Friday, February 5, 2016

Canterbury Convoy to Calais

Building the house back home in the UK

My thanks to the generous members of the Canterbury Stake who are letting me share these essays with you.  I am constantly amazed at how quickly you can grow to love people you've just met!

Canterbury Stake bring Shelter and aid to Calais Camps  

On 29th-30th January 26 members and friends of the Canterbury stake of the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints, including students studying at the university of Kent, travelled to Calais to help with aid for refugees. For some of the group this was their 4th or 5th trip to sort donations in the warehouses and distribute aid at the camp. Several small charities are struggling to improve conditions for the 6000 plus displaced people living in the “jungle”. These committed volunteers finance themselves, staying in caravans or hostels for days, weeks or months at a time. We add our tiny contribution to theirs.
   The bleak January weather miraculously gave way to sunshine as some of our group began to erect a wooden shelter, designed by a member of the stake and materials donated by the church. After four frantic hours and with limited tools and resources, the group-spontaneously joined by some 10 or so refugees-managed to complete a sturdy ‘home’ for a family of 8.  Stephen Hunt , president of the Canterbury stake, said later;’ for me ,the enduring image is that of volunteer Danny Shillabeer -who at 6’4” was still not tall enough to reach to work on the roof- standing strong ,his arms braced against the outer wall of the  shelter whilst one of the refugee volunteers stood atop his shoulders to work. Together, members of the church and the grateful recipients of the few resources we bought worked to create a new home for people who had been spending their days and nights inside a leaky tent. This is the gospel in action. This is the sharp end of the self -reliance initiative, the absolute definition of the Lord’s imperative to search out the poor and the needy. We prayed with them, we built with them, we embraced them and we reluctantly left them in the knowledge that they will be a little warmer, dryer and safer in the future. As for us, we are beginning to see things a little more clearly now.’’

Our Stake Relief Society President received this message:

“Hi Marisa,  hope you okay and thanks a lot for building a tent but for us is a big massive house wich we can't  forget it ever you came all the way from other the country cross the border just to help us we could not even imagine thank you so so much say hi to everyone from my side”     - Sahir

Crammed in the back of a small van, perched awkwardly amongst bags and bags of donated food, we wait. The road surface changes and we lurch side to side, aware that we are now in the ‘’Jungle’’. A feeling of trepidation pervades. This is our first trip to Calais to distribute aid. Despite other volunteers’ stories, we have popular media images and clichés running through our minds. Most volunteer are young students, hoping to change the world, or at least give one hungry person the chance for one meal, for one day. We want to help; to bring hope. The doors open. A makeshift stone covered “road” opens out into a space surrounded by plastic covered “huts” or tents. There are no desperate crowds thronging the van. There is no fevered pawing at us. No emotional pleas. Instead, an orderly que quickly forms. Quiet, humbled people file forward to accept a supermarket carrier bag of foreign food to them. Some smile and some practise their few words of English. Most exclude a grim determination to survive, to keep intact their dignity. A few months ago perhaps, If we had been strangers in their country we would have been greeted with their legendary eastern hospitality, made to talk over endless tea, shared their meals. We try to smile. They try to smile. The last bag is passed out. “finished”. One English word that is definitely understood. Resigned, weary, they slide away empty handed, absorbed by the sea of rough dwellings. The space is easily empty again - as if we had never been there. There is a feeling of anti-climax as we pile back into the van, desperately hoping that our tiny contribution has meant something. Eager to do it again. And again.
A chill began to fill the air as the day passed by and the winds picked up. Before we knew it the evening was upon us. Our team had faced various challenges throughout the construction of the shelter, with uneven ground formed of rubble, litter and mud; and a lack of appropriate equipment. The team pressed on, attempting to get the shelter up as quickly and efficiently as possible before engulfed in darkness. A young man desperately trying to keep warm wrapped up in his duvet came to sit behind the van to take shelter from the wind. He relayed the story of his perilous journey from Iran to Calais. Mostly on foot this young man travelled half way across the world to escape oppression and persecution in his own country. Hitching rides, begging for food and hiding in vans this young man travelled for 18 months seeking a better life than the one he had previously known. Now he sits, hungry, cold and of poor health in an overcrowded camp in Calais clinging on to the little hope he has, that one day he might not hunger, that one day he might not thirst, that one day he might live rather than survive. Meeting these people and hearing their stories was truly life changing. Leaving them however, upon completion of the shelter, was entirely heart wrenching.  

