Sunday, June 25, 2017

5 devotionals, 3 countries, 5 days

We are just finishing a tour of the Adriatic North Mission, with self-reliance devotionals in 5 different branches in 3 countries in 5 days.  We have been with Sister Ezard, our full-time senior Self-Reliance missionary in this mission, who is the perfect person to work in this part of the world.  Her enthusiasm and positive outlook is making a difference every where we go, which includes Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.

Beautiful view of the orthodox temple with fountains in front in Belgrade, Serbia

Our Monday started with a farewell devotional with Elder Patrick Kearon who has been our Area President for the entire time that we have been here.  He has recently been called to the Presidency of the Seventy and will be leaving the Europe Area soon.  His message to us was powerful about the need to hear and follow the music of the gospel in our hearts, to not just go through the motions.  He expressed so much gratitude for each of the employees and missionaries.  After the closing prayer he got back up to make sure that we all knew that he loved us.  He will be sorely missed.  We have been blessed to get to know him and his family over the time of our mission.

On Monday evening we had our monthly senior missionary devotional.  We were privileged to hear a presentation from Sister Cottam about the Paris Temple Open House which occurred in April and May.  Elder and Sister Cottam are public affairs missionaries and spent several weeks in Paris, preparing for and participating in the open house activities.  The presentation was very well done.  The spirit was set as we watched some of the Church videos of the interior of the Paris Temple before the devotional began.  We are blessed to have some involvement in these special events in the Europe Area.

Opening slides of the Paris Open House presentation

Sister Cottam as the presentation finished
Also on Monday, my Fathers Day present arrived.  We had ordered a copy of this German English genealogical dictionary.  It is has descriptions of just about anything that you will see in a parish record.  This was based on the recommendation of my cousin, Gloria.  As I have looked through it, I am sure that it will be a great benefit to us in our present and future family history efforts.

Tuesday, we worked at the office, including our monthly meeting with our SRS managers.   Tom King and Miguel Adriano shared some of what they had learned in the regional SRS training held earlier in the month.  Later that day, we boarded an airplane going to Croatia for our next adventure.

Pigeon Update:  Our pigeon keeps growing and has taken a real liking to one of our tomato plants.  We haven't seen the mother for a few days.  We don't know what to expect when we return.  At some point, we know the pigeon will fly away.

Wings are developing nicely
As we planned this trip to the Adriatic North mission, we were able to get My Foundation and My Path booklets printed in Serbian and Slovenian, two languages that are not on our standard list of languages.  These manuals, and about 60 manuals of My Job Search in Croatian, were delivered to our office on Monday afternoon.  We then made arrangements to take them all with us in checked luggage.  We were able to distribute them in three different suitcases with our personal belongings to meet with luggage weight restrictions.  We only had to pay for one extra suitcase this way.

With the luggage in hand, we arrived in Croatia on Tuesday evening at 10:30 pm.  Sister Ezard picked us up and we stayed the night in her apartment.  On Wednesday morning, Sister Rueckert completed her reading of the Book of Mormon in German.  This was the culmination of significant effort by Sister Rueckert throughout her mission.  It has blessed her with greater understanding and vocabulary of the German language.  

Reading Moroni 10 in Sister Ezard's apartment
On Wednesday morning we took the 4 hour drive to our first stop, the Sremska Mitrovica branch in Serbia.  After checking into our hotel, we went to the branch and were met by Elder and Sister Decker, who preside over this branch.  Our first step was to hold facilitator training for their branch specialist who did not arrive.  However, that gave us time to visit with the Deckers and to enjoy a meal with them that they had graciously prepared.  We then proceeded to hold a My Path Devotional with members and nonmembers of the branch who had come.

My Path devotional with 3 members and 3 non members and 5 senior missionaries
Although we did not achieve all that we had hoped to, we did learn a lot about the challenges of working with these small branches in this remote part of the world.  The branch president now has a much better understanding of how the self-reliance initiative works.  He is currently working personally with one of the families with the My Foundation manual.  We feel that seeds have been planted and pray that they will grow.

