A synopsis of our mission as the Ehepaar at the Center for Young Adults in Frankfurt, Deutschland from January, 2010 until June 2011. Elder and Schwester Ence of Worcester, Massachusetts
Elder Ence and I arrived in Frankfurt on January 12, 2010 , the same day as the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti and killed more than 200,000 people. That should have alerted us that our time here would not only be filled with great spiritual experiences but also devastating natural catastrophes that seem to indicate that events on this earth are in preparation for the coming of our Savior. Shortly after the Haiti earthquake there was an earthquake in Chili, floods in Pakistan, a heat wave, fires and floods in Russia, another huge earthquake in Australia, the April volcano in Iceland (place unpronounceable) and the horrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, just to name the worst. Time on this earth is short and precious.
On February 22, 2010, President Uchtdorf dedicated this part of Germany for the building up of the Kingdom of God and many marvelous promises were made concerning missionary work. The following Sunday a furious windstorm converged upon Frankfurt that was so strong that it toppled a tree right in front of our building. I’ve often wondered if these two events were connected and, in my opinion, I think they were.
Our calling was to be the heart of the Center for Young Adults and to train the young people to be the future leaders of Germany. This plan was a direct revelation from Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in which he envisioned this program would be a means to retain the young adults aged 18 to 30 as active members of the gospel and as a means to help them go on missions and be married in the temple and raise future generations. Mission impossible or possible mission? Taking one step at a time we have tried to figure out how to accomplish these goals. Our Mission President has been President Kevin Ninow and he has supported us completely and we have enjoyed working with him and his family.
Monday night is Family Home Evening night and through trial and error we have discovered what works best for our particular center: Food, spiritual experiences, lots of fun and unconditional love for each one of the Young Single Adults. Ines, a member of the student council, is in charge of the leitung, geistige gedanke and aktivitäten and the responsibility lies completely with her. If someone doesn’t show up, which happens frequently, we just stand back and see what happens, and something good always does. They have learned that this is their night and their program and they have complete control over the content. There is a signup sheet for assignments and as time has gone on, more YSAs have responded to the challenge and signed up. Occasionally we give suggestions, but we never plan it or take over if something fails. It’s their responsibility.
Food is always important and we cooked simply and somehow it was always enough. Sometimes, just barely enough. After about a year, the student council decided to have lighter meals on Monday and then on Thursday, (Institute) to have an Abend Brot before the classes and then light refreshments after classes so they will linger and get to know each other better. These meals are easier to prepare and to clean up and they all seem satisfied and happy. Some even bring desserts or salads. Even better. We try to celebrate special events such as birthdays or departures with special food and balloons.
The topic of the spiritual thought is up to the individual preparing it and they take that responsibility very seriously. We try to keep it to no more than 20 minutes, including the prayers and music. There is good interaction and many volunteer to help with translation if someone doesn’t understand. One night one of the mentally challenged members gave the lesson and he tried very hard to communicate his thoughts and everybody gave him their complete attention and respect. When this young man became increasingly ill, the YSAs visited him, sang to him and even cleaned his room. They still plan to take care of his needs. Another night an investigator who had just committed to the word of wisdom three days previously, gave the lesson on the word of wisdom. Sweet. One of the older guys gave a lesson about preparing for marriage right after President Monson had talked about it even though it was probably a little uncomfortable for him. Of course we are always talking to them about the same subject because “THAT’S OUR JOB”, we tell them.
The magic happens during the activities because that’s when everybody laughs (there is always lots of laughter) and bonds are forged and relationships strengthened. Some nights there are several games going on at the same time. Examples: Basketball, volleyball, dodgeball, ping pong tournaments, UNO, charade games, rock, paper, scissors, Wiil competition etc., Last June we had a picnic at a local park on Himmelfahrt or the Day of Ascension which is 40 days after Easter. The weather was beautiful, everybody brought food and we provided three slacklines attached to three trees, frizbees, volleyballs, soccer balls and about 65 YSAs came, not including missionaries and investigators. People played the games, ate and some just sat in the sun and talked or sang along with a guitar. I swear it was the miracle of the fishes with the food. We had Joseph Akebrand take pictures and he gave them to Judith Genster who made up a poster that we have displayed on the walls. The kids love looking at it.
As summer arrived and we seemed to have an excess of balloons, someone (?) had the great idea of filling them with water and taking the games outside. Well, not always outside. Everybody got wet and nobody cared because it was so hot. Elder Ence and I live on the 7th floor with a balcony facing the outreach center and it seems that now none of the YSAs will get very close for fear of a balloon filled with water landing at their feet. I’m worried now that the warm weather has arrived because he seems to be designing a sling shot to get the balloons to go a greater distance. One particular family home evening, Benny B. was in charge of the activity and had everyone design cages around raw eggs with straws and tape and then drop them from the roof of the outreach. Elder Ence helped two of the girls with a great design to protect the egg and, of course, won the competition. Several weeks later, we decided to test the winning egg by dropping it from our balcony, so Elder Ence went ahead to get ready to drop it and we all trooped over to watch the exciting event. Well, he couldn’t stand the temptation and instead of the egg dropping, water balloons began dropping. Screaming could be heard from the friedhof. Finally, he dropped the egg and it smashed and was unmistakably rotten. More screams. Eeeeeeuuuu. (Needs no translation.)
