Tuesday, December 31, 2013

You Can't Spell "Joulu" Without "Oulu!"

Yes, I did just make that joke. (cue that b-dun-dun-ch! noise that accompanies bad jokes) But seeing as Oulu is as close as a Sister missionary can possibly get to Santa Claus, it is pretty special to be here for Christmas. OH, and of course, the ever-mentioned amazing branch members made it a very Christ-filled season.

The 24-26th of December were "red" days, so pretty much, no appointment meant staying inside our apartment. Well, we weren't about to spend our time just sitting around doing arts and crafts, so we booked at least 3-4 appointments for each day. A couple of them fell through, but we still had a lot going on. Christmas Eve is a very big day in Finland. It's kind of the main event, actually. First, we had an early lunch with an older sisar in our branch who lives alone. She knitted socks for all of the missionaries in Oulu! Mine and SIsar Vath's are purple with gray stripes, and they are super warm, and I love them. She fed us lots of Finnish Christmas food, which includes a lot of vegetable purees. Gotta say, rutebega isn't my thing, but Christmas porrige more than makes up for it. There's a couple of older sisaret who live together, one of them in a wheelchair. They live far out, so we rode like the wind and got there on time. They fed us another huge meal, including the best ham I've ever had in my LIFE, and even some reindeer! And then, HE CAME. Joulupukki knocked on our door, and came in with his list and his bag! He adressed each of us, and told us a few facts that he remembered hearing about ourselves, and then handed us packages full of chocolate and socks (and who can have enough of either?). The sisaret really went all-out to make sure we had an authentic Joulu experience. Since we live so far away and we have a curfew, one of the sisaret took us home in a taxi big enough for our bikes and her wheelchair, and made sure to take us past the cemetary so we could see the candles people had put on the graves.

Christmas day I woke up, feeling in my stomach the consequences of Christmas Eve. Our first appointment was another meal with a young married couple and their new baby boy (Jellybean, if you remember from an earlier post). Sisar Nyman and Sisar Francis were there, too. I went to give Sisar Nyman a hug, and our phone flew out of my hand and hit the floor hard. You may recall (Did I mention this? I sometimes can't remember what all I say) that about a month ago, that same phone had fallen, slow motion, out of my hand and down 3-4 flights of stairs. The Christmas phone-floor collision was the last straw apparently, so unfortunately, the poor thing died. Good timing, though, since we couldn't make un-announced phone calls that day or the next! We then went over to another young couple's house to make pulla (currently my favorite food on the PLANET), play games, and best of all- SKYPE! I got to talk with my sister's family (her kids are all so big, and I got to see Nora for the first time not in a photo!) and with my parents/brother. I got to speak Finnish for them, and talk about the work here, and what kinds of experiences I've had. They gave me encouragement and love, and I felt a renewal of energy for the work I'm sent here to do. Our last stop was to spend some time with a woman who has become one of our favorite helpers. She's always willing to come to lessons, and she always knows what to say. She sometimes wonders if her faith is strong enough, but the way she works with us, we know she has a strong love of the Savior, and of the gospel.

The 26th we went and visited a less active sister, who showed us photos of her younger (and kind of wild) life. It was fun to get to know her better. She gave us some names we can pray for, and we'll follow up later to see how we can serve them better. Then we went to a certain family's annual English Language Christmas Carol Sing-Along. I realized that it's been a couple years since I've sang these songs in English, since last year was in French, and this year is all Finnish. All of the missionaries and some branch members where there. We chatted, ate, sang, and had a great time enjoying the season and singing songs about Christ. To end the day, we had an appoinment with another older sisar from the branch, who also had food for us. Now, it was late, I was tired, and I HATE the taste of fish. So eating her salmon soup was a bit of a challenge, but I finished my bowl, and hopefully she could tell that I really was grateful for the effort she put into giving us something to eat!

Friday was back to work as normal. It was a little bit hard at first to get out of bed, but it was also good to go out and focus on finding again. Christmas parties are nice, but the work must go forward.

Saturday was a special day (are you singing the song in your head?) because we got to meet with one of our fall-through Christmastime appointments. He's always busy, so he never knows when he's free, which is a challenge, since we need a woman to come with us when we teach a man. Earlier in the day we set up an appointment for that evening to meet, and Sisar M, the woman we visited on Christmas night, came with us, since she lives close by. Well, when we walked into his apartment, we were surprised to hear voices- he'd brought a friend along! As I was taking off my coat and scarf, the doorbell rang, and in came another friend, and we all sat down around the table to talk. So there we were, a 60-something year old lady and two sister missionaries, teaching three rockers (seriously- this guy, who we shall call "Brett", has a scythe hanging up on his wall and more leather jackets than I've seen in one place.) Our discussion went really well. We talked about the Book of Mormon and how it answers our questions. I got to talk about the Restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, and Sisar M chimed in every so often to give just the right comment at just the right time. The Spirit in the room got palpably stronger as I recited the First Vision. Everyone was focused and reverent. My FInnish has never been better, which I know was a result of the Spirit. We gave everybody a Restoration pamphlet, taught them how to pray for answers, and lucikly, had some extra copies of Mormonin Kirja to give to our two new investigators. A Christmas miracle, indeed!

One more weird story:

Saturday we talked to a nice woman on the street who was feeling sick, so we just gave her our card and she said she might call when she feels better. (People seldom do call, but it's good to be optimistic.) Sunday evening after we went out to try to find people in one of our dead-er areas, we had some time left to contact people from a list of names we picked out from our area book. We went to try a man we'd tried before with no success. We went up to his apartment, knocked on the door, and a very surprised looking woman answered the door, asking us "Kuina te tiesitte??" "How did you know??" We didn't catch on right away because she wasn't wearing her winter outer clothes, but it was the same woman from the day before! We talked for a bit, and although we don't have a solid return appointment with her, we're praying that she'll think of us a little more now, and hopefully one day we can come back and share our message with her.

This is a time to reflect on our Savior, and what He means to each one of us. It's a time to think about new beginings and rebirth. I hope each of you can set meaningful New Year's resolutions that will help you come closer to Heavenly Father and His Son. May you at this time see more clearly the hand of God in all aspects of your lives.


Sisar Hansen

Monday, December 23, 2013

Puhutko Ranskaa? [Do you speak French?]

Oh my, they say that Christmastime is a time for miracles, and it certainly is!

Finding has been a bit slow for a while, and we've been praying a lot to find more people who are ready to embrace our message of the gospel. We've gotten better at talking to everybody we see on the street, and doing so normally and naturally, but nobody seems to be interested. Well, last week we went over to the house of a potential investigator who is never home, and this time he was! He said that he's very busy from school and work, but since his son is going to be with his mother for Christmas, he's free for a lesson on Christmas Eve. Well, that is a very special day for Finns, much more so than for Americans, and since he's a man, we need a woman to come along with us. Our branch mission leader told us to reconsider the time, but it was our investigator that set it, so we prayed and prayed and made phone calls, and yesterday we found a sister from our branch who's willing to come! We've also had a lot more luck contacting. We made "ilo keksiä", or "joy cookies", so named because we wrapped up each cookie, and then taped a passalong card on the top. The card has the word "ilo" on it, underneath a picture of Mary and baby Jesus. It helped us to talk to more people, and to even get some potential investigators to let us in and sing to them! Christmastime is a time for creative missionary work, and I hope that I can apply those same principles to the rest of the year, so that we can see similar results!

I'm really excited about our Christmas plans. The 24-26th are red days, which means that we can't call, knock, or contact without an appointment. Pretty much, no set appointment means we stay home. We have at least 3 appointments on each of those days, and TWO are with investigators! We get to spend time with some of my favorite branch members, including an older sister in a wheelchair who lives with another older sister in the branch. They said they'd make us some traditional Joulu food (not sure what that means, but I'm all for it!) and we might even get a visit from Joulupukki! Ahhh! Joulupukki is the Finnish Santa Claus, and he knocks at the door on Christmas Eve night, unlike the silent, unseen American version I grew up with. A lot of members have already been very generous in offering us places to stay, thigns to eat, and we even got some nicely-wrapped chocolate from some members at church yesterday! So much love! I remember last year, when I wasn't sure what I'd be doing for Christmas, since I stayed in Saint-Julien the entire time, and the Bayart family gave me a place to stay, food to eat, and things to do. It's hard to believe that this is my second Christmas far away from home, but I'm very grateful that I'm well taken care of. I think a lot about what kind of member missionary I want to be after I'm released from my full-time duties, and I hope I have many opportunities to make life easier for some young men or women who are far away from home and family.

