Monday, June 30, 2014

Chatty Cathy

Last week I didn't have enough time to write a blog email, and I left everyone hanging in change call suspense. I shall continue to write these emails from good ol' Lappeenranta for at least the next 2 months, along with my Russian toveri, Sisar N. In the least climactic change call ever, my now-former toveri transferred to Espoo to be sister training leader (as predicted by more than just myself) and Sisar N came to preach to the Russians with me in Lappenranta (a surprise to literally nobody.) We're phasing out of fist-week-adjusting-to-a-new-companion awkwardness, and getting more into the flow of things. My new companion is sharp and gets to the point of things. My last companion is a firecracker, and my current toveri is bold in a quieter way. The Lord calls all types of people to do His work, for which I am thankful. As full-time missionary service is a time of constant changes (we even get a new mission president tomorrow!), I've noticed that many of them, though sometimes difficult, take us from something good to, well, something good. Miss your old area/toveri/leaders? Your new ones will be just as valuable, if maybe in different ways. 

One thing that's great about change is new perspective. An area takes on a new life when there's a new set of eyes observing all the goings-on. One thing Sisar N noticed is how chatty a lot of our friends in Lappeenranta are. We have at least 3 investigators who can talk up a storm- sometimes 15 or 20 can go by with no comments from the missionaries! Our good friend Dave trusts us enough to voice a lot of his thoughts an concerns. We're working on helping him to see how simple the gospel is, even when his mind is determined to complicate everything. We had a really powerful teach with him last week, where we really got to the core of his concerns, and gave him an inspired commitment that should help him to build up the foundation of his faith. A lot of the things he worries about, and the way he thinks, remind me of myself. It's almost like therapy, meeting with him. He's a very, very special person, one of my favorite people I've met on my mission. Another person who likes a good conversation is our older ex-member friend. (Maybe his nickname will be Veli McGee.) We've seen so much change from him! I wish Sisar N could have seen how he was when we first met with him- a bit rough around the edges, and not at all focused. Our lesson with him yesterday was powerful and if not to-the-point, at least more so than usual! :) He's had issues with the Word of Wisdom for years and years, and we simply told him, "How do you get a testimony of the Book of Mormon?" "Well, you read Moroni's thing at the end, and then you read and pray, and get an answer that way." "Exactly. You try it out. You can get a testimony of the Word of Wisdom the exact same way. Try it out. Will you pray to know that it's from a prophet of God?" And he said he would!! This is a major breakthrough from a man who used to sit and argue with us for 40 minutes until we had to go catch our bus. "I can't say bad things about the Mormons anymore. I just can't." One of my greatest success stories of my mission so far.

Joy continues to live up to her (nick)name. She asks good questions and makes connections in her mind better than almost anyone I've ever met, especially for someone to whom religion is still fairly new. We asked her about a baptismal date in July, and she said that she likes the idea of being baptized in the winter, because she loves the snow. In the end, she said she would pray about the date we proposed. In district meetings we write down the names of people who need prayers. We listed all of our friends in Lappeenranta who are praying about baptism, and we got a phone call this morning from our fantasic new district leader, telling us that he had an idea that maybe we could decorate a room in the church with cut-out snowflakes for Joy's July baptism. She would LOVE that! Hopefully we can see all of this come together so Joy can receive all the blessings that Heavenly Father is so eager to give to her when she's baptized.

I had a really great experience in personal study the other day. Sometimes when I get to a more well-known chapter in the Book of Mormon, I think, "Okay, here we go again. I've read all of this a kajillion times. Will I get anything new out of it this time?" Alma 32, for whatever reason, came to life for me in a way that it hasn't in a long time. I was able to get a clearer view of the process of gaining a testimony. We have too many people decide to stop investigating because they try once (often times it's a less than sincere try at that) and don't get anything amazing in return and figure that it's all pointless. Or they find one thing they don't like, and throw the whole thing away. Alma talks a lot about how, when your faith starts to grow, it will "begin to be delicious", and that you will see that the seed is "a good seed". Sometimes there are things that don't make perfect sense right away, or that even seem distasteful at first. I've had plenty of these experiences. But as I remember the faith I have and try to grow it, these things begin to be delicious to me, until my faith has grown to the point that I understand a cherish something that was once foreign and even undesired. Also, you don't have to get everything at first- this is a process. And if all you can see at first is that a seed is good, that's a great place to be. It's a wonderful start. You don't HAVE to see every leaf of the tree- just know at first that the seed is at least a good seed, and have fun watching it grow. If the people we taught could really understand this chapter, we would see more people be baptized and receive the blessings of the gospel. I'm growing a testimony more and more of Preach My Gospel's reminder that we need to help people read, and also UNDERSTAND the Book of Mormon, in order to grow their testimonies and progress.

