Monday, March 31, 2014

Like a Bad Joke

So, two sisar missionaries walk into a bar (bu-dun-dun-ch!).....Okay, I'll explain. At the end of a rather unusual week that included two school presentations, exchanges in Jyväskylä, and cranky responses from some less-active members, Saturday came with no confirmed appointments, despite our efforts to schedule in some time with our investigators. Well, we realized that this gave us some time to go check out a less-active member who lives quite a far distance out, who the bishop has asked us to find. Nobody really knows anything about her, so we put a plate of cookies together and headed out. The thing about missionary work in Lahti is, it's a very spread-out region. A lot of our church members, and even investigators, live a bus or train ride away. Such is the case with the nearby town of Hollola. We got on the bus with our bikes (it's no extra charge in Lahti- how cool is that??) because this woman lives so far out in the country, there's no way to get close with just the bus. We got off at the most advantageous stop, and started pedaling. By Sisar Dayton's estimation, we went about 10km before we reached the farm house we were looking for. (This was all the day before fast Sunday, so we had no snacks handy, but I was getting really tired and a bit cranky from lack of sustinance, so Sisar Dayton made me sacrifice our extra plate of cookies for the good of my body and my mood.) The woman wasn't home, and her husband said that they're not interested, but at least we followed counsel from our leaders and got some more information about the situation. As we rode back out the driveway, my companion noted that it would actually be a shorter ride to Herrala, where we could take the train back home (yes, it was that far out that it would be closer to go to a commutable-by-train destination than straight back the way we came!) So off we went to Herrala, which turned out to be roughly another 7km of difficult, muddy roads and nobody to talk to. But hey- the scenery was beautiful, as it always is here in Suomi, and the weather was just cool enough for optimum comfort.

"Two missionaries walk into a bar...."

Glad to arrive in Herrala, finally!

And that is just the first part of this rather unusual tale! We arrived in Herrala, only to realize that we were low on cash, and our American debit cards wouldn't work on the train. So we called a local member to ask where to find the nearest ATM. Unfortunately, she told us that there is none (Not too surprising, considering that Herrala is hardly even a town at all), but fortunately and selflessly, she came to our rescue and brought us 10 euros so that when the train came (almost an hour later- we missed the first one!) we could get home alright. We both needed something to eat, so we found the only place within convenient distance, which would of course be, a karaoke bar!! Desperate times call for desperate measures, so we went inside and asked about their food. The first response- We don't serve food here, but there's a little convenience shop attached to the side of the building that we could check out. Turns out, convenience means chocolate, soda, and chips, which was not quite what we had in mind. Then the lady at the bar told us she could warm up some spinach pie for us, which sounded perfect, so we sat down at a table to eat. (for the record, it was delicious.) While we ate, one of the men sitting around at the bar handed us a karaoke song list and challenged us to sing something. He then got up and sang some 1980s Finnish pop song, while we stared at the list, wondering what would be the best response. He went out and took a smoke break, which left us off the hook for a bit. UNTIL, that is, we went to pay for our pie, and the lady informed us that this bar, like the train station, would not accept our American debit cards, and we'd have to pay 5 euros in cash. So, math time. 2 train tickets at 2.60 euros each, equals 5.20 euros. 10 euros minus 5 euros for pie, means we are in 20 cents of trouble. Luckily, the entirety of the contents of my wallet came to 20 cents, and we miraculously had enough to pay for our food and buy train tickets back to Lahti. PHEW! UNFORTUNATELY, we didn't take our bikes into account, as they are not free on the trains. In the end, though, the ticket man on the train was very merciful when he saw how frazzled and tired we were, and let us pay with our exact change for two regular tickets, just this once. We got back to Lahti and raced on over to our meeting with a less-active friend, hours after our big adventure had begun. (Suffice it to say, it was one of the sleepiest fast Sundays I've ever had, the next day.)