Danielle J. Vernes

 (RHStay note: Danielle is the daughter in law of a friend of ours in the Frankfurt International ward, who is also a member of the Stake Presidency)

Here are notes from Dan Shillabeer, who directed the building of the house.:

My reflections on the shelter build:   To build or not to build?
Visiting the jungle and L’Auberge for the first time is, for most people a culture shock. The shelters are rudimentary, but provide some degree of protection. I have the sort of mind that says “what if?”; this time “what if” became “what if IKEA produced shelters?” (in fact they do, in conjunction with UNHCR, and very nice they are too). But IKEA – and UNHCR – are not in Calais. So it’s very much down to the volunteers to set the benchmark for shelters.
My biggest driver was that so much labour-intensive work was being done in Calais that could possibly be done in the UK prior to assembly in Calais. And this is where IKEA comes in. They are masters of flat pack – we build it, you assemble it. So I thought about their construction techniques: how they use strength only where necessary, to reduce weight, cost and materials. An IKEA side table is two sheets of hardboard over a wooden frame, with an egg box in the middle. Rigid, strong, cheap, light, simple, quick. Shelters need to be all of those, so an idea was born. Turn that side table through 90 degrees, chop the legs off, bolt a few together, and wrap in plastic. Voila! (as they say in Calais). A shelter.
Which is all very well until you have to work out the details, at which point joined-up maths rears its ugly head. The devil really was in the detail – allowing for this, anticipating that. Expecting sub-optimal.
What you don’t anticipate is your freakin’ car breaking down on the way to the second build day, when only you have the revised plans, and they’re on the passenger seat, while the build team is in the barn ready to go. So what do you do, sit by the road and cry? No! You pick your sorry butt up, have faith, and find a way round the mountain. By this time in the project we’d overcome lack of build space, lack of build money, lack of manpower …. We were used to obstacles, and this one wasn’t going to beat us. (Please note, I’m using the word ‘we’ advisedly; while I had the original idea and took on planning and construction, communications and all the other logistics were thankfully removed from my shoulders by capable others, who turned out to be incredible, shoulder-to-shoulder allies in the Calais mud, when we battled to the last second to get this thing finished.)
Midnight oil well and truly incinerated, we loaded the ‘shelter’ on the van, ready for the trip. Throwing in spare bits turned out to be wise………

 And that’s where what most people call problems, but in the church we call “opportunities to grow”, really started. Howling gales and rain lashed the channel, and the jungle. First day wash out, van unloaded – and gone. A pile of wood under a tarpaulin, a box of screws, and a dream coming apart at the soggy seams. So we talk to people. An talk some more. And those people are Calais volunteers too. And they – we – don’t do ‘impossible’. We just do. Workforce finally rounded up (sorry…), we got a space on site, and transport. Except the site was in two places, and the shelter was in one piece. Frantic phone calls. Two hours to catch the ferry. Road to new location blocked by car. Van unloaded after one of those navigation efforts you see on ‘World’s most dangerous roads’. Start construction, while van returns for more of the pieces of this jigshelter.
THEN! Oh, my friends, then!
Ants. Swarming, like David Cameron accused the refugees of doing. Over the materials. Over each other. Instructions, screws and drills flying, buzzing. Refugees, our new friends, the owners-to-be, pitching in. A multinational, multidenominational, multilingual melee of positivity and enterprise, from the midst of which sprang in the wooden flesh, what I had only seen in my head – our shelter, soon to be theirs.
The ferry departures came and went. The pressure; oh, the pressure to MAKE THIS HAPPEN. All self-inflicted; all accepted. All shouldered. By all. As darkness fell, and the last chance saloon was kicking out its drunks, the last necessary screw screeched home to signal the triumph of optimism and energy over opposition. We cheered! Hip – Hip, and no time for hooray. Load up tools! In the cars! Here is your home and your padlock keys, my new friends. WHERE ARE MY CAR KEYS!!??
Back to L’Auberge. It’s all locked up. Round up the stragglers from the shop round the corner. Then round up Naomi from rounding up the stragglers. Then Eurotunnel, and a chance to stop , relax, contemplate, and talk with the most amazing 21 year olds you’ll ever meet, about farts. Apparently, girls do it too….
My dear friends, remove your bibs, this battle is over. We won. We won big time. One day this will be history, and we will have written it. And no one can ever, ever take that from us. For even though the cold hand of government may smash our shelter, we have built something indestructible – character, faith, and humanity.
I salute you all.                                         Dan Shillabeer

