Sunday, April 9, 2017

"It's Greek to Me"

The highlight of our week was visiting with Elder and Sister Willmott and Elder and Sister Petchey in Greece.  While in Greece, we were able to see some amazing ancient sites, but the most amazing to us was the self-reliance work being done with the members and the dedication of these good missionary couples.  We are finishing up our week in Antwerp, Belgium working with a good stake that has also begun it's journey to self-reliance.

In front of the ancient Temple of Apollo in Corinth
Last Monday was our monthly Family Home Evening, which was a cake decorating contest.  Senior missionaries were divided into about six teams to decorate different types of cakes in 20 minutes.  Fun was had by all.  Sister Rueckert was on the winning team featured below, which built a wedding cake.

Winning team with their winning wedding cake

Winning wedding cake
Elder Rueckert was on the second place team, which built a newborn baby cake

We worked in the office on Monday and Tuesday, mostly preparing for next week's Area Committee Meeting and our monthly meeting with our managers.  We had to leave our managers meeting a little early on Tuesday as we left for the airport for our trip to Greece.

Our lowest cost flight option took us through Amsterdam for a connection to Athens.  We finished our week in Antwerp, so I guess it was a week for the "A" cities.  While in the Amsterdam airport we saw this creative "green" energy solution.  Those who want their cell phones charged sit and pedal to recharge their cell phones.  The Dutch seem to lead the world in innovative "green" solutions.

Pedal cell phone charging equipment
 We arrived in Athens, Greece at 1:30 am and we were met by Elder and Sister Petchey who insisted on picking us up, even at this early hour.  We were very thankful for their kindness.  By the time we arrived at the hotel and checked in, it was 3:00 am.

The next morning we met with Elder and Sister Willmott, who have been assigned to support Self-Reliance by the mission president as Elder and Sister Petchey return home from their mission.  They also have a full assignment as humanitarian missionaries, so their time will be more limited.  However we are thankful for their arranging their plans to be able to be with us for a few days this week. The following is a newborn kit that is given to the babies born in the refugee camps in Greece.  The plastic tub that holds the items of the kit, also doubles as a crib for the babies, pretty innovative.

Elder Willmott is a fifth generation member of the Church in England.  His 4th grandfather was converted in 1850 by a missionary that was preaching in Hyde Park in London.  He was ready to go with the saints to Zion, when his wife passed away.  He was left with the responsibility of raising 4 children and decided to stay in England.  He eventually fell away from the Church.  However, a few years later, one of his sons also heard a missionary preaching in Hyde Park and was converted to the Church and continued the Mormon family tradition.  Sister Willmott was baptized with her family in New Zealand.  Together, they form an amazing missionary couple that are anxious and willing to serve others. 

After going over the Self-Reliance initiative with them, we made arrangements to meet with the Branch President, who is unemployed the next morning.  After they served us a late lunch they showed us a few of the sites in Athens.  We walked along the bottom of the archaeological sites in the center of Athens, ending up at Mars Hill.  The following are some photos of these sites.

In front of the Acropolis

A view inside the Acropolis, through one of the portals

A picture of the Parthenon, from a park the next day
With Elder and Sister Willmott on Mars Hill with the major archaeological sites behind us.    This is just the front of the   sites that include the Parthenon and Acropolis.

This was occurring on a Wednesday which was a transfer day, when new missionaries are arriving and others are going home.  The mission president has a wonderful tradition of holding a testimony meeting with those who are arriving and leaving on Mars Hill.  This is where the Apostle Paul had preached to the Greeks so many years ago.  When we arrived at Mars Hill, the missionaries were just finishing their activity, which had been delayed due to the illness of one of the missionaries.  So we had the privilege to meet with the mission president for just a few moments while they were leaving Mars Hill.

Missionaries taking pictures with the mission president and wife.  They choose this lower portion of Mars Hill to hold the testimony meeting, being away from the tourists on the upper portion.
Photo with Elder and Sister Heder as they were leaving Mars Hill

Photo on Mars Hill with the historical sites behind us

A panorama view of Athens from the top of Mars Hill, with the ocean in the distance.
We arrived and left this area by subway.  The photo below shows the Acropolis Subway station.  The sign is in Greek at the top.  This language is "Greek" to us.  The signs throughout the city with a strange alphabet kept reminding us where we were.

In the subway with Elder and Sister Willmott
After visiting Mars Hill, we went and saw the changing of the guards at the National Parliament building.  This is always a fun experience.  In this case they march with a very high step.

2 guards who are leaving, the two in the rear have just arrived
As we walked back to a different subway station, we walked through commercial areas, where we were able to find a "souvenir spoon" for our collection.  I found this photo quite representative to the ancient sites in the city and of course on the hill in the center of the city.