Eating salted black licorice on the train back to Lahti

Anyhoo, last week overall was a bit of a downer. Lots of people dropped our appointments, a less-active woman did NOT take kindly to our "heart attack" efforts, and we struggled to find people who were willing to talk to us. We DID, however, give two quite successful school presentations (one teacher wants to recommend us to the high school in her town), and I got to spend some time with Sisar Cribbs in Jyväskylä for a day, which was a fun change of scenery.

We're also getting excited for Conference this weekend- I can never believe that it's actually that time again when it comes around, but I have developed a strong love for General Conference, and I know that there will be something there that's meant just for me, and for each of our investigators. We're praying that we can get all of our friends to come watch with us, and share some of our stock of conference candy. It's an odd feeling as well because last conference time, I was in the MTC, as in I've been a missionary long enough to see TWO conferences now! It's crazy how time flies past! I remember the time when I had no idea what Finnish even sounded like, and now I use it and understand it every day, as I serve in a town I didn't know existed just months ago. Life is pretty amazing, isn't it?

I challenge all of you, of course, to check out General Conference and to see what you can gain from counsel given to us by a modern-day prophet. It's proof to me every time that God is a loving Heavenly Father, and that He knows and loves His children perfectly. I will of course report on my highlights in next week's post. I hope you're all as excited as I am for Conference weekend!!

Be good, carry some extra cash, and be thankful for little miracles!


Sisar Hansen

Monday, March 24, 2014

Outside-The-Box Miracles

After we got back from emailing and grocery shopping last Monday, I felt like a total zombie. I had a nasty cold, which completely drained me. Sisar Dayton said I should take a nap when we got home, and I slept for about 8 hours, which shows that I must've really needed it! I'm now back in tip-top shape, and once again ready to take on Lahti.

Our week had a bit of a disastrous start, for sure. I was sick, and then it was hard to muster up enough jaksaminen (no good English equivalent- It means something like the gusto to do something, like a very strong version of "to feel like it") some days. People didn't want to talk to us, and then (and this is a very complicated story, so I'll try to keep it simple) We ran to get bouillon so we could make a meal for a sick family in our ward, and since it was just a quick distance to the store, we didn't bring any pass-along cards, or planners. We met some guys on the street, and didn't have a way to get their contact info, so we raced back inside and grabbed some things, and unfortuntately, never found them again (lesson learned, #1.) When we went back, I had no key, and no phone! They all got left inside! So we rang pretty much all the people in our apartment building, and finally got somebody to come and offer us use of his phone, but I hadn't updated the phone numbers in my planner, so no use! We ended up going to the mall in the center, asking the guys at the lotion kiosk (who know us and the elders fairly well) if we could call the elders, and then we went over to their apartment to use THEIR phone to call our ward mission leader, who has a spare key. Lots of waiting and calling later, and we were back home! (And yes, this was the short version of that story!) We were a little bit cranky about it, since it took THREE hours to sort out, and next time something stinky happens, I need to repent and do a better job of using the time as a finding opportunity (lesson learned #2.)

We've had some struggles with investigators. Some of them are hard to even meet with, others want to always meet at inconvenient places, and some don't want to keep their commitments. We've been praying for help to know what we can do to meet with them and help them receive the blessings of keeping their commitments, and we found some slightly different ways of extending invitations that really worked. We teach two Vietnames students (a lot of people come from Vietnam to study in Finland!), a young man (Casey) and a young woman (Uma). Casey is not often available, and so instead of asking him to come chat with us, we invited him out to lunch, which of course he had time for! We ended up teaching him a very spiritual Restoration lesson, and extended a baptismal invitation! I guess it's true, that the way to a man is through his stomach! Uma (the one who prayed about books!) is so wonderful and sweet! She lights up the room. Instead of meeting at the mall, like usual, we wanted to give her a tour of our church, so we said we'd catch the bus with her from the center, and show her where the church is. (Unfortunately, there was a mix-up and we didn't make it to the center on time, then she missed the bus, plus language barrier issues, but it all got sorted out, and we made it to the chapel eventually.) We had a tour, explained how our church works, and then had another fantastic Restoration lesson, and another baptismal invite. She prayed again in the chapel, and said she prayed for help with a summer job. We taught her how to listen for answers, and commited her to pray about the Book of Mormon. She's making plans to come to church with us, as well! She said she really liked the chapel, because it was so peaceful. I'm glad it worked out, and that she was able to have such a good experience.