Many missionaries have been asking me about how many francophones I've been able to talk to, since everybody else seems to have contacted a French-speaker at some point. For a long time, my answer has been, "None, darnit!" but like I said, this is a time for miracles. Sisar Vath and I were at a bus stop a few nights ago (my bike was having some serious issues, so we left our bikes locked by the police station to come back the next day and get them fixed) and while she started up a conversation with the man next to us, I was distracted by what seemed something oddly familiar. Lo and behold, there was a group of 3 Parisians standing nearby! I waited a bit while I found a good time, and then I asked them where they were from, and why they were in Oulu. We talked for a bit, and we didn't have time to get to gospel-y stuff because their bus came a minute later, but I got to use one of my favorite talents in an unlikely place! Sisar Vath said she was praying for me to find something good to say to them, and I felt her prayers the entire time! Going back to the bike situation (things are much better now, by the way), we went back to the police station the next day, and we saw a man walking past, so we said hello, and asked him how he's doing. Turns out, he's from Cameroon, which is an African country where people speak- you guessed it- FRENCH! He's incredibly devoted to the Bible, and I have a hard time expressing how impressive he is. We were talking for a while, and things were going pretty well, but then I got the feeling to say something specific in French. Sisar Vath and I both commented later that his countenance seemed to warm up to us as we spoke in his native language. We set up an appointment with him for the next day at the church. We gave him a tour of the building and explained the purpose of our worship, and then led him into the chapel, where we had a good discussion about religion, symbolism (in which he is incredibly well-read) and why church is important. We managed to find the ONE copy of Le Livre de Mormon hiding out in our apartment, so we gave it to him, and again, the Spirit prompted me to testify of a specific principle in French. We're going to see him again later tonight, so prayers that everything goes well, and that he was able to read the feel the Spirit. It was an incredible experience, and one that I'll probably remember always as I look back on my mission.

Last week, as we were doing our weekly planning, I heard the sound of paper being dropped through our mail slot. 95% of the time, mail is either official missionary stuff, or for Sisar Vath, so I was surprised when she said that it was a package slip for me! I was excited to see who it was from, so after we finished all our business for the day, we went to get it. I didn't recognize the handwriting on the address, and I was a bit confused until I saw that the stamp said "FRANCE" on it! The Junods, a wonderful family from my ward in Geneva, had sent me a Christmas package!! I read the card (in French, of course. I always love seeing/hearing/speaking that language!) and saw that they'd sent me some Swiss chocolate and a pair of mittens that turn into fingerless gloves. Did I get choked up a bit? Definitely. I was so overcome by the knowledge that people that I knew and loved in France still think and pray for me, and as a bonus, I now have their address and can send them mail! It was one of those things that just made me want to go around and say, "Hey, I got a package from France!" even though nobody would really understand what a bit deal that was for me. Merci encore, les Junods! Je vous aime beaucoup!

We had zone conference this week. Traditionally, Rovaniemi has been the North Zone's conference location in December, but after some prayers and considerations about lodging and transport for the increased number of missionaries, we had it in Oulu. The brand-new missionaries that were there didn't even really have time to do much in their own cities before getting on a train to Oulu for the conference. I can imagine it must be tough to arrive in the field at this time of year. We had a lot of great counsel from President Rawlings, and Sister Rawlings shared some really poignant spiritual thoughts about the work. I really love her. She's pretty fantastic. It was great to see so many people all together, and all just from one zone. The mission used to be not much bigger than Friday's group! We each got a gift of a beautiful wooden mechanical pencil, and just for our zone, some really nice winter hats were donated! The Lord spoils me in so many ways! I got to do a half-hour exchange with one of the sisters from Kuopio, and as always, it was good to spend time with a new person with a different perspective, and see how I can make Oulu a better place.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas/Hanukka/Kwanza/Festivus/Whatever it is that you are doing over the next week or two. I pray for the people back home/from college/in France all the time, and I hope those prayers are felt.

Hyvää Joulua! Mina rakastan teitä!

-Sisar Hansen

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sketchy McSketcherton!

I'm about as stretched for time as I've ever been, and I know I didn't write a post last week due to time constraints, so this is what I can get out while on the 15-minute computer at the library.

Training in Helsinki was great. I had to wake up at the crack of dawn (well, before. This IS Finland!) to get on a plane to fly down there, but it all went pretty well. We did a lot of role plays about various situations, and President Rawlings answered a lot of our questions. It was great to see people from the MTC again. Sisar Vath and I stayed in Espoo with Sisar Knapp and her trainer. Sisar Knapp and I did an exchange together, and it was amazing to see how we could stretch ourselves without having our trainers with us. She was amazing, to put it in few words. She took charge of things in an inspiring way. While I was with her, we got to walk to the temple grounds, and teach a new convert lesson. He's from a country where religion doesn't much exist, so it's a different experience getting things to relate to him. Also, teaching in English. Weird. Some of us sang a song for the group, and since my fellow alto was suddenly struck with a sore throat, I ended up doing a bit of a solo. Ahhhh!

Helsinki is a beautiful city, but I missed Oulu a lot. I missed being on a bike, despite the snow and ice. I missed the wonderful members who do so much for us.

It's harder and harder to find people, since many are leaving for the holiday season, and almost nobody seems to be out on the streets anymore. But we do what we can. I've been blessed to get better at contacting, which is something I don't particularly enjoy, but is becoming less and less scary for me. I actually feel like a missionary now. I'm really just now realizing what people say when they talk about this work being the greatest work there is. I wonder how I will feel when I get to see somebody I've worked with get baptized? I pray every day to see this happen, and things are going slowly, but we are seeing small miracles, so I'm trying my best to not be discouraged, and to find reasons why Heavenly Father has sent me to this place, with these people.

Speaking of which, Sisar Vath and I will be in Oulu for another 9 weeks. She's already been here 9 months, so I'm going to do all I can to help her to see Oulu with fresh eyes, and to find renewed purpose in serving here. I'm looking forward to the challenges that being here during the coldest months of the year will bring me, because I know that I will grow a lot in many ways. I'm overcoming physical fears and weaknesses, which in turn helps me to overcome spiritual weakness.

The title of this blog refers to a particularly off-beat language study we had the other day. Sisar Vath went over with me some of her favorite English phrases (like, "I call shotgun!") and she asked me what "sketchy Mcsketcherton" means. Apparently, another missionary had taught her this one a while ago. I tried to explain, but there's no real way to sum it up in just a few words. She taught me "Kauhistuksen kanahäkki!" which literally means, "Chicken coop of terror!" but is something that older people use to say, "Oh my goodness!" I'll probably drop it in a conversation at some point with some native Finns and see how they react. She also taught me, "I have a chicken to pluck with you", which means, "I have a bone to pick with you", but I can't think of all the words in Finnish right now.

My 15 minutes are up, so I must sadly end this week's email much earlier than I had hoped. Next week I'll be able to talk a lot about Christmas preparations and various kinds of gifts, which is pretty exciting. I've already found myself unexpectedly blessed.

The more I do this work, the more I know that Heavenly Father loves me, and everyone on this earth. His plan for His children is based on pure love, and I get to teach that every single day! I can't think of a better way to celebrate this sacred season. How lucky am I?

Sisar Hansen

Monday, December 9, 2013

Note from Karlan's Mom

Hello everyone:

Karlan didn't send a blog post this week.  She was answering emails, and doing reports with her short time on the computer this afternoon.

Here's part of her letter to us:  "Helsinki was fantastic. I learned a ton about how to teach people, not lessons. We came back, and Rosie, our eternal investigator, is FINALLY making steps towards baptism! I don't know that clicked, but she now says coffee is gross to her, and she's doing more to try to help her boyfriend understand why they should get married. WOW. We've prayed a lot about whether or not to keep teaching her, so I'm glad we decided to keep going at least a few more weeks."

Kar loves the emails, but says she would love letters even more, since she can read them during the week.
Her address is:

Sisar Karlan Hansen
Myöhempien Aikojen Pyhien Jeessuken Kristuksen Kirkko
Nietsytpolku 3 A 4
00140 Helsinki

You can send her a letter via USPS, or you can go to www.dearelder.com, and they will send a letter for you.  You will have to set up an account on Dear Elder. Sending  your letter is $1.10, the same postage USPS will charge, but you can mail a letter from Dear Elder in your pajamas.  Instructions on how to do that are on the website.  

Let's make Karlan's Christmas a merry one! She would be thrilled to receive posti (a letter) with Christmas greetings. 

Thank you everyone for your thoughts, prayers, and notes to Karlan.   

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Name that Jellybean!

This blog will cover just the later half of this week, since we had to do some P-Day rearranging. Oulu has proven that it really means it this time, and the snow and ice probably are here to stay until the weather gets warmer. (If I thought riding on snow was tricky, it's a lot easier than sliding around on ice! Good thing there are pebbles sprinkled everywhere to help with this kind of thing!)

Thursday is the day when we do weekly planning. We have planning sessions every day, but weekly planning is pretty much essential for us to get organized and keep a bit of perspective on how we want to meet our weekly goals. It takes a long time, so we pull our end table over to the couch and do it there so we can at least by nice and comfy. It's weird planning for an entire week, because we obviously don't know exactly what will happen from day to day, but it helps us keep those people in mind who we want to see, and helps us to figure out where we'll be on any given day, so we can find things to do within that area, to cut down on transportation.

