Why we are serving.

June 19, 2017

Well, as of June 12, we have been here for 6 months serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter  Day Saints here in Rostock Germany where we were assigned.  We are here as well as over 70,000 other missionaries serving worldwide at their own expense because ..........WHY? It may seem crazy...young men and young women putting their educations and lives on hold for 18 months to two years to serve in another area other than where they live. They don't date, they don't call home, they get up early and go to bed early and they often times learn another language. They wear suits and ties and dresses all day; they get doors slammed in their faces, they get ignored, they get made fun of, they get yelled at. And what about us "Senior" missionary couples leaving the comforts of our homes, our beds, our communities and hardest of all our children and grandchildren to also serve in another area, dressing up, sometimes learning a new language and living in a small apartment getting used to another culture? Why do we do it? And before I make it sound all bad, it isn't! It is wonderful! It is astonishing and we all enjoy the adventure! And Gentz and I happen to be in one of the most beautiful spots on earth we believe! But let me try to explain why we are really here.

We are members of the LDS (Mormon) Church, which has no paid ministry, no paid youth workers, organists, teachers, secretaries. Instead, from an early age, we are given the opportunity to serve and teach being assigned"callings". In the words of Clayton Christianson, a Harvard Professer: "Because we employ no professional preachers, it means that every sermon or lesson in church is given by a regular member – women and men, children and grandparents. This means that we have the chance to learn from everyone – people in all walks of life who are struggling in their own ways to follow God".  So we are used to serving. We love it. We grow from it. I can't count on both hands how many times my husband along with other men and women in the church showed up to help a family move in or out of their house. Heavy pianos. Appliances. Cleaning out cupboards. Is it a sacrifice? Often, yes, but what we gain is so much more than it can hardly be counted as a sacrifice. The time we give comes back to us tenfold and the love we experience as we work together fills our souls. We grow as we serve. Mormons serve...that's just what we do! "The strong help the weak, and the weak help the strong, and nobody thinks about who is weak and who is strong. It creates an extraordinary spirit of mutual love, because as we work to help others who are in need, our love and respect for those we help intensifies." Clayton Christiansen  


And ultimately, we all do it because we love our Lord Jesus Christ and want to help Him build His kingdom here on earth. He is the perfect example for us. What He went through was very hard...he suffered, died and hung on the cross so that we ...you and I could all have eternal life. He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, bleeding from every pore, so that He would know how to help us as we went through our trials and challenges and problems in this life. Because of that, we can never say..."No one knows how I feel." He does. What peace this can bring a grieving heart! When we cry out, He is there. He is the living Christ. And so, out we go. We leave our homes, our families, our educations, our comfortable lives to go out and serve. To teach. To heal broken lives. To love. To tell whoever we can that they are children of God and He loves them. That is why we are here. And on days when it gets hard, we remind ourselves that someone much greater than us also had a very hard mission, but He drank of the bitter cup that was His alone and did His Father's will. 

We take seriously the admonition to go out into the world and take the knowledge of the Savior and His gospel to all of mankind. "Feed my Sheep" He said three times to Peter so long ago. As modern day disciples, we too desire to feed His sheep wherever we may be sent or even where we live. We love Him and we hope to somehow through our service  be able to say, Thank you! Thank you for all that you have done for us and now in some small way, we hope to be able to pay back part of that debt we owe you. And oh, the love that is here. The rich experiences! The people we meet! The trials that we see! The triumphs over adversity! The overcoming! The blessings!! The growth!! We thank God every day for this opportunity!

This is why we all serve. This is why we are here, in your neighborhoods, on your streets, in your corner of the world. So, when you see one of these missionaries..old or young take a minute to shake their hand. Look in their eyes. I promise you that you will only see love and a desire to serve. And maybe, just maybe you might want to take a few minutes to hear the message that they have. They've traveled a long way to deliver it.
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)

Imperfect though we may be

April 27, 2017

Sunday during Sacrament Meeting, I was playing the "organ" as the ever so talented Sister Albrecht was traveling with her husband. I hit my sour notes here and there and cringed at my ineptness, but continued on of course. My dear sweet Gentz was conducting the meeting in German as he does every week because his counselors (who are German) don't feel comfortable doing it yet. He never feels like he is getting the language completely, and freezes up on some words. He keeps doing it week after week of course. Then I was sitting there listening to the talks via the translating headphones and Elder Benitz, young German missionary was translating as best he could (tough job). I looked over at him and he mouthed, "I'm sorry, I'm doing the best I can"! There all three of us were, imperfect in what we were doing, but continuing on. It was another lesson to me of how it is only Satan who gets on us when we aren't "perfect". With the Savior, He is right there, encouraging, loving us for making the effort and inspiring us to improve. I was once again filled with love for my Savior and gratitude for the fact that we are loved in spite of all of our imperfections. We are not only loved, we are given the opportunities to overcome, to be made stronger and to be MORE as we apply his enabling power in our lives.