And then there's Hank. We love Hank to death. He is so soft-spoken and sincere. He has deep questions and really seeks for answers. He knows that baptism is a good step, but is afraid of making the commitment. We've invited him to church for weeks, and he can never muster up the jaksaminen to come. So this time, we told him how much we love him, and how much we learn from our meetings together. We said he would be a great help in our sunday school class which we teach, and could he come and give us a hand on Sunday? He said he'd think about it. Maybe. When we walked out of the chapel after Sacrament Meeting on Sunday, it was a wonderful surprise to see HANK sitting in the foyer, waiting for us to come start our class! He had wonderful comments, of course, and really seemed to enjoy the class. Afterwards the elders invited him to Priesthood meeting, and he said, "Miksei?" "Why not?" and went with them with no sign of a fuss! It was probably my favorite miracle of the week, and hopefully he can come for all 3 meetings next week!

Other miracles this week: We had a school presentation at a high school where we spoke fluently, understood everything, and even ended up doing most of a Restoration lesson! Our member also did a great job of responding to questions simply and clearly, and we left feeling like we did a great job. Heavenly Father really answered our prayers about that one.

An African woman at the bus stop asked us if we were Jehova's Witnesses, and we said no, we're from the LDS church. She revealed that she's from a Francophone country, so I got to speak French with her, which made her day! She took our phone number, and made sure we had hers. My French has unfortunately completely rusted over, but I understood everything, and was able to make some good conversation. (Every time I want to speak French, Finnish words creep their way in, which is a blessing and a curse, if you think about it.)

We reached our weekly lesson goal, even though I was sick for an entire day, and we got an otherwise slow start.

We FINALLY were able to visit the Fazer bakery in one of our areas, which is a plan that has always fell through until now. (Fazer is a famous Finnish candy company whose chocolate is unreasonably delicious. Turns out, their donuts are just as good!) Maybe not such a great miracle, but it was a nice stamina boost.

A member came up to us at church and asked us what we'd like for our dinner appointment with his family this week. I think a lot on my mission about the type of member missionary I want to be, and I think I'll be very mindful of these things post-mission. Sometimes I feel like we're fed an uncomfortable amount, and I've had to eat fish stew more than I'd like (eating it at all is more than I'd like, due to my strong dislike of fish). I felt like he really cared about giving us a good experience, which is great.

I'm running faster and faster in the mornings, and for longer distances. My improvement is miraculous to me, since I'm getting better so quickly, and building up lots of stamina, which is helping in all other aspects of my missionary life. I feel healthier, have more energy, and I reluctantly admitted to my toveri this morning while we were out, that I kind of enjoyed it. (But only a little bit. Don't get any ideas about me suddenly being a big-time runner. I have a reputation for disliking this kind of thing, and I have to uphold it.) I even suggested that today's run be mid-length, and that we run around the park. It was lovely, despite being a bit dead from winter. :)

There's a less active lady who doesn't let us in, and she lives in a locked building. We wanted to do a "heart attack" for her, but didn't know how we'd get inside. Fortunately, we convinced her to let us use her bathroom when we talked to her through the speaker phone-thing outside her building- no idea what it's called in English! When we left her apartment, we were able to tape all the hearts on her door before making our escape! (this is the one time I've ever considered the lack of public restrooms in Europe as being a perk) 

WHEW! I feel like I can never write everything that I want to about my mission experiences, but I'm trying my best with the limited time and resources at my disposal. I'm learning the importance of prayer, and relying on answers, as we do our best to meet peoples' needs.