Thursday night, the vanhimat and sisaret headed down to Helsinki for a leadership training, which mean that Sisar Vath and I got to use the missionary car! Huzzah! We rode our bikes down to the place where it had been parked, only to discover that we suffered from a rather unfortunate bike rack deficiency. Turns out, the elders had left it in their apartment, and we had to do without for a couple days. We parked our bikes at the nearest convenient place, locked them, and got in the car, knowing that we had appointments to get to, and just enough time to drive there. We took one of the sisters from our branch with us- she's about my age, and full of energy. She actually knew Sisar Vath when they both lived down south! She speaks very fast, and is very good about making me work through everything she says, rather than just giving it to me in English when I don't understand right away.

The highlight of that evening for me was a visit to see "Annie". She's a middle-aged single mom, who we met before, but who didn't seem to respond to well to us being there. Apparently, though, Sisaret Vath and Nyman had a visit with her during our exchange! She has a lot of fears and reservations, and she's had a very hard life. She has a lot of medical problems, and her family life has not been so smooth. She wonders why God gives her so many hardships in her life. Now, she had visited church the Sunday before, and seemed completely bored by most of it, so I wondered how our appointment with her would go. Turns out, we had a lot to talk about, and she had some good questions about church, and how things work. We explained to her that we could arrange for a Gospel Principles class in Finnish (Ours is only in English, since most of our investigators and recent converts speak English better than Finnish). She agreed to come again! She prayed for us in the end, and asked God to bless her three new freinds. :)
We had a busy couple of days following, and we tried to go out and do some service. We cut out paper hearts so we could "heart attack" a particular sister who will talk to us sometimes, but seems to want to be left alone for the most part. That way we could do something nice for her, and not bother her too much. A "heart attack" means that you cover a person's door with paper hearts, and you usually write nice things on them. It's kind of silly, but it really shows that people care. We were finishing up, when the door started to open! Our secret was out, and boy, was it awkward! (Hiding behind the door didn't help- we were caught anyway, and it actually made things even more awkward.) I have a talent for getting caught, so I can't say I'm too surprised, actually.

Another bit of mixed-blessing-style awkwardness was our visit with a former investigator. We've knocked on her door several times in the past with no answer, but this time was different! Victory was ours, as we were welcomed into her home. She even gave us juice and sweaters to keep us warm, even after we insisted that we weren't too cold. (Everybody thinks I must be so cold- if I were, I'd put on a sweater! I actually start to sweat, riding a bike with more than short sleeves under my coat!) Anyhoo, the awkwardness comes in at the point where the first words I ever hear her say to me are, "Oletko suomallainen?" [Are you Finnish?] We had a good conversation together, and she had some very good questions and thoughts about the church, but the fact that neither of us are real Finns (sisar Vath actually is, but doesn't look like it, and wasn't born here.) seemed to make us less credible. She says she wants to go to our branch party this week so she can talk to Finns about her questions. Ah, well, as long as it gets her talking!

This week we've faced some harsh rejection. Rejection comes every single day on the mission, but this week we got what seems like a disproportionate amount of angry responses, and "I never want to hear from you again"s. We even got a text, saying that one particular woman would call the police if we came to her door again, to which we replied that we hadn't gone by since she told us to stay away, so please don't call the cops on us!! I understand that there are people who don't want to talk to us, and who are even fundamentally opposed to what we're doing on a moral level. But there are ways to express disinterest without being aggressive. Note to the missionary-phobic out there, being vague and ambiguous about your feelings, or pretending not to be home will only get you another visit in the near future. Save everybody some trouble, and just politely say, "No thanks".
I've said it before, but we have some seriously wonderful branch missionaries in Oulu. There are two elderly ladies who live together, and anytime we're in the area and have extra time, we stop by, and they are always willing to have us come in, and feed us something. This week they helped with our hour of language study. We did a bit of the point-to-an-object-then-I-say-its-name-suomeksi game, and it was actually pretty helpful. We almost always have a member at a planned lesson. They love our investigators, have us over for meals, give out copies of Mormonin Kirja, and do anything they can to be helpful.

This Sunday we had a record number of people at church. (I don't know if this is accurate- it just seemed like more people I've ever seen here by far). Part of that is due to one of our fantastic member missionaries, Veli "Caruso". His baby boy received his name and blessing today. He is British, while his wife is Finnish, so it's been hard for them to pick a name that works for both cultures, and that they both like. So far, he's been known simply as Jellybean. Veli Caruso blessed him in a combination of broken Finnish and English, and it was a beautiful, sincere blessing. Some members also brought friends along, and we had investigators come, as well! Annie came with her two sons, and did much better this time, although she got bored again halfway through Relief Society. But hey- progress from last time! Rosie hasn't come in a month, and we pray for her every day. Hopefully she can come to the Finnish Independence Day party this week and get to know branch members better.
There were people buzzing all over church today, so it was a bit distracting and overwhelming at times, but in a very good way. Good to see so many people around. Hopefully this won't be the last time I see a Sunday like this in Oulu.

Well, tomorrow before the rise of the sun (which really isn' saying much here) we head out to catch a plane to Helsinki for new missionary training. The two of us will be staying with sisar Knapp and her trainer, which I'm pretty excited about. I'm excited to swap stories and see how the work is going in other parts of Suomi. Until next, next Monday!

-Sisar Hansen

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Finnish Names are Haaaaard!

I get to know Oulu and its inhabitants more and more each week. This is very good, since the better I know people, the more I know how I can work with them. HOWEVER, the more people I get to know, the more I realize that Finnish names are quite difficult for me. For example, let's say a new baby boy is born. What shall his name be? Jani? Janne? How about Joni, Jouni, or Johannes? (All pronounced differently, of course.) If she's a girl, how about Henna, Helena, or Elena? And the parents' last name is something like Kemppainen or Laitinen, they're sure to meet a fair few people with their same name. See how that can get a bit confusing for a Soumi newbie like myself? And then there are first names like Terttu, Kari, Kaisu, Tuomo, which, when I see them written out on paper, give me no clue whatsoever if they belong to a man or a woman.

Things have been pretty busy over on my end. I learned a lot from my exchange with Sisar Francis-One thing was that it is nearly impossible to say no when Sisar Francis continuously offers you sweets. Another more important thing, is that there are many ways to do the same missionary work. I've been working on finding my personality as a missionary. Sisar Nyman and Sisar Vath are both wonderful, but they both also have ways of expressing themselves that can be quite different than mine. So my challenge is to find a way to be 100% myself, while still balancing out companions with different strengths and weaknesses than I do. Sisar Francis helped me think about that a lot, and between working with her, and working with Sisar Vath, whose manner of speaking are both very different, I am getting more of a feel for how I like to phrase things, how I like to talk to people in the street, or at the door, and how Sisar Hansen connects with people.

Off with the old tires, on with the snow tires!
During our week-long exchange, Sisar Francis also had an exchange set up with the Vaasa sisters, so I did an exchange-within-an-exchange. Sisar Foster was my companion for a day last Tuesday. Her Finnish is incredible! She's bright and very energetic. She also rides a bike faster and more energetically than I thought humanly possible! We did some service for an older sister in the branch who lives by herself, and who is always so happy to see missionaries come by. She loves to talk, and does so very fast, so I don't catch a whole lot of what she says, but she seems to like having me around anyway. Then we went to find some former investigators and catch up with some potential investigators, but we ran into some difficulties along the way- I.E., my abysmal sense of direction, plus the fact that Sisar Foster has never actually spent more than about a day in Oulu. We stopped a man on a bike and asked for some directions to a particular adress, and he told us we could just follow him there! He took us right up to the exact building! He left before we could talk with him, which was a bit of a bummer, but we really appreciated his act of service. Our last appointment of the day was with a man named "Perry" for email purposes. He's investigated for a long time, but hasn't been able to make a real commitment to prepare for baptism. I'd visited him once with Sisar Vath on my second day here, so he recognized me. We were talking a bit with him and a sister from our ward about how life is going, when suddenly, a long, fuzzy blur races past along the floor. Turns out, it was Ettu, the ferret! He wasn't around when I was there before, so I was a bit surprised to see him. Perry picked him up and told us about how Ettu has been sick, and can only eat bananas. Then when we started with our lesson, and Perry asked me if I could give the prayer, he asked me to pray that his dear ferret could get better. I couldn't remember the word he'd used for ferret, so, for the first time in my life, I prayed outloud for a blessing on a sick ferret by its name. Poor Ettu- please get better!

