Monday, May 26, 2014

Pick a Card, Any Card

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in the history of Sisar Hansen's mission, I present to you, a BAPTISMAL DATE! Now, I'm not the type to count chickens before they hatch, and this doesn't guarantee a baptism in Lappeenranta, but our good friend Dave has agreed to be baptized in July, provided he gets a solid answer by then. He is very sincere, and has a lot of questions and concerns that would only come from somebody who was really searching for the truth. He unloaded on us a bit in our last lesson, and I laughed a little bit, because he didn't realize that every single member of the church has had his same thoughts or feelings at some point. He's changed a lot in the short time we've met with him- in our last lesson alone he went from, "Why do people need all these little rituals to get into heaven?" to "I have a birthday party tomorrow, but I really want to come to church next week." in less than an hour. It was a very strong lesson, and I felt solid trust in my companion that whatever came from her mouth would be exactly what we needed, and she felt the same! It was our first time working with the member who came along, and she's a natural. Everybody said the right thing at the right time, and the Spirit was almost palpable.

As for the afore-mentioned birthday party, well, Dave will be attending because he is a professional magician!! After our lesson he asked if we'd like to see a couple of tricks, and he's quite good. He has a few that I've never seen before. One of the fun parts of serving a mission is the chance to meet a wide variety of people from different backgrounds, and with different talents. I'm learning to love every type of person on a deeper level than I thought I could. I'm learning to desire the best for everybody I meet. Even when peoples' behavior annoys me or is outright rude or unkind, I'm much more slow to criticize, and quicker to look for the good. Not to say that I'm anywhere near perfect at it, but there's been a definite noticeable change.

Speaking of loving the people you serve (and serve with), I got a letter from the oh-so-wonderful Sisar Dayton this week! She gave me some of the latest news from Lahti, and my favorite part, the part that made my hear melt- Hank got an answer!! He said he'd been praying a lot, and asked Heavenly Father to show him a sign that this church is true. Well, he went to the library and found a book on religions in Finland. He opened up the book, and the first page he saw was all about Myöhempien Aikojen Phyien Jeesuksen Kristuksen Kirkko! Then he ran into the elders, and had a really good feeling about it all. He still has a church attendance hurdle to get over before he can be baptized, but I don't think I've ever seen somebody progress on my mission the way that he has. Hank is not somebody I ever would have met if it weren't for my mission, and I'm thankful every day that he's been a part of it. This church brings people together in ways that nothing else can.

Another person I might never have met is my new best friend, Brigitte, aka the recent convert in our ward who gives us waaaaaaaaaaaay too much pulla every week. I've started making a game of seeing how often I can make her laugh. It gets downright ridiculous at times. "I know you sisters don't like fish, but fish likes you!" "How do YOU know? Do you TALK to them?" "Yes, I do!" Aaaaaaand, cue uncontrolable giggle fits from an adorable little old lady. Sisar Heggie and I want to make sure we have strong relationships with the members in our ward so they can trust us to teach their friends. A perk to that is that these members become our close friends.

This has been a highlight week. We taught a lot of lessons, prayed more fervently than we possibly ever have on a daily basis, and saw some miraculous results. Yesterday we went in search of a less-active member, and we walked past a young man sitting outside, listening to music. We went up and talked to him, and he told us he knows we're the Mormons, because he's a member! Uh.....WHAT??! Turns out, he hasn't been to church in years because he has severe sensitivities to dyes and perfumes. His name is on our ward list, but with no adress or phone number, so it was a miracle that we were able to find him and set up a time to come back and share a lesson with him later this week. I feel like my faith has finally decided to show up, and I've seen more miracles every day as the result. Like it teaches in "Preach My Gospel" (which we are all reading on a regular basis, I'm sure....hint, hint, guilt, guilt....) find people to teach starts with faith. There's a reason they call it a "leap of faith", because it is a risk, but God is in control, and He makes sure that His servants have solid ground to land on.

I love being a missionary! The longer I'm out, the more I can see the long-run miracles that I've been blessed to be a part of, and I'm thankful every day to have the opportunity to serve in a country as wonderful as Finland.


Sisar Hansen

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Missionary Times Can Be Awkward Times, Too!