I recently re read this experience that President Faust shared in General Conference that  thought applied here. He related the following story of a little boy whose mother purchased tickets to a concert featuring the great Polish concert pianist Paderewski. He explained:

“The night of the concert arrived and the mother and son found their seats near the front of the concert hall. While the mother visited with friends, the boy slipped quietly away.
“Suddenly, it was time for the performance to begin and a single spotlight cut through the darkness of the concert hall to illuminate the grand piano on stage. Only then did the audience notice the little boy on the bench, innocently picking out ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’
“His mother gasped, but before she could move, Paderewski appeared on stage and quickly moved to the keyboard. He whispered to the boy, ‘Don’t quit. Keep playing.’ And then, leaning over, the master reached down with his left hand and began filling in the bass part. Soon his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obligato. Together, the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerized.”

President Faust then summed up the story with this lesson:
“In our lives, unpolished though we may be, it is the Master who surrounds us and whispers in our ear, time and time again, ‘Don’t quit. Keep playing.’ And as we do, He augments and supplements until a work of amazing beauty is created. He is right there with all of us, telling us over and over, ‘Keep playing.’” 

The Apostle Paul bore his own powerful witness that the Lord’s grace strengthens us in our weakness, as we read in 2 Corinthians: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

Ah, He is making more of us than we  could ever make of ourselves, isn't He? In the words of CS Lewis, we just wanted a cabin, and He is making out of us a Palace. Above all, He loves us...we are His work and His glory as is everyone on earth. I hope to continually improve and help a few others along the way. I hope that wherever you are in this journey of life, that you just keep on playing, keep on enjoying your life, loving yourself in spite of your imperfections and know that the Master is always nearby, appreciating your efforts and making you equal to the task. Just don't quit!! Keep playing!

Easter Week. Etc.

April 19, 2017

Easter Monday is a holiday over here in Germany. The day after Easter, no stores, banks, or schools are open and people just enjoy the day, often going out for a stroll. Back in the older days, they used to have an Easter parade, but now not so much. Several members of the church and the missionaries and  Gentz and I went on an "Easter walk" along the beach in Warnemude....and we had to wear winter coats, as Spring here is rather chilly and windy, but it was a fun morning! Apparently here with this group the custom is to get some Danish ice cream when finished with the walk:)

 Warnemende is always delightful to visit; it is  right on the Baltic Sea Coast and people are  strolling about and street musicians and "statues" abound like this one with Gentz. It's a charming village and a popular stop for Cruise Ships.
 With our young missionaries on the pier...yes, we have "civilian" clothes on as Mondays are our preparation day and not too much fun to walk on the beach in Sunday clothes:))
                          This is a view of Warnemunde from the top floor (women's bathroom) of the Hotel Neptune. 


Speaking of ice cream and desserts, Gentz and I wanted to host a dinner for those who have nowhere really to go for Easter dinner, and since our apartment is too small, we had it at the church. I'm so sad that we didn't get a picture, but it was such a fun event...Daniel from Ghana was there, Vladimir and his sweet family from the Ukraine, Ignacio, our new move in member from Mexico, Bodo, a German from our English class that meets on Tuesdays, the missionaries and us. Vladimir's sweet wife, Nadia made a lovely Chocolate Torte for which I was ever so happy about as I made some no-bake cookies, that should have been called no "set up " cookies! I'm sure you've all made them..so easy..sugar, milk, oats, nutella, drop them on wax paper. Well, mine just wanted to stick to the paper and after I had frozen them to try to undo the damage and put them in a container to take to church, they were just all glopped together. But we all had a good laugh about it and I went around with a spoon and plopped some no bake cookie on each dessert plate next to Nadia's cake. We had such a good time, we would like to do that more often..minus the no bake cookies. Gentz had made his famous rolls in the shape of a big bunny...his rolls just don't turn out so great over here. Our oven is very small and doesn't heat evenly, so we think we are done with those as well and besides, there are so many bakeries with lovey rolls, why bother? 

