Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning

This was a week of guidance and edification from our leaders.  Elder Joseph W. Sitati from the Seventy spent most of the week with us in a Europe Area Review of the Self-Reliance Initiative.  After participating in several meetings with Elder Sitati,  we can testify that he is one of the Lord's anointed servants.  We have received a constant stream of inspiration  and a new vision of our responsibilities.  We are ready to move forward with faith in a way that is more focused on service to our priesthood leaders.  The following photo was taken at the end of our Area Review.

Area Review Team, Tom King, E/S Rueckert, Miguel Adriano, Jorge Alvarado, Elder Joseph Sitati

Our  Monday began with a birthday celebration for Sister Rueckert with those who work on our floor.  This was organized by our administrative assistant, Constanza, who was ill the previous week.

Part of the birthday cake for Sister Rueckert

As we mentioned last week, Elder Sitati and Jorge Alvarado started the week in Italy and France.  They both returned to Frankfurt on Monday.  That evening, Elder Sitati generously offered to spend the evening with the senior couple missionaries in Frankfurt.  We had a family home evening scheduled and the time was turned over to Elder Sitati.

Elder Sitati at the pulpit of the FHE
Elder Sitati spoke on several topics, but his focus seemed to be on rescuing those in need.  He told us that when President Monson introduced the "To the Rescue" emphasis in 2010, each general authority was asked to be personally involved in ministering in this rescue effort.  Elder Sitati shared his experiences of visiting less actives in Accra, Ghana every Sunday when he was not assigned to a stake conference.  He told us that people don't trust us to help them until we have paid a price to gain that trust.  That does not occur in a short visit.  However, once they know that you care, they will often open up with their true feelings or needs.

After speaking, he opened it up for questions which continued for 30 minutes.  The Spirit was strong during his message and his responses to questions.  In this process, he shared some experiences of "rotating" fasts that he and his family and friends have used over the years.  This involves one of the group always being in a fasting mode until the sought for answer is received.  He first did this for over two years while they were awaiting for legal recognition for the Church in Kenya while he was a young branch president.  Other experiences included more than a one year fast for a special family friend to find an eternal companion.  He says that these fasts are not to be taken lightly.

This FHE was not part of his scheduled agenda, but was certainly uplifting for all of the senior missionaries, including us.  While I was taking Elder Sitati back to his hotel, Sister Rueckert was preparing the tables for the luncheon to be held the following day with local self-reliance committees.  This has given her a chance to be creative.  She utilized the small Christmas trees in storage and added  home made snowflakes of all sizes as the decorations.  It turned out wonderful.

The next morning we awoke to the biggest snowstorm of the past five years.  It had snowed about one inch.  Fortunately the temperatures were above freezing, so the snow was gone before the end of the day.

Snow covered streets and cars
One of my primary roles for the week was to be the designated chauffeur for our out of town visitors.  I picked them up at the airport and the hotel and returned them to the hotel and eventually to the airport.  It actually was a nice responsibility as it gave me some great one on one time with each of them.

Waiting for pick up at the Marriot Hotel 

 On Tuesday we started our Area Review.  This included our managers, Tom King and Miguel Adriano with Elder Sitati and Jorge Alvarado from HQ and of course, E/S Rueckert.  This became very hands on, as we reviewed where we are with the Self-Reliance initiative in Europe and where we want to go in this coming year.  On Tuesday morning, we all had a revelatory experience as Elder Sitati taught us.  While he shared his ideas, the Holy Ghost was very active with each of us.  That impact of the Holy Ghost with each of our prior experiences and thoughts helped create many new ideas.

For example, Elder Sitati shared his experiences meeting one on one with some of the unemployed members in Italy during his meetings on Saturday and Sunday.  He also taught us the importance to calendar our visits to the locations where we have stakes and districts and to ask the priesthood leaders to give us a list of members with self-reliance challenges.  Then while in the city for meetings with the Self-Reliance Committees, we should take time to develop resources to help these members.  Of course this should be done in a way that leaves the responsibility with the stake leadership to utilize those resources with the members.  For us, that answered two open questions.  We have known that we need to do a better job serving priesthood leaders, truly helping them.  We also have struggled to define what type of resource development that our managers should be doing.  With this concept, we would develop the resources that will specifically help those members that have been identified as in need.  This may sound simple, but it was a spiritual moment for all in the room.

