Sunday, August 27, 2017

German Friends, New and Old

Another week based in Frankfurt. However, we made the trip down Highway 3 a couple of times, visiting new and old friends in Bavaria.  Otherwise, this was Sister Rueckert's week to teach, speak and touch individuals lives.   I (Elder Rueckert) love to see the Lord work through her.

Our new friends in Nürnberg, the Frenzel family
 This was our week for our monthly senior missionary devotional.  This month we were privileged to listen to Janet Nelson, a member of the International Young Women General Board.  Janet has been living in Frankfurt for the past year with her husband who is the Church Legal Counsel for the Europe Area.  Previously, they lived in Brooklyn, New York, where Jeff Nelson also served as the Stake President.

Sister Nelson shared with us her feelings and experiences as a member of the International Young Women General Board.  She was called while living in Brooklyn and continues to serve while here in Europe.  This Board includes sisters from around the world, so her move to Frankfurt made it fit even better.

Her presentation gave us additional insights to the roles of these sisters and the strong desire of the leadership of the Church to understand and serve young women all over the world.  All were deeply appreciative for the additional insights that we received.

Sister Nelson sharing her experiences with the Young Women General Board
This week continued to be a week of preparation for upcoming events and for the transition to the new couple that will replace us.  As we ponder the work which we have the opportunity to do,  we are trying to organize it in a meaningful way.

Sister Rueckert has taken all key materials that we feel that new missionaries should have and put them on flash drives to be shared with the 10 new missionary couples arriving in the next six months.  We have also taken time to create a standard template for training new missionary couples and have created a more complete role description of the many things that we are doing as Area Self-Reliance missionaries.  As we organize our thoughts on paper, our thinking becomes more clear and complete.  We pray that the work that we have experienced can continue to grow as we leave our missions.

We also received word of a new couple that has been called to serve in Portugal.  We will be meeting with them for the first time tomorrow.  That will bring the number of filled senior missionary complements in the Europe Area to 14.  We only have one open complement, needing to replace our couple that recently returned home from Italy.  Part of our work this week has been to make sure that all incoming missionaries have accommodations, vehicles, cell phones, etc.

We also spend our available time to plan training activities that we will take part in the next few months.  We will begin this week with a visit to Hungary to be with Elder and Sister Bradshaw who recently arrived as SR missionaries.

On Tuesday, we had our monthly Zoom conference with these wonderful missionaries.  This included E/S Bradshaw for the first time.  This meeting had 10 couples.  The numbers should increase to 14 in the coming months.

That night we continued our meetings with three recently returned missionary sisters.  We love these meetings and are always inspired by these good sisters.

One of the major events this week was Sister Rueckert's turn to teach the Senior missionary Book of Mormon Class.  She has been working on this for the past 6 weeks.  I felt like the lesson was very inspirational, as she shared specific insights that came to her during her preparation.  Of course, the comments from others always contribute greatly.

Sister Rueckert sharing her Book of Mormon lesson on 1 Nephi 8 to 12
 Sister Rueckert has summarized some of her thoughts below:

As I read 1 Nephi 11:1 in preparation for leading a discussion on 1 Nephi 9-12 in the Book of Mormon, my thoughts center on the word "pondering".  I decided to do extensive studying on pondering and meditation. The favorite quote I found on this subject is from President McKay. "I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion . . . Meditation is the language of the soul.  It is defined as 'a form of private devotions or spiritual exercise, consisting in deep continued reflection on some religious theme.' Meditation is a form of prayer . . . Medication sone of the most secret, most sacred door through which we pass into the presence of the Lord" (McKay 'Consciousness of God," 80). I committed myself to pounder more and have found it to bee like a muscle.  The more you e exercise it the stronger it gets.  I bear testimony that this is true.  I invited all who attended Book of Mormon class to do the same.

Right after the class completed we left for a quick trip to Nürnberg, two hours away.  We wanted to make one more visit to the regional genealogical society to print out more family registers for several of the family lines that we had identified.  We had hoped to spend a few hours there and then to visit Hanna Frenzel in Nürnberg.

First of all, we arrived at the genealogical society only to find that they are on vacation this week.  I forgot to verify that they were open and now we were in Nürnberg two hours before our meeting with Hanna.

However, as always, the Lord knows better.  We decided to make the visit to Hanna Frenzel earlier than originally scheduled.  Let me give a little background before I go forward.

As we have been working with the genealogy of our friends Werner and Dorota Rückert (who we have been able to confirm are our distant cousins), we have pursued his mother's line.  Werner told us that his mother's grandmother was without a father, being raised by a single mother.  When we visited the local parish last month, we were able to find the marriage record of her daughter.  On this record the parents of the bride were both identified with some annotations that the bride had been accepted into someone else's home.  There was also an annotation with a ? if the parents had been divorced.

As I put this information into Family Search, the identified father was already registered as part of a family that had temple work completed.  The marriage record showed this girl as being born in 1915.  The father that we were able to identify in Family Search died in World War I in 1916.  This seems to clarify the situation of the girl being raised without a father.

As I looked at the entry of the father in Family Search, I saw that it had been updated in June by a Hanna Frenzel.  In the month earlier, parent information had been updated.  As I looked further, I could see that the niece of this person had temple ordinances completed while still alive.  I realized that I had linked into living members of the Church.  I was elated.

