Sunday, March 5, 2017

God is a God of Miracles

We testify that miracles have not ceased unto the children of men.  Our week started out with a major miracle and once our eyes were opened, we saw many smaller miracles along the way.

On this past Monday we received the news of a modern day miracle that we want to share:

In October 2016, based on a request from Europe Area, Elder and Sister Pettit were reassigned from their Self-Reliance mission in Ireland to the Stockholm Sweden mission to serve as Self-Reliance missionaries in the Scandinavian countries. As preparations were made for the move, we realized that a visa would be needed. As options were reviewed, Sister Clouse of the Sweden mission office visited the immigration office and was told by a supervisor that since the Pettits would be staying less than 1 year (11 months left on their mission), they could apply for an extended visitor's permit once they were in the country and they would be totally legal. Based on this information and approval of the Church Travel office, Elder and Sister Pettit moved to Sweden on December 15, 2016. 

They have immediately gotten to work, have traveled most of the four missions and began building relationships with priesthood leaders.   They are an amazing missionary couple!  They went into the immigration office in January to begin their application for a visitor's permit and were told that they should wait until they were closer to the end of their normal 90 day period.  Based on this, they returned to the immigration office on February 8. At this time they were told that they could not apply for this extended visitor's permit without a visa that needed to be received before entering the country. Based on this their request was denied.  

At this point we got the legal team involved. Their response was the same, that they needed to leave the country and start with a new visa request. Since their 90 day period was running out, it could not be from a country in the European Union. Local members felt that there were other options, but there was no success. We began looking for other options for them to serve while awaiting a visa request, but residency had become complicated since their previous U.K. Visa had been cancelled after they left. We felt that most of their options and time were running out.   I went forth in my analytical way to identify our options, according to the Solving Problems lesson in My Foundations.  It was clear that the best option was for Elder and Sister Pettit to get their residence permit and continue as they had begun.  We decided that focusing on the other options reflects our lack of faith.

The Pettits decided to make one more visit to the immigration office on Monday, February 27.  They had faith that the Lord's will would be done. We asked our SR managers and missionaries in Europe to have a special fast on Sunday, February 26 on their behalf. Sister Rueckert and I had made this a matter of continued prayers over the past several weeks and a very intense fasting experience. We always pray that His will be done, but we could not understand why it would not be His will for Elder and Sister Pettit to continue His work in Sweden. 

The following is their story of what happened: 

"We want to give our heart-felt thanks to all of you who have been so selfless in combining your faith in our behalf concerning our visa for Sweden.   Today we met for the third time with the Swedish Immigration Officials regarding our request to extend our visitor's permit, which would allow us to complete our mission in the Nordic Countries.  It is difficult to describe a miracle, because when a blessing is asked for in faith, the answer is also best seen through the eyes of faith.  We are worried that putting the experience down in words might lack the spirit and real power of the moment, but it is true that we witnessed an absolute miracle today.

Our best description of what happened, was that we had a good feeling about going there today and expecting things to turn out well.  Our Mission office couple, Elder and Sister Clouse went with us for back-up, even though they would not be allowed in the appointment.   We presented our paperwork through the window to the desk and the cheerful employee looked over the papers.  After looking at them, he excused himself to go talk to a supervisor, and came back with the same news we had heard the previous two appointments:  we would not be granted an extension because we were in the country while we were applying ---and that is not permitted.  It didn't seem to matter how we stated and restated our needs and the fact that the mission couple had been told it would be possible, we were given a very polite and cheerful "no."   

At one point, the employee, seeming to think we did not understand the meaning of "no", said perhaps he could draw us a picture.  He drew a small circle on paper and said that it represented the permission you needed to get before you came into the country.  Then he put on X on the circle and said, "You don't have this."  He  remained cheerful, so we did too.  He said there was only a small chance we would ever be granted the permission as it stood, so we persisted in wanting to know how to take that chance, because although he just wanted us to go away defeated, we needed even the slimmest open window for our faith to get in.   We even said, we are willing to take whatever chance there is because we have FAITH.    He looked at our badges, smiled and said something like: "Faith is good, but you have no chance."  

After about 10 "no's" we asked if he would mind telling this to our Mission office people because they had heard differently regarding our situation.   He said he would tell them, so we went and got them to come to the window.  He told them the same thing, and they told him what we had shared before about talking to a supervisor who led them to believe we could stay in the country.  This finally led him to going back to get his supervisor, and the story was repeated ---and rejected--- with the same explanation why.   Then Sister Clouse said virtually the same things, but something clicked! The supervisor stopped and said, "Oh, I didn't understand that you meant to be here for less than a year."   Of course this was not new or hidden information,  as we had said it clearly before, and Sister Clouse had as well; but in the very last moment possible, it clicked!--- and to the great surprise of the employee, the supervisor approved for him to begin our paperwork.

Honestly, this could not have felt more like a miracle than if we had walked out the door with a rejection and had them run after us with a change of heart.  It was literally down to the last possible second it could have been passed! 

After this, there was a bundle of computer and general technology glitches which took about another hour and a half---making our total time there 3 hours standing, but we were 'walking on air'---so grateful that  "after the trial of our faith", the blessings really came.