We left early the next morning for morning sessions with the Novi Sad branch, also in Serbia.  We met Elder and Sister Nield who preside over this branch.  They had a very capable sister called to serve as a facilitator, Dragana.  We were pleased to be able to take her through the facilitator training, together with Elder and Sister Nield.  That was followed by a My Path Devotional with 2 additional nonmembers.  This session went very well and in the end the facilitator and the two nonmembers were committed to begin a My Job Search self-reliance group.  With the able supervision of the missionary couple, we felt that the desired results for this branch were all completed.  Elder and Sister Nield have a few other individuals in mind to invite to also participate in this self-reliance group.

My Path Devotional in Novi Sad

Our first Self-Reliance group formed in Servba.  The facilitator is on the left.  The other two are nonmember sisters.  All are employed but want to obtain better work in the fields that they are qualified for.  
We finally searched for a place to eat our lunch and we ended up at the Flying Dutchman restaurant.  We had a delightful experience with a wonderful server that went out of her way to help us out, including paying our parking fee via her cell phone so that we could stay and eat at the restaurant.  She also gave us her contact information which Sister Ezard will forward to the missionaries.

In front of the Flying Dutchman restaurant
Before we checked in at our hotel, we visited the Petrovaradin Fortress, built in the 1600s on a site that has had a fortress for thousands of years.  This overlooks the Danube river.  The following are a few photos that we had taken at this location.

From the fortress, overlooking the Danube River
On the corner of the fortress, overlooking the Danube River

With Sister Ezard, overlooking the city of Novi Sad

One of the tunnels o enter the fortress

One of the gates to the fortress

Looking at the fortress area from the other side of the river

We finally checked into our hotel, which was delightful.  The receptionist at the hotel was super helpful, helping us with parking, restaurant selection, etc.  We also left him with a pass along card.  He told us that he did not know about our Church "yet" and promised to look us up on the website provided in the pass along card.  We felt that he was very sincere.

We drove the next day to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.  Before our scheduled 4:30 facilitator training, we stopped at the Belgrade fortress, also overlooking the Danube Rive and the Sava River.  We were blessed to find a parking spot right near the fortress and were not charged to park there, due to our short stay.  The following photos are from this fortress and a beautiful adjoining church.

Overlooking the Danube river from the Belgrade fortress

Where the Sava and Danube rivers meet

Sisters Ezard and Rueckert in front of the fortress

A view of the tower throughout one of the tunnels

The Saint Petka's chapel near the fortress

Inside one of the tunnels with the towers  of the fortress behind us

We had been told that the branch president would not be able to participate in our self-reliance training and devotional but that 4 members should be there.  He then called and said that he thought they would not be there, due to a national celebration after their elections with were going on the same day.  We couldn't contact the facilitator but proceeded with faith.  When we arrived the facilitator, a recently baptized member named Manuel, was ready and anxious to participate.  We proceeded to provide the training with the help from the young missionaries for some language issues.  It went very well. In the devotional, we had two more individuals who came to participate, both nonmembers.  In the end we formed a self-reliance group with a trained facilitator and two nonmembers, similar to the previous day.

Training our facilitator, Manuel, with the help of the missionaries
Sister Ezard working with Manuel
Devotional including two non members on the left
New Self-Reliance Group for Belgrade, Serbia, to begin the next Wednesday
Although the end result was according to plan, we are concerned due to the lack of involvement of branch leadership and Manuel's status as a new member.  However, he is very dedicated and a little overwhelmed.  Sister Ezard will follow-up with a video session with the Branch President at the end of next week.

We had a nice dinner at the Moscow Hotel, just across the street from our hotel (not an impressive hotel) and finished our Friday.

The next morning (Saturday) we got up early and visited the site of the Saint Sava Temple of the Orthodox Church.  This has been recently built and is still under construction inside.  This site where the religious relics of Saint Sava where publicly torched 400 years ago.  The current church is one of the largest in the world.

Belgrade has an interesting history.  It has been battled over in 115 wars and has been razed 44 different times according to Wikipedia.

In front of the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade, Serbia.  This is one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world

Unfinished interior of the Saint Sava Temple
We then began our journey for the next facilitator training and devotional in Maribor, Slovenia.  This was a scheduled trip of 5.5 hours, traveling out of Serbia across Croatia and into Slovenia.  The trip went well, until we came to the border of Croatia and Slovenia.  There we got stuck into a delay of one hour and 20 minutes to get through the two border crossings for Croatia and Slovenia.  However, we had reserved enough time so that we arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled 4:00 pm meeting.

