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!!!
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!!!)