Being taught by Elder Sitati

Hands on teaching by Elder Sitati

Elder Sitati sharing his ideas

At 11:00 am, we joined with all of our managers by video conference.  Elder Sitati and Jorge participated in our normal two hour monthly managers meeting.  We covered our normal agenda items and then let Elder Sitati share his thoughts with the managers. This initiated a process that will require continuing work on our part.

At 1:00 pm we met with the Stake Self-Reliance Committee of the Frankfurt and Friedrichsdorf stakes and one of our Area 70s.  Sister Rueckert with the assistance of Constanza and Sister Bausmann, had a luncheon ready for all.

Lunch, with introductions by each person
Stake President introducing himself

Elder Sitati introducing himself

Elder Sitati, as he had done all week, started by asking questions to those in attendance, to comprehend their understanding and challenges.  He waited to understand their thoughts before he responded.  The entire luncheon had a very informal setting with meaningful interaction with all.

Elder Sitati listening and then responding
Teaching in the Savior's Way
After the informal session, Elder Sitati took time to teach us from the scriptures.  He taught about the parable of the sower and likened the four planting situations to Lehi's Tree of Life dream.  Once again our minds were enlightened and the Spirit confirmed the truth of his message.

After the luncheon meeting, we continued our Area Review.  We needed to finish for the day by 4:00 pm so that we could travel to the Heidelberg Stake, a little over an hour distant from our office.  There we met with Priesthood Leaders and then Elder Sitati was to speak in a devotional for all members.  At the priesthood leadership meeting, Elder Sitati did not deliver a set presentation.  Instead he asked for questions and concerns.  After a moment of silence, questions and concerns were shared.  Elder Sitati then spent the rest of the hour answering their specific concerns and needs.  Once again we were taught not only in doctrine but in the right way to teach.

Elder Sitati interacting with Priesthood Leaders
In the devotional, presentation equipment was set up and I asked Elder Sitati if he had something that we should be ready to share.  He said that he didn't know, the spirit would tell him as he went along.  He shared the doctrine of Self-Reliance with the members and then asked each of us to share different thoughts.  He told us afterwards that he felt prompted during the meeting to do that.

Jorge Alvarado, adding his testimony through a translator

After the meeting, many of the members came to talk to each of us.  The Spirit was very strong.  We had never felt such a strong bond of love from the members as we did that night.  It was amazing!

Afterwards, the Stake President's wife had prepared a meal for us and we visited some more with the Stake leaders.  This stake has already begun holding My Path Devotionals, something that has rarely been done in Germany.  They want to do more.  When a Stake President is converted to these principles and then leads his stake in that direction, miracles occur.  We experienced that this evening.

A wonderful chili dinner with sandwiches.

Wednesday we continued our Area Review, preparing for what Elder Sitati would be able to share with our Europe Area Presidency during a luncheon.  They had a wonderful meeting together. After the luncheon, Elder Paul Johnson stayed to address our team. The Area Presidency shared their number one priority for us, to help unemployed leaders and members in the southern part of Europe to get jobs.  Even though the overall initiative was important, they wanted high priority to help what has become very critical for many priesthood leaders in these countries.  They had just come from meeting with all of the stake presidents in Spain and had felt especially impressed with this need.

This changed our primary focus but was perfectly in line with what Elder Sitati had been teaching us in ministering to the one.  The inspiration that we had felt on Tuesday was 100% in line with the desires of the Area Presidency.  I know that we are all being led by the Holy Ghost.  It was very revealing to watch this occur before our eyes and in our hearts.

We then finished preparing a draft copy of our Europe Area SRS Plan for 2017 and shared it with President Johnson.  It became a topic of discussion for our Area Self-Reliance Meeting the next morning.