I went ahead and sent a message through Family Search to Hanna Frenzel.  She returned the message.  Finally, her nephew who speaks good English gave me a call.  We then arranged for this meeting.

So even though we were not able to visit the genealogical society, we had extra time to visit with Hanna.  Her nephew Markus came over with his parents a little later and we had a joyous meeting.  If all of our facts are correct, Hanna is a second cousin once removed to our friend, Werner Rueckert.  Hanna's parents were baptized into the Church in Nürnberg in the 1930s and their family has been faithful members ever since.  Hanna and her nephew Markus agreed to go with us on our next visit to Werner and Dorota next month.  We are delighted that we will have some German members of the Church who are relatives to work with Werner and Dorota.  We don't know where this all will go, they have accepted missionaries to visit with them.  We have since communicated with Werner and Dorota who have agreed upon this visit on September 23.

While we were visiting with this special family, we found out that Hanna's brother Helaman had been baptized in 1950 by Christian Schwemmer.  I told them that Christian Schwemmer was my home teaching companion when I was a youth.  We have since confirmed with Christian's daughter in law (who met in our MTC language training two years ago) that Christian was the branch president in Nürnberg in 1950 and moved to Utah in 1951.

In further discussion, Helaman asked us if we knew J. Peter Loscher.  Sister Rueckert and I were in shock.  I explained that J. Peter Loscher was my bishop when I was baptized and the bishop that sent me on my young mission.  He was an amazing man who served many missions for the Church, including one as a building supervisor of construction missionaries in Germany. Helaman Fenzler was one of these construction missionaries that served with the bishop of my youth over 50 years ago!

Helaman Frenzel and Elder Rueckert, two friends of J. Peter Loscher

We also discussed the Self-Reliance initiative with these good members.  Our new self-reliance missionary couple will be based in their ward when they arrive in Germany in October.  I believe that they will be well received into this ward.  It is amazing to see how the Lord can orchestrate all of this.  This day was full of tender mercies, not what we had planned, but certainly what our Heavenly Father had arranged.

As we drove home that night, we were full of amazement at the goodness of our Heavenly Father.  We drove by a field of sunflowers and saw beautiful sunsets.  In a way it was our own experience with the beauty of the sun, just two days after the U.S. experienced the Solar Eclipse.

Field of sunflowers with the setting sun

Our German solar eclipse, sun being covered by the clouds in a beautiful sunset
On Thursday night, we were able to host Elder and Sister Orlowski in our home for dinner.  The Orlowskis are Public Affairs missionaries.  They have lived in Park City and know our dear friends (Elder) Richard and Mary Cook.  Elder Orlowski shared his conversion story which occurred after many years of patience and love of his wife, while he was a top business executive.  In his words, he liked being with the lifestyle of the members of the ward much more than the lifestyle of business executives.  This was an inspiring evening for us.

Tuesday morning Sister Rueckert woke up with a bad cramp in her thigh.  It only hurt  when she walked.  We hoped that it would go away but it did not.  As the week progressed, it got worse, although the pain was inconsistent.  We feared that there was something related to her previous hip replacement issues.  Finally on Friday morning, Elder Garrett helped me to give her a blessing.  In the blessing she was promised that she would be healed and that she would be able to complete her mission without difficulty.  The blessing was totally fulfilled! God is good!

Friday night we went on our weekly date night at our local Italian restaurant.  We saw two missionary couples leaving and found three more in the restaurant.  We joined them for a delightful meal.

On Saturday, we had been invited by our dear friends Christian and Marianne, who live in the house built by my great grandfather, to come down to Bavaria for a barbecue.  We gladly came.  Marianne had been hospitalized for three months following a nervous breakdown.  She is fighting a daily battle with the devil inside of her head.  However, her love is so strong and her spirit is so tender.  We feel of their love and count them among the very best of friends that we have made in Germany.

At the barbecue with Christian and Marianne
Homemade Raspberry cake
Homemade Lemon Cake
At this time they are not ready for additional missionary lessons, but their kindness is unparalleled.  Their English is improving and our German is improving so we had a wonderful visit for over 4 hours.  As I had some individual discussion with Christian, Sister Rueckert was truly ministering to Marianne.  She certainly shared eternal principles that can be of help, coupled with love.  At the end of the visit, Marianne accepted a priesthood blessing.  In the blessing, I felt impressed to cast out the devils that have been persecuting her.

After long hugs and a few tears we shared goodbyes for the last time during our mission.  However, we made arrangements to continue our friendship with Skype calls, etc.  They even opened their home to us if we are able to come back to Germany for some family history visits next year.  Once again, we left fully edified by the goodness of our Heavenly Father.

Today, we were once again invited to be fed.  Elder and Sister Cottam invited us to come to Sunday dinner. They are so kind and treat us so well.  Last week we ate good Brazilian beans.   This week we have been fed by good friends, old and new.  They have fed us with delicious food and more importantly, love.

When the week started, Sister Rueckert received an email asking her to speak in Sacrament Meeting this Sunday (today).  So once she was able to finish the Book of Mormon lesson, Sister Rueckert went to work on this next assignment.  She spoke about Hope and did a wonderful job.