 We see results as we are inspired to think outside of the box, and to show people that we love them, and are considerate of their individual needs and situations. This is what missionary work is really all about, and the joy I feel in serving the Lord and others in this way is something that I'm not sure I could adequately describe in English, French, or (perhaps especially) Finnish. True joy comes from doing things the Lord would do, if He were here right now, doing what we're doing. As I align myself more and more with His will, I feel more joy, and a stronger assurance that I'm doing what I need to be doing, at the right time, and in the right place.


Sisar Hansen

Monday, March 17, 2014

....Jos Maistuu

This week was the Lahti district's week to be the focus of our mission-wide "fast", so of course, it was one of the slowest weeks I've had in the field. Finding was rough, appointments were constantly being cancelled/switched around, and I got sick with a nasty could that kept us inside for a day-and-a-half. (On the bright side, we got some much-needed time to work on organization of our records, which are a bit scattered at the moment.) BUT we asked people to pray for us to develop specific qualities that would help us in the work, and I feel like Sisar Dayton and I really tried our best to do that. We've really stepped up on talking to everyone. Sometimes I can't think of what I want to say, so I hesitate, and then that person gets off the bus before our conversation can go anywhere, so I've been working specifically on not hesitating. I don't see myself as the most socially graceful person, especially when it comes to talking with strangers, and sometimes the conversation really does take a turn for the awkward, but I'm getting much better at talking to people about the things that matter most to them, and finding ways to introduce the gospel becomes much, much easier with practice. I'm working on feeling increased love for everyone around me, which helps me speak to them "normally and naturally", as our mission president would say.

We also had a zone conference in Tampere on Tuesday. It's a bit of a switch from Oulu, where I basically stayed put all the time. It was fun to see some of the people I was in the MTC with, and we got extra time together because after our meetings we had our 6-month (!) language school. One of the big focuses of our meeting was using family history to connect with people and to help them see how the gospel can bring them closer to their families. It's not something I've ever put much thought into before, so I haven't been using it much in finding/teaching. Hopefully this week I can use it more, and see how it can help me be a more effective missionary.

One thing I have been slow to learn is proper "dinner appointment" technique. In Finland, the people here can eat a surprising amount of food! There's always more than enough at our appointments, and there's no taking just one serving. Perhaps one of the most dreaded situations in a Finland Helsinki missionary's service is to have loaded up on food the first time around, only to hear the host/hostess utter the dreaded words, "Otakaa lisää...jos maistuu." "Take more...if it tastes good." Sister Dayton has it down. She takes a small amount for her first serving, and eats slowly. She makes sure that by the time she's finished her portion, everyone else has taken enough food that there's not too much left for herself, and she can get away with eating an only slightly uncofortable amount. Meanwhile, I plug away at serving number one, thinking that I'm so hungry and it's all okay, and then the aforementioned phrase is spoken, and I'm faced with another full plate of food, an even fuller stomach, and dessert hasn't even been served. I've heard it said that there are many skills to be learned while on the mission, but eating was not one that I ever anticipated.

Well, this one might be a bit short this week. I'm still not feeling my best, but I hate to sit inside again, especially when my poor companion has to stay cooped up all day if I'm not doing well. (Today when I got some extra sleep, she cleaned the entire apartment! But I'm hanging in there, and I was doing well enough to teach a lesson to a man on the bus, so hopefully I'll be able to fully participate in the work tomorrow, no naps needed.

I hope you all have a fantastic week, and that you are able to think about those things that you can do to be more effective at whatever it is that you do! The point of this life really comes down to constant improvement and change, and hopefully you can find ways to make changes for the better every day, and feel the joy that comes from doing so.


Sisar Hansen

Monday, March 10, 2014

According to Plan....