On Thursday morning, Elder Sitati had to leave on an early flight to arrive in Salt Lake in time to reorganize a stake, beginning on the next day.  We certainly have seen that there is no rest for a General Authority.  We were aware of all of Elder Sitati's meetings during this week and participated in many of them.  He has been totally guided by the Spirit and his influence has been monumental on all  those that have participated in these meetings.

While taking Elder Sitati to the airport at 5:30 am he shared some additional insights that I considered revelatory for me.  I wrote some of these thoughts down and shared them by email with Elder Sitati to see if I had understood correctly.  He confirmed my understanding and shared some additional thoughts that he had on the airplane trip.  These thoughts follow:

Elder Sitati's comments that touched me so deeply. He was concerned about the difficulty for our managers to change their way of working.  Much of the solution is in these words.
"When I am in an uncomfortable position, I take myself out of the picture and determine what is being asked.  Then I do what is asked and trust in the Lord. If the results do not work out I never want it to be because I didn't do my part. Sometimes when things do not work out, there are lessons that I need to learn." 
He also shared some personal experiences that showed me how he had learned this principle soon after he joined the Church in Kenya as an adult.  In his email back to me, he shared the following: 
"On the plane to SLC, that conversation kept coming back to me, and I felt I should capture the essence of it in the following note which I wrote down:

HOW TO EXECISE FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST – Take the Lord literally at His word, by striving to live according to His teachings without wavering. For He has taught: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C   6:36), and “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17); and “he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21). Therefore when we determine to follow the Lord, may we be true and faithful, laying aside every sense of personal pride and every vain imagination, that the pure spirit of the truth that is in Christ may reign freely in us, that we may witness His divine power working through us."
As I have pondered these words, additional thoughts and inspiration have come to me.  I testify that Elder Sitati is truly inspired.  He, like other General Authorities are men that are very accomplished, but what they do does not come from their own abilities.  It comes, as Elder Sitati mentioned above, as His divine power works through them.  We are so grateful to have been able to witness that divine power this past week.

After taking Elder Sitati to the airport, I returned to participate in our Area Self-Reliance Committee meeting.  This meeting is led by Elder Paul Johnson, who has the same calling and strengths as Elder Sitati.  We are blessed to be guided by these men.  Elder Sitati also told me that morning that he fully supports the Europe Area Presidency.  The obvious message to us is to give all of our support to their priorities.

After the meeting, I took time to take Jorge Alvarado to the airport to catch a flight to Portugal, where he would spend the next two days.  We did have time to stop at the hospital where he had been treated for malaria just one month ago.  This is where Jorge's life was preserved by an excellent medical staff and the hand of the Lord.  They had told him that his recovery was remarkable.  He kept sharing with them that this was due to the hand of the Lord.  On this day, he wanted to thank them and to share a special gift with several of them.  Sister Rueckert had wrapped up Books of Mormon for Jorge to give as gifts.  These were given to the head doctor, one of the other doctors that Jorge had several discussions with and three of the nursing staff.  It was great for me to accompany Jorge and to witness his sharing of his gratitude and his faith to these people who had become his close friends.

Jorge in front of building 68A where he had spent more than a week with Malaria

Jorge with one of the nurses who was so excited to see him again.  She helped us to get in to talk to the head doctor.

Jorge with the head doctor of the team that treated him.

 This finished up a chapter that began just 5 weeks earlier.  Jorge is now almost fully recovered and extremely grateful for all those who were part of his recovery.  His kindness and enthusiasm is infectious.  He also loves to share his testimony with those around him.  I was able to take him to the airport on Saturday and say good bye to a very special friend.  As Sister Rueckert has said, our experiences with him in the hospital created a much deeper relationship with him than we would have ever had in any other way.   There are always blessings that come from any trial that we encounter.

Friday we had five video conferences scheduled with our missionary couples.  In each we shared our experiences of the week and shared our testimonies of our 2017 goals.  These thoughts were well received.  We love working with these missionaries.  They have pure souls and consecrated hearts.  They inspire us in every visit we have with them.

Saturday evening, we went out to dinner with other couples that share a January birthday.  This was organized by one of the other couples.  It was a wonderful way to enjoy our Saturday night and end our week!