I stand amazed at the eternal companion that I have been blessed with.  What a joy to serve a mission with her as my missionary companion. As missionaries we generally serve together and she always does her share and more.  This week, I was mostly an observer as I watched her teach the Book of Mormon, talk about hope and minister to a friend in need.  She is the first to say that she is only sharing what she is prompted to share.  I am thankful that she is in tune with the Holy Ghost and has learned to listen to and obey promptings.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Popcorn, Beans and Worms

We spent an eventful week in the Frankfurt area with plenty of Brasilian Feijoada, MMMN, missionary opportunities and visiting Worms where Martin Luther was tried almost 500 years ago.

In front of the world's largest memorial to the Reformation

We had a very busy week preparing for our first Area Self-Relinace Committee meeting chaired by Elder De Feo, our new Area Presidency member.  Our initial follow-up of non-members who participate in Self-Reliance groups has identified 35 non members who were baptized.  This result has brought great interest from those who lead us.  We wanted to get the right data and the right presentation.  We also completed a study of active Self-Reliance stakes, identifying those wards that have had SR groups in the past year and those who have not.  We were able to show that those who did have SR groups have a significantly higher improvement in the number of temple recommends than those who did not.

Our Area Committee meeting on Thursday morning went very well.  Elder De Feo is an inspirational leader who is very committed to the Self-Reliance Initiative.  Our manager, Tom King, was also able to meet with him earlier in the week and found him to be so helpful and supportive.   These interactions were the high spots of an otherwise good week.  It gives us hope for continued progress in the months and years to come.

We also met with a few of our missionary couples this week, including the new couple recently called to serve in Germany and our couples in Manchester England, Sweden and Romania.  Our couple in Romania, Elder and Sister Winder, are Pathway missionaries who have helped with Self-Reliance .  They are finishing their mission in the next few weeks, so this was our farewell Zoom conference.  We have had an outstanding relationship with the Winders.  We will miss them but definitely plan on keeping in contact with them after our missions.

Our last Zoom conference with Elder and Sister Winder, serving in Romania 

On Tuesday we had perhaps the biggest thunderstorm that we have seen on our mission.  The sky was black and we could see the water coming down in sheets. The wind blew excessively and water was coming across from right to left as the trees were bent over.  The photo below was taken after the worst of the storm, but gives a little idea about the storm.

Water in the parking lot of our apartment, photo taken from our office window

Our evenings were filled with diverse and rewarding activities.  On Tuesday night we participated in our first MMMN, which stands for Mid Month Movie Night with the other senior missionaries. These have been held since the first of the year, but in every case we have been traveling.  This is the first month that we were home when the movie night was held.  It was fun to participate with other senior missionaries and enjoy salted and caramel popcorn with a good clean old movie.

Senior missionaries awaiting MMMN

This month's movie selection, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

Wednesday night we had our manager Tom King and his wife Raelene to dinner.  They have become dear friends as well as our boss.  We had a delightful meal and evening together.  Sister Rueckert had cooked a Brazilian Feijoada, based on Tom's request.  He had eaten feijoada with us on another occasion when his wife was out of town.

On Thursday evening we were scheduled to hold our My Plan for Returned Missionaries meeting with the 4 recently returned sister missionaries in our ward.  We had scheduled this for 7:30 pm.  We have also been trying to visit a newly assigned home teaching family, a less active sister who had joined the Church in Brazil some years ago.  She had agreed to come to the Church on Thursday at 7:00 pm to visit with us.  Our plans looked good on paper, so we proceeded to the Chapel.

Before leaving home, I had called Izabel, our HT family, to confirm that she would be there and got no answer, so I left a message.  She later responded with a text and said that she would be arriving closer to 8:00 pm.  We decided that we would need to divide and conquer.  When we arrived at the Church we heard that the Stake was holding a High Council meeting and the the recently returned missionaries would be reporting to the High Council.  We thought that there would be no problem, we would meet with them after their reports.

When the stake president arrived, he invited us to join in the chapel to listen to the reports from the sisters.  When the meeting started, soon after 7:30 pm, the first sister began her report, which was more like a mini talk.  As she was finishing, Izabel arrived.  

I left Sister Rueckert in the High Council meeting and visited with Izabel, her friend, Salvatore and her son who was visiting from Brazil.  We had a delightful visit.  The son appeared to be fairly active in Brazil and Salvatore, an Italian non member, seemed interested in learning English.  He has been a big help in providing employment to members of the ward, working with our My Job Search facilitator.  He owns an Italian bakery and has great access to the hidden job market around Frankfurt.

While talking, the son asked if we had an English Book of Mormon.  Since our stock was in our apartment I went to a little library in the Church which has many Book of Mormons in different languages.  I had difficulty finding an English book, so I invited the three of them to help me look through boxes of Books.  In the end, Salvatore took a Book of Mormon in English, Italian and German.  Isabel took one in Portuguese and German and her son took one in English.  So in one visit, I placed 6 Book of Mormons.  I invited them to come to Church and participate in my Portuguese Self-Reliance Group during Sunday School time.  They accepted! After more than a half hour with them, I said good bye and returned to the High Council meeting.

The three visitors with the six Book of Mormons 

With Isabel and Salvatore
When I returned to the High Council meeting, the last of six sister missionaries was still speaking.  They had been richly fed by these great sisters, four of which are from our ward.