Our branch president's son got back from his mission a couple weeks ago, and has been called as an assistant to our branch mission leader. He's been really helpful in getting us more organized, and in helping us by getting to know our investigators, and helping us find solutions to their needs. He also helped us organize a meal calendar, so that means more dinner appointments with members, and more opportunities to teach them how to do their own missionary work. Hopefully we can also see some potential investigators invited to these dinner appointments, so that we can talk about the gospel in a warm and friendly setting. It's also great that we have another young single adult around, because those have been in short supply lately, and it's good to have somebody who is in the same stage of life as some of our younger investigators. Overall, we do have a wonderful group of member missionaries in Oulu. I'm always impressed by how active they are and how they seek for opportunites to share the gospel with others. I've also never seen so many ward misisonaries in some of the larger wards I've been in, let alone a branch with less than 100 active members!

In weather news, the snow has finally come and stuck around. It was frostier than a late-90s boyband member's hair for a few days, and then the real stuff came down and shows no signs of going away soon. It was a bit scary riding through it for the first time. I've had a few moments where I've had to slam my feet on the ground to stop myself from falling, but that's about as bad as it's been. Even going up and down hills gets pretty easy with some practice. This mission has already shown me that there are things I never thought I could do, like ride a bike around corners and down hills in the snow! I hope I will see the same kind of things happen on a spiritual level, as well.

We got to go to a baptism on Saturday!! "Jimmy", a young man the elders had been teaching, got baptized, and it was a wonderful service. Lots of people came, and he gave a very touching testimony after he was baptized. He was all smiles, and glowing. The sister playing the piano as we waited for him to change back into normal clothes played the songs we sang at MY baptism 16.5 years ago. I was flooded with memories, even though a lot of the details of that day are very hazy to me. I still remember how I felt, though, and even though I was only 8 years old, I knew that it was a very special day in my life, and that it would stick with my forever. So far, so good.
Bowling on a P-Day last month.  The Sister in the blue
shirt and glasses is my comp, Sister Vath

Monday this week was just a normal day. We moved P-Day to Wednesday, so we could have a Thanksgiving party after our district meeting. Sisar Vath and I made pumpkin pie (4 euros for a small can of pie filling we had to go to a special store to find, but it turned out delivious!) and coconut macaroons (They're not very Thanksgiving-y, but she reasoned that she loves them, and she's not American anyway.) Our district meeting itself was fantastic, as they usually are. We talked a lot about the Book of Mormon, its purpose, and how we need to use it more as we teach others about the gospel. Then we sat down to eat- there was turkey, stuffing, vegetables, potatoes, gravy, yams, rolls, and probably other things I can't even remember. I left the building feeling borderline sick, which is how Thankgiving should be. One of the sisters in our branch found the pie recipe for us, and since she's never tasted pumpkin pie before, we have a slice saved just for her. It felt good to have a short time where it felt like home, even though I'm so far away. :)

Well, that's all the big news. I think. I barely have time to even write in my journal these days, so I hope I don't forget about any of the big things. We have a special series of meetings next week for all new missionaries and their trainers, down in Helsinki. I'll get to see everybody I knew from the MTC, and hopefully learn more about how to contact people better, because I'm pretty bad at it so far. (When your companion prays for you to be able to speak to people naturally and confidently while we contact, you KNOW you've got a weakness to work on!) A group of us are going to sing a Christmas song together, which hopefully we'll find some time to practice. Sisar Vath and I will be staying with Sisar Knapp and her companion in Espoo, to which I say, "YAYY!!!!" We have to get on a plane around 5:30am on Monday morning to get there, but Sisar Vath makes it sound like it'll be a pretty great week, so I look forward to it. Although she DOES get to go to the temple while I'm in language school, so that gives her extra reason to be excited. I really hope I can learn a lot from training next week so I can be more effective in my day-to-day missionary work. I have a long way to go, but I know I'm still fairly new to all of this. That being said, the time goes by so fast! Before I know it, I'll be talking about my mission in the past tense! Ahhh! Better enjoy it while it lasts!


Sisar Hansen

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Crickly-Crack" Go the Studded Bike Tires

It is now mandatory studded bike tires season in the Finland Helsinki mission, although the ground remains pretty dry most of the time. Although yesterday the wind was so bad, that we ended up walking to our destination to avoid being blown off our bikes. It's hard to dress for the weather, because if I wear an extra sweater under my coat, I'm fine when I'm just walking around, but it gets too hot when I ride my bike, so there's a bit of a delicate balance that takes place. The elders here have the largest area, so they get the car, in addition to their wearing pants. We've gotten to borrow it on occasion if they don't need it, or are out of town on an exchange. Whenever we hand the keys back over to them, I sing to myself, "Each life that touches ours for good...." Ah well, the bike riding improves every week, and I'm probably in better physical shape than I have been since high school! Blessings of missionary service!

Things are a bit weird right now. We were scheduled for an exchange with the other Oulu sisters on Friday, but it ended up turning into a week-long deal, so I am sitting at a computer, typing this out next to Sisar Francis. She's my age and from Australia. I'm also sleeping at her place, which is screwing up my already faltering sense of direction, but I get to know different parts of Oulu better. Spending time with Sisar Francis has made me reflect on my relationship with Sisar Vath quite a bit, and on how much I really do under-appreciate her. She's an amazing missionary, and I have way more to learn from her than I thought! She has a very different set of talents than I do, and I'm finding more and more ideas of how to use that to our advantage as I have sometime to look at things from afar. AND the good thing about spending P-Day apart is that I can now solve the problem of how I'm supposed to secretly and stealthily get her a present for her upcoming birthday.

There's a quote from my favorite film, where one of the characters says to another, "There's a grave difference between the expectation of an unhappy event, and it's final certainty." You know going in that the mission is going to be hard in certain ways. You know that rejection will come. You know that there will be people who you love, but who will not progress. I've seen a bit of that lately, and as much as you know it's coming, it stinks. It does not feel nice. But then you get those people who keep going, and even decide to get baptized (the elders have an investigator with a baptismal date this coming Saturday!) that you might not expect. Finnish people are not as non-verbally expressive as Americans or French people tend to be. It's not always easy for me to gauge a person's actual interest when I talk to them because their facial expressions don't always change so much, and the languages doesn't have the same kind of intonation as what I'm used to. We've tried to find times when we can do language study with a member, so that I can learn to listen to different accents and sharpen my comprehension skills.

Christmas time is in the air, which means lots of opportunities to invite people to activities! We have some wonderful member missionaries in Oulu, and when we extended the invitation to one family with 6 children last night at ther home to bring friends to the upcoming primary program/Independence Day party/Christmas party, I was so excited to hear that they'd already done just that! When I was a normal civilian, I used to think that full-time missionaries did sooooooo much, and we do have a very special calling to do a very special work. But members can do missionary work in a way that just isn't possible for a missionary like me. They can build close friendships with people from work, school, or other activities, which can make people feel more comfortable than a knock on the door. We have a "Book of Mormon Challenge" here in the Finland Helsinki mission. We invite members to buy 3 copies of Mormonin Kirja, write a testimony in each of them, then give 2 to the missionaries to give out, and find somebody to give the third to on their own. This is the part where I challenge YOU, dear reader, to do the same! Getting involved with the local full-time missionaries does not have to be a huge thing, but it will bring greater results than leaving them all the work. That continues to be clear to me as Oulu's member missionary force continues to get stronger.

The transition from the MTC to the mission field has been pretty difficult in some ways. I'm no longer surrounded by other missionaries all day, every day. The schedule is different. The situations are not staged- they're REAL! Real life is going on all around me. It hasn't always been so easy to wake up and say, "Wow, what a great day! How awesome it is to be here!" But those feelings are coming more and more often. I went to bed last night with a big smile on my face because I never thought I'd be on a mission, let alone in FINLAND, working with an amazing group of fellow missionaries. I never thought I'd learn such a difficult language and do so well at it. I never thought I'd be faced with opening a new area in my first transfer. I can already see how some of my challenges now will be blessings later. I can already see which things bring me joy in the work. And even on those days when that appointment cancels, or it rains and my scriptures get wet, or when nobody seems to want to have much to do with us, I know that the Lord wants me here. I'm rediscovering the love for Finland I felt when I opened my mission call. I don't know where else I will be called or who I will serve with, but I know that this is the perfect place for me to be. I know that this short time (It is seriously going by so fast- 3 months already?? Ahhh!!!) will have an impact on the rest of my life, and shape some of my major decisions differently than if I hadn't served.

For anybody reading this who may be considering a mission, DO IT. It's hard. It's downright rough at times. It's a completely different lifestyle. But 3 months in, I'm already a better version of myself than I was before. I've done things I never thought I'd be able to do. I haven't been here long enough to see many results of my service, but I know that I'm doing good and making some sort of impact on the people I meet. It's a big decision, but it's absolutely the right one!

Hyvää vikkoa kaikille!
Sisar Hansen

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Update From Karlan's Mom

Hi everyone!

