Feeling the Prayers Man, Feeling the prayers...
Holy Cow! I love my family and friends. I am so convinced that you are all the greatest people in the world...I can't even take it! Thank you so much for all the prayers this week! I am now fluent in Finnish...haha ok no. That was a lie, but it has been so much better! I have decided to have fun while learning Finnish...they say it can't be done but I am here to prove them wrong! :) Thanks for all the advice and support though! I really can feel your prayers and strength and I am so happy that I have all of you in my life! How did I get so lucky? I will never know! :)
So man...this week...this week...where to even begin! Talk about a week of miracles. I will start with the ward! So the ward here in Tampere is bomb awesome! Seriously the chapel is full every week, there are tons of families, tons of youth, tons of old ladies, literally every missionaries dream. But....they are also very private and reserved, not just the ward, but all Finns, and so it has been a real challenge to get to know them and to know who to ask to come on lessons with us and stuff. It's been frustrating but Sister Jones and I have been praying so hard that they would catch the missionary fire and that we could start meeting with some of them. It has been such a struggle for us with the ward that President Rawlings even called Sister Jones and I last week and we talked for about an hour about how we could help these people here because missionary work really has plateaued and it's not good. He told us to really focus on individuals and families. He said to strengthen them one by one and to help them develop missionary plans. We met with the Elders, divided up the ward and tried to set up appointments with the people we are assigned to, but no one wanted to meet. Like literally, no one.
Since I have been in Tampere, at least before this week, I have had 1 dinner appointment. 12 weeks...1 DA. That's pretty bad. Tampere apparently has had a history of being pretty sketchy when it comes to dinner appointments and just any appointments with members in general. Sketchy as in you don't get any. Well I am here to tell you that prayer and love work. So last Sunday when Sister Jones and I asked all these different members if we could come to their house just to get to know them...we said we didn't need food...and they all still said no. Still, we tried our best to show them that we loved them and that we wanted to help them and their families. On Sunday night, no lie, 4 members called us and set up dinner appointments for this week. Honestly...it was a miracle. I know this is going to sound bi-polar but we have the best ward here! Missionary work has totally taken off this week and I know it is because the members and missionaries are working together. That's when the real work gets done. I have such a testimony of that!
Man, I just wish that all of you could be here to meet all this amazing members here! The Finnish privacy laws are preventing me from writing their names, but when we all come back to Finland, I can't wait to introduce you to these people! They are incredible and have the strongest testimonies. Seriously, it's so humbling to be serving with them. I love them so much! One of the members we met with this last week is a single, older sister. She has always kind of scared me...not going to lie...but she really wanted us to come have Sunday dinner with her. I was a little apprehensive about going just because, well, she scares me. We went to her house and at first it was vahan hankala...a little awkward...but after dinner, we shared a message with her about prayer. I felt the spirit so strongly when we testified to her that God loves her and hears her prayers and that he is concerned about her life! You literally could taste the spirit and afterwards she just broke down and told us her whole life story. She has had the hardest life. 3 marriages, none of her kids are members, and now she lives alone. Seriously about broke my heart. But she has the strongest testimony and told us that she knows we are here representing the Savior. She gave us a referral...which is a HUGE thing especially from a member! And it's not just any referral, it's her daughter. Earning the trust of a Finn is no easy task, but the feeling when you do is like nothing I could ever explain. I left her house with the biggest smile on my face. I just kept saying in my head "Thank you Heavenly Father for letting me be here, thank you for this language, thank you for this weather, thank you for these people." My whole perspective had changed. It is still hard, but I know with the members and especially with the Lord on our side, I can learn this language. The Finns can join the church. We can build the church here. Nothing is impossible with his help.