Group photo of the six sisters and other stake members.  The four from our ward are on the right of the photo, with the stake president on their left.
The meeting completed after 9:00 pm with a message from the mission president.  The night didn't go as planned, but the results were better than we could imagine.  We rescheduled our next training with the sisters for this coming Tuesday evening and we all went home.

Friday was a slow day in the office.  By the afternoon all employees were on leave and the missionaries had gone on a temple trip or had other commitments.  Sister Rueckert and I and Jennifer, our admin assistant, were the only ones on our floor.  This will all change in a few weeks when the holiday (vacation) time is over.

Closed doors and empty offices
On Saturday we decided to visit Worms, Germany, which is less than an hour drive from our home.  The history of Worms goes back prior to the birth of the Savior.  It is known for a few different things:

Since this is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we had wanted to see as many of the Martin Luther sites as possible.  This became an easy visit to make and it was a beautiful day, weather wise.  We thought we would start our visit at the original Catholic Church, Wormser Dom.

Photo showing two of the four towers of the Worms Cathedral
We visited the inside of the Worms Cathedral and did not see much related to Martin Luther.  We then remembered that the Catholics don't focus on Martin Luther.  We then walked to the Luther Denkmal.  

"This is the World's largest memorial to the Reformation, dedicated in 1868. Luther's hymn "Ein feste Burg is unser Gott" (A Mighty Fortress is our God) is chiseled in stone, frames the bronze figures. Dr. Martin Luther towers over early "Reformers", the "pre-Reformers" surrounded by princes and scholars as well as figures representing the important cities of the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras."

Sister Rueckert in front of the entire memorial

In front of the center of the Luther Denkmal memorial

We then visited the site where the 1521 Diet of Worms was held, in the Heylshof Gardens behind the residence of the Bishop of Worms, just north of the Worms Cathedral.   We enjoyed pondering the importance of what transpired at this location as Martin Luther was asked if a collection of 25 books, including the 95 Theses, was his and if he was ready to revoke his heresies.  This occurred on April 17, 1521.  He acknowledged that the books were his and asked for a day for him to consider the answer to the second question.  After a day of prayer, the following occurred as stated in Wikipedia.

 On 18 April, Luther, stating he'd prayed for long hours, consulted with friends and mediators, presented himself before the Diet. When the counselor put the same questions to him, Luther first apologized that he lacked the etiquette of the court. Then he answered, "They are all mine, but as for the second question, they are not all of one sort." Luther went on to place the writings into three categories: (1) Works which were well received by even his enemies: those he would not reject. (2) Books which attacked the abuses, lies and desolation of the Christian world and the papacy: those, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue. To retract them would be to open the door to further oppression.[3] "If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny".[3] (3) Attacks on individuals: he apologized for the harsh tone of these writings but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them; if he could be shown from the Scriptures that he was in error, Luther continued, he would reject them. Luther concluded by saying
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.[4] 

Private conferences were held to determine Luther's fate. Before a decision was reached, Luther fled. During his return to Wittenberg, he disappeared.

The Edict of Worms was a decree issued on 26 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V, declaring:
For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.
Outside of the ancient residence of the Bishop of Worms

Sister Rueckert in thHeylshof Garden, with the Worms Cathedral behind her.

Elder Rueckert standing in the Heylshof Gardens with the words of Martin Luther inscribed below
Wall surrounding the Heylshof Gardens and the Cathedral of Worms
We studied the history on our way to Worms, which made this visit all the more meaningful.  We are thankful for the courage of Martin Luther which led to the conversion of most of Germany to the reformation.  In the following years, Martin Luther translated the latin Bible to German for the masses to have access.  He also converted many high ranking princes who supported his position.  Eventually, the Catholic Church had minimal control or influence on the geography which is now present day Germany.

Worms is also home to the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe, dating from the 11th century. Since we were there on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the cemetery was closed.  The photos below were taken from the outside of the locked gate:

Tombstones in the Jewish Cemetery of Worms

Closed gate on the Jewish Sabbath

Interesting landmark on the bridge going into Worms, made to represent the Worms Cathedral

The trip to Worms was wonderful, unfortunately somewhere in our visit I lost my coin purse with over 100 Euros in it.  I guess a trip close to home became a little more costly!

We arrived home by around 3:00 pm, allowing Sister Rueckert time to cook another Brazilian Feijoada.  We enjoyed a dinner with two other missionary couples that evening at the apartment of Elder and Sister Garrett.  Elder and Sister Rich and Elder Garrett had each served their young missions in Brazil.  We were all missionaries in Brazil in 1972.  Germany becomes an interesting place for this Brazilian missionary reunion.

Sister Rueckert, Elder Rich, Sister Rich, Sister Garrett, Elder Garrett

 After a wonderful evening we took our left over Feijoada home and had leftovers today (Sunday).  That makes 4 out of the last 5 days that we have eaten Feijoada.  We love it but have probably had enough for the rest of our mission.

For a positive Sunday update, Izabel and Salvatore did come to Church today and were the focus of our Sunday School class.  He also joined to help the other investigator, Jan, understand some work opportunities and met with the Bishop.  Salvatore also said that he had started reading the Book of Mormon in Italian.

