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