Karlan didn't send a blog post this week. Her computer time was limited, and she wanted to catch up on some individual email responses.
She is getting to know Oulu better, and finds that bike riding is getting easier as time goes by. Just a smidge of snow so far, but she'll be putting snow tires on her bicycle soon. Next month's district meeting is just before Christmas, and the missionaries have learned that it will be in Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus! Kar is excited by the news, as she had hoped to visit there.

Thank you so much for the letters and support you have sent Karlan!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lots of Learning Going on this Week

Dear Everybody Who Reads This:

I am getting into the routine of things around here. I'm starting to (kind of) know where things are- at least, landmarks look familiar to me as we ride past. Sisar Vath is great because she helps me memorize scriptures in Finnish as we ride. It takes my mind off the physical stress, invites the Spirit, and brings us closer as a companionship. We read the Book of Mormon together each day as part of language study, then I pick a verse to translate into English out loud, and she helps me as I go. It's such a blessing to have a companion who's practically a native speaker! So far it looks like I've had two very kind, loving, and especially patient companions. Hmm....What is the Lord trying to tell me, do you think???

It's still a bit slow finding new investigators, since all of the pre-existing ones live in the other areas. We found 3 more last week, which was great! Two of them don't actually seem so interested, but we'll just have to wow them with a fantastically spiritual lesson this next time, and then maybe they'll feel the Spirit telling them to give us some more time. We visited an elderly couple the other day. The wife has dementia, and can't remember much of anything for very long. She said, "Tervetuloa!" (Welcome!) enthusiastically countless times while we were there, and I wish I had a picture of how her face lit up when we asked if we could sing her a hymn. "Totta kai!" she excited shouted, loud enough to make me jump a little bit. When we asked her husband if he would say the prayer, he said that he didn't remember how. She said, "Of course you can!" and told him to repeat what we said. So when I said the closing prayer, I was surprised to hear HER voice echoing me as I started off, "Rakas Taivaallinen Isä..." What a sweetie! Her health doesn't really allow her to progress towards baptism, seeing as she can't even remember what the Book of Mormon is, let alone make it a part of her daily life, but I loved visiting with her. I hope we get to go back soon.

I've learned a lot this week about keeping the commandments and being a good girl, but also adapting to circumstances. The other day we spoke to a young man on the road who was quite decidedly against the very idea of religion, especially missionary work. He was one of those people that, no matter what we could have said, would have only responded with contention. The Spirit was not invited to that conversation. Our goal is to find and teach as many people as possible, and to invite everyone we talk to to come to church, let us know about any referrals, etc. But sometimes things are better left alone. It's better to leave people with a smile and no lesson or commitment, than to leave them angry and feeling invaded by our conversation. Another lesson came the next day, Sunday. As you may know, the first Sunday of the month is traditionally fast Sunday. It was also the first week for one of our investigators to come to church! We were really excited about "Rosie" (as I will refer to her, so as not to share her real name) coming with us, because she does really want to be baptized, and baptismal candidates first have to attend church at least 3 times. Now, you know from either knowing me already, or from reading my last post, that I am not athletic in any way. I'm getting better on my bike (We got my fancy-shmancy pain-free bike seat installed at zone conference, by the way! One of the elders makes fun of it routinely, everybody else thinks it's plain weird, but I love it, and it feels so comfortable!) but I still struggle a bit, like during the one-hour ride just to make it up to Rosie's house. Well, it turns out that even though it might be fast Sunday, if you and your companion promised to ride with a far-away investigator to church, it might be a good idea to just eat anyway. About 15 minutes into our ride, I started to regret my decision to fast this week. The rest of our ride to-and-from was horrendously difficult, and when we got to church, I barely had the energy to shake hands with members, let alone be an enthusiastic missionary. During sacrament meeting I started to lose the feeling in my legs, then in my arms! I've never outright passed out before, but I was about 35% convinced that I might add that to my list of life experiences before too long! After sacrament meeting, it became apparent that I really needed to go home, eat, and rest, so we handed off poor Rosie to the elders so they could show her and her daughter to Primary, and we got a ride from a member back to our apartment, where my wonderful companion made me a big batch of food and sent me to bed. Our appointment for that night had to cancel, so we stayed home, just to be safe, and make sure that I didn't exhaust myself again and get worse. Today I feel wonderful, energetic, and ready to take on the madness that is P-Day. So long story short (I know, too late!) obedience is so important, but sometimes, the Spirit will just lead you where it leads you, whether that be leaving a conversation early, or picking a different day to fast if you have to make a 2-hour bike journey of fast Sunday. :p

I'm going to be honest here- some days, some hours even, are extremely hard. Whether looking awkwardly at my companion to explain what somebody had just said to me, riding a bike uphill, calling a formerly enthusiastic potential investigator who just hangs up, or wondering when we'll find some more people to teach, this mission thing can be rough. I've also learned that sometimes when I'm not feeling 100%, I just have to remember that I have received such amazingly strong witnesses about my work here, and that's enough to keep me going until I re-discover the drive to go on. Sometimes it's hard to do the Lord's work, and it's okay to draw on better times for strength. I've told the Lord many times so far, "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief." I know He's there, even when that door is shut in my face, or that appointment cancels. It makes the shouts of "Tervetuloa!" even sweeter.

I hope everybody has a great week! Find ways to share your love of the Savior by being a good friend to somebody else! It doesn't always have to be a big deal- just be a good example and let your light so shine! And please think of the missionaries if you know somebody who is in need- I know first-hand that missionaries are eager to give any kind of service, but opportunities aren't always apparent. Know somebody who's moving? Who needs something cleaned? Translated into another language? Someone who could use an uplifting song? Quoth Russel M. Nelson, "Ask the missionaries!"

-Sisar Hansen

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Sisar! Sisar!"

Terve, from SUOMI!!

It's so weird to think that I'm actually here, although it feels like home to me already. Everybody knows that I love Europe to a ridiculous degree, so you can imagine how good it feels to be back. It was a long trip over here, but fairly uneventful, which is good. Sisar Nyman and I tried our hand at contacting in the London airport, but nobody seemed all too excited to see us. One of the sisters that was in my MTC group unfortunately has some health issues that kept her from coming into the field with the rest of us, and she would've sat next to me on our flights, so contacting on the plane was a bit difficult, as I had nobody on one side of me, and two missionaries on the other side! I was of course exhausted when we arrived in Helsinki, but I was strong and stayed up until 9 or 10pm.

We had brief interviews with President Rawlings that night, and Sisar Rawlings made us a fabulous amount of food! She's a pretty accomplished cook, it turns out. It felt surreal, knowing that our tight-knit MTC group would soon break up. The thought of not seeing Sisar Nyman every day was not a happy one. But Wednesday afternoon at the mission office, we met our new companions! We had a bit of a ceremony as President Rawlings lined everyone up and called out pairs of names. When he announced that I would be with Sisar Vath, he took a minute to explain that our situation is totally unfair because she's from Finland! Her family moved here 8 years ago, so she knows all the ins and outs of Finnish language and culture. He also said that since I speak so well, it's especially unfair. (Mission president likes my Finnish! Confidence boost!!) Now, when our luggage was being loaded into trailers, one of the APs made a point of making sure my luggage was in his trailer, whereas all the other sisters' things were in the other one. At that moment, I knew that it was because I was the only one not taking a train, and therefore staying in Helsinki. Which explains why I am writing this email from beautiful Oulu. Yep, my first area of my mission is Oulu, the farthest north sisaret are allowed to serve! I wish I'd seen my face when Sisar Vath joyously filled me in on our assigned area. She's been here for 9 months or so, so she know everyone, ever place, and everything. YAY!! Seriously though, I have the best trainer! Can't say enough glowing things about her. Speaking of people I can't ever compliment enough, Sisar Nyman is ALSO in Oulu! The other two sisaret are in Espoo and Helsinki. At first I was a bit overwhelmed at the idea of being here, but I really like it, the people are nicer than in the big city, and I'll probably agree with a lot of missionaries I've talked to, that Oulu is the best. (And yes, one of our MTC group's elders is in Rovaniemi right now!) (PS-I've already found Sisar Christoffersen's name on some old paperwork!)

Oulu is a biking city, which is a bit of a challenge for me. I am not athletic at all, nor am I especially coordinated. Sisar Nyman and her toveri had to stay in Espoo for a few days before joining us up north, so I used Sisar Francis' bike for a while. Our very first appointment Thursday night was an hour's ride away, and it was raining the whole time! I won't lie and say it wasn't a struggle. I had a primary song going through my head the entire time, and I tried to remember why I was even on a bike to begin with- to help bring somebody closer to Christ. That made it doable. At one point, I didn't have enough momentum to get up a hill, but when I tried to get off my bike, I started slipping backwards, and I thought I'd just fall over and crash. I started panicking a bit, and I called out, "SISAR! SISAR!" SIsar Vath just sort of looked back and watched me struggle for a bit before I finally got my footing and hopped off. I got an ab workout laughing that one off! We reached our investigator's door soaking wet, with a sisar from our branch with us, and when he answered, he looked confused. "You were supposed to come yesterday!" This was the point where I had to remind myself not to cry! Haha! Well, he did let us in, even though he's a very busy student, and we had an amazingly spiritual lesson. It was worth every second of sore, wet legs!

