Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Big 2-5 ("I want to bring you a fish!")‏

It's hard to even start. SO MUCH has happened this week! It's insane! First of all, somebody decided that my birthday was the perfect day for transfers in this mission, so I spent my big 2-5 heading out to my new area, and trying to get adjusted to a new place, new companion, and new responsibilities. On the train, Sisar Heggie gave me a stack of "V-Book" (a lot of missionaries here keep a vieras kirja, aka guest book, and have members/investigators/missionaries write memories inside) pages from Oulu (put together by Sisar Nyman, who is still up there for at least another transfer!) I looked at them, smiled, and said, "Wow, it's almost like it's my bir....AH! Wow, it's ACTUALLY my birthday!" The mission has a way of making you forget things, especially if your birthday is change day.

The first thing I'd like to say about Lappeenranta is that it is GORGEOUS. How spoiled am I to be here during the springtime? Incredibly spoiled. There's an enormous lake with shoreline just a few minutes from our apartment, which my new companion, Sisar Heggie, and I were fortunate enough to ride past as the sun was setting the other night. Finland has a very modern feel to it, for the most part, but Lappeenranta feels very old-time European, which I love. It's a fairly small city, and we travel around easily on bikes. The weather has been nice and warm, and it somehow feels like home to me, even though it's only been a few days.

I made a few realizations over the past week:

1) There haven't been sisters here in DECADES. Our branch members are psyched out of their minds to see sisters here. A lot of them have given us food already, or at least offered. (Story: On our way to a lesson, we got a phone call from a member of our ward. It was one of those cases where I thought I didn't understand what he was saying, but it just turns out, I didn't expect to hear those words come out of his mouth at that time! I ended the call, and said to my companion, "A member of our bishopric called and asked us to speak on Sunday. Uh, and I also think he wants to bring us a fish!" Sure enough, he brought us two freshly-caught fish in a bag. I asked Sisar Heggie, "How much do you like fish?" the response, "I hate fish!" GAH! Me too! We gratefully cooked and ate part of it anyway, and used the rest of it as a gift to one of our investigators.)

2) "It would be nice if you could learn some Russian, you know, no big deal", which is what I understood from my change call, apparently translates into, "Sisar Hansen has been specifically assigned to learn basic Russian for contacting purposes, and everybody in the entire mission seems to know about it/think that's absolutely fascinating." An elder who served here a while back made a packet of basic information, and we have pamphlets and copies of the Book of Mormon for me to study as well. I've just about got the alphabet down by now (I probably try my poor companion's patience, reading out loud every single Russian sign we pass by), and I can say, "Hi, how are you?" "Excuse me" and "Thank you". I realize more and more every day how much I LOVE languages, and this is just an excuse for me to master Russian basics as best I can however long I'm here, and then to keep going with it after I get home. I've always wanted to learn Russian, and really wanted to get my mission call Russian-speaking, so this is pretty much a dream come true.

3) Elders are teenage boys. We inherited an elders' apartment, of course, which came with its own set of.....quirks. The cupboard is stocked with more pasta than we may be able to feasably consume all transfer, and we put into storage the fake floral arrangements that belong to the apartment, but are less funny and more distracting when you're a 20-something sister, than a 19-year old elder. To their credit, they did a commendable job of stocking up on fruits and vegetables for us before we arrived, and they created an elaborate eater egg hunt with clues left all over our apartment, leading us to find hidden chocolate in our bedroom closet! (I bet they loved eating all the Kinder eggs required for the amount of little treat capsules they left all over the apartment for us!) A list of odd things we found in our apartment: An innapropriate t-shirt, old stinky towels, a pair of boxers, fleece pants, a discman, bookmarks shaped like kabuki actors, lots of fake potted plants, beer logo coasters, a creepy penguin-shaped jar filled with rice, and empty envelopes adressed to elders who haven't served here since before I came on my mission, to name just a few items.

On another chocolate note, I joked once that I got so much chocolate for Christmas, I'd still be eating it on my birthday. Turns out, it wasn't much of a joke, as I STILL have qutie a bit of the stuff left, and I've been eating at an accelerated pace lately, just so I can get it out of the way and not feel embarrassed about it anymore.