It is hard to make sense of coming back. Hours earlier we had been surrounded by some of the most desperately poor and grimly determined people currently on the planet. “Displaced”, ”migrants”, ”refugees’ - words used to describe these people are not adequate. Clichés tumble through my mind as I try to make any kind of sense of it all. There is no precedent in my experience; only historical images and faded and 2nd hand accounts of oppression begin to suffice. Can this be the same world I live in? A few kilometres out of the camp, in the centre of Calais we are in a typical out of season seaside town. It is empty, wet, bleak but familiar. A few locals and tourists brave the high winds and constant rain to venture into the town square where a handful of pubs and restaurants totter through the winter season. Was it like this in the town next to Sobibor? Treblinka? Did people have to shut down their conscience in order to survive that knowledge? The knowledge that in your town, your backyard, other people - people just like you - were surviving. Not living, barely existing but consciously surviving. Hanging onto whatever tiny thread of dignity and endurance they could muster? Yes, we still have to eat, sleep, to work. But somewhere in the back of our minds is the awareness that but for the unearned good fortune of being born here, we would be in their ill fitting, donated, leaking, shoes.                                                                                   -Alison Hunt

 To me, the most memorable and significant part of the weekend was going into the camp at various times on Saturday, both to distribute food and to help construct the shelter. Seeing the situation and meeting the people there gave me a greater love for those people. I loved that so many came to help build the shelter in the afternoon. We arrived and started working and the first person to show up was the man who would be getting the shelter. He jumped right in without hesitation. Many others arrived and pitched in. When we were finished, it was amazing to see their appreciation for the help we offered. At one point while we were building, I was invited over to warm my hands over a fire. While talking with the young men there, they commented that I would be going to a warm home, but they were going to still be in the cold. One of them immediately commented though to the other than what we were doing for them was much needed. And later another man said that the shelter he had was warm. It is difficult to be limited in the ways we can help, but I have no doubt that the refugees are grateful for the things we do and you could see it in the face of Asad (I believe that's how you spell his name, correct me if I'm wrong!!) as we left him there with his newly constructed shelter. We only spent a few hours there with them, but I truly feel like they are my friends and I wish them the best of luck in the future!
-          Tiffany Michelle Rae

I’ve been to Calais 3 times now, volunteering mainly at L'Auberge des Migrants International warehouse, but also at the [other] warehouse, this past trip.
There is a comradery and uplifting spirit that permeates both the work, and the people involved. Everyone is there strictly for ONE purpose – to help those who are in no position to help themselves.
Being a part of something that does so much good is amazing. I have worked my fingers to the bone, and my back and knees will bear witness to it, but the work is easy when we are making others’ life burdens lighter. It was amazing to spend all morning Saturday turning out about 400 “goody bags,” and then going in the afternoon to distribute them to members in The Jungle that afternoon. And even spending Friday morning helping in the “kitchen” preparing the lunch meal for all the volunteers was a labour of love. Enjoying the banter back-and-forth between the staff members and the volunteers – I truly felt like I was in some subliminal form of “charity heaven.” I could live a life like this, easily.
I have especially loved getting to know the intrepid Hettie Sashenka Colquhoun. She is brilliant and has an ancient soul. Looking over her operation and those who hang around and help her operation are also amazing and wonderful. Just being at the L’Auberge warehouse always makes me “feel” good!
For those who have not been but could go over and volunteer – YOU SHOULD! For those who are in no position to go over – there is SO MUCH else that needs doing! Coordinating and collecting donations, money, and even spreading the GOOD experiences of those who have gone is still helpful. You don’t have to have a passport for that!
I loved all 3 visits I have made, and will DEFINITELY be going back when our crew goes again! “Doing good is a pleasure – a joy beyond measure. A blessing of duty and love.” LOVED IT!
-  J’net Stapleton

Reporting on our trip to Calais

This is some of what we reported from our trip to "The Jungle" refugee camp in Calais, France

Conditions are bad in Calais because it is an illegal camp.  This is NOT typical of refugee aid in the rest of France or Europe.

