Monday, January 23, 2017

Hope shines brightly in Portugal

We are so impressed with our staff and missionaries and the priesthood leadership for Self-Reliance in Portugal.  Even more, we have seen the Lord's hand in this great work and in this great country.    We were able to participate in the self-reliance seminar for priesthood leaders this past week.  The seminar ended with a visit to the site of the new Portugal temple.  This site is symbolic of the hope that the members have, not only for a temple of the Lord, but also to become self-reliant.

In front of the temple site.  The backhoe in the rear is where the hole has already been dug to begin this special project.

Our week began with the many follow-up steps from our Area Review the previous week.  Much is needed to clarify and summarize our action plans and then execute them.  We have a full calendar planned ahead of us for the next several weeks.  We used the few days we had to make those plans and prepare accordingly.

On Monday night we were able to have dinner with Elder and Sister Jensen.  They arrived with us in Frankfurt just over a year ago.  It is always wonderful to spend time with these missionaries that we love.

We quickly got back into our normal activities, including our german classes on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.  On Thursday morning we awoke to a beautiful sunrise in Frankfurt.  It was a sign of the beautiful sun and weather that we would enjoy in Portugal.  We left that morning for the airport.

We were met at the airport by our Self-Reliance missionary couple, Elder and Sister Neiswender.  The weather was absolutely beautiful.  Full blue skies and sunshine with temperatures in the high 40s.  This was a welcome change from the near freezing temperatures in Germany.  
Campo Pequeno near our hotel.  Blue skies and warmer temperatures!
We also were able to meet with Julio, the first PEF Loan participant in Portugal.  He is currently working for a security company.  He plans on being the first PEF student in Portugal to pay off his loan later this year.  He is also an Elders Quorum President in his ward and a volunteer at the stake self-reliance center.

After getting settled in, we went to the Self-Reliance office and began helping in the preparations for the seminar on Saturday.  All the stake self-reliance committee chairmen and specialists were invited for a one day seminar on Saturday.  Besides learning from them, we also were assigned to share some thoughts about changing the culture of self-reliance within the Church in Portugal.  This was the primary purpose of our trip.

With a few schedule changes, we had time to go out to dinner with Elder and Sister Neiswender.  We had been encouraged to eat at a nearby famous "chicken" restaurant.  It was very good.  The photo below shows a little of the chicken being cooked.

Several grills of full chickens being grilled over charcoal

Friday morning we started visiting with participants of the Perpetual Education Fund.  Some were new participants, others had moved to Portugal from South America.  Each has a story.  We started with a sister who came with her husband from Venezuela.  She had a previous loan and they both received additional loans this year in Portugal.  They are faithfully paying their loans and preparing themselves for greater self-reliance, certainly a success story in the making.  We then met with a bishop who moved from Brazil 10 years ago.  At the time he was studying with a PEF loan in Brazil and stopped studying to make the move.  Although he is doing well in Portugal, we encouraged him to revisit his original dream, which has gone unfulfilled.  He is currently managing a Brazilian restaurant.  He has seven employees working with him, the majority are members of the Church.  The restaurant is closed on Sunday which allows all of them the opportunity to go to Church each week.  We also discussed with him how Self-Reliance could help the members of his ward.  That evening we visited with a sister who had just been approved for a PEF loan and has now been called as a Stake PEF specialist.  This is a role that we have encouraged in all of the stakes in Portugal.  As the number of participants increases, this will be more critical to help manage and bless the lives of the PEF participants in each stake.  The photo below is of a dinner that Elder and Sister Neiswender hosted for this sister, Julio (see above) and a district president from the Azores Islands that came to Lisbon for the training session the next day.  

On Friday, in between visits, we helped prepare for the training meeting to be held on Saturday.  It included the stake committee chairmen and specialists from 7 of the stakes or districts in Portugal.

The seminar began with a message from Elder Moreira, the Area 70 in Portugal.