If any of you have good recipes that are easy and feed a crowd, send them my way. I looked up German potato pie by Rachel Ray and made it for the missionaries last week but it wasn't so great either. I think I'm just going to have to stick to barbecued pulled chicken and pork and Italian Beef. Good grief! 

Friday night, we had a real treat. Yes, I cooked again..this time a chicken broccoli casserole but they don't have regular cream of chicken soup over here, so I had to put something together like it. It turned out all right and we had our little neighbor Katharina over. WE got to know here through the window across the street. I nicknamed her "Clara" when we first moved here and I think just looking over at what she was doing (usually studying, as she is studying to be a doctor) made me feel less lonely for my sweet daughters. Finally, we waved after a couple of months, then we met her on the street, found out her real name and invited her over for dinner. As seems to be German custom, she brought over a lovely plant as a gift with a darling little card she had drawn attached to it. She is only 18, lives about 6 hours away, loves to dance, play the piano and draws the sweetest little pictures. She was just a delight and spoke good English..I think we will be fast friends. We like to think we help her be a little less lonely when she looks out the window and sees us and our lights as well.

Today we said goodby to our young missionary, Elder Keller. He came to Rostock the same time that we did, so we have 'grown up " together. He is such a dear, dear young man and we will miss him! We feel so blessed to be able to share in this work with these young men and women and are so humbled and inspired by the good work they do day in and day out because or their love of and devotion for the Lord. Their work is not easy but yet they don't complain. They get transferred to another area in the mission every three to six months. Gentz took him to the train station where he will travel for 7 hours to get to his new city and we will receive a new missionary to be companion to Elder Benitz this evening. 
 Elder Keller's "favorite" chair in our apartment with the Apple Shorla that he loves (Apple juice mixed with sparkling water)
                              Elder Keller with Bodo and Sigrid, two "Rostockers" from our English Class

I am grateful for the lessons we are learning over here and the nearness of the Savior that we feel; I know He is aware of each one of us and we can receive that "peace which passeth all understanding" as we turn to Him and seek His help and His enabling power. It was so lovely to reflect a little more than usual on the sacrifice that He made for us so that we can all live again someday on Easter.  I gave a talk in Church Sunday about being united with those we love who have left this earth, and for those who suffer so with infirmities in this life. All tears, all grief, all pain and disappointment will be wiped away as we join with the choirs above who sing Alleluia! to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost! I'm so grateful for the knowledge that I have that this life is temporary and that we are eternal beings. From a talk given by Elder Clayton in the latest General Conference he stated: "Because of God's holy plan, we know that birth and death are actually just milestones on our journey to eternal life with our Heavenly Father. They are essential parts of our Father's plan - sacred moments when mortality and heaven intersect." How very true!! And again, from a Church Leader, Neal A. Maxwell, "Death is a comma, not an exclamation point! Because of what Jesus did that Easter Sunday so many years ago, this is true.

Have a wonderful Spring wherever you might be! 

The Prince of Peace

April 7, 2017

Find peace in a troubled world by learning more of Jesus Christ. This Easter season, learn principles of peace from the #PRINCEofPEACE. at Mormon.org. The theme "Prince of Peace: can help us each implement eight core principles of peace into our lives (faith, compassion, forgiveness, repentance, gratitude, scripture (God's word), prayer and hope) and draw closer to the Savior. From the words of Isaiah 9:6. "...and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."

Peace is something we all search for in this world of ours today. There are wars everywhere, rumors of war, countrymen disagreeing with one another over political and religious views, families quarreling and the hearts of men failing them. Where is peace?  Jesus Christ said in Phillipians: My peace I give unto you; not as the world  giveth give I unto you, but the peace which passeth all understanding." I love that..the peace which passeth all understanding.  It is there...always available for us. We can have peace in our lives no matter the news. No matter the illness. No matter the death of a loved one. No matter the disappointment we may suffer in business or financial matters. No matter the betrayal of a spouse. No matter the addiction of a child. No matter how lonely, frightened or sad we might feel. There is peace. That peace which passes all understanding. All of men's understanding. All of my understanding. And all of yours. So, stop what you are doing. Turn off the news. Take a few deep breaths. Tune in to your heart and your soul.There are several other great videos representing those core attributes on Mormon.org...I've posted  one of them here.... Compassion... about a family whose child died of a brain tumor and what they did to deal with their grief and help others. Have a lovely Easter Week filled with Peace!

"What if MY story were THEIR story?"

