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

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