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

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