Refugees receive aid by REGISTERING with a country where they are claiming asylum.  They then stay in that country until their case has been decided.  Refugees and immigrants in Calais have not registered because they are hoping to go to the UK.  

This presents us with some dilemmas: Church guideline state :

“Priesthood leaders should ensure that all proposed projects are in accordance with established laws and are appropriately coordinated with local government officials.

“Local laws may restrict whether priesthood leaders may offer undocumented immigrants food, shelter or other welfare assistance . . . . “

No one is coordinating refugee aid to "The Jungle."

 The men (95% men, 5% women and children in the camp) living in Calais are all there because they are trying to get into the UK, thru the chunnel. They will NOT register with the French government because they do not want to remain in France. They try to hide on lorries (trucks) or on ferries or even walk thru the chunnel.  All of that is illegal and quite dangerous.  

Just last month, 150 men working together pushed over a fence (there are 15 foot fences with razor wire on top enclosing the chunnel structures and all the roads approaching them) and rushed onto a car ferry about to leave for Dover.  The police had to ferret them out of every nook and cranny of the ferry. Phillipe, the owner of the B&B where we stayed, is a volunteer coast guard member and they were called in to rescue anyone who jumped off the ferry.
Because the refugees won't register, the usual aid societies cannot enter the camp or they will lose their rights to help in the rest of the country. MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without  Borders) is only there for the Winter emergency.  They are leaving within weeks.

We took ~600 blankets to Calais and met the Canterbury stake there. President Hunt and his stake brought donated items and structures, homes to assemble in the camp. We met Jxxxxx and Cxxxxx who run the unnamed agency we were working with.  They were very gracious and helpful. After unloading and touring their warehouse, we drove over and toured L’Auberge warehouse kitchen and building site. We helped insulate panels that were made into refugee shelters the next day.  At dinner we talked with other volunteers and members.

Saturday Sister Stay worked sorting and packaging. Elder Stay helped load the distribution Lorries.  Later we drove with C and G into ‘the jungle’ where we distributed the bags we packed all morning.  We met with Acted who installed the water system in the camp and MSF.  We later met the Ipswich Stake and their leaders. Great group.

There appears to be no daily or weekly coordination between charities. The camp is chaotically divided into generally Syrian, Somalian, Eritrean, Iranian, Iraqi, and Afghan areas, with internally picked leaders for each area.  Agencies try to arrange deliveries with area leaders, but communication is difficult.   

 Deliveries may go to the same nationality campsite that another agency just delivered to hours or moments before. This causes jealousy between different ethnicities in camp, if they feel they are not receiving their fair share.  On Friday, during the 6th delivery of the day, someone angry about not getting their turn at deliveries attacked the delivery truck and broke the windscreen with a fire extinguisher.
Rumors are that the mayor of Calais intends to clear out all unregistered squatters -3000 men- as soon as winter is over March 1. It is not legal to make refugees move in the winter.  Only registered men and families will be left in container homes in Calais. These open only with finger/ handprint so many men won't sign up to live in them. 

 Deliveries into camp require lots of people for security. People line up holding hands to create a path to the van, stand to secure the doors, keep a lookout for problems, etc.  

Driving people into camps in several private cars is problematic: there is no parking space, there are terrible road to drive on, 

L’Auberge is bigger, better organized, better supported, has better facilities, They have a kitchen where they cook thousands of meals a day using volunteer chefs who cook ethnic foods using fresh ingredients which they deliver to three distribution kitchens in camp. They also receive bulk foods (like onions) which they distribute to camp kitchens. They most need canned tuna, garbanzo beans and white or kidney beans.  Don't send pasta: the refugees can't cook it and don't like it.

L’Auberge also has a construction bldg. At this time, fewer than 200 tents remain in the camp in Calais. All others have been replaced with homes with a frame structure, insulation and waterproof tarps and pallet floors.