Stuck in traffic awaiting the border crossing.  In the beautiful top of the mountains between Croatia and Slovenia.

Finally arriving to the border crossing

View of an older church across the river in Maribor

When we arrived we were greeted by an incredible missionary couple, Elder and Sister Draxler.  He is the first counselor in the branch and they had invited many to participate.  The training for the new facilitator also had the branch president and a member of the district presidency in attendance.  We feel like the training went very well with Lela (the facilitator) and there was much learned by the leadership and the missionary couple.  For us, it couldn't have gone better.

Once the devotional began, we had several individuals arrive, including 4 members of the ward (including Lela), 4 nonmembers, 2 young missionaries and 5 senior missionaries (including us).  In total that was 15 individuals.  Lela seemed to gain confidence as the devotional continued.  We were elated.  Our only negative was that some of the nonmembers who were very engaged had made plans to move from the city in the near future.  Hopefully they can get reconnected to the Church in the future.

Breaking into small groups during the devotional

The entire devotional group, less Elder Rueckert taking the photo

Sister Ezard and Lela sharing more ideas after the meetings

They will be great action partners together.

We drove back to Sister Ezard's apartment after the meetings, arriving just before midnight.  This day included over 8 hours of driving, about 5 hours of meetings and covered three different countries.  It was all worth it.  We finished very happy with the results of the day.

Today we just returned from a devotional in the Zagreb, Croatia branch.  The branch president and the district president were both there with 6 additional senior missionaries and 2 young missionaries.  With that was 4 branch members besides the branch president and his wife.

Devotional in the Zagreb, Croatia branch
Over the past 5 days, we have held 5 devotionals, trained 3 facilitators and organized 3 self-reliance groups, all set to begin in the next week or two.  Many of our devotional attendees have been nonmembers, some of which have been attending meetings for some time.  We don't know where this all will go, but we feel like self-reliance has just received a jump start in this mission.  Sister Ezard has been pushing the need of having native speaking facilitators who also speak enough English to communicate with her.  We believe that this strategy is powerful and appears to be functioning in some of our visits.   We have seen many individuals who need help. Many need one on one assistance as well. 

Each branch had their own unique circumstances. We know that Our Heavenly Father knows what is best and He will provide a way to bless his saints. We felt his direction in each visit.  We just need to do the best we can and trust in him along the way.

We spent Sunday morning in Sister Ezard's local branch in Karlovac, Croatia.  It is a small but strong branch.  We met all of the members personally and loved their examples of faith.  The meetings were in a 2 hour block, but they covered all the basics of sacrament meeting, Sunday school and Priesthood/Relief Society.  After the meeting, Sister Ezard invited the sister missionaries and one of the new members over to dinner.  We loved getting to know this new member and the missionaries.  They inspire us.

Dinner with the Sister missionaries and Branco, a 67 year old dedicated new member

Monday, June 19, 2017

Changing Direction

A fun week with many changed plans and directions, but as always it all turns out well in the end.  The learning opportunities and surprises make up for the temporary frustration.  One of our surprises was this view of the Statue of Liberty as we entered into the city of Colmar, France.

View on Roundabout as you enter into Colmar, France

The beginning of our week included our senior missionary family home evening.  This evening we were treated with a presentation from Elder Done, a senior missionary medical advisor.  Elder Done has lived for over 7 years in Saudi Arabia and while there was able to help discover Lehi's trail to the red sea.  His presentation was fascinating as he described the terrain and landmarks along the way that coincide with the writings in the Book of Mormon.  Of course, none of this could have been known to Joseph Smith in 1830, and it isn't the basis for our testimony, but it is truly fascinating.  This was part 1, as he only got us to the Valley of Lemuel with the River Laman.  The rest will come at a future opportunity.

Elder Done presenting about the River of Laman

Actual photos of the River in Saudi Arabia that flows continuously, a miracle all by itself
Some desserts that were typical of that time, including dates, which are one of my favorites

On Tuesday, Sister Rueckert made Strawberry jam in her German class.  We believe that we probably now have enough jam to last us the rest of our mission.