Anyhoo, that's the tip of this week's iceburg. We'll see how things go this week, now that we know the area a bit better, and are getting to know the members more. I feel incredibly blessed to be here, and I'm amazed that I've been trusted to be one of the first two sisters in this area in so long, working with such a dedicated and gifted companion. As I've turned a quarter of a century old, I'm pretty glad at the way my life has turned out, and I'm grateful to have spent my milestone day starting work in Lappeenranta.


Sisar Hansen

PS- I read in PMG about God as our Heavenly Father this week. It's a doctrine that's very near and dear to my heart, and one of the most important things we as missionaries help others to understand. Seriously, what did you read this week?

Monday, April 21, 2014

"What do sisters like to eat?"

First of all, things are looking up here in Lahti. We've had a couple of wonderful lessons with Hank this week, one of which he practically taught himself as we asked him questions about faith and baptism, and he discussed with us what he learned from his topical guide research. Oh, and there's also the fact that HE PRAYED!!!!! After weeks and weeks of trying, he finally prayed out loud with us to close our lesson, and it was beautiful! He prayed and said, "Thank you for sending the sisters to open my eyes to spiritual things." I LOVE HANK SO MUCH!!! He's been one of my dearest friends on my mission, and perhaps the investigator who has had the biggest impact on me. He's a wonderful person, and it's exciting to see him progress over time. Our friend who showed up to church all those weeks ago in a rainbow hoodie also continues to show progress. He looks happier every week at church, and his black corset was particularly becoming yesterday. Our investigator from Estonia, Ellen, is one of the most tender-hearted and sincere people I've ever met. She told us that, "Maybe this is silly, but sometimes I wonder if I came to Finland so I could read the Book of Mormon and learn about the church from the missionaries." Not silly at all! Yesterday she had a very profound spiritual experience at church, and the next step is getting her a date to be baptized so she can claim the blessings of the gospel! It's been a privilege to be a part of seeing the work take off here. I've been able to look back on the past two months and really see how we've found the elect, and how things have really shaped up quite nicely over a relatively short period of time.

Thursday morning we were doing our weekly planning, wondering how we would work around so much uncertainty in the next week's schedule, when the phone rang. It was President Rawlings, giving us our change call a day or two earlier than expected. No more uncertainty here, as tomorrow morning I'm getting on a train and heading out east to Lappeenranta! "But wait!" you protest, "There are no sisters serving in Lappeenranta! That's an elders' area!" It WAS an elders' area, but now Sisar Heggie (coming straight from Oulu, after serving with my dear Sisar Nyman!) and I are replacing the elders, and completely starting over fresh. In mission slang, we're "shotgunning" the area, which is something from my list of things about change calls that make me nervous. We'll arrive by train tomorrow morning, the elders will show us our apartment, help us get settled, and then they'll head out themselves, and it'll be just the two of us working a previously-unfamiliar area! We will be the first sisaret in the Kouvola District, which is the south-eastern part of the country. And the part about my change call that made me squeal? Lappeenranta's area includes the Russian border. As some of you may know, I had a secret wish to get my mission call Russian-speaking. With us being so close, President Rawlings suggested that it may be wise to start picking up Russian! Aaaahhhh!! 

The Lappeenranta elders have, no doubt, been working hard to prepare the area for us sisters. I remember when Sisar Vath and I left Oulu, we had a larger-than-average list of things to do and write down for the incoming sisters taking our places. The day after we got our call, they called us, and the first thing I hear is, "What do sisters like to eat? We're going to go grocery shopping for you, and we need to know." Perhaps more than taking over an area, I should be concerned about inheriting an apartment from elders......

Sisar Dayton will stay in Lahti for her third change (Lahti will be her Finnish hometown), Vanhin Keddington will stay and train, and Vanhin Stimpson had his dream come true, and he will spend the spring up in Rovaniemi. He said he screamed when President Rawlings gave him the news. I'm a little bit sad to leave this place, but mission life is all about change, and I'd rather be the missionary that leaves every change, than the one who stays put half of their mission. I'm proud of the work I've done in Lahti, and this place and these people have helped me grow immensely. I think it's your second area, not your first, that has the greatest impact on growth.

This week in Preach My Gospel I learned that planning out missionary work and setting goals is an act of love, as it shows faith in Heavenly Father and a willingness to do His will, and love for others, as we take seriously our responsibility to share the blessings of the gospel with them. What did YOU learn?

Thanks for all of the love and support! It's wonderful to know that no matter what happens out here, I am not alone.


