Friday, December 25, 2015

Frohe Weihnachten!

One of our Christmas Market acquisitions
We are spending a quiet Christmas day at home. Jeff went to a brunch for all of the area senior couples at the church building (five minute walk). He sang "Far, Far Away On Judea's Plain" with a quartet during the program. The food, the program, and the company were great. He brought Elder and Sister Jarrard and President and Sister Stoddard and a plate of food back with him.

Janet is feeling 100% better and the visit with friends was a boost. Jeff and Elder Jarrard really get along well, and Sister Jarrard and Janet have hit it off. We feel blessed to work with these wonderful couples who are completely dedicated to the Savior and to service. Elder Jarrard was an advertiser and had his own business. He worked every major Republican political campaign in Utah for years. Sister Jarrard was a teacher and specialized in working with children with reading problems and learning disabilities. She actually uses her skill to help an elder in our mission who really struggles because of some disabilities he has. We had many expectations of missionary service, but making such wonderful new friends of other missionaries wasn't really one of them.

On this quiet Christmas day in Germany, we have had time to ponder its meaning. The Christian world celebrates the birth of this baby in a humble stable more than 2,000 years ago. You have to ask why. The power of this one life has changed so much. The teachings of Jesus Christ, when truly lived, bless lives and bring hope and peace. We are grateful this Christmas to be here in this beautiful country and serve the Lord as we serve the residents of Germany.

If you have not seen the short video used by the Church in its Christmas initiative, we invite you to do that and to explore the website at the following link: A Savior Is Born

A fun paper decoration given us by our friends Werner and Anna Fingerle

Our little Advent display

Our Advent calendar -- good chocolate behind every door
Handiwork of Toni Sauer Holzschneiderei - we bought some of these wood carvings and sent the home.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Senior Zone Conference in Heidelberg - December 10-12, 2015

Schloss Heidelberg
Three times a year or so there is a senior zone conference where all of the senior couples in the mission gather for meetings and activity. Our senior zone leaders, Elder and Sister Ricks, planned a really nice conference in Heidelberg. Heidelberg is about an hour south of Frankfurt. The river Neckar flows through the city and is crossed by a picturesque stone bridge that is called the "Old Bridge" (Alte Brücke) that was built in the 1780s. The castle is 250 feet above the old city and is a famous ruin. Portions of it have been restored and some work is ongoing.

Heidelberg is a university town, and the university is large -- 50,000+ students from around the world. The city was spared from heavy bombing during World War II because there was little industry or military infrastructure there. As a result, much of the old city is a baroque masterpiece. They also host an enormous Christmas market -- more about that below.

We arrived on Thursday night and joined the couples for dinner at a great restaurant. The food was "echte Deutsche Speise" (traditional German food), and the atmosphere was perfect. We tried to play a couple of games and do some get-to-know-you things, but the room we were in was full, and there was really no moving around in there.

Elder Jarrard swears that sweaters make you look thin. Elder and Sister Gubler are in the background and they live in Heidelberg.

We sat between the Newmans and the Harts. We love these people.

Elder Wilcox is standing at the end of the table Elder Burke is to the left and Sister Newman is looking at the camera. The Wilcoxs and Burkes are Military Liaison couples and work with Institute and lots of other things.
 We stayed at a wonderful hotel in the middle of farm fields outside the village of Eppelheim called the Birkenhof. A family owns the hotel, a really nice restaurant, and farms and stables surrounding the hotel. The view from the breakfast room was breathtaking. I asked the manager about the plants covering the fields around the hotel, and he said they were planted to keep the nutrients close to the surface during the winter. They are plowed under in the spring and planted with hops for brewing beer (of course - it's Germany).

Birkenhof Hotel and Restaurant Stephan. We borrowed this from
We promise it is winter -- the warmest December in Germany since the 1700s

The hotel entrance from the road

Sister Kirk ready for meetings.
We held our conference in the Relief Society room of the Heidelberg Chapel. The chapel is modern and spacious, but it is flanked by a school and backs up to light rail tracks. That's actually helpful for the members who come to church by public transportation. The theme of the conference was modern prophets and of course, Christmas. The presentations were really uplifting. We were especially amazed at the sacrifices some of these senior couples have made to be here to serve. And the first part of many missions has been deeply challenging for so many of the sisters. Many of them (some of the men, too) do not speak any German, and finding a way to be useful has been a hurdle to overcome. But every one of them expressed their love for the Savior and their desire to serve, and they have all found creative, wonderful ways to be tools in the hands of the Lord. One volunteers two days a week in a USO at an Army post. One couple leads a large addiction recovery program, and the wife, who is a professional therapist has found a niche that she filled with great energy. Others love and serve young single adults and even spend time as volunteers in a hospital.

Gathering for our conference
When we weren't in meetings, we took public transportation into Heidelberg to visit the city and spend time in the Christmas market. Jeff gets a little antsy when he is packed like a sardine in a narrow street with 100,000 of his closest friends, but all in all, we really enjoyed Heidelberg. Jeff talked to three different groups of people and gave them each a card and an invitation to learn more. One young woman we met at the top of the Königstuhl (the mountain directly above Heidelberg) had ridden up the mountain on a bicycle. It was very cold and windy and getting dark. We persuaded her to put her bicycle on a bus and not ride down in the dark. She was very interested in  finding out more about our message. A group of young guys from New Jersey attending a semester abroad at the university were really nice young men. We gave them a card, too. And Jeff met a man from Togo on the train and talked with him and gave him a card. He has been in Germany for 11 months and is one of the 100,000 or so refugees who have flooded into Germany this year from Africa and Syria. They are all seeking a better, safer life for their families. There is some antipathy toward this "invasion" of non-Germanic people, and there is ongoing debate in Germany about whether this is good for the country.

