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.