Friday morning we rode out, and decided to street contact along our way. I've heard that Finns are introverted and don't like talking to strangers much. Sisar Vath called out to one woman, "Terve! Mitä sinulle kuuluu?" (Hello, how are you?) The woman looked at her as if she'd just stepped on a puppy, and said, "Minä en tunne teitä!! Minä en tunne teitä!!" (I don't know you! I don't know you!) I tried not to chuckle and remain dignified as we tried to convince her that all we wanted to do was talk to her about the Gospel for a bit. Hers was a pretty extreme case, though. Most people will talk to us for a little bit after they figure out that we haven't mistaken them for somebody we know. Sisar Francis says that people are much nicer about that here, than further south. Contacting is hard for me, since I understand so little, so I say hello, try to read body language, and wait for little pauses when they speak, so I can throw in something like, "Tämä evankeliumi antaa minulle iloa!" regardless of context, and then nod my head a bunch of times and smile because I have no idea what they're saying in response. I'm becoming a lot braver than I thought I could be- I just have to hone my language/listening to the Spirit skills.

Saturday was a big day where nothing got done. We tried to go bike shopping, but ended up walking around in circles for hours because the department stores no longer had bikes out, and the specialty shop was closed. UGH. I did get some warm winter accessories, though, so not a total loss. We actually convinced the elders to let us use the car this morning so we could successfully complete our pyörä quest. I found a little used red bike that's just perfect, and I no longer have to use another person's bike, or their bike seat, either! (Most of you probably know that normal bike seats are really uncomfortable/painful for me.) I also found a second-hand rain coat for 15 euros! HA! We went with the other Oulu Sisaret, so as a bonus, I got to see Sisar Nyman for a bit!

Yesterday was such a wonderful day! Our first Sunday at church, so of course they asked me to bear my testimony. I will tell you something, the Lord has given me the gift of tongues! (Irony: When your branch president says something about "puhua" and "lahja" in the same sentence, and you figure he's talking about missionaries having the gift of tongues, but you can't understand anything else he's saying!) I spoke so well, and so naturally! I think this is because some people (Like Sisar Nyman) have a natural talent for just talking to people, and I don't. When the branch members heard me speak, they came up to me, and it was such a relief! I find that in general, I speak much better than I understand. As fantastic as Velie Christiansen's accent is, he speaks much slower and clearer than actual Finns! But my companion helps me so much, and the Lord knows I'm trying hard, so I know it will come. I just feel so blessed with what I've been given already. We had dinner at our new branch mission leader's home, then off to teach a less-active member. Such a good, full, spiritual day!

My apartment is wonderful, I have a great bike, I'm speaking well, I'm riding better every day, my trainer is fantastic, and I still can't really believe that I'm actually ON MY MISSION, but I'm so glad that I am!

I have no idea how to send pictures, and we're out of library time, so I'll have to do that next week. Thank you to everybody who reads my posts and sends their love and support! I do my best to remember everyone in my prayers, because I've seen the Lord work miracles in me already in my short time as a missionary, and I want similar miracles for all of you! I am always tired, and my "natural man" (see: Mosiah 3:19) screams at me sometimes to just take a break or stop caring for a bit, but I know that the Lord has given me this very special, very short time to serve him with everything I've got, so I hope I can prove to Him to be a good investment.


-Sisar Hansen

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Note from Karlan's Mom

Karlan and the other missionaries in her group left this morning for Finland! We got a brief phone call from Karlan this morning, telling us that she was still in SLC, waiting for a delayed flight to Chicago. Several people in the airport offered use of personal cell phones to the missionaries to allow them to call home while they waited. Karlan reports that one very thoughtful person even went so far as to buy breakfast for ALL 16 of the Finns! I talked to Kar's companion, Sisar Nyman, for a couple of minutes. What a terrific young woman. She and Karlan have grown to love each other, and I'm sure they will be eternal friends. Someone snapped a group photo of some of the Finns, and emailed them out so parents could have a copy. I love modern technology.

After Karlan called, I received another phone call from the airport--this one from the woman who had loaned Karlan her phone (she also called Kevin). She said she just wanted to let me know how impressed she was with the Finnish missionaries. She told me that Karlan was glowing, confident, happy, and doing well. "Thank you for sharing your daughter with me today. She made my day!" she said. No, you made MY day. How utterly thoughtful.

A longer phone call from Kar came in mid-afternoon after her plane landed in Chicago. Kevin and Michael and I enjoyed listening to her relate the story of the First Vision in Finnish(!) Wow. Kar is just on fire. She was so animated and excited on the phone. The missionaries will arrive in Helsinki after being up and about for almost 24 hours. They will get a tour of the Helsinki temple grounds, and will be tucked into bed at the mission home before receiving their assignments the next morning. Kar hopes to be able to spend some time in Oulu because they have a reindeer festival there every year.

Kar would love to hear from you. Her email address is karlan.hansen@myldsmail.net.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

One Last Time From the MTC

AHHHH!!! NELJÄ PÄIVÄÄ until I leave for Suomi!!! Can this be real??! I've gotten to used to things in the MTC, it's almost weird to think that I'll ever be anywhere else. And yet, I feel so ready to go! I'm excited to get out there are do the work I've been called to do! I'm excited to meet new people in my mission and learn from them. I'm excited to be tested in new ways, although I know there will be rough times ahead as I adjust to a new way of applying everything I've been learning to do in the MTC.

Consecration Week is officially over, and it went by so fast! It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be! My companion is so disciplined, and eager to be obedient, that I can't help but be a better, harder-working person because of her. We still try to speak Finnish to each other and the other Finns at the MTC, but we no longer feel the need to do the awkward, "Oh, I do speak English, but it's our Consecration Week, and I only speak Finnish. My companion can translate for me, though!" game (all translated from Finnish, of course.) I had to change the "No English" tag on my name badge from pink to bright yellow, since for some reason, people kept mistaking it for the orange dots brand new missionaries get on their badges their first day, and we were welcomed to the MTC by people who got here as late as our 6th week. A lot of people thought that I couldn't actually speak English at all, and one cute sister spoke to me in Chinese since she thought it meant no English, either coming or going. It's been a wonderful week to shape my confidence and help me realize how prepared I actually am to go to Finland at long last. The Lord works miracles through me every single day, and reminds me over and over again how much He trusts me to do His work. I can only do so much, but He fills in the gaps so beautifully. This was supposed to be the most dreaded week of my MTC experience, and in many ways, it was the best yet!

Devotional on Tuesday was very special. First off, we all went to main campus early to participate in the choir, where we sang a Mack Wilburg arrangement of "Praise to the Man" that I know I've heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing before. Sisar Nyman and I seemed surrounded by sisters going to Japan- a couple of them going to Sendai! I told them how much my dad loved his mission there. Some other sisters behind us were still in their first week, and wondering if this was all really possible. The great thing about serving Finnish-speaking is that when we tell people that it's doable, they believe it! The legacy of the Finnish language is known far and wide around these parts, even to people learning tough Asian languages! I hope that they find the strength in themselves and in the Lord to know that they can do a great job. Anyway, we started to sing our prelude music as we always do, and suddenly the people in the front rows started to stand up. After a few moments, I saw a man walk through the door with a very distinctive bald head, and it became very apparent that our speaker was Dallin H. Oaks from the quorum of the 12 apostles! He spoke to us about why it's so important that this church is different from other churches. If it weren't, why should anyone join it? We have so much to offer the people of the world because of our view of who Heavenly Father is, and His relationship to us. Never forget this. I've felt for a long time that everything in our church goes back to God being our loving Heavenly Father, and his talk really confirmed that in me. I loved listening to him speak, because he is so unapologetic about his beliefs, and about his devotion to God and Jesus Christ. At the same time, there's so much love in what he says. I can learn a lot from that. Sometimes it's necessary to be bold, but not harsh, and it's a delicate balance that he has down.

After devotional as we were walking back, I was really sad to notice that there were some missionaries being really silly and irreverent, just moments after being in the presence of an apostle of the Lord. I don't say this to demean them, or to make myself seem so much more grown up and mature, but it's stuck with me every since. They of course, were asked to be more reverent, but it's so sad to me that some missionaries treat this time like EFY, and it's so much more than that. I thought about the people going to Finland, and they are all exceptional missionaries. The Lord knows us all so well, because He's sending people to Finland who are strong and serious about their work, which I think Finland really needs. It gives me strength to know that Heavenly Father has put me in this group of amazing young people, because He knows that I am capable of working alongside them. I'm so determined not to let anyone's opportunity to receive this message pass by because I'm not behaving like the adult that I am. I know I'm not perfect. My mom sent me the comment on my last blog about missionaries not always being perfect in things. It's true, we don't become that model servant of the Lord right away. But I need to work hard to make sure that from my first moments in Suomi, I am being the servant He needs me to be. Everything will come to me as I do my best to always improve.