Throngs in the Christmas market

Street performers

President and Sister Stoddard joined us. Moving this crowd on trains was interesting.

Elder and Sister Mumm are from Idaho. They are loving it here. Jeff somehow became the leader on the trains. Unfortunately, he led the group onto a train going the wrong direction at the end of the evening, and we all ended up in a quiet residential neighborhood at 9pm waiting for a train to take us back in the other direction. The sisters started singing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." That attracted stares from the few there.
We rode in the front car of the steep funicular railroad that goes to the top of the mountain

It's a long way down.
View from the top of the Königstuhl (King's Throne) was worth the ticket

The wind was howling up there
At 1804 feet, it's not much of a mountain, but it looks really high.

Elder and Sister Kirk, smiles frozen in place

Elder and Sister Ricks (second mission for them - our senior zone leaders)

Elder and Sister Hart - kindred spirits. We love them.

Elder and Sister Johnson
Sunset comes early as we head down from the top of Königstuhl

Last but not least, a look at the Christmas market, the castle, and the old city at night and in the daylight.
Entering the interior courtyard of the castle

Sister Kirk is carrying her cup of Kinderpunsch (hot fruit juices and spices)

View from the wall of castle looking down on the old city

Christmas market tents inside the castle walls. There's much more in the old city below.

These things are really cool. However, there is a "saloon" at the base of every one we have seen. Mulled wine and other alcohol drinks are popular elements of the Christmas markets.

Like we said -- a few thousand of our closest friends. People are very polite and cheerful. 

Two-story rotating tree inside the Käthe Wohlfahrt store. Okay, this store was amazing. Even Jeff enjoyed gawking at the stuff in this store.

Beautiful Hotel Ritter (Hotel Knight) in the old city.

Old gate to the city at the end of the Alte Brücke.

Looking across the Neckar at the newer part of Heidelberg

The wall on the hillside is part of the old castle and encloses an English garden that was built for an English princess who married in to a German noble family.

The Newmans, Mumms, and Kirks on the Alte Brücke

The camera makes Elder Kirk look like the Michelin Man

One of the narrow streets of the old city leading into the Christmas market

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Best Part of the Mission Experience

Baptism of Dori Lentino by Elder Nilson
We attended the last meeting of Elder Kress and Elder Nilson with Dori before her baptism. She loved Janet and asked her to speak at her baptismal service. It was a wonderful evening. We welcomed 11 new missionaries from missionary training centers in Provo, Utah, and in Preston, England, on the same day, so these fresh young elders and sisters attended a baptismal service on their first evening in Germany. Dori is really special, and it was a wonderful experience to be there on this occasion. The entire meeting was in German except for Janet's talk. Dori and many other speak English, so it wasn't a big deal, and a young single adult named Sophie who works in the Church's translation department here acted as Janet's interpreter. One thing we need to learn -- when you have an interpreter, speak in sentences rather than paragraphs. Nevertheless, Sophie did a masterful job of interpreting Janet's remarks. Another young single adult named Joseph is the ward mission leader and he conducted the service. The church is in really good hands.

One other really happy thing about this occasion -- Elder Nilson left two days later for home. Wow, we miss him, but what a wonderful way to conclude your mission to invite people to come unto Christ and make covenants with Him.

Elder Kress and Elder Nilson
We absolutely love our association with these young elders and sisters. They are more mature than we were at their age, we think. These two assistants to President Stoddard have been best friends and were a great team. They work really hard and long hours. They travel to every part of the mission, sleep on couches and on floors, eat when they can, and fill all of their responsibilities. And as many of you have heard, Elder Nilson is a gifted and talented singer. Good luck to him as he returns to school at BYU in Provo.

Sister Parker and Sister Bakker
Sister missionaries are the best. These two had dinner with us one night. We were so impressed with their self-confident manner. You can tell by these smiles that they make everyone love them.

We welcomed these 11 new missionaries. Transfer days are stressful for us because there is so much to do. The logistics alone are daunting -- who picks them up at the airport, who orients them, how do we keep them awake . . . And of course, we feed them. We made 30 sack lunches first thing this morning assembly line style. Sister Newman has this whole thing down, and we can put together 30 complete sack lunches that the missionaries love in about 30 minutes.

Elder Newman walking them through filling out their registration papers -- aah, German bureaucracy!

New elders hard at work filling out forms. The grinning Elder Harrison is one of our capable "tech" elders. His companion Elder Pfleumer (from Basel, Switzerland) is probably working on a snack below the table in the background.

Sister Meure is from Australia

Janet is keeping an eye on their work to help them fill out the forms

Jeff is giving his best song and dance about money matters
We managed to put in a few hours in the office also on that very busy day and do a few other things.
Janet taking a few minutes in the office to make little gifts from the office to all of the other senior couples in the mission
Jeff took a quick walk to the dry cleaners and passed this house being painted an awful yellow green with olive trim. Wow, who chose those colors?

There were banners for children's puppet show. Wish we could have gone.
This last picture is just for fun. We were in a mall one night looking for winter coats, and Elder Jarrard, Jeff, and Elder Newman were doing what all men do in malls -- sit on a bench and talk. The wives instigated this pose.