  In the building facility, they estimate that there will be no more need for new housing after February, unless the government chooses to demolish the existent homes.

Acted is an international agency that provides the infrastructure for the water supply to the camp (water is paid for by the French government), along with porta-johns and some drainage ditches. Acted has installed three wash stations with troughs and cold running water. Some runoff collects in small 'lakes' which need to be pumped out weekly: that costs 400 - 500 euros each time and is not sustainable financially. Sewers and ditches are not allowed as site of the camp (which was a dump) was never cleared of unexploded ordinance after World War II. If digging drainage ditches was to uncover a mine, the entire camp would have to be evacuated. Acted wants to put in hot showers but cannot due to these drainage issues.

The UK stakes are great. They are collecting and bring a lot of donations. Volunteers (Ipswitch and Canterbury) this weekend built a home, sorted goods, packed and distributed bags of clothing, hygiene products, blankets, etc. They interacted well with other non-LDS volunteers. They brought some non-member friends (Kent college students, for example) with them.
Donations : It would be more effective to box up only what charities actually need in Calais or elsewhere. There is NO need in Calais for any more women's or children's clothing as they have tons of stuff in warehouses going unused. The charities then ship tons of items back to England to be donated to domestic charities there, returning the unneeded items in the volunteers’ vehicles otherwise going home empty.

What men need : 1.Rain coats  2. Waterproof warm coats 3. Shoes or Boots smaller than a size 42  4. Underwear (small and medium sizes only: everyone loses weight walking 3000 km across Europe)  5. Thermal underwear    6. Socks

All donations should be sorted by item and by size and boxed in standard sized well marked boxes, not just dumped into trash bags.

Lovely couple from Manchester.  They said I should be glad my grandpa left there 100 years ago.

Photos: stores, restaurants, church, church being demolished, distribution center, cooking.

There are more camps near Calais other than the Jungle.  In Dunkirk / Grande Synthe there are many smaller camps in worse condition than in the Jungle, which gets lots of media attention and thus, lots of donations.

 Like most people in this camp of between 800 and 1,000 people - most of the them Kurds - want to go to Britain.  “Germany (which has a far more welcoming attitude to migrants than Britain) is no good for us. The language is too hard and we don’t have any relations there, like we do in England,” said Kader.

But he said that after their long trip through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, they had no money left to pay the people smugglers who hang around the camp and who charge hundreds and sometimes thousands of euros for help in sneaking into the back of a lorry on its way to Britain.

The settlement in Grande-Synthe has existed since 2006 but for years had fewer than 100 migrants. Since September its population has exploded.

The people smugglers decided to move some of their clients to less congested spots as Calais become over-crowded and after security at the ferry port and the Eurotunnel terminal was boosted after chaotic scenes this summer that saw hundreds of migrants try nightly to clamber onto trains heading to England.

Another camp in Téteghem, on the other side of Dunkirk, now houses around 500 migrants. In another camp further inland, 300 migrants, most of them Eritreans, live in equally insalubrious conditions as they wait for their chance to get to the UK.

Other smaller camps, some with just a few dozen migrants, are dotted along the motorways leading to the coast.

Elder Uchtdorf Talks about his life as a Refugee

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Awesome Leadership

Rome East Stake

One of my jobs is to seek out agencies that serve the refugees and migrants and try to set up projects to help them.

Yesterday, I emailed one stake president with an opportunity to serve in his area.  That could be problematic, as church leaders are SOOO busy and adding one more responsibility - for thousands of needy people - could overwhelm.

But, this was the response I received:

Thank you so much for this contact and for the opportunity to make a difference. I have been wondering for a long time, how the xxxxxxx stake may contribute to these relief efforts and serve those people. Now it seems like we will have the chance.

We will assign someone today or tomorrow to lead through these efforts and coordinate all actions with Sxxxx and you.

Is this an urgent issue and how fast do we have to react/get aid kits in place? How fast can you react on these request by delivering them to us? Is everything already available?

Thanks again for contacting me. I am willing and devoted to serve the needy – and this is true for the members of our stake!