The Council also decided that they wanted “Rasten vom Fasten” every fast Sunday afternoon where everybody brings food and they eat and talk for a couple hours after church. It started out slowly with not much food, but gets better every month with greater quantities of tasty German food and we don’t even touch the clean up because they take care of it. We’re amazed what the older men can prepare. They planned a picnic between sessions of General Conference in April and invited everybody through Facebook. We had almost 30 YSAs for the two sessions on Sunday and everyone brought food, sat in the sun and enjoyed the day. It was much more fun than streaming it on the internet like just about everybody else in the stake. They also like hearing the General Authorities in English. I believe the German translation for the entire church is done by our YSAs working in the translation department.
Chelsea, an inactive girl from California who was working here as an au pair, was walking downtown on the Zeil one day when she literally ran into Elders Malyon and Jenkins. They brought her to Family Home Evening and Rachel immediately became her best friend and Chelsea’s life will never be the same. She started attending church and other activities. One night at Family Home Evening everyone was giving their favorite scriptures. Mine was 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Elder Ence’s was 1 Ne 3:7: “I will go and do the things . . . . .” Chelsea found hers, Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ .” She said, “For the first time in my life, I know what this means.”
We have welcomed traveling students of many nationalities who stop by for short or long periods of time and everybody loves getting to know them, members or not. I feel there is a constant ripple effect happening. Missionaries are always nearby and we constantly use them to teach or fellowship. They are a valuable necessity for the success of the center and we treasure them.
Christmas Day, 2010 was very special for those who had nowhere else to go or who just wanted to drop in and stay awhile. We had a meal of baked potatoes, ham and salads available all day and people just sat around and talked or played the guitar and just got to know one another. There was a Christmas craft project that a few got involved in and Elders and American YSAs were skyping their families on our computers. The evening ended with everybody singing just about every carol in the hymnbook. It was one of the sweetest Christmases I have ever known. On Christmas Eve we went to Bad Vibel to a 500 year old little church where Ann Katrine’s father is a minister and heard him preach and heard beautiful Christmas music by two of our YSAs and as we exited, it was snowing and there was a roaring fire and hot gluewein or spiced cider for all. Picture Deutsch perfect.
Many of the YSAs are in a choir group called Vocalis, which was begun by Sonja Sperling several years ago. They are AMAZING and have sung before the First Presidency in Salt Lake City. This choir and the Tabernacle Choir are the only two choirs supported by the church. Many people have heard them and there are many stories of conversions through the spirit of their music. This is a particularly tight group because they’ve had so many experiences together but they try to include the other kids. We almost lost several of them to frost bite in Finland this past winter. They have a CD out and I think are making another. Their Christmas Concert was the best I have ever heard.
Because we take our calling to pair up future marriage partners seriously, a committee was formed to organize an activity right around Valentines Day. It was called “Valenteams” and the idea was to pair up couples and then form teams for timed, competitive games with a grand prize at the end of the night. The prize was movie tickets for a “date night”. They all loved the idea and even let us do the pairing up. Games included: ping pong while asking questions to get to know your partner for a “newly wed game” at the end of the evening, balancing an egg on a spoon and running across the gym, creating weapons out of straws, spoons, paper clips and tape, and making collages out of pictures from magazines of their perfect paradise. All of the teams made musical videos to Glee songs, (a popular musical TV show) and then everybody voted on the best of the best. It was hilarious so see some of the shy ones display their talents. I took videos. We charged 5€ and bought pizza, chicken and prizes. It was a great success! There was talk of putting these videos on Youtube.
The closer we become to these young people the more we find ourselves in the position of counselors in all manner of delicate subjects. We try to fill these needs as unqualified as we are to dispense professional help and the Lord seems to make up the difference with what we lack. Elder Ence has given countless blessings of healing and comfort. We love them and maybe that helps qualify us.
Institute has been pretty well attended every Thursday night but there are distance challenges and job and school issues. Elder Ence and I were even conscripted to teach Institute classes. He taught Church History and I taught Ewige Ehe (eternal marriage) with Brüder Borcherding. We have been visiting different wards in the stake and meeting with the YSAs and showing them videos about Institute which are on the LDS.org website. Attendance is up and we like to think this has something to do with it. They have also had excellent Forum speakers once a month. If you ask the YSAs which Forums they like, they are the spiritually uplifting ones. These young people are absolutely the prophecied future leaders of Europe and it has been a pleasure working with them and loving them.