Our investigators are doing so well! I love them so much! Anna told us this week that she wants to be baptized! I about cried...I actually did cry but it was later in the evening! :) She told us that she needs time, because she doesn't know how to tell her family about the church! I really admire her courage and strength. She wants this so badly, but her family means so much to her. I was thinking about if I were in her place, it would be so hard for me to not have my family supporting me and to wonder if they would like shut me out if I joined this church. Although this is the right path for her, I am just praying that her family will understand and will support her!! And I know if my bomb awesome family prayers for her, miracles will happen! I hope to be sending a baptismal picture home very soon! :)
Vincent has been kind of sketchy this week. We didn't get to meet with him until yesterday morning, but let me tell you, it was incredible! I woke up yesterday morning and was super nervous about our lesson with Vincent. We had planned to meet with him before church. I didn't know why, but I just felt sick. We wanted to watch the Restoration movie with him so we got the church and watched the movie. The whole time we were watching I was praying harder than I have ever prayed before that Heavenly Father would help Vincent know the truthfulness of this message. As the movie went on, I could literally feel the spirit filling up the room. You could have cut it with a knife. It was amazing! When the movie ended, Sister Jones and I testified that this message is true..and then we invited him to be baptized. I expected him to respond super quick but he just sat there...and sat there...and sat there... and 15 minutes later we were still sitting there...in silence. Just try and picture this. Straight up silence for 15 minutes. Vincent had his Book of Mormon in his hands and was praying so hard. After 15 minutes, he looked up at us and said "I need time" and walked out. Sister Jones and I just looked at each other and ran to the window and watched him walk away. We said a prayer right there that Heavenly Father would not let that be the last time we saw Vincent. We were both pretty skeptical but this morning he called us and he said yesterday changed him forever. He said he wants to learn more and needs to watch the movie again. He said he was so grateful we had given him the chance to be baptized, but he needs time! I know he will be baptized! PRAY FOR VINCENT!!! He needs it!! :)
I have been thinking a lot about love this week and how if that is the motivation for everything we do, we will never go wrong. I really am trying to love this language. I am trying to love the people here even though it feels like they want nothing to do with us. I am trying to love everything about Finland. I have prayed so much these past few weeks about being filled with the love of Christ because sometimes, I just don't want to get up at 6:30 again and go out and have no one be interested in our message...again. It's hard work being a missionary. But this week I have really had a change of heart. I know that change of heart came and is continuing to come only through the Savior. President Rawlings sent us a story in his letter last week that I wanted to share. It is from the book "The Hiding Place". If you haven't read it, you should. It's about WW2 but anyways this is the story:
Corrie ten Boom, a devout Dutch Christian woman, found such healing despite having been interned in concentration camps during World War II. She suffered greatly, but unlike her beloved sister Betsie, who perished in one of the camps, Corrie survived. After the war she often spoke publicly of her experiences and of healing and forgiveness. On one occasion, a former Nazi guard who had been part of Corrie’s own grievous confinement in Ravensbrück, Germany, approached her, rejoicing at her message of Christ’s forgiveness and love: “‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’ “His hand was thrust out to shake mine,” Corrie recalled. “And I, who had preached so often … the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. … Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, [and] I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” Corrie ten Boom was made whole.
I know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can all be made whole. Not only did he suffer for our sins, but he felt the pains of all our shortcomings and weaknesses. I can't love this language and these people on my own. But with his love, I can love anybody and can do anything. Nothing brings me more comfort than that. I am reading 3 Nephi right now in my scriptures and today I read in Chapter 11 when the savior visits the people in America. I always get excited for that part because I just keep thinking, "Oh man, Jesus is coming, this is the good stuff". It really is and the best part is, he is coming again! I don't know when but that is why I am here, to prepare the world for his coming. That's why we are all here. It is no coincidence that any of us are members of this church at this time. God needs us to prepare the world for the coming of his Son. That is a big responsibility. I know that with the Savior's help, we can all rise to the challenge and honestly bring the world his truth. It's the best work we could ever do! God doesn't ask us to do more than we can. He just asks us to give everything to him and he will make up for the rest. I love that last line in the story, "When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself." That is so true. ALl we have to do is trust him and it will all work out! I love being a missionary! I love you all so much and am so grateful to be your daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend. Thanks for all you do! You mean the world to me and I hope you all know that! Have a wonderful week and bring the world his truth!! :)
Rakkaudella, Sisar Olivia Bitner
Oh PS....I am done with training!!! YIPPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! Best day ever! I am now just a normal missionary! :)
This is winter in Finland...blue skies and sunshine! Oh and the sun was red the other day! :)
My view every morning!
This BOMB AWESOME sweater from Sister Jouttenus! My bestie in the ward! I will tell you more about her in the letter but this is a legit FInnish wool sweater...they don't make them like this anymore :)