Sisar Hansen 

Monday, April 14, 2014

This Is Me, Following Up

[note from Karlan's mom:  Tuesday, April 22nd is Kar's 25th birthday.   If you would like to send birthday greetings, her email address is karlan.hansen@ldsmail.net]

A rough week it has been in Lahti. Finns tend to be shy people, but the past few days they've been particularly reluctant to talk to us about much of anything, let alone the gospel. I do have to say, however, that despite some of our investigators dropping off the radar a bit (and Reggie unfortunately dropping us as quickly as he was found!) we got THREE new investigators this week! Two of them were referrals from the elders, who we've finally got return appointments with. One of them only speaks English, and in a pinch, his LDS neighbors came with us on our teach, despite having very limited English skills. They quietly sat by as we taught, and we were thankful that, thanks to their presence, we were able to teach in the first place.

Conference candy.  I won't tell you how much I got, or
how sick my stomach was after I'd eaten it all!
This week will be a biggie. Change calls (again!) are this weekend, which will determine what I will be doing on my TWENTY-FIFTH birthday, aka, change day. Easter is this weekend, and Finns celebrate it on three different days, so we'll have to plan extra carefully to have appointments set up on "red" days, where we're limited as to what we can do. We'll likely have our last district meeting as the same six people, which apparently calls for a juice-and-pulla "tea party". We've got more going on than I can possibly keep track of (thankfully, this is why we have planners!)

It's hard serving in a mission, where, despite best effort, there aren't a lot of visible results. It means that we all have to have extra faith that God has a plan and a purpose for the people here. It means that we rejoice over numbers that missionaries in other part of the world would consider failure. It means that we have to work extra hard to build relationships with members, so that they'll trust us to help them bring the gospel to their friends, which is the best way we'll find people to teach and to be baptized, and eventually, go to the temple. It's hard. It's really hard. But I'm doing what the Lord, for whatever reason, wants me to do at this time and in this place. This is not a mission for wimps, and remembering that, and seeing all the excellent missionaries that surround me, I am humbled and strengthened all at the same time.
District P-Day at Hameenlinna's
famous linna ("castle")

As I promised, this week I'm following up on the Preach My Gospel challenge I gave out a week ago, which we also extened to our Relief Society sisters. What did you learn this week? I've been reading a lot from chapter 10, which talks about teaching skills. People grow the most when they have the skills and motivation to learn on their own time. The questions we ask can be particularly important in helping others ponder about the things they've learned on their own time. Our pal Hank has trouble reading, so he asked if he could listen to the Book of Mormon, and while we couldn't find a CD for him, and there's nothing online in Finnish, we did find an old set of cassettes in the church that he took home with him! He listened to the entire book of 1 Nephi in one night! Hopefully we're helping him to seek out his own answers when we're not around. It's something we can work on for sure, but we're seeing progress, which is very gratifying.

Another note- Sometimes Finns are embarrassingly nice. In the past week, a certain sister from our ward has fed us, come to the aforementioned English-language lesson, made pulla with us as an early birthday treat, and insisted that I take home TWO pairs of the socks she'd hand-knitted, and had just sitting in a box, waiting for somebody to claim them. Shy? Sure. But Finns are warm-hearted and loving people. I'm so glad to serve here. :)

This week's goals include working more with members, finding even more investigators, establishing the intent of our current investigators, and wearing only ONE pair of tights outside! Spring is coming, and I look forward to my one warm season in the field!


Sisar Hansen

Making pulla.  My apron appropriately says
"The Diet Starts Tomorrow!"
My Finnish is still improving-for a party
we put together for our investigators, the
chip dip instructions said to use
"kerma viili," and I got some regular
viili from the shelf, thinking, "Hey,
what's the difference?"  Viili is a very
sticky, slimy dairy product that was never
meant for making dip.  Apparently a big
difference!  (It tasted quite good, for
the record.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's That Time Again!

First of all, before I get into the more spiritual things, I'll share a silly story from this week. We were teaching an investigator, Jerry (name of course changed from the original, as I do with all Finns mentioned here. President Rawlings got after those who use real names in their blogs, so it's a good time to clarify this point, so nobody can accuse me of using unauthorized personal information.) and I had a nasty case of the hiccups that would not go away! He asked me to say the opening prayer, and I hic-ed my way through the entire thing, making it hard for anyone to keep much of a straight face afterwards. I stayed pretty quiet for a while during the lesson, only speaking when I felt like it was really important, because I didn't want to be a distraction, but that itself turned out a bit distracting, and so he eventually gave a glass of water (our member present cheered me on- juo! juo! juo! drink! drink! drink!) and that was that.

