Monday, January 27, 2014

An Acquired Taste

In Finland, they like food very much in the ways that I don't- They like their licorice black, their bread rye, their soup fishy, and their milk warm in the cupboard. I'm trying to develop a taste for a lot of the things here that I don't particularly like (except for the milk- I learned in France, where they drink the same kind of milk, that there's no getting past that one.) I can now easily chew and swallow mild licorice without wincing, and I know that when members give me dry rye bread, there's always butter, cheese, and meat to go with it. I had fish soup a couple of weeks ago without much trouble, which was a major victory for somebody who grew up in NW Washington and STILL never came to like the stuff. I'm trying to become more and more Finnish, as much as some of the mannerisms and foods are not what I'm used to.

There's a lot to get used to on the mission, but it's coming along. Yesterday in church, a 17-year old boy touched me on the shoulder to indicate he wanted to walk past, and the thought, "AHHHH! DON'T TOUCH ME!!" came immediately to my mind. For somebody as huggy as myself, I'd say that's a major shift. Riding a bike is easy as a piece of piirakka nowadays, and I actually look forward to it sometimes. That being said, with the colder weather, we've decided to make more use of the local public transportation, so the obscurity of the Oulu bus system is still a bit new to me. The time table is unlike any other bus schedule I've seen in the USA or Europe, so I'm going to have to be very observant as we ride, so as to get to know places and routes better.

We had a very productive week, although very trying in some ways. I know I've gotten better at letting the Atonement work through me, when I face some of the same re-curring disappointments, and I can go back to a peaceful frame of mind in a shorter amount of time. I can only hope that some of these trials I've been facing will improve over the course of my service here, but if they do, I feel much more equipped to handle them.

We continue to work with some less-active sisters, although since one of them keeps coming to church and YSA home evening, I'm not so sure we can even call her less-active anymore! So much of this work is helping less-active members and new converts either remember their covenants, or understand them better. We get some really great comments from one recent convert in particular during Gospel Principles class. I sometimes wonder where he's going at first with his questions or comments, but then he always manages to make an incredibly simple, but profound statement that is always impressive to me.

I've been a bit obsessed lately with the thought of simplicity. In Mosiah, it mentions several times teaching only faith and repentance. Obviously, there are other important things, like obediance, God's Plan of Salvation, temples, etc. but everything goes back to those two principles. I'm trying to simplify a lot of what I do, especially in my teaching. Does what I'm teaching help the investigator/member increase their faith, or have more desire to repent? No? Then it doesn't belong in the lesson, no matter how well it directly answers their question, or no matter how interesting it is. Because really, everything can be answered with faith in Christ, and with the desire to repent, so a lot of nit-picky concerns and interesting tidbits don't really matter that much. As a result, I feel like I'm a more powerful teacher, and I feel more peace in my daily life as I try to simplify an already simplified lifestyle.

I have two challenges to my readers this week- One is to find ways to simplify your life for the better, and the other is to find something that's good for you, but something that you may not particularly like, and find a way to make it an acquired taste. Those are two skills I've learned on my mission so far, and about which I still have much to learn, that I know can be a blessing to me throughout the rest of my life. It's amazing to see the ways Heavenly Father is molding and shaping me through my time here, and I look forward to continual growth as I do what I can to serve others.


Sisar Hansen

Monday, January 20, 2014

Who Needs Sleep?

This week was long, and tiring, and difficult. I've had some sleep issues lately that have made everything else more difficult. It's hard to keep a good perspective, or to even do the work at all, when you wake up every morning feeling like you never slept. Thankfully, I got my mission president's clearance to see a doctor, and the pills he gave me seem to work (maybe a little too well- I didn't hear the alarm go off this morning, and I was more than a little confused when Sisar Vath turned the light on). The goal is to take the pills for a few days, and hopefully my body will self-regulate, so I can sleep normally without medication. Finland seems to do that to people, I'm told. It's a very physically demanding thing to serve here in Oulu, where the cold weather (we're down to -22c this past week!) can make muscles and bike parts slow, and sometimes walking is faster than biking. The sun comes out earlier (It's not even 1pm, and it's out in full view! MIracle!) but it's still dark more often than is sometimes healthy. How's THAT for a first area?