We are truly blessed to have leaders whose hearts are prepared for the work.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Caring For Calais

We just got back from Calais.  I haven't had time to download my photos yet, but one of the YSAs from Canterbury Stake (aka "Pebbles") put up this post on our service this weekend.  

That is our van full of blankets (Randy, me and 600 blankets) that they are downloading 

Read more about our service trip on "Pebbles" blog :

Canterbury Stake builds a house.

Here is a great video previously done by the Northampton UK Stake.

In it you will tour the camp and see the same things we all saw this weekend (except we had cold wind and rain the whole time).  Elder Stay and I spent 4 hours with the agency director in the camp meeting with other aid agencies.

Here is a video by some of the other, non-LDS volunteers at L'Auberge de Migrants, one of the agencies we visited and worked with.

Monday, January 25, 2016

We are Here! First week in Frankfurt

We spoke at church in Salem.  Several couples who served with us last time came (Greenwood, Vassel, Johansen, Harrison, Hanks, Smith, Feil). Family and friends also came home for lunch: Ahlstroms, Tim Stay and family. Larry and Joyce Stay, Judi Moore and grandkids,  Doug Holt, Steve and Sue Holt, Rob and Jodi Holt and family, Martha and Aaron & Sam and Isabella Henderson, Glaucia and George Brown.  Leah White, Mary and Kay .  At 6 we were set apart. Watsons came to say goodbye. 

Monday : up at 2 am. Doug drove us to the MTC to catch the airport shuttle at 3:30. Probably the shortest MTC stay on record.  All the luggage made weight (a miracle) and we were TSA approved.  We had a 5 hour layover in Atlanta . On the flight to Frankfurt I had an entire center row to myself so laid down and slept!
Frankfurt airport

Tuesday we arrived in a grey and foggy Germany . Sharpes ( the humanitarian couple we trained) came to pick us up.  They drove us to our apartment in Friedrichsdorf, just 3 blocks from the temple, which is closed for renovation.
view from balcony
spare bedroom and extra chairs

  Our car was here at the apartment, so after unpacking a few things, we headed into the office where we met or re-met lots of people.  New were all the senior missionaries except the Sharpes and Denis and Jackie Hawkins.  But Denis had surgery last month for a torn meniscus and Jackie was flying to Guatemala with a sister missionary in crisis so we didn't see them.

Our new office is where Vassels used to be, but they had torn down the wall between their office and were the Footes were: Big airy room, but hard to not overhear conversations. Sharpes had arranged a lovely lunch with salad and homemade rolls. We met Tom King, who is over Family Services.  Our boss, Gilles Francois, was sick all week.  Tuesday night was Relief Society.  GREAT to see everyone, especially Jill Dyches and Jen Kearon!  Melissa Dalton Bradford did a presentation on being a "Global Mom," which is the title of a book she wrote.  Only one woman there is from Germany, so advice on moving around and living in new places successfully was welcome.  We had chocolate chip cookies (which is a big deal here! you can't buy chips, vanilla, baking powder or brown sugar in typical stores so someone goes to a LOT of work and effort to make chocolate chip cookies!).  Bob and Judi Palmer had helped me out by picking up normal bed pillows (American sized : Germans use huge ones) and a under futon bed warmer!  Since our bedroom is freezing, it makes all the difference.

front room and dining room
Wednesday: first full day in the office.  We have 70 projects completed or underway.  We submitted two projects for approval by Gilles and the area committee.  Randy got the warehouse restocking approved: they have supplies for hygiene kits which we then send by truck to European stakes and missions.  Randy also got a report sent in and closed one project.  Only 69 to go. I spent the day getting acquainted with the projects in hand and developing a process to deal with projects from arrival to approval to placing the orders to following thru with delivery.  Many are trucks full of donated goods and hygiene kits from English wards who deliver to Calais.  Italian stakes are combining efforts to pack and deliver 10K hygiene kits!.  So, a lot is going on.  We met with Craig Hunt, who is DTA over all of Europe Area, who offered guidance and suggestions. I went to the Wed. Lunch and Learn - which is the class I started - and it is still going.  They trade off each week: this week was 3 Nephi 17 to 20.   Randy's eyes started to burn so missionary medical set up and appointment for him for tomorrow.  Sister Dyches brought us dinner!  Meat loaf, potatoes, salad and dressing, grapes and lemon cake/bread.  It was wonderful to have a delicous, warm meal when we got home at 8 pm and there is enough for a second meal.

kitchen: one big refrigeraton on the left!