The church is true. I'm so blessed to be called to do the Lord's work in Finland! 


Sisar Hansen

Monday, June 23, 2014

Post from Karlan's mom

Karlan didn't have time to write a blog this week.  She and her companion were busy getting ready for transfers.  Karlan will stay in Lappeenranta (her secret wish), but with a new companion, Sister Nabatnikova.  Sister N is not from the U.S., so with a name like Nabatnikova,  we have to assume that her Russian is very good.

Kar loves being a missionary!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Suomi Bites!

Short one this week, as we are moving the bulk of our P-Day time to another day to accommodate some weird scheduling this week, and we have to go catch a bus soon.

Finland, and Lappeenranta in particular, is a gorgeous place in the summer. Trees, flowers, and lakes. Lots of lakes. Which means, lots of mosquitoes. While I may not get bitten more than the average Vanhin or Sisar, I seem to be much more highly allergic to those bites, and I've lost count at this point of all the quarter-sized lumps on my arms. legs, and even neck and face! My right bicep swelled up to twice its normal size a week or so ago, but that's gone down by now. I'm working on eating more garlic (apparently, bugs don't like that. I commented that people don't like that either, but it's worth a try) and spraying a generous amount of repellant a couple times each day.

Joy continues to be a joy, and she loved church again this week! Our cranky old man friend also loved it, and he's still progressing slowly, but surely. It's a privilege to see him grow, when he's been on many a Lappeenranta missionary's mind over the years. We're working hard and also taking time to just sit down and enjoy Suomi, which gives us the chance to think through our plans, eat some ice cream, and chat with passers-by. We have several new investigators, many of whom are young adults, which we've been praying for. 

Our two pre-missionary YSA also received their own mission calls this week- a future elder in Greece, and a sister in the England Leeds mission! We're excited for them to prepare to serve, and their enthusiasm shines through their countenances.

Preach My Gospel contains counsel to think of the many blessings that come from the Book of Mormon. How many ways can you count, in which the Book of Mormon has blessed you, and given you added insight and knowledge? Or maybe you don't know, and would like to find out?

God is good. His church is true.


Sisar Hansen

Monday, June 9, 2014


When I received my mission call, I also received a packet of information and a letter from my mission president and his wife that were specific to my mission field. They wrote a little bit about the language of the country, and made mention that in Finland there are three languages- Finnish (of course), the language of love, and the language of the Spirit. I've pondered a lot about all three of those languages this week, for various reasons.

First of all, we got the results of our dreaded semi-annual language test this week! We called our zone's langugae coordinator, who administered the written portion at last month's zone conference, and called us each up to give us our oral portion over the phone a couple weeks ago. He explained a bit about the scoring, and how it works. There are two different scores- one is a 1-10 score for the test. Pretty simple. The second score is an average that takes into account the length of time I've been in the country. Anything from a -9 to +9 means that I'm within the expected range, with either some room for improvement, or the knowledge that it's all right on track. The score can go further negative or positive, indicating a major struggle, or particular proficiency. I've heard of people getting a +15 before, and my wish was that I could see something approaching that, and maybe a solid 6 on the 1-10 scale. I was amazed to find out that my score from 1-10 was 8.28, and that my average score was an almost unheard-of +34! Our langugae coordinator said he even learned some new vocabularly from going over my test! He did give me some grammar concepts to smooth out (When I said the Book of Mormon was written by prophets, I said it in the sense that those prophets were the writing utensils used to do the actual writing!) but I hereby have no excuse to ever feel badly about my Finnish ever, ever again, which is a huge weight off of my shoulders. My newfound test-score confidence has shown in the way I've been speaking this week, and I feel more motivated to push myself linguistically.
We've met a lot of non-Finnish speakers lately. One lady only speaks Chinese, so we went back and brought our Chinese member friend with us to translate so we could talk to her about the gospel. Turns out, she's not interested.(According to our interpreter, she'd thought we were government agents come to check on her, and when our friend told her we're missionaries, she asked him if he was a missionary, too. He paused for a second, and said, "Uh, yeah! Yeah, I am!" We love this guy to bits!) As Sisar Heggie and I walked to our next appointment, language was on our minds. I wondered out loud, "If Chinese is a tonal language, does that affect the way Chinese people sing?" Moments after the question left my mouth, a Chinese student walked by, and we took advantage of the opportunity to ask! We chatted for a while more, and he became our new investigator! I couldn't help but wonder if the first unprofitable event was meant to spark the second.