Yesterday we hosted again, and we got to welcome the new Finnish missionaries! YAY!!! They were all the mature, wonderful, spiritual people I'd expect them to be. You could just tell that there was something special about them that just radiated "Finnish mission call". But I'm pretty biased. They're learning surprisingly fast already, and it was so great to speak Finnish around them to let them know that they can do hard things. I'm excited to see them later on in the field, and see how they've grown. I feel love for them already. That's one of the miracles of the MTC.

One minute left of email time! No time for any linguistic silliness, but I'll probably have quite a bit of that after my first few days overseas! I love all of you, and I hope you are able to feel my love for this work through my writings. This is the best decision I've ever made.

-Sisar Hansen

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Anteeksi, mutta minä en puhu englantea!‏

Today marks the beginning of the long-awaited, much anticipated "Consecration Week". This morning we went to the temple, and when we came out, no more English for a week! Of course, if we need to communicate with a non-Finn, one person can translate as the other speaks. But my companion and I are trying to translate literally, so we have to think extra hard about what we say. For example, if my companion says, "Minä pidän sinun paitaa" instead of, "Minä pidän sinun paitasta" I will have to say, "I will keep your shirt", instead of, "I like your shirt." We'll speak much more carefully this way! We put little tags on our badges that say "No English" as a warning to all those who dare converse with us. We took a walk over to Brigham's Landing for lunch, and it's amazing how hard it is to order a hot chocolate when you don't remember the word for hot! The girl at the counter was super patient, though, so we wrote her a thank-you note in English. Then we headed over to Jamba Juice, where a generous return sister missionary paid our tab for us! My companion's first every Jamba, and it was free! I love how nice people are to missionaries, not because I benefit, but because they're living out Mosiah 2:17, which states that when we're in the service of our fellow being, we're only in the service of our God. I can feel the love these people have for their Heavenly Father and His gospel through their kindness to us, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, it's even better than a free smoothie.

The big highlight of the week was, of course, Yleiskonferenssi! If you didn't watch it, go to LDS.org and get to it! I loved Dieter F. Uchtdorf's talk, because it spoke so clearly to me as a missionary. Why would anyone want to join a church that expects so much of its members? Because the benefits far outweigh the costs, of course! Because nothing else will bring greater happiness or fulfillment in this life or the next! I also loved it when Thomas S. Monson, our prophet, asked, "Shall I falter, or shall I Finnish?" Okay, not exactly like THAT, but I like to think that's what he meant. Every since I got my call to serve in Finland, the word "finish" has never been the same. It's never not a pun anymore. But as the language gets more demanding and the weather gets colder, sometimes it can be hard to find the energy to keep going and do my best. Sometimes I wonder if I'm really up to the task put in front of me. That extra "n" gives me the strength I need to remind myself to keep going on those tough days. It reminds me that I was called to Finland because Heavenly Father needs me there, and not only can I "finish" my mission, but I'm also determined to "Finnish" it, and do it well. It's amazing how, like it says in Alma 37:6, "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass." By a silly little pun, does one missionary renew her sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, conference weekend also marked the starting point of Sisar Hansen feeling sick. I'm pretty amazed that, with all the people around me, I held out as long as I did! I was fine to watch all of the sessions of conference, but partway through Monday morning class, it became apparent to both my companion and I that I needed sleep badly. Judging by the fact that I slept like a rock for about 5 hours that afternoon, I really did need it! I tried to practice language and read the scriptures when I was awake, and I feel like I figured out how to use my time wisely, even in a not-so-ideal situation. My amazing toveri spent all afternoon pouring over books while I was konked out. One of the hardest things about the mission has been not being able to take naps, so I learned to be careful what I wish for- I just might get that nap, but not for the reason I'd hoped for. I'm doing much better already, and should be fully recovered by Monday or so.

Yesterday was the day for new missionaries to arrive, and we Finns had the opportunity to host them! We unloaded their luggage from a big truck, then helped them get settled in their apartments and find their classrooms. West Campus is transitioning to all-Spanish soon, so we only had Spanish-speaking, and stateside missionaries (statesides only stay for about 10 or 11 days, so they'll filter out soon and make room for more Spanish speakers.) I met a couple sisters going to South Carolina- I wonder if they'll meet Sister Makin? I love seeing the new missionaries because they are so nervous and excited. Their excitement helps renew my excitement, and their nervousness reminds me of how far I've come, and how many miracles they'll soon see as they begin their service. It's hard to even remember my first day here, even though it was just a few weeks ago! And just ELEVEN DAYS until I finally touch down on Finnish soil! I might see some of the sisters I hosted on the way to the airport!

I've been trying to get more out of my scripture study. Some days personal study seems to drag on a bit, and I need to make sure that it always flies by because that means I'm working hard and being immersed in the scriptures. Fortunately, it's more often the latter lately. I've re-discovered how amazing the New Testament is. I read Paul's letters to the Philippians and to the Thessalonians, which I haven't read very in-depth in some time. Usually when I read from the NT, it's from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. And I've been depriving myself, because Paul's letters are so amazing! Thessalonians is basically all about how fantastic it is to be a missionary! Talk about inspiration from the scriptures! The love he has for the converts he taught is so profound- I hope that I can receive that much joy from my service.

Those are the main points for this week (oh- I saw Elder Basden at devotional Tuesday night! So weird to see somebody I used to babysit at the MTC! I haven't seen Sister Bayart, and I think she might be leaving soon, but my thoughts and prayers are with her.) I hope you all have a wonderful week! Don't let General Conference disappear from your hearts and minds! Actively apply those things you learned so you can be a better person and find more joy. I had an institute teacher who liked to say that we have a weekend to get into conference, and then 6 months to get conference into us. Wise words.

Minä rakastan teitä!!!

Sisar Hansen

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Errand of Angels

Sisaret Nyman and Hansen with choir music for the RS mtg.
I say this all the time, but SOOO MUCH has happened this week! No, seriously. I got to sing in the Relief Society general broadcast with the sister missionary choir! It was a long day, from getting ready (One of the other Finnish sisters was kind to let me  borrow her shirt, since I didn't have the right style, and I didn't want to have to buy one), to the bus ride to SLC, to rehearsal, to having lunch in the underbelly of the conference center, to seeing the prophet, to actually singing, to meeting the Relief Society
general presidency, to a bus testimony meeting! It was amazing the spirit that was there. When the First Presidency walked into the room, I was overwhelmed by the powerful feeling they brought with them. I don't remember much of what was even said, because I was so in awe the entire time. But we will get a chance to watch it again on campus this weekend, so I'll be sure to take notes this time. Every day I have at least one moment where it suddenly hits me that I'm on a mission, and I can't hardly fathom it. I had about a dozen of those moments at the broadcast, and it rejuvenates my excitement for the work! (Even weirder is when I look down and realize that I understand the cryptic words on my nametag, but that's another story.) I got really emotional as we sang, especially as we sang "Go forth with po'wr to tell the world the Gospel is restored" because I could feel the truth of those words sink deeply into my heart. I got separated from my toveri for the broadcast, and she got a great close-up in the beginning, which is a lesson to say with your companion. :P But I did get to see myself when we saw the footage from the musical numbers on Sunday! It's brief, but I'm there! When we sing, "Go forth to serve and do your best with no thought of reward", I'm at the bottom of the screen, on the left side of the far-right section of singers, wearing a red shirt with my hair down. See and believe! I'm glad that my work on my facial expressions seems to have paid off! :) At the end of the meeting, the Relief Society general presidency lined up and gave all the sisters a hug as they walked out of the room. I was in the last 20 sisters or so, so I was convinced that they'd have moved on by then, but they stayed to hug every last sister, ask about where we're going, and express their love and excitement for us, and thanks for our singing. 364 sisters. Wow. Pretty amazing.

Finnish is clicking. I'm much more comfortable with lots of different kinds of sentences, and I'm trying to learn more day-to-day words because the infamous "Consecration Week" fast approaches! Our eighth week in the MTC will be Finnish-only. We'll even get little pieces of tape on our badges that announce to the world that we no longer speak English! If we do encounter a situation where English is necessary, one person will speak in Finnish, and the other will translate. It's a scary thought, but I'll grow a lot. I just need to keep my flashcards handy at all times, and I should be fine! Especially with my companion with me- she's such a blessing when I forget a word. She always seems to remember what to say when I can't. My new favorite word is Pikkukaupunki, which literally means "little city", but it's really the word for "town". Fun to say! I've also mastered the words ulospäinsuuntautunut (outgoing) and alempi korkeaokoulututkinto (Bachelors Degree). Funny how long words don't scare me anymore. Also funny is how, as many long and complicated compound words that exist, there's always something like lanko (brother-in-law) to make my scratch my head a little bit.