We hope to see them again next week.  We feel like I was inspired to invite them on Thursday.   Salvatore has asked to attend an English class, which will be offered by the missionaries.  We will continue to pray for them.  We love being missionaries!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Missionaries, Missionaries and more Missionaries

We love being missionaries.  One of the greatest blessings on our mission is our association with other full-time missionaries who inspire and strengthen us.  Many of our activities this week relate to this blessed association, which also impacts our self-reliance role and our passion for family history.

After dinner with the young Sister Missionaries in our ward

After our weekly devotional on Monday morning, we held a Zoom meeting with Elder and Sister Hardy who are serving in Athens, Greece.  They have been on their mission just over a month.  We were blown away by the progress they have already made.  They have already started two one on one group sessions with several more individuals identified.  They are taking time with each new senior missionary couple in their mission to teach them about the self-reliance initiative and how it can help in the branches where they serve.  They are also helping one of the missionary couples in Cyprus.  They are from England and their attitude is just amazing.  We identified a few things we could do to help support them.  We could not have started our week off on a more positive note.

We are also uplifted by other senior missionaries throughout Europe.  This week we were blessed to hold our monthly Zoom meetings with our senior missionary couples serving in Greece, Cyprus, France, England, CapeVerde, Spain and Croatia and met a new couple that was just called to the replace our couple in France next January.  The spirit of these missionaries always gives us a boost.

On Monday night we had our monthly Family Home Evening with Missionary couples.  Elder Done, one of our medical advisors, gave part two of his presentation on the Book of Mormon sites in Saudi Arabia.  He has lived in Saudi Arabia for over 7 years and had the privilege to explore the terrain and help identify the route and sites described in the first 18 chapters of 1 Nephi.

Elder Done sharing the route that Lehi and his family probably took prior to leaving for the Promised Land
Those who worked with Elder Done on this exploration have published a book showing 81 documented evidences in Saudi Arabia that tie perfectly to the writings in 1 Nephi.

I share a few of the slides that we found to be amazing.  Although we do not base our testimony of the Book of Mormon on these type of evidences, they certainly confirm what we have felt by the Holy Ghost, that this book was delivered to us in our time from our Heavenly Father for our benefit.  We are thankful for Elder Done for sharing such amazing discoveries.

Descriptions and photos of the land "Bountiful"

Proposed spot for the land Bountiful and the building and launching of the boat

We had a very productive week working with Self-Reliance.  We followed up on previous visits and meetings and worked on presentations for the Area Council and for our Area Self-Reliance Committee meeting.  I spent a full day stuck on how to present our recent self-reliance surveys.  On Thursday morning I prayed about a better solution and some ideas came directly into my mind.  These ideas worked and the improved presentation was completed in minimal time.  We love to let our Heavenly Father guide this work.  His ways are higher than our ways!

On Tuesday evening, we spent a little time following up with Jan, an investigator that we had met with on Sunday.  Our bishop had asked us to give him some self-reliance help.  Jan is an amazing man who is studying with the Sister missionaries and needs assistance to get a job and put his own self-reliance in order.  We loved being able to meet with him and feel of his spirit.  He is willing to do anything to improve his situation.  After our meeting with him, he began a one on one self-reliance group with our My Job Search facilitator. 

Wednesday we had our weekly Book of Mormon class with the other senior missionaries that serve as Europe Area missionaries.  Sister Healy taught (or facilitated) as we started over in the Book of Mormon with 1 Nephi.  As always, the discussion was inspired.  We were especially touched by the discussion of tender mercies that come from our Heavenly Father in our lives and the counsel to record those tender mercies.  Sister Rueckert has now started a daily Tender Mercy journal.

On Wednesday evening we had the privilege to start sharing the My Plan for Returned Missionaries process with a few recently returned sister missionaries in our ward.  Two more will be with us this week and one more missionary will return by the end of the month.  We love talking to recently returned missionaries.  They still have such a strong missionary attitude.  The purpose of these lessons is to help them build a self-reliance plan based on the lessons that they learned as full-time missionaries.  We will be privileged to work with these returned missionaries over the next few months.

On Thursday evening we had the opportunity to provide a dinner meal for the young sister missionaries.  We invited Sister Keyser to join with us, since she has been slowed down with a pulled muscle in her leg.  It is always a joy to have her and her positive attitude with us.  We love feeding the young missionaries and getting to know them.  Their stories of choosing to serve missions and their testimonies that have developed inspire us.  This also gave us a chance to coordinate efforts with Jan and make sure that we are jointly helping him.  We also discussed the sisters plans for after their mission as they are both leaving before the end of the year.  They are certainly in need for self-reliance help.  We subsequently gave them a copy of the My Plan for Returned Missionary lessons that we are using with the returned missionaries in our ward.

At the end of our work day on Friday, we went to the Family Search office to meet with an employee, Richard Walker, who we had been referred to by another senior missionary couple.  Richard is am family history research expert and we were looking for help with our ancestor from Bohemia (Czech Republic).  He was kind enough to give us several ideas of how to proceed, including some names of people that are Czech genealogy experts, both in the Family History department and of a local member in the Czech Republic.  He is currently serving as the patriarch and is passionate about family history.  The following are photos of a book of land holders in Bohemia in the 1600s.  All of this gives more places to look for Samuel Bertram Hartman.  He was our first family history priority many years ago and is still our most difficult and unresolved family history mystery.