We've been focusing on praying always in our companionship this week. We're not perfect at it, but we're definitely praying more often out loud, and in our hearts. We've met more people who want to hear our message than we ever have before! When one lady was a no-show to our appointment, we listened to the Spirit, which was easy, since we'd invited Him through prayer consistently during the day, and we were led to a woman with a lot of questions, who, after we taught a powerful Restoration lesson, sent us on our way with a big smile on her face. While on the bus to visit our dear friend Brigitte, a girl got on and sat down right in front of my companion. I got a feeling that she was something special, but I was sitting at a weird angle, and unfortunately let that get in the way of talking to her. Sisar Heggie got the same message that I did, and started talking to her. We got off the bus, continued our chat, and set up another time to meet! Her name is Joy, and she's from Vietnam. She'd learned a bit about God and Christ from a friend, and was excited to hear that we wanted to teach her more. She later told us that when she got on the bus, she'd felt a bit down, and her friend had told her to try to seek out more moments of closeness with other people. We listened to the Spirit's whisperings, and answered her prayers, as she became an answer to ours.

Joy came to church yesterday (along with our favorite cranky old man, for the second time! Score for increased fluency in the language of loving everyone!) and as she doesn't speak Finnish, we had our friend act as interpreter during sacrament meeting. He had to go teach Primary during the second hour, as did we (we'd been asked to sub as a favor last week), so Sisar Heggie took a young woman with her as her companion for Primary, and I stayed in Sunday School as Joy's interpreter. I was a bit nervous, of course, but I trusted that the Spirit would speak through me, and though I didn't catch everything, my understanding was above-average that hour, and I was able to communicate the ideas and themes of the lesson. Joy is surprisingly fluent herself in the language of the Spirit, and she shared with me some really impressive insights. We look forward to meeting with her more this week and helping her continue in her newly-started journey of progression.

A recently drivers-licensed young adult from our ward has been coming with us on quite a few teaches lately. She served a week-long "mini mission" a year or so ago, and can't wait until she's old enough to send in her own papers. She's very shy about her english, which has been our primary teaching language this week, as we've taught a lot of students from Asia and Africa. She often sits quietly, unsure of what to say, but when she does speak, she testifies boldly and brilliantly, unaware of how unimportant it is that her vocabulary isn't massive, and her grammar is sometimes imperfect. The Spirit communicates effectively those things that her tongue struggles to articulate. We're so thankful for her, and the blessing she is to us.

We sisaret sang an arrangement of "Aamu Varhain Huoneessasi" (Did You Think to Pray) in sacrament meeting yesterday. We got a lot of visitors, less actives, and a couple of investigators to come support us. We even enlisted the help of a former invesitgator as our pianist, and were able to get to know her better as we practiced together during the week. It went pretty well, and our music was able to touch people in a way that normal words wouldn't have done. We can only pray that it helped those who are gaining, or re-discovering their own testimonies to feel the Spirit and have an increased desire to seek the blessings of praying always that we're discovering as missionaries. As prayer as been a theme for us this week, we've seen countless miracles of finding those who are prepared, finding more ways to serve others, and just finding more peace and rest while living a demanding missionary lifestyle. It's a skill that I'm still developing, but when I've made it a natural part of who I am as a missionary, it will be a huge blessing to the work. I've felt the Spirit more strongly, and been more patient and loving with everyone around me. Why didn't I try this earlier?