We continued meeting with our senior missionaries by Zoom on Monday and Tuesday, talking to missionaries from Croatia, Manchester England, Italy, Birmingham England, France and from Scotland.  We were also able to get in our German classes on Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.  We also finished the Education for Better Work self-reliance group on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday morning I received a phone call asking that I help the Brazilian family that recently moved back to Germany.  They were moving into a new government living accommodation, at least for the two individuals who now have German passports.  I was asked to extend the hotel stay for the remaining individuals and help the others get to their new location.  We were able to fit this into our schedule, although in the end, Sister Rueckert did the video conference with our couple in France without me.  I ended up being the moving company for this wonderful family.  All of their luggage barely fit into our car, but in the end it all worked out.  The photos below are of Veronica and her daughter Annalice.  They have achieved German citizenship due to Veronica's father being German.

At the door of their new building
Finally inside their new apartment
This week was our last German holiday for several months and we wanted to take the opportunity to go to the Swiss Temple before our scheduled self-reliance visit in Strasbourg, France.  The holiday was on Thursday and many employees and missionaries chose to extend the holiday to Friday on this week.  We had made a commitment to feed the sister missionaries on Thursday night, so we made plans to feed them early and then drive nearly to the Swiss temple so that we could spend Friday in the temple.

We would need to return to Strasbourg, France on Saturday to participate in a scheduled self-reliance activity.  Since Strasbourg was half way to the Swiss temple, it seemed to make good sense.  We made plans accordingly and reserved a hotel room for Thursday and Friday evenings.  When we went home teaching on Wednesday evening to Elder and Sister Bateson, we shared our plans and Elder Bateson told us that he thought that the temple was closed for maintenance.  He was right, fortunately there was still time to cancel the hotel reservation and make other plans.

We had originally thought it would be good to do some family history work near Strasbourg, since some of the ancestors on my mother's side came from this region.  However, in the past two weeks, I have been able to find additional information about several of my ancestors, which has been a great blessing.  In fact on Wednesday night, while checking out the Juassi line that came from France, I found that the wife of Joseph Juassi who had immigrated to Canada, Barbara Burkhardt, had her birthplace in the same region.  I was able to find her birth records and the marriage records of her parents.  This was a great find, that was an unexpected blessing in the research that I was doing.

Birth record of Barbe Bourghard in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in 1808
Marriage record of Barbe Bourghard's parents in 1804
This brought a second line that I have been able to extend through on-line records from the Alsace Lorraine region of France.  However, the on-line records for the most part are missing prior to 1792, so there is still work to be done.  I had just received an email from the Bas-Rhin district that all available records are on-line and others are not available.  However, I felt that my Jaussi ancestors, Jean Jaussi and Anna Gasser were from the Haut-Rhin region, which had their archives in Colmar, France.  So with our temple plans cancelled, we chose to wait until Friday morning to leave home and then to drive straight to Colmar and spend the day seeing what we could see in the archive.  By the way, the Sister missionaries ended up cancelling on us, due to a sister going home the next day.  We ended up sending food home with the Elders from the mission office.

When we arrived in Colmar, we were surprised to see this statue as we entered the city.  The statue of liberty was designed by Auguste Bartholdi who was native to Colmar, France

All of the cities in the region have pretty impressive displays in the centers of their roundabouts.  The following was from the next roundabout, identifying Colmar as the Wine capital of the Alsace region.

When we finally arrived at the archive, we found that they did have many microfilms of parishes in the vicinity from the early 1700s and before, so it turned out to be a good choice to visit.  However, we were looking for a needle in a haystack.  We began looking through several rolls of microfilm for births of Jaussi or Gasser in that region or for a marriage with their name in the mid 1700s.  This is tedious work and I would have to say that we were unsuccessful in finding anything new.  Towards the end of the day, I asked for an additional microfilm and was asked why I wanted that parish and if I had verified which parish I was looking for.  Of course we had not but had simply looked through as many microfilms as we could.  I was then shown a microfilm of alphabetical listings of all of the names in each of the parishes.