Old Czech book of land holdings
Part of the list of Hartmann names in the book

Also during this week, we received a visit from Sister Rueckert's  second cousin once removed. Heidi Patscha came and visited us and shared a photo of her grandmother with Sister Rueckert's great grandmother (they were sisters).  That gave me some incentive to send the voice recording that we got of Heidi's mother last year to Heidi.  I was missing a cable to get it from my voice recorder to the computer.  Elder van Hoff, who works with the technology department, was able to find a cable for me and I was able to get this completed on Thursday night and given to Heidi on Friday morning.  Once more, we were aided by dedicated senior missionaries.

Two sisters.  Heidi's grandmother on the left, Sister Rueckert's great grandmother on the right.

For some time we have been trying to help Elder Steineckert with his family history.  We had planned a trip to the Nuremberg area.  As we started replanning again, I had sent an email to one of the parishes without success.  Finally I had noticed that the parishes in question have their records available on-line through  This is a paid subscription German genealogical service which has many of the Protestant Church books for birth, marriages and deaths available.  Since I had planned on subscribing to this service when we get home, I decided to start the subscription now to help Elder Steineckert, he was willing to pay the extra cost.

Short story, I signed up and found that this is an incredible resource that is super easy to use.  Although they do not cover many of the cities that we wish they did, they do cover quite a few of interest.  While testing it out, I found some continuation of the work that we had started in the Illisheim parish last month.  I have since carried the lines of our friends in Bavaria back quite a few more generations.

Ease of seeing a needed "Endress" record with clearly identified locations in the photo.
With this tool available, Elder Steineckert came to our apartment on Saturday and we were able to identify some of the individuals on the end of one of his lines.  More to come, but an easier solution than driving to parishes, staying over night, etc.

Birth Record of Barbara Meier, Elder Steineckert's great . . . great grandmother

We spent our Saturday getting caught up on laundry, cleaning, family history, etc.  We also decided to start organizing things that we need to send home.  Below is our first box that will be sent home.

DHL delivery up to  20 kilograms.  We weighed in at about 15 kilograms.

 It has been raining most of the week which has kept the temperatures very enjoyable.  The harvest is slowed down with minimal sunshine, but we were able to harvest the following tomatoes and jalapeño peppers.

Saturday's harvest

Sister Rueckert started washing pillow case covers and found my pillow to be yellowed.  So she took on the need to wash a down feather pillow.  After careful washing and many times through the dryer, it all turned out well.  We had to show a photo of the many hours of work.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Connecting Families in the Land of our Forefathers

We spent this past week researching the family history of Sister Rueckert's ancestors and then preforming temple work for several of our ancestors in the Freiberg Germany Temple.  Each day we spent the morning and early afternoon hours with these planned activities.  In the late afternoons and evenings we were able to experience a little more of each of these locations.  As we sealed some of our family together in the temple on Saturday, the purpose and joy of our work was magnified.

Original Church Books for Thamsbruck
Some time ago, we planned to spend a week concentrating on family history for Sister Rueckert's family.  We chose time in July/August when our self-reliance activities were more limited.  To prepare for such a trip, we spent weeks of communication to organize the time in the different parishes and archives.  The end result was a productive week of research in four different locations and two wonderful days in the Freiberg Temple.

Grossengottern - Schade, Motz, Born and Apel

Sister Rueckert under the sign entering into Grossengottern

We started our week on Monday morning by making the 2+ hour trip to the Grossengottern parish.  We had never been able to get a response from this parish before.  Finally a few weeks ago, I made a phone call to the pastor and he invited us to come up on Monday at 10:00 am.  We found him to be extremely helpful as he spent over three hours with us reviewing the parish books and seeking out our ancestors.  He was willing to spend the time to read the old writing and bring out the books as our search expanded.  We were able to extend one family line several generations and clarified information in others.

Elder Rueckert reviewing parish books with the Pastor

The pastor looking through the parish  books

Marriage Record of additional grandparents added to  the Moeller line

We had another visit at the Muhlhausen parish scheduled for the afternoon, but arrived late due to the success we were having.  We jointly decided to just concentrate one full day in Muhlhausen on the following Wednesday.  That left us a little extra time for our drive to Magdeburg, a few hours north.  There we would be visiting the regional archive the next morning.

While there, we decided to visit the Magdeburg Water Bridge, described from Wikipedia below:

The Magdeburg Water Bridge (GermanKanalbrücke Magdeburg) is a large navigable aqueduct in central Germany, located near Magdeburg. The largest canal underbridge in Europe, it spans the river Elbe and directly connects the Mittellandkanal to the west and Elbe-Havel Canal to the east of the river, allowing large commercial ships to pass between the Rhineland and Berlin without having to descend into and then climb out of the Elbe itself.

This man made bridge for a river expands nearly one kilometer, 690 meters over land and 228 meters over water.  The water depth in the bridge is 4.25 meters.  We walked up to the bridge where there is a lock to transport other boats down to the connected canal from the bridge location.  It ended up being quite a walk!  The first photo is taken from the Wikipedia page.  It shows this better than we were able to capture.