One of the things I'm learning from this, is that I don't understand or use the Atonment nearly as much as I should. We read in Alma chapter 11 that Christ suffered not just for our sins, but for our pains and weaknesses and sorrows. My mission president told me in addition to my doctor visit, to write down a list of all the sources of stress in my life right now. What thoughts bring me fear or disappointment? Then, in my nightly prayer, to hand all of the items on that list to the Lord, so He can take my burden, and so I can have the strength to make it through this incredibly trying time of service. It's amazing how, despite the effectiveness of my new prescription sleep aid, I'm pretty sure this exercise did me much more good. I made sure to make my list as long as I could, to add every little worry that I've been carrying with me, so that I could do better at "leav(ing) behind all other personal affairs", like it says in my mission call letter. I've been more positive, worked harder, and been more focused as a result over the past few days. Sometimes this mission has taken me to my own Gethsemane, during times when I feel like I can't even make it out the door again, but as a result, as I get through a tough day or week, I learn to come closer to the Savior, and my relationship with him becomes deeper and more intimate. This mission is without a doubt, the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'm also growing more than I would've imagined already, and the blessings in the end outweigh the struggles.

I want to keep this email short this week. We've had some great success visiting less-active sisters, and helping members commit to better missionary service, but the thing that really sticks out to me isn't about the events of the week, or the quirks of Oulu and it's inhabitants, or the language barrier, but rather the things I mentioned above. That's what the gospel is about. It's about changing to become more like the Savior. It's about finding a way to put aside our pains, our sorrows, our sins, our weaknesses, so that through Jesus Christ, we can have them all taken away, and we can eventually come to know Him and Heavenly Father more personally, as we eventually return back to their presence. As a representative of Jesus Christ, I get to concentrate all of my time and efforts of learning these lessons, and it's a good thing, because I need it! And so do the people here in Suomi, whom I have the privilege to serve. My companion and I work together to memorize hymns. This week's hymn has been "I Know that My Redeemer Lives", which I find incredibly appropriate. Go get a hymn book and look up the words, and see what a living Redeemer can do for you.

Rakastan teitä

Sisar Hansen

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Trainee No More! [plus photos]

This week was a bit uncertain for Sisaret Hansen ja Vath. We've had a really hard time booking solid appointments with investigators, so although we did our weekly planning, there have still been a lot of variables to work with, and a lot of this week was us going head-first into the unknown. I mentioned last week that we've decided to stop visiting one of our investigators who lives out in the elders' area, which has given us a lot more time to run around our own area. I'm getting to know streets and neighborhoods better every day, and Sisar Vath refuses to lead when we ride, unless it's to someplace we both know very well, like the church, or the grocery store. This means we've done a lot more stopping to look at maps so I can get oriented, and then sometimes stopping again 5 minutes later to re-check the map, but we're working towards the goal of getting me ready to possibly train in February, when our next transfer period begins. (Note: I have no idea what will happen next transfer, of course, but one of the sisters from the MTC group before me is training this transfer, so it's a possibility! And I figure that if I can get myself organized and practice my skills enough to be a senior companion, and I don't end up training, then so much the better for us, right?) She also encourages me to handle most of our texts and phone calls, and I'm doing my best to not lean on her (which is so easy, dernit!) and explain words I don't know using other words and/or gestures. I'm growing a lot. It's not as scary as I thought it might be, especially since I know I have a companion to back me up when I need it. Anyhoo, since I have now been in the country for TWELVE WEEKS, I am hereby no longer in training! And so now Sisar Vath, who USED to be my trainer, is now just another normal missionary, and I'm her normal companion! :)