Also, the one day we didn't go out and run in the morning, we ended up barely making, or barely missing, all of our buses, so we ran all day anyway! Sheesh!


Sisar Dayton and I have been extatic the past week, telling everybody about it. All in all, we had THREE investigators come, which is the most we've ever had at church meetings in one weekend! Jerry came, which was a miracle, since he's never been to church in Finland (the sisters from another country originally taught him and went to church with him, and he splits his time between here and there, so they teach him via skype in between our meetings with him in anticipation of his return to their neck of the woods- complicated, huh?) He seemed a bit overwhelmed, but he has a good member friend to help him understand things better, and we'll of course talk about it next time. Hank came, and we felt like all of the talks given during the session he watched were absolutely perfect for him. He said he came with a question- "Is this religion the right one?" but wasn't sure he felt an answer. He likes to take things slow, and thinks things through a lot, so hopefully we can help him understand how much God really did answer his questions and concerns last night. He really loved the choir-they sang some very powerful numbers. 

Also, our BRAND NEW investigator, Reggie, came! Funny thing is, he's our new investigator BECAUSE he came to conference! As it turns out, the elders stopped him on the street, invited him to come watch, and he came. To Every. Single. Session. He told the elders that it was amazing, how it was almost as if the speakers were speaking just to him! (The way conference should be!) They took the time to teach him about the Restoration of the church between sessions, and he's apparently watched the "Restoration" DVD TWICE already! He's either been specially prepared, or he's got a few screws loose, but we talked for a bit, and he just seems to be a bit shy and twitchy, that's all. Since he lives in our area, he's been put in the hands of us sisters, and we have an appointment with him today where we'll review conference with him, and invite him to be baptized!

There were a lot of really strong themes this conference. Love. Standing up for your beliefs, even if you stand alone. Making and keeping covenants. Using the power of the Atonement to change for the better. The inevitability of adversity versus the power of agency. We are all united. I wrote down 7 questions in different colors, and then went back over my notes after conference, and color-coded them to see how many times I'd received answers to each question. The results were amazing! I got multiple answers to every single question except one very specific one, and since the time difference makes watching conference a bit awkward, we still have one more session left to view sometime this week, so I'm sure question #7 has an answer there!

A lot of our church leaders spoke very boldly this conference, which I loved. We need to decide where we stand in this life. Are we on the side of the Lord, or are we with the world? This is one of the biggest things I've pondered over and over about throughout my missionary service so far. How often do we claim to follow Christ, while holding onto things of no value, or worse, things that ultimately drag us down and prevent us from reaching our full potential? How easily we forget the Savior in all of our everyday business! I was struck with the realization that, even as a missionary, I don't keep Him in my thoughts nearly as much as I should! I wonder if one of my purposes on this mission is to learn the habit of always remembering Him- mission life is hard, and yet I still sometimes forget how weak I am, and what the true source of my strength is. Definitely something to repent of! Luckily, I have reminders almost daily of ways I can improve and come closer to Christ, and maybe one day I'll finally get the hang of this being-a-converted-disciple-of-the-Lord thing!

I'd really love to hear what you all learned from conference, and what you favorite themes were! Write some comments! Send me an email (or better yet, a letter!) Even better, of course I'm going to ask you what you all learned from Preach My Gospel this past week, and then follow up next week, and let you know what I've learned! I love the emphasis on member missionary work that lets those who never served, or who served long ago, feel the joy of serving the Lord through spreading the gospel. I hope you're all excited about it, too, although I know it can be even scarier without the name tag than it already is while wearing one!

This is an exciting time. Lahti has a lot of potential to become a city rich in the gospel. There hasn't been a convert baptism here in years, and we are so close to changing that, as we pray and work and seek inspiration to find "the one" every day. I'm learning to love others in a way I never thought my imperfect self could, and I know that this truly is the place the Lord needs me to be, even though all of the purposes aren't entirely clear from my limited view.

Kiitos from all of the support and prayers- I'm trying to not let any of you down because I can feel how much love is often sent my way!


Sisar Hansen