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.