He was followed by our Operations Team discussing the PEF loan program in Portugal, which just began officially this past year.  As I sat back and listened to Miguel Adriano and Ceu Cavaco share and respond to questions from the leaders, I realized that the PEF loan program was in good hands in Europe.  These two understand not only the processes, but more importantly the principles.  I felt such a feeling of gratitude to witness this program that I had been a part of for so long being administered so well.  We were also pleased to see our SRS manager being very involved in the discussion, also a key to the success of PEF loans in Portugal.

Miguel Adriano, our Operations manager and Ceu Cavaco, the PEF Loan supervisor
Next our manager Antonio taught the participants how to work in ward councils to strengthen Self-Reliance in the wards.  They divided into three different ward councils to role play three different scenarios for each of them.  It seemed very effective.

Sister Rueckert represented a primary president in this ward council.  The man with his arm on her shoulder was translating for her.  He was a stake presidency counselor in one of the stakes.
Second ward council break out group
Third ward council break out group
The seminar than broke for lunch.  The Portuguese love their squash soup and their cod fish casserole.

Squash soup, a Portuguese staple
Cod Fish casserole.  Cod Fish appears to be the national food of Portugal
After lunch Sister Rueckert and I led a discussion about changing the culture within the Church so that the Self-Reliance initiative can have a lasting impact.  The group had many excellent ideas to share.  Antonio, our SRS manager, than finished up sharing some successes and challenges and getting commitments from several of the stakes to hold job fairs in the coming months.

Photo taken of seminar participants at the end, after a few had already left
After the seminar we had the treat of visiting the site where the Portugal temple is being constructed.  The primary emphasis has been on the neighboring stake center.  However, the hole has been dug for the temple and footings are in place.  We had the project architect and project manager to share their views and experience about this project that is so important to the Portuguese saints.

Overlooking the temple construction site
More close up of the actual temple site.  Behind the backhoe is the hole for the footings of the temple.
The site is on the side of a major rail line.  The temple will be seen by all who pass by.  The rail station will also offer easy access to temple patrons.

After the visit to the temple site, we made one more visit to a PEF participant who had received his loan in Brazil before moving to Portugal in the past year.   As well as the other participants, he is doing well.  He shared with us the challenges and opportunities for immigrants to move to Portugal.

On Sunday morning we went to attend a ward where Elder and Sister Neiswender were speaking in sacrament meeting.  The first speaker was the ward self-reliance specialist who gave an incredible talk about the doctrine of self-reliance and her experience as the facilitator of a recent self-reliance group.  She was followed by Sister Neiswender who gave a significant talk on the value of work, all in excellent Portuguese.  This from a wonderful sister who has only been in Portugal for one year.  Her husband followed with another excellent talk.  He asked why are we receiving self-reliance emphasis at this time?  The answer is simple, because our Prophet has revealed this priority at this time.  An excellent example of being led by a living prophet.  As we finished, I felt like I had just attended the best sacrament meeting about Self-Reliance ever.  Elder Neiswender found out that the ward council was meeting after the Sunday block and arranged to take some time with the ward council to train them about self-reliance.  Once again all went well.  I had the same feeling about these great missionaries as I had felt the previous day about our employees.  They are so capable and are being led by the spirit in all that they do.

Elde and Sister Neiswender
With our dear friends, Elder and Sister Neiswender

Tis beautiful chapel next to a Catholic church.
The bishop from this ward was also an immigrant from Brazil.  His wife was the ward specialist.  His elders quorum president was also from Brazil as were many of the other leaders in the ward.  The church has struggled to grow in Portugal in recent years, but it appears to be receiving a strong boost from very capable immigrants, especially from Brazil.  We see the Lord's hand directly involved in blessing the saints in Portugal.

From mature and capable employees, dedicated and seasoned missionaries and devoted priesthood leaders, we leave Portugal with feelings of gratitude.  We know that the Kingdom of God in Portugal is in good hands as they prepare for the completion of a House of the Lord!