I started reviewing these listings and started finding a few Jaussis and Gassers in some of the death records.  Before we could act on any of these, the archive closed.  Even though we did not have family history research success this day, we did learn a lot more about how to research names in a more efficient way.  I had searched for alphabetical listings but for the most part they were hard to find.  I was unaware of the master alphabetical listing that was discovered at the end of the day.  Not all family history efforts result in miracles, as so may of ours have.  However, the learning that we get along the way will hopefully help us in future efforts.

Sister Rueckert in front of the Haut-Rhin Archives
The archives closed for a lunch hour, so we were able to have lunch downtown in a delightful area.  The photos below show some of that beauty.

Notice the green design on the roof

Since we were in the Haut-Rhin (High Rhine) region, we decided to drive to some of the towns where my ancestors had lived.  These were in a mountainous region that was just beautiful.  The following photos show the city signs and some of the beautiful scenery that we experienced.

The city where the marriage record of Isaac Jaussi attributes the home land of his parents, Jean and Anna
View of some of the homes in Liepvre, nestled in the mountains

The neighboring town of Sante-Marie-aus-Mines, supposed location of Jean Jaussi's birth

A view in the city of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines
View of the mountains above Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines
While traveling to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines we experienced one of many GPS errors.  This one led us into a tunnel going through the mountain by mistake.  This tunnel went on and on.  About 5 kilometers into the tunnel, we found a turn off point and managed to do a u turn in a tunnel.  This was another of our changed directions this week.  We found out that this tunnel, the Tunnel Maurice-Lemaire is 6.9 kilometers (over 4 miles) long.  Until 2011, it was the longest tunnel in France.

We finally arrived in Strasbourg and checked into our hotel.  It was decorated in a musical note design.

Note the musical notes on the drapes and bedding
Even the garbage can and the stool shared the same design

Finally we decided to go and have a French dinner, a ham and cheese crepe and then a dessert crepe.  Our GPS took us downtown and we had a wonderful dinner.  Our day was much different than our planned day at the temple, but it was very memorable.

Add the Galettes Crêperie
Dinner crepe which we shared
Dessert crepe which we shared

Next to the crepe maker sign
One of the beautiful buildings near to where we ate
The next morning we slept in and allowed Sister Rueckert to recover a little from a cold which had been coming on.  We then went to visit additional villages where my ancestors were from in the Bas-
Rhin district (Lower Rhine).  Photos and descriptions follow:

We first drove to Vexaincourt, where my 4th great grandfather, Isaac Jaussi married and his son was born.  This was over a mountain range, about one hour from Strasbourg by car.  The town is very small, my guess is that Isaac may have been a homesteader in this area.

Outside the small town of Vexaincourt, Vosges District
In front of the Church

In the cemetery behind the Church

We looked throughout the cemetery for graves with the Jaussi name with no success.  We know that Isaac and his wife died in 1845 and 1851.  We found that the Church was only built in 1860, so likely their graves would have been somewhere else.  We searched in the neighboring village, also without success.
Inscribed in the stone of the Church the date of 1860
We went from there to the town of Uberhaslach, where Isaac's father passed away.  We suspect that might be where Isaac lived before he moved to Vexaincourt.  This was 40 minutes by car, so it must have been quite an adventure for him to move that far and be married in Vexaincourt.

We found Oberhaslach to be a beautiful little town, full of flowers.  We have seen incredible flower displays in all of the villages, but this was the best of them all.

Outside of Oberhaslach, with beautiful flower arrangement under the sign.
Flowers on every window 

Flowers on each section of fence

More flower arrangements on the fences
More flowers, photos don't describe fairly the beauty everywhere

We then went to the nearby village of Molsheim, where Isaac's wife Elisabeth had been born and her parents before her (per recent family history discoveries).  Another showcase city, known for being a wine center also.

Entering Molsheim, home of Eliabeth Beyer, who married Isaac Jaussi
Large barrel of wine to symbolize the many vineyards in this region

A beautiful building in the center of the town
Many lumber yards in the region, from the heavy forested areas around

This finished my tour of family history villages of my ancestors.  We loved the beauty of the forested mountains and surroundings.  We could only imagine the difficulties of transportation 200 years ago and the isolation from any conveniences.  These were all religious people, who stayed in some of these locations with others who were seeking religious freedoms. They were Mennonites and Anabaptists.  These are our heritage.  Even though we did not uncover more names on these days, we certainly learned the lay of the land and understand in a small way the life that they led.  For this I am very grateful.

