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!

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