We went home and got to bed early that night, making up for our late arrival the night  before.  The next morning we met with the branch president.   We should explain that there are only two branches of the Church in Athens, one is English speaking and the other is Greek speaking.  President Reyes is the branch president of the English speaking branch.  We decided to take him through the first Self-Reliance lesson of the My Job Search, including the My Foundation lesson.  We felt this had three purposes:

  • Model for the Willmotts a self-reliance course so they could see one in action.
  • Help the Branch President develop some skills to find a better job.  He had just found a job as a live in security and handy man for a family. However, he knows that this is only a temporary solution.
  • Help the Branch President feel how self-reliance can help the members of his branch.
In the end we felt like all of the three objectives were accomplished.  He shared his desire that self-reliance can continue to bless the lives of his branch members after Elder and Sister Petchey finish their mission.  He was assigned with Elder Willmott to be action partners together, which will help strengthen this important relationship.

Doing "Me in 30 seconds" with each other

Shifting partners and continuing the activity

After this meeting we held a Zoom meeting with our missionary couple in Sweden and their manager in Germany.  This was an opportunity for us to council together on one of the challenges they are facing with one of the stakes in the Nordic countries.

Finally we were able to go to the apartment of Elder and Sister Petchey and have lunch with them and the Willmotts.  This was also an opportunity to allow some transition from the Petcheys to the Willmotts, include a review of the status of several of the members in the branch.

Lunch on the balcony with Elder and Sister Petchey and Elder and Sister Willmott
 We then had about a two hour break before we had a self-reliance group to meet that evening, so the Petcheys took us to see a few more sites.  We chose to see the Temple of Zeus, which is in the middle of Athens.  We were impressed with the sites through the gate and walked to the entrance to be able to go in.  Unfortunately, when we arrived at the entrance we found that it had closed at 3:30 pm, so we were left to only look through the fenced area.  The photo below is a little bit of the remains of the ancient temple of Zeus.  This temple was initiated by the Greeks in the 6th century B.C. but was only completed by the Romans in the 2nd century AD.  At its completion it had 104 full Roman colossal columns, making it significantly larger than the Parthenon which was on the hill above.   Today only a few of the columns remain.  You can see a few of them in this photo below.

This is the only photo we were able to get

After this visit we continued to walk to the first modern day Olympic Stadium, erected in 1896.  This is where the first Olympic games were held.  The distance from the city of Marathon to this stadium is 26.2 miles, which gave the name of Marathon to the ancient marathon race.

In front of the first modern day Olympic Stadium

We then returned to the chapel to hold the final self-reliance group for the Relief Society president and her counselor.  They doubled up the last two Foundation lessons to be able to complete before Elder and Sister Petchey finished their mission.  As a final service activity we suggested to these two sisters that they specifically work on organizing a Sunday Self-Reliance group that Elder and Sister Willmott can facilitate.  We encouraged them to continue the great work that has been done by Elder and Sister Petchey.

SR Group, Sister Petchey with the RS president and her counselor.  Also Elder Petchey and Sister Rueckert

Graduation certificates for the two sisters and also for Sister Petchey who has completed 15 or 20 of these courses
We finally had a late dinner with the Petcheys and returned to our hotel about 11:00 pm.  We had received a notice that day that Air France was going on strike and our Friday evening flight to Frankfurt had been cancelled.  We worked on several alternatives during the day and finally settled with a flight returning home early Saturday morning so that we could arrive in time to go to Antwerp, Belgium as planned.  This required us to add an additional night at a different hotel.  Below is Sister Rueckert outside of the Golden Age Hotel on Friday morning as we checked out.

Friday morning we participated in another self-reliance group with Celco.  He is a member from Peru that has a family in Russia and is currently living in Greece.  With the Self-reliance groups he has made great progress in his work and his hope for the future.  He shared a strong testimony of the impact that this group has had on his life.  As with the sisters from the evening before, he received multiple lessons this morning so that he could complete the course before the Petcheys leave.

Cello works with his materials in Spanish, while he and Sister Petchey communicate in English.
 We are overwhelmed at the good that Elder and Sister Petchey have accomplished during their mission.  They have helped nearly 20 members and non members in the two small branches to not only complete the courses but also get jobs and become much more self-reliant.  They know each person individually and have become close personal friends.  In fact one of their self-reliance participants was getting baptized the next day.  Their mission is an inspiration to us and an example to all senior missionaries.  As well as doing self-reliance they have worked as CES missionaries, helping the institute and seminary programs function and have served as well as member and leader support in these branches in Athens.  Below is a photo of them with Celco and his graduation certificate.