It seems like we've had an unusual amount of awkwardness in the past week or so. We've been helping a woman with two small children prepare for her move to Germany (her husband is there already, and they're just waiting for him to find a good place to live.) Her older daughter is 2, and when I pretended to eat her, she decided to return the favor- not an inherently awkward situation, except when you realize that my poor bum is exactly face-level to a toddler! Ahhh!! One of our recent converts, "Brigitte", aka the one who gives us TONS to eat every week, was gone this week, but told us to go visit her friend nearby. Well, we couldn't find her based off the information we had, and knocked doors trying to figure out where she actually lives. More than a couple scantily-clad folks answered the door in this process. Awkward. Reading through Mormonin Kirja, I found a new verb, "takata", which means "to cease, to give up, to quit". It has an alternate meaning, which is (I'd ask you to guess, but there's no way you'd get this one. Way too random.) "to varnish". So the same word you'd use to say that you stop doing something, is also the word you'd use to say that you've painted your nails. Finnish is awkward. We've had even more people tell us to leave them alone forever and remove all traces of them from the ward list this week. That's at least 6 since we've gotten here, at an average of almost 1.5 per week. Awkward. BUT we've come super close to coming in contact with everyone in our entire ward, which is pretty good. And it feels really good to know that we're trying. Other awkward highlights include playing the piano at district meeting with President and Sisar Rawlings in attendance. Nobody in our district plays so well, so Sisar Heggie and I practiced playing together- she does the right hand, I do the left. We're a pretty good team, although still a bit shaky at times. (We've found a simplified hymn book in our apartment, so that should take care of that from now on.) Also, my saying "aiki" which isn't a word to my knowledge, instead of "aika" in several prayers throughout this week, which is weird, since I've never done it before. SIGH.

Our friend Diana is amazing. She's caring, smart, energetic, and she has a very special light about her. Something else she has, is a summer job in a far-away town, an hour from the nearest missionaries. So she left last weekend, but we were able to stop by and say goodbye, and give her the challenge to read Mormonin Kirjaa each day. She accepted, and we'll keep in touch from time to time via texts, so that whoever is here in the Fall can pick right back up with her when she gets back. We've got 2 new investigators we're excited to work with- one we met on a bus, who is a language translator, which was an instant topic of conversation. (I'm pretty sure at this point that my post-mission career choice will be something along the lines of interpreting/translating/something with languages.) Another is a former investigator who had been too busy to meet in the past with the elders, but is finished writing his book, and can now meet with us from time to time. "Dave" has a lot of questions and is willing to ponder, so we hope that he can take some time to really think with his heart and let the Spirit testify of truth, and not rely solely on his brain. It's a rare investigator who, when you're about to explain a piece of art at the church depicting Christ's visit to Latin America, tell you he already read that part in Mormonin Kirja and can tell you all about it.

As we've prayerfully gone through our list of formers and potentials, we decided to give "Joe" a call to see if he'd like to resume meeting with the missionaries. As it turns out, "Joe" is awfully close to "Jon" in the phone's address book, and we set up, unbeknownst to us at first, an appointment with the 3-year boyfriend of one of our local young single adults. He's investigated several times and has come to church, but says he won't join. We've been wondering how to approach his situation, and we only realized it was him because we were at the YSA's sister's house, and she said that the man on the phone sounded just like Jon. Awkward. But also a miracle. An awkward miracle. (We have yet to get a hold of Joe.)

Also awkward- an investigator with whom the elders before us worked quite a bit showed up to church yesterday. You may wonder how this is awkward. We'e heard many good things about "Harvey", but he's never answered his calls, his house does not appear to exist (we've tried to find it and have no idea where it could possibly be) and he's convinced that we can't understand Finnish (despite our fairly high fluency) and only speaks to us in English. We heard that "that man in the blue shirt" wasn't a member after sacrament meeting, and when we went to talk to him, it slowly dawned on us that here was the man we'd been looking for! We tried explaining him that in light of his understandable concerns about meeting with young women as a married man, our bishop would be more than happy to have us all meet with his family, but he'd rather talk it out with just our bishop, and our quest to actually teach him has hit another obstacle. Awkward.

You know what's not awkward? PREACH MY GOSPEL! This week, I'm reading about virtue, and why it's so important for us to learn to control our thoughts. Our minds have been compared to a stage, whereon only one thing can be front-and-center. We have the choice to crowd out the bad my focusing on the good. For somebody who's done some study of theater such as myself, it was an immediate impulse to write in the margins, "Control your inner monologue!" What's your favorite Christ-like attribute from chapter 6? What can you do this week to better understand any apply it to your life?
I love you all. The church is true.