March 15, 2017

I know I have shared about Vladimir and his family before from the Ukraine and Daniel from Ghana but hearing a bit more of their story this weekend as well as a few others has prompted me to revisit and share their plight. Vladimir and his family live in a "hyme" or government housing very like the one pictured but theirs is in a very small village out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately he was able to procure a car from a friend or they would have no way to get to their German lessons or to the store, both of which are in the neighboring town about 5 miles away. But, he says, they are grateful to be alive, for if he had stayed he would have been put into prison and then on the front lines to fight Russia and be killed. All this because he disagrees with the political party now governing the Ukraine. He is not technically a "refugee" in Germany's eyes, so he is having to fight for the right to stay here and he says they pray fervently every night that things will work out so they can stay and they are just grateful to be alive. He doesn't complain about his living conditions..everything is just stated as facts.He has a degree in Economics and Engineering.  It is truly humbling to hear his story and I wonder how can I help?

In the words of our general Relief Society President, What if MY story were THEIR story? What would I want someone to do? Possibly all my basic needs have been met, but I am lonely...I miss my mother, my sisters, my friends. I don't know this language. I need a friend and someone to take an interest in me. How can I help?

Then a little more about Daniel. He left Ghana because of the extreme  poverty there. He and six friends traversed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber raft to get to Europe and then traveled to Berlin where they were separated and sent to different parts of the country..Daniel going alone to Rostock. When I ask if he was afraid, he just smiles and says "with Jesus you can have peace."

I was praying about what we could do...how could we help with so many refugees in our area here in Rostock? My friend Mary Bologna would probably be making blankets for them, or there are organizations that are teaching the native language, helping with teaching job skills and practicing interviewing. So, I thought, well, why not go to the Visa Office and ask where are the organizations helping in these ways and get some ideas? I prayed fervently that as we were out and about walking and running errands yesterday that whoever might need us would cross our path. As we were getting some pictures developed, there were two lovely exotic looking young women behind us with a baby in a stroller. They shyly smiled at us as we turned and looked and smiled at them. After we left the store, we headed up towards the city and ran into them again; I began speaking to the baby and talking about my grandchildren in America. One of the gals was excited to know I spoke English as she could speak very little German and felt very lonely here; she was from Pakistan and recently divorced so could not go home. Her friend with the baby was from Albania and her husband was in prison; they had both been in a women's shelter and now had a place to live in government housing. The Pakistani gal had just said to her friend that morning..."maybe we should find a church. There are good people there and they might be able to help us." What did they need? They have clothes, they have food. They are lonely. They want a friend. They want a mother. We exchanged numbers and gave hugs, promising to stay in touch. My heart was so moved and I was grateful that possibly we had lightened their load a bit and will pursue helping them and will follow up in a few days. My prayer had indeed been answered.

Then tonight at the church, three men from Syria came to take advantage of the German class the missionaries are teaching. One of them is a veterinarian, the other an engineer and the other getting a degree in Biology. They take the German classes offered from the government but come to this class because they have no work and nothing to do after schooling except go back to the government housing.They like to be able to speak in conversational German with the missionaries. They have invited us all to come to their place for dinner. Again, what do they want? Friendship. Someone to speak German with so that they can eventually find jobs.

I see all of this and I marvel. It has humbled me. It has caused me to not complain so much about my own little discomforts, so minuscule compared to them. Yes, I too am a stranger in a strange country, but I came here voluntarily to serve a mission. I did not come here because I would be killed, or I needed a better way of life, or my family had all been killed or my country was being ravaged by war. I came so that I could serve God and my fellowmen full time for just a short time. And I am with my sweet husband. And I have friends. And I have purpose. And I have freedom.

I think of the talk given by one of our church leaders in April of 2016, Patrick Kearon who said this:
"Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period—we hope a short period—in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us."
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
What must my response be? What if MY story were THEIR story?!! I am grateful for the opportunity we have to be up close and personal and see these situations in real life. Again, a  quote from our church leader: "The reality of these situations must be seen to be believed. In winter I met, amongst many others, a pregnant woman from Syria in a refugee transit camp desperately seeking assurance that she would not need to deliver her baby on the cold floors of the vast hall where she was housed. Back in Syria she had been a university professor. And in Greece I spoke with a family still wet, shivering, and frightened from their crossing in a small rubber boat from Turkey. After looking into their eyes and hearing their stories, both of the terror they had fled and of their perilous journey to find refuge, I will never be the same."
I will never be the same again either after tonight,  after yesterday and the sweet girls, after Daniel, after Vladimir, after Mosab who lost his mother and sisters in Allepo.  I hope that all of us can look around our respective communities and see who needs us. Who needs a friend? A smile? A dinner?  I am sure that as we all pray and ask to be guided and led to those in need, that prayer will be answered.  That of ALL prayers will be answered. 
And I also pray that our country will once again welcome with open arms as Germany has  those who are seeking  "refuge from the storm."