My language test scores and interpreting gig on Sunday have also reinforced my thoughts of pursuing language interpreting as a post-mission career path. Sometimes it's hard not to think of returning home one day, 25 and jobless, unsure of what the next step will be in my life. I've never had a really solid idea of what I want to do "when I grow up", and one of the blessings of my mission has been that, as I absorb myself in the work and try to absorb myself into the language and culture of Finland, I'm given more direction for my post-mission life. I even had a dream last night where I told a stranger that I want to be an interpreter some day. One of the exciting bonuses of being a missionary is getting to know myself on a deeper level than I did before.

As we've studied Preach My Gospel this week, planning for lessons with people not much familiar with any type of religion, we've been reminded of the importance of teaching with clear and simple language, using words that are appropriate for a specific person's background and experiences. As we plan with prayer and love for each person, we're able to know how to introduce and teach topics in ways that will uplift and edify them as individuals. We see changes in these people as a result. This is what it's all about.

Rakkaudella, I love you, Je vous aime, я любю вас 

Sisar Hansen

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Church for Thinkers

This week has offered us some intense experiences. There's an elderly couple from our ward who we've been visiting the past few weeks. I'll say it up-front, those visits have not been my favorites. The woman is an active member, and her husband has removed himself from church records, and has become argumentative. They often talk and talk and talk, while we nervously watch the clock, hoping we can get something of a lesson in before we have to run for our lives to catch the one bus that comes every hour. We've even nodded off a little bit, to my embarrassment. Last week during our regular visit, nothing particularly new happened, but for whatever reason, I looked at this old, cranky, stubborn, argumentative man, and thought, "I can't help it- I love this guy!" We've discussed several times if we should keep going back, and we always get the feeling to try some more. He hasn't let missionaries visit in ages, and his wife is always so pleased to see us come. Sunday was a big day with a lot of visitors and less-actives coming to church, so it wasn't until Sacrament meeting ended that I turned around and saw a little man in a handsome suit sitting quietly in the back corner. Several sisters commented on this miracle during Relief Society, and his wife in particular looked like she couldn't be more pleased. We didn't expect him to come- he made no comments suggesting that he would be there, and yet there he was. A miracle.

Another miracle has been Dave. He's already investigated the church several times, and his greatest strength- his ability to think and process things, is also the source of a myriad of complex concerns that he unloaded to us the other day. He feels like he has too many doubts and questions, like accepting the Gospel as truth would take away his ability to reason or have his own theories on things. It was funny to me how all of his deep concerns- doubts about God, fears for eternity, etc. are things that I would think 99% of church members experience, even us missionaries. How many times have I woken up, and thought, "What on earth am I doing? What am I telling people?" Too many to count. But when a testimony is grounded on simple truths about Heavenly Father, Christ and His atonement, and the restoration of truth after years of apostasy, there's always a safe, simple, sure place for my mind to go back to when things seem complicated. Dave is one of the most sincere, thoughtful, compassionate people I can think of. It's a privilege to be a part of his learning process, and my heart gave a little leap for joy when, after voicing a significant amount of worries about the church, he practically scheduled our next appointment for us, and gave a non-Lord's-Prayer-prayer (one of the best I've heard) at the end of the lesson, despite also having given our opening prayer. He also enjoyed church on Sunday. :)

Sisar Heggie and I talked to a man the other day. We asked him about his feelings on God, and he told us that he's studied science far too much to believe in God. Weak minds attribute things to God. We cut that one short, and went on our way. I want to bear testimony that this church is a church for thinkers. If we're not asking questions, probing into our deepest selves, we're not progressing. We become spiritually stagnant. We're not making use of the miraculous brains that Heavenly Father has given us. If we don't question, we can't find answers. We can't gain the knowledge and conviction that will drive us to meet our potential in this life and the next. One of the greatest gifts I've been given in this life is parents who both have sharp minds and who use them regularly. I'm so thankful for the active mind I've been blessed with, and the ways that Heavenly Father has helped me use it to my advantage, and especially in helping others. As it states in Chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel (the chapter on Christ-like attributes) we cannot be saved in ignorance.

So go out, get a book from the library. Learn a new skill, a new language, find something fascinating about the world around you and figure out how something works. Dive into the scriptures (and of course, Preach My Gospel) and apply what you learned about the world we live in to the kingdom of God. How does the Atonement apply? Never stop learning- that's the way that Heavenly Father intends for it to be.


Sisar Hansen