Last P-Day we spent some time at the church with the other sisters- eating, emailing, writing letters, and watching church DVDs. One the way out, we stopped to talk to a woman on the street. Turns out, she wasn't interested, but when we asked her for a referral, she mentioned that her neighbor is a Mormon. It's the same less-active woman who we've tried many times in the past, and who always tells us that she'll call if she wants us to come. She's the one we "heart attacked", and she came out and caught us in the act! We'd decided to leave her alone for a bit, but this was a sign for us to head out in her direction and try one more time. We brought her a treat, told her that we miss her, and miracle of miracles- she let us inside!! We sat and chatted for a while about nothing in particular, but WE GOT INSIDE!!! She looked happier than I've ever seen her, which was another big "hooray". She even invited us back to help her clean her living room later that week. We returned, helped her clean and rearrange some furniture, and played with her cat, Oscar. Oscar, like many other cats, likes to poke his claws where they don't belong. On our first visit, he took one look at Sisar Vath's pretty wool socks, and decided they looked very scratch-able. After several cries of, "Oscar, ow!" (We still laugh about that sometimes) he finally let her go and went on his way. On our return visit, he decided he liked my brand new boots quite a bit and made himself a bed inside one of them. Thankfully, Sisar Vath's foot is doing just fine, and so are my boots, but next time we visit (yes, we have another return appointment!) we'll put our shoes in the bathroom so he can't get to them.

Even though we had a lot of blank space in our schedules, we've always had something to do, and somebody to see. That's the beauty of the Area Book. We can always go back to it and get ideas about who we might visit, and what service we might do for them. We made some pretty fantastic banana chocolate chunk cookies, which have helped us get into a couple doors. We're hoping to bring some tonight to a potential investigator who's been sick. We have two new investigators as a result of our Area Book searches, which is a great blessing for us in an area where finding has been difficult. We were able to do service several times last week, in a country where people are often too self-reliant to want to ask for much from other people. We've met with a lot of members and less-active members to help them become better missionaries themselves. We're working with one woman to set up a lunch with some friends where we can also come and talk about the gospel together. We did a roleplay with her about how she can invite her friends in a loving and non-threatening way to come meet us. We did another roleplay with another sister who was nervous to give a copy of Mormonin Kirja to a friend. Even though we're not always sure where to go, the Lord provides for us to do His work every day. We have a similar situation this week, although with a few more solid appointments than before, so hopefully we can see similar miracles.

Last week we were turning a corner that we go around very often, as it's on the way to the church, the city center, and many member homes, and we saw a teenaged girl lying on the ground, crying. Her mother, sister, and brother seemed very angry and annoyed, and the looked angry that we would ask them if they needed any help. It was a bit of a haunting experience for Sisar Vath and myself, because we had no idea what was going on, although we knew that something very wrong had definitely happened. We both admitted that it was now a bit hard for us to get to that corner withouth thinking of the girl. So the other day when we were about to reach that point, I just started belting out the Halleluja Chorus for a few measures. I wish I had a picture of Sisar Vath's face she made at me! Much like the afore-mentioned less-active sister's face when she caught us putting hearts on her door. But now we have a different memory of that corner, and Sisar Vath even started humming Halleluja one time as we passed by. I think this experience sums up a lot about missionary work. There are bad things that happen out here in the field. We see some ugly things, and go through some tough emotions. But if we can replace the bad memories of a place or person or experience with a new, uplifting memory, then we can keep going like before.

I can't imagine my life without the blessings of this gospel. It is the greatest gift I've ever received. I'm thankful that, despite trials, I have been called to represent the Lord in beautiful, frozen Finland.


At the mission home in December, 2013
The river is frozen!
Sisar Francis surprising me with a hug

Practicing our number for "Korihor, the Man, the Musical"  (just kidding)

The view from our apartment

A beautiful Oulu sunrise

What I unintentionally did to mission property

Hooray!  A new phone thanks to generous members

Sisar Hansen

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Very Short, Long Week

First, a very brief 2013 in review:
I opened 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. Over the course of the year, I was in 7 countries, not counting airports. I flew on 17 flights. I attended church in 3 languages, and spoke in church in all 3 of those languages. I got the surprise of my life when my bishop in Geneva asked me to re-think missionary service, and he was right! I got my papers in February, came back to the States in May, and got my mission call to the Finland Helsinki Mission on June 1st. I went to the Seattle temple for my endowment on June 8th. I left for the MTC August 21st, became a 3rd-time aunt on the 22nd, and arrived in Finland on October 23. I spent the last couple months of the year in Oulu with some fantastic people. I've been blessed with an enormous amount in 2013, and I'm excited to spend the entirety of 2014 serving the Lord full-time.