By Lotron at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Lock for boats to descend from the bridge to a canal connecting to the Elbe River  

Water in the bridge and the Elbe River below in the background

Sister Rueckert alongside the river bridge, looking towards the river crossing

With the river bridge looking out towards where it joins the river in the distance
Magdeburg Archives - Möllers From Dachwig to Gispersleben
Sister Rueckert by the sign entering Gispersleben

Sister Rueckert under the sing as we entered into Dachwig, about 14 kilometers from Gispersleben
The next day we spent all day, until they closed the archives at 3:00 pm, in the Magdeburg Regional archives, looking at microfilm for the Church records of the region.  This is our prime source for several of the records of different locations around Erfurt.  Here we were able to take photos of all of the Gispersleben familienregisters that we had seen in our last visit and find a few more original records in other locations.  We were also able to get into the records of Dachwig, where Christian Wilhelm Moeller was born.  There we were found some more limited familienregisters which gives us more information about the siblings and parents of Christian Wilhelm Moeller.  We still were not able to tie down the birth locations of his parents.  That leaves additional work for another time.

Part of the familienregister for Moeller in Dachwig

 We never have enough time at this archive.  There seems to be unlimited things to research.  However, each time we go, we learn a little more and capture some additional information.

After finishing at the archive, we drove back to the Erfurt area.  We decided to take the time to revisit the home where Sister Rueckert's father lived.  This may be our last visit to Erfurt on our mission, so we did want to make one more visit.

Sister Rueckert on the steps where her Father had stood as  a child
We decided to explore the locations that we had just researched.  We went to Gispersleben and Dachwig and pondered their place in our history.  We also celebrated by eating dinner in Gispersleben.  The plan was to have an ice cream in Dachwig, but we never found an ice cream parlor open.

By the Gispersleben Kiliani Church, home of the primary Church records for  the recent Moeller

At an Italian restaurant in Gispesleben

The ceiling of the restaurant, stars, clouds, etc.

By the Dachwig primary Church, home of the Dachwig parish records

Mühlhausen - Focus on Döring, Michel, Harnisch & Heussner

Sister Rueckert in front of the entrance sign into Mühlhausen
The next morning we visited the Muhlhausen parish.  We were met by our good friend, Dr. Stefan Kublik.  He arrived early so that we could spend more time there.  As he did last December, Dr. Kublik spend the entire day with us, guiding us through the different books and reading the entries in the books.  We identified several new ancestors in some lines that had not gone very far, including a a 5th great grandmother who was a 17 year old single mother and her parents.  We had another parish in Allmenhausen who was willing to let us come visit them, but we thought our time was better spent where we had such able help from Dr. Kublik.

This parish has records from six different Churches during this time.  To research, we would often have to look at the church books from all six Churches.  This is where Dr.Kublik was extremely helpful.  For example, we found Johann Andreas Döring birth record in the St. Nicolai records and his death record in the St. Petri Books.  The marriage record of his in-laws (Michel and Harnisch) was in the St. Blasii books.  We also found some more printed books of several of the parishes in Mühlhausen, which was another treasure.  Sister Rueckert took photos of all of the pages that referred to the 10 names or so for which we had primary interest in Mühlhausen.

Books of printed books with indexes to marriages, births and deaths at several of the parishes in Mühlhausen

Birth of Margaretha Elisabeth Michel, daughter of Johann Christoph Michel and Martha Christina Harnisch

We took a lunch break and celebrated our stay in Mühlhausen with a Mühlhausen Pizza at the local Mama Mia's restaurant.  This was perhaps the best pizza that we have eaten in Europe.  It pays to buy what is named for the local city.

Excellent "Mühlhausen" Pizza 
Once again had to finish by 3:00 pm. We then took time to explore downtown Mühlhausen.  The largest Church in the city is the St Marien church which was a block away from the pastor's office.  The Church has now been turned into a museum.

We found this especially interesting as we learned about Thomas Münzter, a reformer at the time of Martin Luther.  Although he initially sided with Luther, he ended up opposing the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther.  He preached in many locations.  However, his last place of preaching was in Mühlhausen.  The exhibition in the Church states:

"The old city council is dissolved and a new "Eternal Council" established.  Whereas Luther called on the peasants to exercise moderation and reject violence, for Müntzer the time has come to separate the "chosen" from the 'ungodly".  When the Peasants' War reached Thuringia, he takes on the mantle of the leading theologian of the revolt and marches at the head of a contingent o peasants from Mühlhausen into the Battle of Frankenhausen.  After the bloody defeat against the army of the Dukes Müntzer is taken as a prisoner, tortured and finally executed in front of the gates of Mühlhausen on the 27th May 1525."

After his death, the city of Mühlhausen rejected the Catholic Church and became a stronghold of the reformation.

In the Church Museum

St. Marien's Church in Mühlhausen

We then went and visited many of the other Churches in the "old town".  In a short space, we counted six different Churches.  All of them were built before the reformation.  In one of the largest, St. Blasii, there was an exhibit of the history of Lutheran pastors as the city turned from Catholic reign during the reformation.

