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