Sisar Hansen

Bonus awkward moment of the week- We helped a lady here on a shopping trip from Russia (a fairly common occurrence) and Sisar Heggie gave me a "you know what to do" kind of look, and with a few notes scribbled on a sticky note, I sloppily explained who we are and what we do, and that we'd love to give her a copy of the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ, as a gift. I didn't have the know-how to get her info to send as a referral to St Petersburg, but better a Book of Mormon than nothing. Plus, HEY! I placed a Book of Mormon in RUSSIAN! From small and simple things, are great things brought to pass. :)

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Somewhat Unconventional Week‏

This week's schedule was a bit topsy-turvy. Tuesday we had a zone meeting (and the dreaded semi-annual language test! Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuun!) in Helsinki, for which we woke up at 5:30 to get on the train. Most of our zone lives quite close to the city itself- we missionaries in the Kouvola district are the outliers, and Lappeenranta may be the farthest away. (Oddly enough, Lahti, which is in a different zone, is closer to Helsinki than we are. It was a bit surreal to sit in the train station there for about 10 minutes, looking out to the exact apartment building that was so briefly my home, wondering how Sisar Dayton and all of our investigators are doing.) It's always exciting to see the new post-transfer lineup. There are maybe a couple missionaries from my MTC group in the Helsinki zone this time around. One of the sisters in Helsinki just happens to be Russian, and helped me with some of the (MANY) language questions that were bugging me. We talked a lot about helping investigators get started in the right way from the get-go, so that distractions are minimal, and the influence of the Spirit is optimal.
Can you spot what's wrong with this photo?
Old habits die hard, I guess. [It's addressed to the
"Lappeenranta Elders"]

After a couple of normal days, our sister training leaders came up for splits on Friday. Sisar Heggie took one of them out by bus to do service for a member, and my companion-for-a-day went with me on bikes to attempt to contact some formers, potentials, and less-active members that live on a little island just north of where we live. And you know what? Nobody was home. Not a single person we searched for was readily available to talk with us. This process of going out to an area to contact people usually takes longer than anticipated, and I thought we'd never get through our list of names in our timeframe, and well, partway through the afternoon I realized that we'd done just about everything I'd writted out in our plan (It didn't help that one of our lessons cancelled last minute). It looked like it'd be a downer of a day. I felt a bit stressed, being the only one familair with the area, and still barely knowing much of anything about it. I have to say, as a missionary, I have not felt the constant promptings of the Spirit, telling me at every moment where to go, and with whom to talk. I have rarely, if ever, gotten on a bus or train and just known who I needed to sit by. I felt a bit useless, but it was during those times of, "My goodness, it's only 2PM and I have no idea how to use our time, this is a disaster!" that simply by standing there and trying to figure things out, somebody worth talking to would walk past. The Lord works in mysterious ways. I've found myself thinking of that phrase as just an excuse people use to make themselves feel better when things don't work out. But I'm learning that just because the Lord doesn't send you a glowing burst of revelation and assurance, doesn't mean He's not preparing something great to come your way. Sometimes that's how our faith is proven- not just in the moments where we feelt discouraged, but also in the moments where we feel nothing at all and are tempted to wonder if anything we've been taught about revelation and the Lord answering prayers even works at all. It was a sweet call to repentance, and a reminder to me that sometimes God answers prayers in ways so small, that they are practically imperceptable, albeit real and effective.
 The nice thing about all the stuff that
 belongs to our apartment is that while
some of it is quirky and even gross,
we also have fancy glasses, perfect for eating torte
 with some milk in the fanciest way possible.
Saturday we got on a train to Helsinki (again!) for stake conference. We attended the Saturday evening session, spent the night with the lovely sisaret in Pasila, and went back for more on Sunday morning. It was an uplifting conference, and I loved seeing how many members from our small and far away ward were there. Sisar Fox, a recent convert, sat by herself on Sunday, so we decided to go give her some company and fill in the seats next to her. She doesn't speak much. When we visit her, it's hard to know what to say (even for Sisar Heggie!), and our visits are fairly short. But we can tell that she appreciates us, and she lit up a little bit when we asked if we could sit by her, and when I commented on how much I enjoyed the musical number as the choir took their seats. We also got to meet the less active children of our Relief Society president, who are interested in meeting with us when we can arrange a time. We had lots of people to talk to, and I felt so happy for all of the meaningful connections I've made with people during my time in Finland.    
Did we inadvertently pack the exact
same outfit for stake conference weekend?
Why yes, yes we did.

