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Monday, February 29, 2016

Last Transfer - Off To Hannover!

Dear loved ones,

The first spring Hamburg sunlight streamed through the windows of the Altona church building on Sunday morning, bathing our small chapel in warmth and light. I folded my arms, let my eyes linger on the look on Farshid's face as Hadi and Bishop placed their hands on his head.  I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and listened to Farshid receive the gift of the Holy Ghost in Persian. My mind went through everything that had happened in the past 48 hours and my heart was filled with
simultaneous gratitude and heaviness.

I thought about the phone call that I had received the previous morning at 7:19am from President Fingerle. "Sister Hendricks," he said, "I have three changes for you." Well shoot, I thought. "I am
sending you to Hannover to open a new missionary program. I am going to ask you to train again. And I would like to ask you to once again serve as a Sister Training Leader. It is going to be a big task. Do you accept the assignments?" "Well, Präsident. Alles vermag ich durch ihn der mir Kraft gibt." The German version of Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." "I thought you would say that," he chuckled.

I thought of Farshid dressed all in white the day before as he finally "had his dream come true" and entered the waters of baptism in our tiny Altona baptismal font. I thought of the efforts of the ward to make his special day perfect and to welcome him. I thought of his sister's voice over our crappy brick of a cell phone echoing through the halls of the church building - her voice bursting with excitement for her brother.

And then, I stopped feeling sad about leaving this beautiful home of Hamburg and basked in the spirit, love, and beauty of the moment. That moment, as Farshid received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, was what these whole 18 months have been about. In that moment I felt a perfect, indescribable peaceone of those personal, sacred "Peace, be still" moments.

So in my heart, I am still. I am okay with the changes that the next few days will bring. The "come what may and love it" attitude makes it a lot easier to savor the sweetness of experiences past and to look forward to the next adventure with courage, humility, and confidence in the Lord's ability to qualify me for whatever He asks.

Goodbye for now, Hamburg. Hello Hannover.

Sister Grace Hendricks

Monday, February 22, 2016

"I Am In Your Midst"

Dear loved ones,

There are so many things that I want to write about and I know I'll never be able to get it all down. The other night as we walked back from the Elbgaustraße bahn stop, I turned my face up to the sky and soaked up the moment of being here in Hamburg, Germany as a missionary after a long day. I felt the snow melt on my cheeks and wondered how many more times I will get to walk through the wet German snow and how I ever deserved these experiences.

I told you last week that Farshid was going to have his visa appointment on Tuesday and that we had fasted together that he would get his 6 month visa so that he could be baptized. Hadi (translator) called us on Tuesday morning to tell us that Farshid had only received a 3 month visa. He was crushed. I mentioned something about it in my email to President and President immediately responded that he wanted to see a digital copy of his visa and a report of his involvement with the church to get a better idea of his
situation, so I sent everything to President right away. On Saturday, we felt prompted to have an unplanned lesson with Farshid. At the close of the lesson, Farshid prayed, promising the Lord that he would do anything it took if he prepared a way for him to get baptized. There wasn't a dry eye in the room - the humility and begging in this prayer
was indescribable. I emailed President Fingerle about the lesson, and within 5 minutes of sending the email off, President responded and said that he wanted to talk to Hadi immediately to discuss how Farshid could move forward in his discipleship. At 20:43, President called and told us that he had prayed about it and he had decided to give Farshid permission to be baptized. When we called Farshid  in a conference call to tell him, his voice cracked with emotion, gratitude, and bewilderment that the Lord had so directly answered his pleas with a miracle, and I couldn't do a darn thing to stop tears of happiness from streaming down my face.

Farshid will be baptized this coming Saturday at 16:00.

Remember the refugee family that I told you about last week? On Tuesday, we sat down on the couch of this family's one-room apartment in an Auslanderheim in Sülldorf. Their adorable 4-year old daughter drew flowers in my planner as 16 year-old Portia brought us cold glasses of water. Fahran, the father, told us how excited his family was to meet us and cute 12 year-old Marsel nodded. There was an immediate feeling of friendship with this Kurdish family and the next hour was spent hearing their story.

