It was a long week, full of anticipation and even some uncertainty. We found out Sunday at church that our planned lake baptismal location wouldn't work out, after all. Ah, well, a baptism at the chapel is still a baptism. Joy was very accepting, although a lake baptism was her dream. We still had a lot of work to do, including putting a program together, arranging for refreshments, and the big pre-baptismal interview.
Monday night we decided to do a family home evening with Brigitte, Joy, and the new YSA who just moved into the ward about a month ago. It was a hit! Even though Joy doesn't speak Finnish, and Brigitte doesn't speak English, they hit it off, and were fast friends. Even better was our Finnish friend- Brigitte went right into telling her everything- her life story, her testimony, how much she likes the dessert she bought for us. She was so happy to have a party at her house, and thrilled to meet some new friends from church.
Tuesday night we had a dinner with our relief society president and her family. Her husband is practically what we might call a "dry Mormon", in that he has a strong testimony, but has yet to be baptized for his own reasons. Dinner was delicious, and when we taught our lesson, it was go-bold-or-go-home time. "So, how can we help you to prepare to be baptized?" No direct answer, but our RS president said during the ride home that perhaps we should come over more often. After our lesson, she took us out to the shore of the small lake right outside her apartment building. "You know, I've been out here at least 10 times recently, and I've only ever seen one other person." We all exchanged looks at each other. Could this be our spot for Saturday?? We decided to pray about it and report back.
Wednesday was zone meeting. Good to see friendly, familiar faces, and afterwards we had enough time before our train to take a mini-tour of downtown Helsinki. Sisar N, of course, knows all about it. We even taught a few lessons on the street in the process! Afterwards we had time to meet with Joy- we met with her every day last week because it's such a critical time. We shared scriptures, contacted potentials, even watched a short film about Joseph Smith with one of the YSA. This girl is prepared.
Thursday was the day of the big interview. President Watson decided that he wanted to do this one, and he and Sisar Watson arrived all the way from Helsinki! We arrived at the church fresh from contacting potentials and grabbing come celebratory ice cream. The interview went by with flying colors! President Watson held personal interviews with both Sisar N and I afterwards, and spent most of the time talking about how amazing Joy is. He was blow away. Of course, he was. How could he not be? Also, we had a talk about the literally-bigger-than-my-face bug bite on my leg! If it got any worse, i'd have to head over the emergency room! GULP!
Friday was exchanges day with the sister training leaders in Espoo. I was with SIsar Nielsen for the day, but they came the night before, so I got some good giggly-girl time with my dear Sisar Heggie. (She snuck my favorite Tutti Frutti under my pillow, and I slept on it before I realized it was there, and then ate it all in one go, of course!) For the first time in months, I was on a bike all day. We use bikes here in Lappeenranta, but never for so long at once. It was a fun change. I enjoyed getting to know my temporary toveri better. We found some solid potentials in a less-frequented area. We taught tons of lessons on the street. The catch- the theme of our exchange seemed to be half-naked-less-actives-answering-the-door-be-they-men-or-women! WHY do Finns ALWAYS answer the door??!! After we saw our Espoo friends off to the train, it was time for floor hockey. I get better every week. It's now something I look forward to every week. A good way to get some of that pre-baptism energy out.
Saturday was the big day! We awoke and got ready early. Our ride came at EIGHT in the morning, and we headed out to the lake. We kept our location a secret from Joy, as a present to her. We picked her and Gabe, who was to baptize her, and were on our way. We distracted Joy with a present in the form of a picture of Christ and a Finnish CTR ring (aka, a VO ring), and it wasn't until we were nearly done with our 20-minute car ride that she turned to us and asked, "Um, aren't we going to the church?" We explained that we had to stop at our RS president's house for a bit. She was still a bit confused when we told her to put on her white dress and head outside with us. As we passed the swimming pool on the bottom floor of the apartment complex, I asked, "So, want to get baptized in this pool?" "Okay!" Sisar N continued, "Or how about in that lake?" "What? REALLY?? Is this the spot?" None of us could keep from smiling. We took photos and folded programs as people started to arrive. It was a good turn-out, considering the semi-remote location. We gathered at the shore, sang, prayed, and I gave a short talk about how small and simple things have led us to this great moment. Hard not to cry. Gabe took her hand and lead her into the water. He recited the baptismal prayer in perfect English (He'd been practicing nervously all morning) and then Joy was baptized! She said that she felt like a princess, a new person, completely clean! We went to the church to finish things up, and have a makeshift barbecue (plus s'mores!) with the one-use grills we found for a couple euros each at the grocery store. A recently reactivated member who just moved back to the area introduced her 10-year old daughter as our newest investigator. Everything was perfect.
And then yesterday, Joy was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and received the Gift of the Holy Ghost. "I was smiling up there. Did you see?" she asked me as she sat back down after the ordinance was completed. Once again, everyone was all smiles. How could we not be? Her blessing as she sat in that chair in the front of the chapel was beautiful, and fit just for her. She is truly an elect daughter of God, who was lead to us for this very reason.
Words cannot express the joy I have felt these past few days. There are people out there that DO want this in their lives. There are people out there who hunger and thirst for truth and righteousness. Joy has been one of the greatest miracles of my mission- and I'm not just talking about Lappeenranta's newest member. I have been blessed with "joy as exceeding as (has been) my pain" while in Finland. I have been blessed with reasons to rejoice, to praise the Lord for His goodness. I never thought that these things could happen to me, and it's still a bit surreal at times. I pray that I will continue to see miracles over the next 6 months that will reconfirm the joy that I've felt over the past few days.
Bonus- I got a letter this morning from an unknown sender. I opened the envelope to see a beautiful card, and inside was a note from my favorite member in Lahti! She helped us whenever she possibly could, and Sisar Dayton and I sang her praises daily. Although I was only there for a very brief time, this sisar was thinking of me, and wanted to send me love. This is another one of the joys of missionary work. :)
We will face new challenges and opportunities this week. A baptism is not the end, or an opportunity to rest and congratulate ourselves. It is part of our work here, a work that must continue. We need to find new people to follow in Joy's footsteps and find their own joy of the gospel. Please, please find a way this week, even in a small and simple form, to share the joy that you feel from your relationship with Heavenly Father and with the Savior. Help make this world a place with a little less despair, and a little more joy.
Maailman iloisin [the world's happiest] Sisar Hansen
|In front of a big Catholic church in downtown Helsinki, waiting for our train|
|My nasty huge bug bite. A bit hard to see in this photo. Suffice it to say, it was huge.|
|Waiting for the big moment with Joy! She's glowing!|