomed us.  His mother is helping out while his wife is in the clinic.  He was kind to show Mike and Mimi the home and his mother shared a fresh apple cake that she had made.  They showed us all of the same hospitality that Marianne has shown us in previous visits.  Cristian understands a fair amount of English and speaks a little.  We speak a little
German.  Altogether, with the help of the Lord, communication occurred.

Christian showing us around the house
Mike in the original "kellar"

Our group with Cristian in their home

After touring the house and visiting a bit, the discussion turned to religion.  Mike did a wonderful job of approaching this.  Cristian is Greek Orthodox although not practicing.  Mike drew a chart of the history of Christ's Church through the Catholic and Greek Orthodox periods and the reformation.  He then showed how Christ's Church was restored through Joseph Smith.  We had a missionary pamphlet in German to share parts of this.  As the discussion continued, Cristian and his mother both paid much more attention.

Mike, explaining a bit about the restoration

Cristian and his mother reviewing the diagram that Mike drew
We asked Cristian if missionaries could return again and answer more of his questions. He agreed!  We have contacted the missionaries who will be contacting them this week.

After that wonderful visit, we passed by a few of our other Rückert sites.

The Bergtshofen house, built by my 3rd great grandfather in the 1850s, plaque with his name above the door

On the side of the Hochboch home, where my grandfather was born.
 After these visits, Sister Keyser, Mike and Mimi continued on to visit the city of Rothenburg.  We went to a prearranged visit with Werner and Dorota Rückert.  We first met Werner and Dorota last August.  We have tried hard to prove that we are related.  We traced Werner's genealogy back into the 1500s and still have not found a connection.  However, we shared with him his genealogy and he was very interested.  They accepted our visit with ease and met with us in their yard, sharing drinks and treats.  Even thought we were not able to tie his Rückert name into our line yet, we told him that we might tie it in through a different line.  His mother's name was Endress, which is also a name in our genealogy.  He gave us more information about her parents and Dorota shared more information about her parents and grandparents in Poland.   They want more names on their fan chart.  We committed to do what we could and return in a few weeks, when we are there with my mother and cousin.  I brought out a missionary pamphlet that we wanted to share with them.  We had left a Book of Mormon with Dorota last August.  Before I could say anything, Dorota wanted to see the pamphlet.  We left it with her to read and learn more.  Werner wanted to know why my emails to them say Tom, when my name tag says Elder.  That opened up additional conversation.  We feel that they were much more open than in earlier visits.  We think their interest in their family history is certainly a plus.  This was one more spiritual moment in a magical day.  Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of Werner and Dorota.  The following is a photo of their home and of beautiful rapeseed fields near their home.

We left to visit Marianne in the clinic which was 100 km from her home.  It was mostly on our way to Frankfurt.  We decided to visit her and took some treats and papers that her husband had sent and a few flowers from her garden.

When we arrived, she was not there and we could not find an administrator to help us.  We waited near the cafeteria for her to come to dinner so we could see her.  Finally one of the other patients told us that we could not be there and took us to a nurse's station.  The nurse was helpful and finally found Marianne who welcomed us with big hugs.  Marianne has such a big heart, we always feel so welcome when we are with her.  She took us up to her room and spent over an hour with us.

Marianne with Sister Rueckert and her flowers from home
Marianne had told us previously that she wanted to join the Jehovah Witnesses church.  We told her that we loved her anyway and have continued our friendship with her.  While there,we explained about Priesthood blessings and asked her if I could give her a blessing. She agreed.  After the blessing, she was very emotional.  She said that she had felt a power going through her body.  We know that her heart is good.  We will send her a letter explaining a little more about the Priesthood and the Holy Ghost.  We will also include a pamphlet that she can read while in her rehabilitation.

This experience was the third one this day where we felt we were guided by the Lord.  When we left our home, we weren't sure what we would accomplish, other than showing a few houses to Mike and Mimi.  At the end, we were once again led by the Lord and we were able to see his hands at work amongst His people.  We love being instruments in His hands.  We pray that these fine individuals can be touched sufficiently by the Holy Ghost to continue in their pursuit of the truth that is offered in the Lord's Church.

We stopped on our way home to have dinner, our first real meal of the day.  The following photo is again of the beautiful rapeseed fields near the restaurant during the sunset hours.  We finally arrived home at nearly 11:00 pm, tired by happy with the opportunities that we had this day.

Today, we were privileged to attend stake conference.  Our stake holds the stake conferences in the Darmstadt meetinghouse, which has the largest space to accommodate the stake members.  The stake has many English speakers, especially the international ward and a large number of senior missionaries.  Rather than provide simultaneous translation, all of the talks are given in either English or German.  Speakers speak in their native language with side by side translation.  Translation equipment was also available for Spanish.  This is a strong stake.  The hall was full and the spirit was strong.  What a wonderful way to finish off our spiritual weekend.

As an interesting side note, this is the building that President Uchtdorf attended when he lived in Germany.  A few years ago, President Uchtdorf gave an excellent talk in General Conference entitled, "Lift Where You Stand".  He talked about moving a baby grand piano.  The photo below is of that actual baby grand piano, still used in the Darmstadt ward and in our stake conference.

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