With these completions and graduations, Elder and Sister Petchey have completed their self-reliance efforts on their mission.  They will return home this week.  For the remainder of the day, they took us to Corinth and we enjoyed the time together.  We love so many missionary couples, but it is hard to find one who is more dedicated and loving then this good couple.  They are both converts to the Church and have shared many of their life experiences with us, including her baptism in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil while performing in a dance company as Minnie Mouse in 1973.  The rest of the day was one of the most enjoyable that we have spent on our mission.

Sister Rueckert in from of an ancient fountain and the temple of Apollo in the background

Elder and Sister Petchey in front of the Temple of Apollos in Corinth

The ancient city of Corinth was destroyed  by the Romans in the second century B.C. and then it was built back up as a Roman city.  This was the city where the Apostle Paul spend one and a half years of his mission and sent two major epistles.  The city was finally destroyed by an earthquake in the 1800s and has remained as ruins since then.  The current city of Corinth is built a short distance from this ancient site.
A panorama view of the archaeological ruins of the ancient city of Corinth
Closer up of the castle on the top of the hill above of the ancient Corinth

One of the special sites in these ruins was the center of the Roman forum where the Apostle Paul would have been tried.  We took time this week to read in the book of Acts about Paul's visit to Athens and Corinth.  It was something special to be able to be in the locations that we read about in the Bible.  According to tradition, this elevated central rostrum was the place where Paul was on trial.

Explanation at the site of the Roman Forum with their explanation of the Apostle Paul's experience here.
On the elevated rostrum
The elevated rostrum in the background
 Sister Petchey and Sister Rueckert have become special friends.  They spent the entire day talking and getting to know each other even more.  This is one of them talking with the Temple of Apollos in the background.

Ancient location of the fountains and baths

Ancient ruins on the side of the main street leading into the main city

After spending the time and a wonderful meal in Corinth, we headed back to Athens.  We stopped at the canal of Corinth which separates the Peloponnese section of land from the rest of Greece.  This deep ravine has existed for centuries but was able to be completed across the land for ships to pass in the 1800s.

View of the Corinth Canal, really, really deep
We talked to our daughter Beckie, on Wednesday, which was her birthday.  She said that she wanted to see the water around Greece that was so blue.  We started looking for blue water.  As we looked at the canal, we could see that it could be that blue, if the sun could shine all the way down.  The following photo was a close up of the canal, which is pretty blue.

Blueness of the Canal of Corinth
This is a photo of a video that we watched in Corinth that highlights the blueness of the water around Corinth

We finally returned to a different hotel that evening and then went to bed to get some sleep.  We awakened at 4:00 am to be ready for breakfast at the hotel at 4:45 and a cab to the airport at 5:00 am.  For the rest of the story, know that 4:00 am is 3:00 am, Frankfurt, Germany time.  We were able to successfully catch our flight to Frankfurt, which arrived at 8:25 am.  By the time we got to our hotel it was nearly 9:30 am.  We took time to shower and repack and by 10:30 am we were on the road to Antwerp, Belgium where we had a Self-Relianc group to visit at 4:00 pm that afternoon.  Fortunately we arrived in time to check into our hotel first and arrive just in time for the group meeting.

There we met our stake specialists and the first self-reliance group in this stake.  We were impressed with the way that they were holding the group.  The three participants were all either new members or recently reactivated members.  Another group member in the same category was sick that day.   We attended a two hour group session and then another two hours of specific aptitude tests review for each of them.  They are on lesson 8 of the Education for Better Work group which uses the My Job Search for the final six lessons.  Finally we had another hour with the stake specialists, evaluating the progress with their stake and the steps to be taken today in our Stake Self-Reliance Committee meeting. 

We love the way that the stake specialists are working individually with these good members.  It is the reason we do all of this to be able to help individuals.  That is the story of our week, seeing good missionaries and specialists helping the "one".

Three group members with the stake specialists on the left
View of the group with Sister Rueckert and the Commitment chart on the board
Finally at around 10:00 pm we were able to get some dinner.  We chose to go to the center of Antwerp, to dine and see the famous cathedral.  The photos below are from there.

With the cathedral behind

Close up of the height of the Cathedral

A quaint child sleeping on a dog in the front of the cathedral.  The stone walk goes over the sleeping child, looking like a blanket
 Thus finished perhaps the longest day of our mission.  We started at 3:00 am, Belgium time and finished at nearly midnight, traveled through four countries (Greece, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium) and spent 5 hours on self-reliance work.  We are exhausted but pleased with the benefit of this work in the lives of individuals.