Thank you again for being a part of a miracle.  This truly is the Lord's work, and He wants it to move forward.  " God has not ceased to be a God of miracles."  (Mormon 9:15)" 

As we received the phone call from Elder and Sister Pettit on Monday, telling us this story, we were overcome by the Spirit. Our very bodies tingled as we recognized the hand of the Lord in this miracle, which occurred "after the trial of our faith".  We just sat in amazement at the goodness of our God.  We poured our hearts out in prayers of gratitude for this answer to our fasting and prayer. 

That night I once again knelt in a personal prayer of gratitude. As I prayed I was brought to recognize that I had had doubts in this process. I felt the need to repent of my lack of faith. Through this process my faith has been strengthened and I can testify with renewed strength that God does answer our righteous prayers. I also testify about the power of fasting and perseverance in Faith.  God will provide for His Saints!

Also on Monday I received an email from one of the government offices in Czech Republic that showed me some links to genealogical websites where I might find information about my ancestor Samuel Bertran Hartmann, who left Bohemia in 1867 as a stowaway on a ship that left to the U.S.  We have never found anything specific as to his genealogy ever since.  This has been my first and most difficult genealogical task.  

Although we have not yet solved this, I was able to find the birth and marriage records for the city which we believe was his.  His grandchildren had told their posterity that he had been born in Nedanitz, a city that no longer exists on any map.  We had gone to visit a few cities in Czech Republic in December, Nedanice and Nedanitzky, in our search.  This genealogical site to which I was directed had the birth records of Nedanice and as I looked into the 1850s, the name of that city was Nedanitz.  We have miraculously confirmed the city where he said he was born.

Now the next problem is that his name was not in the Catholic parish birth records.  I searched them one by one.  One of his descendants said that they thought that he was Jewish before he left Bohemia.  As I searched for this miracle this week, I found some Czech Jewish sites that identified the process and location of Jewish records in Bohemia. As I searched some family names that had been identified, I found the surname of Hartmann identified as being in Jewish birth records for three different locations near Nedanitz.  I'm not sure of the next steps, but I have sent additional emails to identify where I can find those books.  This miracle has not yet been granted, but I feel like we are getting closer.  I know that the trial of our faith is still in process, but I also know that miracles will happen in the Lord's way and time.

The rest of the week we were able to recognize many other miracles around us, great and small.  When we went to our Book of Mormon class on Wednesday we saw Elder and Sister Rich for the first time in this class this year.  Elder Rich was struck with a case of bacterial meningitis in early January and nearly lost his life.  He has made a major recovery and is back serving in his calling.  As we looked at him and his good wife, we realized that we had been witnessing another major miracle in the past few weeks.

That night we were blessed to begin the My Plan for Returned Missionaries lessons for two recently returned missionaries in our ward.  Luis, on the left, served in Berlin, Germany and Giada

served her mission in Lyon, France.  We love working with these young returned missionaries.  We also recognize how much they need these new materials to help them with their post mission direction.  We pray that we can help them formulate their own plans, with the help of the Holy Ghost, over the next several weeks.

Most of our week was filled with our normal work of meeting with missionaries or managers by video conference and making plans with our Area Self-Reliance Manager.  We always have special projects to work on.  One of our major projects this week was preparing for a special combined Priesthood and Relief Society meeting in our ward, which occurred today.  More about that later.

On Saturday, we took time to truly prepare for our coming week, doing laundry, purchasing groceries and learning German.  We both finished another unit in the Rosetta Stone tool.  I am still over a month behind my desired schedule, but this week I was able to make up some of the difference.  Sister Rueckert also spent some time decorating our apartment with home made Easter Eggs for the Easter Season which is approaching.

On Saturday night we went to the Church house and participated with our youth in the Face 2 Face broadcast with President Eyring and Elder Holland.  This was richly rewarding.  This event was held at a time that could be live with Europe and Africa.  In fact a youth group from England and another from South Africa were part of the broadcast.

What a privilege to be taught informally but powerfully by these two servants of our Heavenly Father.  Their responses may have been directed to the youth, but they will help anyone who will listen with softened hearts.  We were taught so clearly how we should pray and how we receive answers to our prayers. Their words were full of personal experiences that help the youth and all of us to relate even more directly to them.  We especially loved the way that Pres. Eyring and Elder Holland interacted with each other as they answered questions.

The youth of our ward watching the Face 2 Face event

President Eyring and Elder Holland interacting with each other as they answered questions.
 Finally today we had our Self-Reliance Activity in our ward.  We had only 30 minutes in the combined Relief Society and Priesthood meeting.  We used a shortened version of the new My Plan for Self-Reliance booklet.  Although we didn't have time to separate into Self-Reliance Groups at the end, we did have 23 individuals fill out registration requests to participate in Self-Relianc Groups.  We now have our work cut out for us to get the groups organized and started in the next week or so.

One final little miracle.  Last night, I was prompted to download the videos that we would be sharing in the lesson today. I found that the Church's Media Library was not functioning.  My wife tried it also with the same result on her computer.  We went into a minor panic.  Fortunately I still have friends in responsible places in the Self-Reliance department.  I was able to call one of them at 11:00 pm on Saturday (Frankfurt time) and ask for his assistance.  I then prayed to my Heavenly Father and went to bed, trusting in a resolution by morning.  Mike Davis, at HQ, was an agent to carry out this miracle that we so much needed.  The files were sent to us before we awakened in the morning and the activity went exactly as planned.