During our travels we see many unique things.  The photo below is representative of the signs we have seen for the past few days.  On each freeway entrance, they
 show signs telling those on the freeway that they are not to make left or right turns into the oncoming traffic.  It seems pretty obvious to us, but we did want to take a photo to remind us of these unique signs.

In our travels we were unable to find a place to eat lunch.  When we started looking at 3:00 pm, all restaurants had closed.  We settled for a croissant and an ice cream cone.  From there we returned to the hotel to change and be ready for our meetings wit the stake self-reliance committee and the ward council that evening.  As we were driving to the hotel, I suddenly remembered that I had not brought a tie to wear.

We changed at the hotel and arrived at the church one hour before the meeting. After insuring that we knew where the Church was, we went to find a tie to buy.  It would also become my Fathers Day present.  Our GPS sent us to a mall that was closed, a children's clothes store, a lingerie store and two stores that didn't exist.  Finally we went to another mall and while Sister Rueckert waited in the parking area, I ran through an unknown mall.  Not finding anything that I really liked in three different stores, I finally settled on the following Father's Day present.  A little thin for my liking, but it is my French tie.  We arrived a few minutes late and began to participate in the Ward Council training meeting.

Father's Day gift and replacement for the missing tie

This stake committee is very engaged and did a great job, with our manager Momo, in training the Ward Council.

Stake Specialist on the left
More of the ward council
They were each to come with names of individuals to invite to the My Path Devotional the next day.  All together they had identified 36 people to invite.  The next step was to specifically invite them before the day was over.  Some had been previously invited, others still needed that contact.  We teamed up with the full-time missionaries and went to visit with an investigator and a less active that they had been visiting.  We always love working with the young missionaries.  Their spirit is strong and they are so obedient.

Inviting a less active

One missionary is originally from Madagascar, more recently from Belgium.  The other is from Houston, Texas.  Great missionaries.  They were so grateful to just have a ride in a car to facilitate the visits
After dropping the missionaries off at their apartment by 9:30 pm, we decided to go and get dinner.  Again, we had trouble with the GPS directing us to any identified restaurant.  Finally we found a Vietnamese restaurant in France for our well deserved dinner. We then returned home to call our daughter Kari and wish her a happy birthday.  By midnight we were in bed pondering the talks that we had just been assigned to give in sacrament meeting the next morning.

We were each assigned a 7 minute talk.  Actually it is easy for us to talk about Self-Reliance, but it is tougher to make our message concise and to the point.  We spoke with translators, although Sister Rueckert began her talk in French and then switched to English.

After the Sunday meetings the ward had a ward meal. Each member had brought a pot luck item.  The knack sausages below are a native meal from theAlsace Lorraine region.  They call them knack because that is the sound that they make when you eat them.  Very descriptive and accurate.

Knack sausages

After the meal, we had a final meeting with the stake committee and the ward council in preparation for the devotional.
Instructions given by the stake specialist

The devotional had over 60 participants and went very well.  We always would do some things different and we jumped in to make suggestions as we went along.  In the end there were over 30 individuals who joined 5 different Self-Reliance Courses.  We were very pleased with the ownership of the Stake Self-Reliance Committee and the response of the Ward Council.  We felt a lot of enthusiasm amongst the members.  We love this great work and bear testimony of its inspired nature.

Watching the video together

Working in groups at each table
Joining Self-Reliance groups

Finally we drove 2 and a half hours home to Frankfurt, Germany.  We are happy to finish a changing but satisfying week.

Pigeon Update:  As we came home we again checked on our baby pigeon.  In just a few weeks, it has hatched from an egg to almost a full grown pigeon.  The photos below are from this past week.  The mother pigeon no longer sits on the baby, but does visit occasionally or has been here a few of the nights.

June 13, mother still keeping watch

June 15, standing tall in the evening

June 18 as we arrived home