Great site for some ideas of how you can help in this effort: iwasastranger.lds.org

Days of Wonder and Astonishment

Feb. 24, 2017

                       Canal In Wismar, historical seaside village about 40 minutes from Rostock.

I feel like I've turned a corner in my emotional state and adjustment to Germany and this culture and being so far away from home. Before we left the US I turned to Gentz and said, "I'm scared." To which he replied, "You are about to embark on a wonderful, astonishing adventure." As usual, his words calmed my troubled thoughts. The first few weeks I doubted those words, but am beginning to feel it more every day rather than just fleeting moments of wonderful. It's been hard. It's been confusing. It's been discouraging. It's been wonderful. But through it all, I've had Gentz right by my side and I've felt the love of God with me. For that I am so grateful.

So, I just want to share a few pictures that have filled me with wonder not the least of which are all the great, friendly people we have come in contact with or seen on the street. And of course, our missionaries of the Berlin Germany Mission. They are the most amazing examples of dedication, sacrifice and love for the Lord that I've seen. They give  up two years of their lives at such a young age and come out into a land far from home, and they are always positive! They have been such a strength to us!
Part of the Berlin Germany Mission
Our Elders Keller and Skidmore here in Rostock

Gentz with elders at a District meeting..held every week.

The Mission just had a "Day of Finding". Everyone fasted on Wednesday and on Thursday, they (we) all hit the streets to talk and find those who were ready to come to Christ and might have some interest in our message and/or be of service. It was a wonderful day full of great conversations, happenings that could only be termed divine and strengthened testimonies. When we put our faith into actions, miraculous things occur. "Every day is a good day in the mission field."-President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The following pictures are taken in Rostock. I love seeing the bicycles everywhere...from two year olds on Strider Bikes to seventy or eighty somethings riding home from the grocery store. You have to be very careful when driving and also when walking as they zip past you or in front of you and are so graceful and quick it's as if nobody else exists.
                  Dads and moms and kids on bikes in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of contraptions!
                                                        The ever present Strider Bike.

                                                    No matter the weather, there they are!
            Loved this fun bicycle attached to one of the apartment buildings with the basket on the back.
            There are even Sausage Bicycle Carts and Coffee Bicycle Carts and Pizza Delivery Bicycles!

And here are some of the people we see regularly and have grown to love!
Our neighbor Manya with baby Gretta. They have a compartment that fits right into the front of the coat for the babies. Again, they are then able to go out in any weather.

The Schullers, a couple from our church who invited us into their home one afternoon for tea and cakes...Gentz who never eats chocolate did that day. I only had the fruit tea.

            One of our favorite shopkeepers in the area near our home..I call her Heidi, but her name is                                                    Donny(probably not spelling that right)
 Again, it doesn't matter the weather, there are always tables set up outside the Bakeries and the cafes. And people sitting there visiting.

Typical scene: Mama with backpack and toddler all snowsuited up. I"m surprised he isn't on a Strider Bike!
 Meet Herr Schmitt who I think I wrote about before. He spent 12 years in jail in East Germany after returning from West Germany before the wall came down. He can't get out much after a stroke and loves for the missionaries to visit.
Herr Schmitt's huge dog loving it up with Gentz

Now come with me to Wismar, a historic seaside village about 40 minutes away from Rostock.
                                 Lovely, narrow cobblestone streets and yes, they still drive down these.
                                                                  Just a nice view

                 An old water tower from the 15th century that they have preserved in their town square.
                                          Very old church that they are always working on.
                                                         Doesn't this just look so inviting?
                                                                 The shopping area.
One of Gentz's missionary companions years ago called this "German television". Hanging out of the window just watching life go by.
                                                   Note the 1658 there on the second floor.

Gentz just enjoying the wonderful view. The cobblestone streets, the old buildings, the creek running through town, and the homes beautifully decorated. We definitely need to make a return trip when we have more time and can possibly sit in one of the charming little restaurants and let some time go by.

Ending with three of Gentz's shots of the wharf at the River Warnow just down the street from us in Rostock where he loves to take his walks. Life is an adventure. We are continually amazed that we get to see this beauty and learn more about these people and this country.
I hope you find some wonder and astonishment in your day, for it is everywhere, isn't it?
Thanks for visiting my blog.