Sunday was Mothers' Day, which of course, meant SKYPE WITH FAMILY! A member graciously let us use her computer, (We do NOT trust the setup here at the church, despite the former Lappeenranta elders' claims that it worked just fine at Christman) even though her family was gathered at her house for a Mothers' Day party. They treated us like part of the family and asked us each a lot about ourselves as the other companion chatted with family back home. To be honest, I don't even remember much of what anyone said while I chatted with them through the computer's camera, but being able to see everybody and feel their love and support was the only part that actually mattered.

Although our Wednesday was a fairly ordinary day, it was the result of an unconventional experience from our second or third day in the area. We got a phone call with a referral from the elders in Tampere. It was a young woman who'd lived in Canada for a few years and made friends with a lot of church members. She went to church, watched General Conference, and even graduated from Seminary! She's now back in good ol' Lappeenranta, and we made a note in our planners to call her the next day. As we walked down unfamiliar streets after our appointments, we stopped the only persond around as she walked her dog and asked for directions to the nearest bus stop. I'm not even sure how we got on the topic (maybe asking how her English was so good?), but she mentioned how she'd lived in Canada for a while, and was actually already pretty familiar with our church. We took her phone number, and found that it was already in our phone! You've likely deduced by now that yes, we inadvertently contacted our referral on the street! We sent her some texts, inviting her to YSA activities, with no response for a couple of weeks. We then decided to give her one last shot and just straight-up ask her when we could come by to talk about the Book of Mormon. She texted back with a time, as well as her adress, and our lesson last Wednesday was one of the most spiritually satisfying lessons I've taught in the field. It was very brief, but powerful, and we look forward to meeting with Diana again later this week.
Preach My Gospel this week has reminded me of the importance of being direct and sincere, while still showing love. We've focused on that a lot as a companionship, even re-checking the text messages we send out to make sure the people we work with know that we have an important purpose, and that it's based on love for them and for the Savior. It makes a big difference when people know that you're not just there to chat or be buddies, but that your purpose is to help them progress and make and keep sacred covenants with Heavenly Father. It also makes a big difference to let them know how sincerely and deeply you care for them and what happens in their lives. The two things are interconnected. We invite them to progress and become better people because of love, and our bonds of friendship deepen as a result.
Who can you invite to progress towards baptism and the ordinances of the temple? I'm not just throwing this out there to be missionary girl in a faraway land. Take time to pray sincerely to know who is ready, then get in contact with your local missionaries and put together a plan to help bring this person to their Heavenly Father. We learned this week that 100% of the baptisms in the Helsinki zone this year have been from member referrals, and it's not a coincidence.
I love being a missionary!


Sisar Hansen

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Once Upon a Time

Easter Carnival in Lahti
Lappeenranta so far has proven itself a great place to be. The members here are STILL ooh-ing and awe-ing over the new sisaret, and we've had a lot of support from them- meals, rides, advice, even helping us solve our problem of we-turned-on-the-light-and-now-the-electricity-is-all-out-and-we-might-as-well-be-camping. We have a few promising referrals from members, and even investigators, and Sisar Heggie and I both feel incredibly loved and cared for.

On a weather-related note, there is a giant freak blizzard today, so that's fun. Glad I never got around to switching out my winter bike tires!
We made a goal to visit all of our members within the first two weeks. While our branch is small, it's still a big task, and we haven't reached our goal, although I figure we've already met a lot more people than if we'd never set it in the first place. As we contact people on our membership records, we've met what we feel must be a very high number of former members whose names just happen to still be on our list. Finland has, on average, a very high activity rate in the church, but this little city probably lowers that figure a bit. It's been something I've thought about a lot lately, because there are basically three ways these people respond.
An impromptu birthday cake made from
a snack cake and a match, my last
day in Lahti