The Qasim family is from a small Kurdish village in northern Iraq near a sacred mountain called Shengal. Fahran was a medical assistant at a hospital with a side business making wedding pictures and montages (enter superimposed doves, fountains and magic carpets stage right). His wife got the brides all dolled up and was a professional hairdresser. Their life was perfect: good jobs, their own home, 4 wonderful kids, and everything they ever wanted. Then came the new government.

"They started killing everyone. They started taking our women and our girls and killing the men right before their eyes. They took everything we had. We had no choice - we had to run."

The family left with the clothes on their backs, a cell phone, and a hard drive with all of their family pictures and headed for Syria in their car. Fahran showed us video footage of the hoards of people trying to escape. On their way to Syria, a roadside bomb exploded next
to their car. Miraculously, all members of their family were (for the most part) okay. Their car was destroyed, so the family continued on foot. "I carried my 3-year old daughter through gunfire, heat, and chaos."

Eventually, the family made it to Syria, then Jordan, then Turkey. They lived in a refugee camp for a year while Fahran smuggled himself into Germany and borrowed money from a friend to bring his family over. He showed us a photograph of the family reunited at the train
station. "It's beautiful," I said. "I know. We were so happy."

This family carries the physical and emotional scars of experiences that are incomprehensible to most of us. And yet there we were, sitting, laughing, and getting to know each other as newfound friends. The whole family smiles endlessly and clamors to share the little that they have.

"God protected your family," I said as we were getting ready to leave. Fahran responded: "Thanks be to God. Yes He did. We are safe and we are together."

I am running out of time, but these are just two glimpses into the things that have helped me see God moving in His majesty and wonder this week.

In Doctrine and Covenants 38:7-8, we are told "Mine eyes are upon you.
I am in your midst and ye cannot see me; but the day soon cometh that
ye shall see me, and know that I am..."

I may not be able to physically see Him walking beside me and beside those whom I have come to love so much, but I sure can feel it.

God answers our prayers. Always. He will answer in His own time and in His own way, but He will always answer. He protects us, nurtures us, guides us, loves us, and knows us.

Your Sister Grace

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

 Lunch date back in the world of preteens. Insert "like" x 1000

With Sister St. John at the St. Pauli loading docks, Port of Hamburg

Refugees and Grandma

Well, friends, our week was once again nuts. These past few weeks, I've felt such a pressing sense of urgency to work harder than ever, to push our companionship, to be more earnest in prayer, to talk to absolutely everyone, and to do as the spirit directs. And it has brought a lot of miracles: new people to teach, new referrals, new confidence for Sister Porter, new spiritual milestones reached by our investigators, and new strength. Let me tell you about some of these special moments.

I was trying not to be irritated by the incessant squeaking of the broken window on the 30 minute S-Bahn ride home after a long day. A cute woman in her mid-50s sat down across from us and Sister Porter immediately complimented her purple knit hat. She thanked us in a thick accent and I asked her where she was from. "Iran" she said. That initiated a 30-minute discussion about all of our Persian friends at church, why we were here, our families, and learning German. By the end of the bahn ride we were laughing like old friends. I asked her if she had family here in Germany, to which she responded that no, she was here totally alone. "Well," we said, "it's like a big Persian family at our church every
Monday and Wednesday night. You should come sometime!" "I would be like the Oma (grandma) - that would be perfect!" She laughed and we exchanged numbers with a promise to have our Persian translator Hadi call and invite her. She pinched our cheeks, said that she was excited, and assured us that we would see each other next week. Hadi reported the next day that they had talked on the phone for 45 minutes, that she would be coming to our "Persian pals" lesson next week with her boyfriend and that she was open to learn more about what we believe.

As we were visiting contacts in a random part of our area, I stopped a man to ask him for directions. 20 minutes later, we were still standing there, talking about his family. His four year-old daughter came up, promptly began to play a hand-clap game with Sister St.
John and told us that we were her new best friends. "She needs friends. She hasn't laughed like that in a long time," Qasim said. He told us everything that his family has gone through in the past two years: kicked out of their home in Iraq, everything stolen from them
but the clothes on their backs, and narrowly escaping Iraq with their lives. Then he smiled and motioned towards the "auslander heim" complex behind him. "This is our life now. And we are so grateful. I have my family, I have my health, and now we are safe. What more could I ever ask for?" We waved goodbye with an appointment to teach them about family home evening the next Tuesday.