This week, almost NOTHING went according to our plans! We got a lot of last-minute schedule changes, invitations, cancellations, and bus difficulties. There were a few particularly rough days where it seemed like nothing was ever going to go right. Tuesday was the Big Bad Day, where one appointment cancelled, another appointment was a lady who just wanted to shpeel about her company and to try to get us to pass the word along (and then had no interest in what we had to say), and we ran out of time to visit one of our areas, because we got on the bus the wrong direction and had to ride it out to the end, then back again. I put a plastic lid on what I didn't realize was a still-hot burner, and the former investigators we wanted to visit had moved out or didn't come to the door. When we did our nightly call-in to our district leader to let him know we were safe, we had to hang up and call back because we were literally rolling on the floor laughing until it hurt over how stupid our day had been! BUT we did a lot during our weekly planning session to try to make sure we have a lot to do in each area this week, and hopefully we can see some results.

We continue to meet with our new investigator, "Hank". His questions are more sincere every time we meet, and he likes how peaceful our church building is. He's got a really big heart, and although he sometimes looks at us like we're crazy when we teach him a new principle, we explain the reasoning behind it all, and he softens a bit. He has a lot of questions about what God expects of him, and why He lets things happen the way they do. He has some major shyness, though, which makes the thought of coming to church and being surrounded by people a bit terrifying. He has gone from, "I don't think I can" to "Definitely in a couple more weeks", which is an improvement, and he asked US when our next appointment would be as we walked out of the church together! I'd love to see him progress more and feel closer to his Heavenly Father.

We taught another new investigator yesterday in the city center. She's a nursing student from Vietnam. Her background is Budhist, and when we met, she'd never heard of the Bible, or Jesus Christ before, so we had to go back to the very, very basics. She'd visited her friend's church in the past, but it was all in Finnish and she didn't understand, so she was excited to hear that we have a translator in our ward. We told her about the Bible and the Book of Mormon, why Christ is important, and that Heavenly Father loves her very much. She had some particular questions about prayer because it's something that's been very interesting to her. We told her that prayer is just like talking to a friend, and that she can say anything, but especially what she's thankful for, and any questions she wants to ask God. After we prayed to show her how to do it, she said her own prayer without a hesitation! "Heavenly Father, I'm so thankful for books. They make me happy. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." It was one of the sweetest prayers I've ever heard. After our lesson, she walked and chatted with us to the bus, and then rode with us until her stop! She was a miracle in an often slow week.

On Saturday we attended a big service for another nearby church. Tons of people were there, and we got to ask a lot of questions afterward about all the things they do a bit differently than in our services. It's always a good opportunity to learn about other faiths, and to get to know their leaders and members. Although I'm firm in my own beliefs, I respect those of others, and I want to show them that Mormons care about other people. The members were very friendly and helpful, and it was worth it to spend some time over there.

It's warming up in Lahti- SIX degrees (celcius) today! Why did I even put on a coat?? Spring is coming, and hopefully that means more people outside to talk to, and more opportunites to give outdoor service and invite other people to join in. There was a point in Oulu where there was often nobody out on the bike paths, so it'll be a nice change to have more people out and about and in good spirits with the nice weather and sunshine.

I'm looking forward to this week. If you can recall, a few weeks back I talked about the mission-wide "fast" going on right now, and how it was Oulu's turn to be the week's focus. I'm spoiled, in that it's once again my district's turn to be the subject of everyone's prayers, as it's now Lahti's turn. We're asking all the missionaries to pray for us to be brave, loving, and diligent so we can pray always, talk to everyone, and plan more lessons as we follow counsel from our leaders. We saw some miracles in Oulu during our week, so here's hoping the same happens in Lahti.