For service today we made beds. As in, we literally made beds. We took the parts of old bunk beds and re-assembled them right down to the mattress. No gym on P-Day? Not a problem! Just go do service!

The longest word in Finnish.  Kar says "I'm not sure
what it means, but wow!"
Class has been intense lately. We've gotten really deep into doctrine on a couple occasions, because the more we learn about the gospel and its complexities. the more we understand how to simplify it for those who don't have the same background that we do. It's been really helpful especially for teaching about Heavenly Father's plan for us. Our lessons with investigators continue to go well, for the most part. Sisar Nyman and I are finally learning to make peace with the fact that we won't get to explain everything we'd like the in the time constraints we're given, so we promise to send a "text" (in our case, we write it on the white board in the classroom and get a response in the same way) that contains good scripture references, and some questions for them to ponder. We're getting better at focusing on the people, not the lessons. We only really stick to our lesson plan about 20% of the time, but we're still blessed for our preparation. We do all we can, and the Lord does the rest. This work is impossible. That's very clear to me every day. But with God's help and support and His strength, the impossible actually comes true! It's like that song in Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, about how "impossible things are happening every day". I never thought that regular ol' me would be able to do something like this, but somehow, everything that needs to get done, gets done, and the language comes, and I learn and grow and reach out to people despite my weaknesses.

I love this work. I love the people of Finland so much, even though I still have 18(!) days before I ever get to meet them. But I can feel how right my calling to go there is, and I can feel the great love that the Lord has for them, and I can feel that He wants to bless them so much, and I only hope that I can work hard enough and have enough faith to be the means of helping the people of Finland recognize all of this and claim the blessings of the gospel.

Until next viiko, nähdän!

-Sisar Hansen


Kar enjoying a cream soda next to the cream soda tree outside the MTC

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Let Us Sing With One Accord

So much has happened in the past week! Ahhhh! Where do I even start?

Well, I didn't say anything about this before because I didn't want to get my hopes up, but all five Finnish sisaret were selected to participate in the sister missionary choir for this Saturday's General Relief Society conference! Sisar Nyman and I are both singing as second altos, which is the most fun part, in my opinion. The music is beautiful, and I can't tell you how excited I am to have the opportunity to help set the tone for such a sacred meeting! We've been going to practices all week, in addition to Sunday choir and Tuesday pre-devotional choir. We've had to miss a lot of class time, but our teachers have been very mindful of us and made sure that if we teach in the morning, it's the last item on the agenda so we can get back on time. We have practice up on main campus, so it takes a bit of time coming and going. I really hope I can do the music some sort of justice- I'm pretty convinced that I wouldn't have been chosen if it were up to auditions, rather than a paper we filled out. As long as I sing how I feel about the music and about my Savior, that's all I can really do. Oh, and tall vowels. That's important, too.

Finnish is finally clicking. There's so much to think about any time I even want to say a simple sentence! Which of the 16 (commonly used) noun or adjective cases to I use, if any at all? Is this sentence past positive, or past negative? Am I talking about one person, or several people? Am I using the right word or suffix to indicate that I'm asking a question? It's not always easy to get the right words out, but I've been pretty successful at making myself understood. Understanding is a bit harder. At TRC last week, we met with Brother Jenkins again. He and his wife both served in Finland, and he loves volunteering on Thursday nights to meet with us and share in a discussion. We also talked with a pair of recently-returned missionaries, one of them named Hansen! He got back a little over a month ago, as in right when we got here! In fact, when Sisar Nyman went to a Finnish ward for her last Sunday before leaving, he was giving his last talk as a missionary in that very ward! They recognized each other! Crazy! He talks so quickly, it's hard to get a lot out of what he says the first time, but we know enough between the two of us that it always makes sense on some level.

Teaching "investigators" has become my favorite activity. We have Petri, who we've taught for two or three weeks now. He's been really hard to get to know, since he's so private, but we now look forward to talking with him every week. We write him "text messages" fairly often. We write a message on the white board, then Veli Christiansen reads it, and writes back on the board. It might sound silly, but it feels so real to us. We can feel the love that Heavenly Father has for him, and we jumped up and down a little bit when he said that his relationshop with his family has finally gotten a lot better! We also teach each other now. We had to create characters based off people we know, and have them take the missionary discussions. I feel bad for Vanhin Call and Sisar Nyman because Vanhin McMaster and I have people so different, it's a challenge for them pick the right topic that will interest both of us. Inkeri is our newest investigator. We had to knock on her door and and start from there, and our first lesson was pretty disastrous. Come to think of it, so was our second lesson. Getting to know people is not a great talent neither Sisar Nyman nor I possess! We had our third lesson with her yesterday, and somehow something changed. The Spirit was there the entire time, and we could tell that she was taking in everything we said, and that she had very strong emotional responses to a lot of our message. We're learning that it doesn't matter much how much doctrine we teach in a lesson, as long as the investigator is the focus, and that they are progressing in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes I want to just tell them all about the Restoration or Plan of Salvation, but we only have time to say a couple things about the Book of Mormon, or life after death. Rarely do we actually keep to our lesson plans, but that's good because the Spirit is guiding us to know what's really the best thing for us to talk about.

A couple days ago, Sisar Nyman and I got a paper that said we'd been selected to participate in the "How to Begin Teaching" exercise for new missionaries. Do you remember how I mentioned that on the first day we were in large groups, and we had a moderated discussion with an investigator for a while before going on to the next one? Well, for the first two investigators, there's a missionary pair who knock on the door and start the conversation. We got to be that pair! After about 5-7 minutes of getting to know the person and asking them some questions, the time was turned over to the new missionaries, and we left the room. We put our ears to the door to listen, though, and it was amazing to hear what the new elders and sisters had to say, knowing that we were once in their shoes. Not only was our introduction better than it ever could have been 5 weeks ago (although I'll have to admit, doing it in English for a change was pretty intimidating!) but we also were able to pick up on what the participants did well, and what they could improve on to be better teachers. (For example: saying "I know" is so much stronger than "We believe".) We've come so far in a short amount of time, and our teachers recognized this enough that they recommended us to act as examples for the new missionaries. It's such a wonderful reassurance that I'm doing alright, and that this enormous task that has been put before me really is possible! Of course, this is all knowing that I could never actually do any of this by myself- The Lord multiplies my strength and my abilities in everything I do. I feel so much like Ammon in Alma chapter 26, when he's talking about all the wonderful things he's been able to do, and then when his brothers get after him for boasting, he says that he's only boasting in his God because he can't keep silent about all the ways God has given him power to do the work. (Ammon is my new hero, by the way. It's amazing how much the scriptures take on new meaning as a missionary, and Ammon is one of the greatest missionary examples I can think of! I invite you all to re-read his story and apply it to your lives!)

Us Finns have reached the half-way point in our MTC training, and it's so hard to believe! Every day seems like it flies by, and yet at the end of the day when I look back on what happened, I can't believe how long it all was. I feel so confident that I'll be ready to enter the field when the time comes, although I know that the challenges will sometimes be very different. Not every door we knock on will have someone who's willing to listen on the other side. Meals won't be nearly as convenient, and I'll only have my companion with me, instead of an entire zone's worth of elders and sisters doing all of the same work alongside me, all in one place. I heard that Finland has the highest church activity rate in the world. In other words, once a Finn becomes converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are a member for life. Sometimes I think I couldn't be more excited about my call to serve in Suomi, and then I'm proven wrong. It's amazing to me that I can feel so much love for people I've never met, and that I can want so much for them, when I've never spoken with them. Finland is such a special place, and that's made apparent to me every single day. How am I possibly this blessed to get to serve there? I wake up most mornings, and I have to remind myself that this is all real. That feeling hasn't really gone away. It might be a bit over-said at this point, but this is the best decision I could've possibly made.

Minä rakastan teitä!!!

-Sisar Hansen

PS- Funny story time: Having a companion from a different country is fun, because although her English is fantastic, some words come out a little strange, or she isn't always familiar with common idioms. The other day when I was talking about how variety is the spice of life, Sisar Nyman looked at me and asked me what any of this has to do with Friday? So happy Spice of Life day tomorrow! Friday is, after all, the spice of life! We also had to explain that "saloon" and "sallon" are two very different words. She said that a hair saloon would be a great idea because, after all, "you get your hair cut, and you shoot others at the same time!" Ah, convenience! (I guess as a side note, I haven't mentioned in this week's letter how much I love my companion. She's such a wonderful person, and I couldn't do as well as I've done without her. She helps me grow and balances me out in important ways. Not to mention, she makes me laugh every single day! GAH! I'm so stinkin' lucky!!!)