Thursday: We got our computers tweeked and our cell phone set up.  We can call home free from the office anytime.  We can call you with our cell, if we need to, and you can always contact us on that phone. +49 69 1449 2242.  We also have free texting (thanks for checking on that, Peter) on my T-Mobile phone 1 385 309 7675 so you can communicate any time for free (if your texting is free).  The eye doctor said Randy has 'acute dry eye' from air travel, winter heat and computer eye strain!  Deja vu! Just what happened to my eyes on our first mission.  I got trained by Sister Katy Ryser, wife of one of the medical advisors, who has been doing our job for the last two months.  I was able to contact 5 stakes to get needed details on their scheduled projects: one contact was with Pres. Ugo Perego, who gave the most interesting talk I heard at FAIR Mormon: it was about what DNA tells us about Joseph Smith's ancestors and descendants. You can watch it at

We got money out of the bank machine and went to NiHao dinner: Randy had the duck and I got fish and veggies (our two favorites).

NiHao chinese restaurant

Friday we went straight to the warehouse up near our apt. in Bad Homburg.  We met the people in Purchasing and Delivery who ship hygiene kit contents out to stakes and missions.  It was good to get a look at the quality of the items (we need thicker blankets!).Jenny Rossin has been especially instrumental in the process, setting up the spreadsheets and order forms.We visited with Denis, then had leftovers for dinner.  We are pleased to report that Netfix works for us here! (unlike last mission).    

Saturday we slept in, then walked over to the Friedrichsdorf temple renovation open house.

walking thru Friedrichsdorf

It was great, with lots of photos and site maps and floorplans, with a video of the original temple buiding. 

 And the food was just amazing!  Imagine serving fresh mozzerella and tomato, or brie, or lachs (smoked salmon) sandwiches! Delicious.

No idea what is being done inside the temple, except we heard that they are moving the baptismal font to a new basement location outside of the old foundation, thus freeing up considerable space within the building.  The new chapel - north of the temple patron housing complex in that field we used for parking - is well underway.  They expect it to be done this summer.  The interiors look a lot like the chapel in Offenbach, clean spare lines I think of as Scandinavian. The baptismal font will be off a foyer and have a big window like Offenbach. The old chapel will be torn down as soon as the new is finished along with the old distribution center building which is gone: big hole there now with a yellow crane (the German national bird��) and an amazing pile of trailers forming a 3 story construction headquarters. They will both be replaced with two new buildings of temple missionary apartments with a distribution center. I am glad we will get to see the finished product. 

Existing Chapel on the left; Temple Pres home in middle. Construction offices made of shipping containers stacked up on the right, blocking the view of the temple.  Big hole will be new temple missionary housing. 
We walked home and stopped at a new-to-us store: Norma.  It is a low-end, close out place like Penny Markt.  But, they still had some Stollen left from Christmas!  Microwaved for a few seconds, it freshens right up and is delicious with Mandel paste (almonds) in the middle
We had dinner (pizza) and changed into church clothes and went back to the Friedrichsdorf building for the baptism of two Iranian refugees!  Elias and Vahid.  

We also met investigators from Egypt, Dominican Republic and Yemen. I had never seen a baptismal program in Farsi (Persian) before!  The mission president - Pres. Stoddard - and Sister Limer (I think her husband is an area 70?) spoke, and, even tho' it was in German the spirit was strong.  We sang 5 or 6 hymns in German, which I love.  And I understood about 80% of the opening prayer.

  Again, awesome food: some kind of persian chicken and rice with raisins and maybe apricots.  Pistachio candy from Iran. German casseroles with minced meat (think hamburger mixed with ground pork) mixed into mashed potatoes, then topped with lines of colored vegetables.  And then the drink: called nowruz, it is chia seeds in a sweet liquid with either rose water or brewed saffron added.(see Tasted good, but it was so thick it was like drinking a whole cup of roe!

These are the two drinks: nowruz with saffron on left, rosewater on the right.

We went home and watched episode 3 of Downton..