1) They remain bitter about whatever it was that made them want to leave the church. One man's mother was wronged by a church leader decades ago, and although he still believes in the teachings of the church, he wants nothing to do with it. When he told us his story there was so much hurt in his eyes over the actions of an imperfect person years and years ago.
 Another woman made sure we knew how laughably incorrect she felt our teachings were. These people have let negative experiences consume them, finding no peace or rest to their tired spirits. It makes my heart heavy that I sometimes feel this way about people or events, as well. How much baggage to I carry around, that I've simply gotten used to? Probably way too much. This is an eye-opener for me.
2) They politely dismiss us and explain that they're not interested and that they're not sure why their name is still on the list, but thanks for clarifying, and they understand that we're just trying to do our job. No damage done.
3) They come back. There are at least two sisters in our branch who are ex-ex members. So they either left the church, or were excommunicated, and were re-baptized later. One of them is this old lady who we visit on Thursdays who insists on giving us way more dessert than we can handle and laughs at all of our silly jokes. (Last Thursday was a Finnish holiday, and we were almost crying for all of the donuts, pastry bread, mämmi which she still had left over from Easter and we thought she just asked if we liked it in passing conversation, and yogurt she gave us! It's probably the only way she knows how to show us her love, since she's so old and moving around is difficult.) Another asks us about missionary work often and offers her services whenever we're in her area. And one is our new investigator, who felt unprepared to be a church member, but who feels the need to bring it back into her life. These women have learned from their trials and difficulties and learned a lot about Christ-like love in ways that, as we have seen, have broken other people. They make me want to be a more loving, stronger person.
​First day photo! The elders left us a
 "Welcome to Lappeenranta, Sisaret"
message on our area map!

These Once-Upon-a-Time members have made me evaluate who I am, what I stand for, and what's most important to me. I've felt an overwhelming love for my Savior and His gospel as I work with each of them (sometimes to get their name removed from our branch records). 
​Mämmi is essentially rye in the form of pudding.
It's infamous around here, and it's an Easter tradition.
 This is my first taste of it, with cream and sugar.
And now, a silly story:
We have a visiting city about an hour's bus ride away. We went there for the first time last week, and while we were walking, we met an old lady carrying groceries to her house. Sisar Heggie insisted to her that we help, so we all went up to her apartment to help her put her things away. I thought something was weird when we were walking and she was surprised when we told her that, no, we aren't currently in Helsinki. But as we visited with her at her house, and she'd asked us about 4 times in 10 minutes if we'd like some coffee, it really hit that she has some memory issues. Long story short, about 8 "Would you like some coffee?"s,    4 "Oh, no! I forgot to buy fruit!"s, another 4 "Would you like some slippers? The floor's slippery!"s, 3 "Where are you from?"s later, and it was time to go. We sang her a song, read her a passage from the Book of Mormon, and told her we needed to leave. With a devistated look on her face, she told us she'd hoped we could stay longer! We wrote down her address (she asked us 4 or 5 times if we had a pen) so we could come back some day. She was thrilled. After many promises to stay in touch, we walked out the door to the street. As we left the apartment building, we looked back to see her waving at us from the window! She smiled and waved at us until we were out of sight altogether! She made our day, and we probably made hers. We can't teach her the gospel, but we can use language study time this week to write her a letter so she'll get a surprise in the mail, now that we have her address!
We don't like fish
I've thought a lot lately about Christ, and how big a role He plays in our lives. It's impossible to calculate the impact of His life, and everything He's done for us, and does for us. Hopefully I understand a little bit better every day how He is a part of all that I do and hope to become.
As for Preach My Gospel, I read today about how everything we teach should relate back to the Restoration, since that's our unique message that we share with the world. Anything whatsoever can relate to this topic. For example, we have a code of health that was revealed to us by a modern prophet. Families are important to us because we are God's family, thus He sends prophets to guide us on our way back to Him. I still struggle a bit when people say their dogs are important to them- Um....Heavenly Father loves dogs, too?? But I'm by no means a perfect contacter yet (unlike my genius companion), and that's something I can practice and hopefully get better at.
Speaking of contacting, the Russian is going fairly well. I can now read almost anything (and there are a lot of Russian language signs around town. My poor companion has to stop for me to read all of them!) I don't feel like I know enough phrases to actually talk to people yet- Sisar Heggie stopped a Russian lady the other day so I could say hello, and when I asked her "How are you?" I had no idea how to respond to whatever it was that she said, and she eventually got tired of trying to speak to me, and left. I'm gathering enough phrases on sticky notes to be able to hopefully send referrals to St. Petersberg and give away some copies of the Book of Mormon. Luckily, there will be a Russian sister at our zome meeting tomorrow, and unluckily for her, I have a long list of questions all ready.
I hope you all have a great week this week, and are warmer than we are here in Lappeenranta! May you find time to ponder on those things that are most important, and find the courage to do what's right despite forces that urge you to do otherwise.

Sisar Hansen
I can't believe I get to serve in Lappeenstranta.  I LOVE IT!