This week was a hard one. It went by faster than I can even believe, but a lot happened.

December was a month where we were able to find more investigators and more potentials than we previously had. However, January is turning out to be the time when nobody wants to make solid return appointments. I know that there's somebody out there right now, waiting for Sisar Vath and I to come bring them the gospel message, but it's hard to see many results of our work right now, which has been especially trying for me this week. We made a particularly difficult decision after much prayer and discussion, to give Rosie some space for a while. She has a testimony, more than she thinks she does, but life is getting in the way, and her progression rate has slowed down dramatically. She lives quite far away, actually, so hopefully a blessing of this is that we can now use what used to be travel time to explore other areas and find somebody who is more prepared to make commitments and covenants. We love Rosie, and we can see her being baptized, but now is not the time for her to be prepared to make those changes and commitments.

On P-Day, Sisar Nyman and I went boot shopping together while our companions wrote letters at the other sisters' apartment. We went all over, looking for the right boots at the right price, that would be durable, stylish, and fit well either with thick winter socks, or thinner fall socks. I'd found a pair my first day in Finland in the basement of President and Sister Rawlings' house that were left behind by a departing sister, but they were already a bit worn, and by December, I felt self-conscious just wearing them in public. As things often go, the last place we had time to look had the perfect pair of boots, at a more-than-perfect price, and unsurprisingly, Sisar Nyman and I went home with the exact same pair of boots, and matching shoe polish kits. We waited this long to go shopping because there are a lot of sales after Christmas, and we didn't want to take up more than one P-Day looking for boots, so being able to find the boots we found with the time constraints we had was a blessing and an answer to my prayers. God cares about little things like this. He knows how important it was for me to find what I needed on that day, and it worked out just in the nick of time. When I zip up my nicely-polished, wool-lined winter boots, I think about how Heavenly Father takes such good care of me.

We continue to work a lot with members and to teach them how to be better missionaries. We're doing more roleplays with them, so they can feel comfortable talking to people about the gospel in everyday situations, and about inviting others to church, or to meet with us. The members feed us very well here, even when we don't expect food, which shows their love for us and our work. I'm getting more used to the food here, and I even ate an entire bowl of fish soup the other day, and it wasn't so bad! An older sisar who lives alone, the one who made us all socks for Christmas, asked us during a visit if we'd like a snack. She put a couple hotdogs on each of our plates, then decided she might as well finish off the package, so our "snack" ended up being SIX hotdogs apiece, pickles, beets, an egg for Sisar Vath (I hate eggs, so I passed), herbal tea, and cake! THEN she told us to take home all the chocolate from her candy dish. Another elderly sisar had her 96th birthday, and when we visited, she gave us an entire spongecake pastry roll, fruit, juice, and pieces of other cakes, as well as some cookies, and a couple of knit doilies sitting in her drawer (to remember Oulu). I am always blown away by the thoughtfulness and generosity of the members here.

We're not sure how this week will go- planning has been hard since we let Rosie go, and since we can't solidify appointments very easily. But we have faith that the right opportunities will come up for us. We've been trying to explore more of one of our areas where we have no members, potentials, or investigators. It's a slow start, but the Lord needs to bless the people in Area 5 as much as in all the other areas, so we're doing our best to get to know new places and new people. Sisar Vath has been an amazing blessing and support to me, and I feel like we've never been closer. Her silly sense of humor makes long bike rides down people-less roads enjoyable, and her faith is inspiring in those moments when I just want to break down and ask why I'm even here. But there's somebody waiting for Sisar Hansen here in Suomi, so the work goes on. 

This gospel is the greatest gift I've ever received. I am filled with more hope, understanding, love, peace, (insert virtue of choice here) because of it. It's made me who I am today, and will continue to shape me throughout my life. I am the best version of myself because of it. And this mission, although it pushes me to my breaking point sometimes, is helping me to see this all more clearly than ever before.

I hope you all had a fantastic new year celebration! Until next week!

Sisar Hansen