I want to add a note to say "thank you" for the many emails I've received on my mission. It means a lot to know that people are thinking of me, and praying for me. Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming to try to answer everything, so I can't always get back to people in a quick way, but I will give you a not-so-subtle hint that I don't often get mail, and it's much easier for me to read slowly and think of a good response when I read something on paper! *wink wink nudge nudge mail is awesome* Just in case anyone has some spare time and spare postage, my mission adress is:

Sisar Karlan Hansen
Neitsytpolku 3A4
00140 Helsinki

And we're off on another week in the Finland Helsinki mission! Time is flying by, which is pretty bitter-sweet, but hopefully I'm using my time the way the Lord wants me to, and improving myself each day as I try to help others. It's hard work. It's nothing like I thought it would be. But I can't say that I regret one bit coming out here. It's the best decision I could have made, and at the right time.


Sisar Hansen

Monday, March 3, 2014

'Tis a Silly Place

As my companion reminds me almost daily, Lahti is a weird place, and we seem to be weirdness magnets. The other day we were out walking through the city center, and an old man started talking to us, and asked us if we were Americans. We said yes, and then he proceeded to speak nothing but German at us for about 5 straight minutes. We kept trying to tell him that we don't speak German, and when he finally asked us if we speak Finnish (which we'd been speaking the entire time), our answer in the affirmative seemed to throw him off a bit. He said he's not American at all, but rather, he's European, and then we said our goodbyes and kept going. Another man approached us and said (In Finnish), "So, it's the Mormoooooons. Where does God liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive? If it's in Heaven, where is Heaveeeeeeeeeeeen? It's the Mormoooooooooons from Amercaaaaaaaaaaaa, here to teach the religion of the Mormooooooooooon." That's not to mention the apparently-high young man who showed up at church yesterday (The elders had no idea who he was) who had previously shown up at stake conference in a tutu. AND we went to contact an old potential who wasn't home anymore, and the old lady who lives there invited us in to talk for a bit, and even pulled out a scarf from her closet for me to have, since she thought I looked cold! Oh, Toto, I don't think we're in Oulu anymore! 
Finding is a bit slow, but we're really trying to be better at contacting as we go. Sisar Dayton is a great example to me of being normal and natural, and although I still don't always look forward to talking to strangers on the street or the bus, I feel much more confident about it, and I was even able to talk to a new potential investigator the other day on the bus without any sign of nerves. Missionary work is very hard for an introvert, but this time is about me being the person the Lord wants me to be, isn't it? I can't share the gospel with people if I don't ever open my mouth. We also have a lot of un-contacted potentials in our area book, so we're working our way through those, one area at a time. So far, there's always something to do, even if it's delivering cookies to people that need a visit.
We got a new investigator this week, and he's a very sincere and humble man. His life has been very hard, and he has a lot of questions. He has a natural tendency to believe in God, but it's hard for him to reconcile that with a lot of the bad things he's seen happen. We're working with him to see how he can use the Book of Mormon to answer his questions and help him find peace. We had a church tour with him last night, and we're hoping it will help him feel more comfortable about coming to church with us (he's painfully shy.) He's warming up to us more each time we visit, and things seem to make sense to him, so hopefully we can continue to see him progress.

I've been thinking a lot about obedience lately, and how obedience isn't something a person blindly does for the sake of having something to do, but rather, it's something that's done out of love for Heavenly Father, and out of the ability to see how much He gives us, and how much He will continue to give us as we are true to Him. It comes from a love of others, and their well-being. On the mission there are a lot of rules, and it's easy to feel trapped or limited without the right perspective. But as Sisar Dayton and I have tried to follow counsel from President Rawlings' emails each week as well as what's in the white handbook, we're blessed to see improvement in ourselves, and to see little miracles. Last week was very long, and we didn't find many new people, but we were able to see who has the right intent, and who we need to help the most. How can you be more true to the person you want to be? What little changes can you make to bring about big blessings?


Sisar Hansen
This literally means "Little House on the Prairie"
The gang from Oulu just before we go our separate ways.

Sister Dayton and me.  Lahti doesn't know what's hit it.

Sister Dayton: "That looks like a fun forest path home.  Let's try it!"  Me:  "Okay!"  
One icy uphill And downhill climb later...