Sister Rueckert reviewing the history of Pastor families

In front of the St. Blasii Church

St. Blassi Church

St. Jacob's Church

Corn Market Church

All Saints Church

Kiliani Church

Thamsbruck - Stolls and many of their relatives

Sister Rueckert under the sign of entering into Thamsbrück
On Thursday we went to the Bad Langensalza parish, which now had the books for Thamsbruck.  This is the home of Sister Rueckert's grandmother Stoll.  We had visited this parish last year but were told that the books for Thamsbruck were not available at that time.  Fortunately, they recently brought these old books into their parish.  We were allowed full access to these books and so we went through and photographed everything that had any of the several names that we were looking for.  The primary name here is the family name of Stoll.  We found many records for them dating as far back as we looked.  Many of these names are in Family Search, but not their spouses or cousins.  With the extensive records that we saw, we should be able to add many names to Family Search.  We were also able to find some of the additional names on other lines that are linked to Grandmother Stoll.  We did not take time to review them in detail.  However, we have hundreds of images to review now that we are back in Frankfurt.  This certainly will last well into our post mission experience.

The biggest challenge was the size of the books.  Sister Rueckert went through the first three books, especially picking up records that were identified in the alphabetical indexes.  The larger book for the 1700s did not have an alphabetical index.  I went  through most of the pages back until 1740 and took photos of each page with an identified name.  Unfortunately we ran out of time, as the parish only allowed us to be there until 2:00 pm.  Once again, we have something to return for.

Sister Rueckert taking photos of one of the "books"

Marriage record of 5th Great Grandfather Stoll of Sister Rueckert.  Better information than was in Family Search.

After the parish visit, we decided to go and get an ice cream in Thamsbrück.  We were told that they had a great ice cream shop just outside of town.  We found several ways out of town and none led to an ice cream shop.  On one such adventure, we followed a road that went by some geese and then turned into a bicycle path.
Geese on the side of the road "out of town"

The narrowing road left us no room to turn around

While we looked for ice cream, we picked a little wheat from the fields and satisfied our hunger with kernels of wheat
After going to a neighboring town we asked about an ice cream store.  They sent us back to Thamsbrück where we finally found our ice cream store, within the city of Thamsbrück.

Busy ice cream store in Thamsbrück
 As we finished each of our parish visits, we left a thank you to each pastor or administrator.  These nice chocolates are the merci brand, which of course means Thank you in French.  They were well received with smiles from each of the kind people that helped us this week.

Friday and Saturday,
Freiberg, Germany Temple - families sealed together

After finishing in Thamsbrück, we drove for a few more hours to arrive in Freiburg, home of the only operating temple in Germany.  There we spent all day Friday and Saturday morning.  We enjoyed a couple endowment sessions and an initiatory session on Friday before the temple closed at 3:00 pm.  We were able to do another endowment session and a sealing session on Saturday morning before heading back towards home.  

In front of the Freiberg temple on Friday afternoon
A very unique evergreen tree in front of the chapel  on the Freiberg temple site

This was our fourth visit to this temple, counting the open house a year ago.  We got to know individuals in this temple and have some fellow missionaries that we can consider friends.  It certainly feels like "our" temple.

As I sat in the endowment session on Saturday morning, my mind reflected on the sealing that we had just completed that morning.  I remembered that this is the purpose of our family history efforts, to help individuals receive temple ordinances and covenants and to help families to be sealed together forever.

As an example of this wonderful work, the following photo hits one of the examples from this visit.:

We were able to perform the initiatory and endowments for Hans Michael Rueckert and Susanna Geissendorfer on Friday and seal them together on Saturday.  Hans Michael was also able to be sealed to his parents and one of their sons was sealed to them.  Three others are now ready for our next sealing session with another 6 siblings in various stages of preparation.  This takes a lot of involvement from a lot of people.  Contributors to these ordinances and others that were sealed on Saturday include grandchildren, nephews, ward members, some of our children, fellow senior missionaries and ourselves.

After we left the temple on Friday, we went looking for nearby castles.  We found and visited a few in the vicinity.  See the following:
Castle in downtown Freiberg

Castle in Nossen, Germany
Inner court of the Castle in Nossen, Germany
Part of the torture chamber of the Nossen Castle.  Sit on this chair and you cannot lean back or rest your arms.
Entrance to the dungeon.  Entry and exit only by a rope or some extended object into the dungeon.

On the way home - Erfurt Castles and Kassel

After the temple session on Saturday, we checked out of our hotel and headed home, the long way.  As we drove back near Erfurt, we decided to visit a few of the castles that we have often driven by.  There are three within a short distance of each other.  Some were not easily accessible.  Photos of them follow:

Veste Wachsenburg
Outside of Veste Wachsenburg
Burg Gleichen


While visiting this area, we visited a wonderful restaurant in the city of Mühlberg.  There we had the best bratwurst that we have eaten in Germany.

Great meal, bratwurst, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes

We than continued our journey to the city of Kassel.  There is a mechanical waterworks that is normally working on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons.  This is done by the release of an incredible amount of water that works it's way down the park.  Once a month, this is done in the nighttime.  Yesterday was the day.  So after some confusion on how to get there and view it, we ended up watching a pretty interesting display of man made waterfalls.  It was pretty impressive, but doesn't really match what we had seen in June in Croatia.  Our conclusion is that our creator does a better job than man in creating natural beauties.  However, not bad for man made:

Water flowing from the top (Hercules)

One of the waterfalls along the way.  Foot bridge on the top.

Blue lights with the water above a castle wall

In front of the great fountain at the end of the water works.  A little closer than we needed to be as we got pretty wet.