You guys remember Farshid, right? Our Iranian investigator who lives in the refugee camp? On Monday, he told us that next week he will be getting his visa and that there is a 50-50 chance that he will get a 6 month visa. THE LONG AWAITED 6 MONTH VISA. This piece of paper has been the only thing preventing Farshid from getting baptized. At the end of our lesson, we kneeled in prayer together and called on divine assistance to help Farshid get his visa. While we were still on our knees, he said ''I have believed in Jesus Christ for two years now. This is my dream.'' 

Hadi, the Zone Leaders, Sister Porter and I fasted on Sunday for Farshid. After Skype Persian Sunday school, Farshid spun around in his chair and said ''I did not know that you were fasting for me! Please eat something! This is too much! You do not have to do this for me!'' He had tears in his eyes as we told him that it was more than okay and that this was our way of showing Heavenly Father that this meant a lot to us and to him and that by fasting, we were trying to exercise our faith. ''This is too big. Too big gift. Thank you. Thank you so much. I will never forget this.'' 

I am grateful to be surrounded by so many people who really understand the treasure that the gospel of Jesus Christ is. 

I am savoring every precious moment that I have here to serve, to find, to teach, and to lift others. Time is going really fast.

Love to each of you

Sister Hendricks

Monday, February 8, 2016

 dinner with the ladies
Dieter and his books

Brothers and Sisters

Dear loved ones,

The foggy evening Hamburg light highlighted the smoke streaming from Dieter's skinny hand-rolled cigarette and trailing up the books stacked on every available surface in this crowded, dingy apartment and for 20 minutes, his gravelly monologue was interrupted only by intermittent drags. As missionaries, it can be tricky to know how to interrupt such tangents with grace and sensitivity to put the lesson back on track. From the blank looks on Sister Porter's and Elder Smith's faces and the faint snoring from the brand-new trainee in the overstuffed chair behind me, I felt the weight of directing the conversation back to our lesson plan fall entirely on me. After a few futile attempts to segue the conversation back to the Book of Mormon, I was getting frustrated and I felt like we were wasting our time.

Then, I remembered my name tag: "Sister Hendricks - Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der Letzten Tage" - and what I had studied in chapter 1 of Preach My Gospel the day before: "You are surrounded by people. ...All of them are children of God, your brothers and sisters. God loves them just as much as He loves you." Immediately, I began to listen to his tangent a little differently; not with annoyance or impatience, but with a real desire to know what he needed. I began to see Dieter differently. He was no longer the slightly crazy, stringy-haired, long-winded, book hoarder that was taking up way too much of our time, but rather my brother. Once I really started really listening, the Spirit helped me know where I could bear my testimony and how to go about teaching him. As we left, he looked at the cover of his Book of Mormon and promised to read the introduction and the testimonies at the beginning. He tapped his finger on the word "Mormon" and said "You know what? You kids are my brothers and sisters. If you ever need anything, you know where to come. It doesn't matter how early or late - my door will always be open for the children of God."

We are all brothers and sisters, folks. When I think about my siblings Maddy, Abby, and Mark, my heart is so full of love for them that, as any companion of mine can confirm, once I start talking about how wonderful they are and how much I love them, I can't stop! And the love that I have for my siblings should be training for how I see everyone around me - with love, respect, and recognition that there is God-given potential within each of us. This coming week, I hope to see with clearer eyes.

Love to you all,
Sister Hendricks

Monday, February 1, 2016

Week of Service

Dear loved ones,

I don't have a lot of time today so I'll have to keep this one short.

This week was one of service. Dismantling wooden bed frames, building furniture, carrying cabinets, unpacking boxes, dragging the Pinneberg Elders' luggage up a thousand flights of stairs, visiting lonely young mothers whose only company is their screeching two year old, and volunteering at the Hamburg International School.

As President Kimball said,

“Service to others deepens and sweetens this life ... in the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the
promise of Jesus that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves! [See Matthew 10:39.]... We become more substantive as we serve others--indeed, it is easier to ‘find’ ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!”

How wonderful it is that we have opportunities to step outside of ourselves, serve others, and find ourselves.

I love you all!

Sister Hendricks