You know you serve in Vaasa when...
Well Hyvää viikko teille minun perheetta!! How are you all doing? Man I have to admit, I missed you guys pretty much A TON this week during conference. It is like one of the only times on my mission when I know exactly what you all are doing at that moment! I hope you all loved it. Conference was incredible!! Honestly it was so good! On Saturday at 1700 aka 5:00 we watched the women's meeting...so good...holy cow!! I love how they do that now! then at 1900 we watched the Saturday Morning session live with all of you! Then on Sunday, the men watched priesthood at 1200 and we watched the saturday evening session recorded at 1500 aka 3:00. Then at 1700 we watched the Sunday morning session live and me and Sister Foster are hoping to watch the fourth session sometime this week with a group of our recent converts! Sorry, I know that Dad, you would be interested to know the times and how conference works here so ya...there you go! We watched it in English...actually a lot of Finns watch it in English because most of them can understand a lot better than they can speak! It was pretty great! I will talk about my FAVORITE talk later!! It was all so wonderful and I am so grateful we have a prophet and apostles. Conference as a missionary was a really cool experience. I had a whole different perspective on everything and I really learned so much! I am sure you all did as well! :)
Oh ya, I LOVED all the pictures from Disneyland. You guys are all models...seriously, who is my family! You are so cute and Anne, I didn't even know who you were. It took me like 5 minutes to realize it was you! STOP GROWING UP!!! Man I feel like I am your mother or something and all my kids are growing up in front of my eyes...on the computer screen :) I hope you all had the best time and hopefully you had some mint chocolate chip ice cream or a dole whip for me! Who wants to road trip with me to Disneyland next summer? Cause I am going!! :)
So the title of my letter this week is "You know you serve in Vaasa when..." because this week has been pretty crazy! I don't even know where to start but I made a list of all the funny/crazy/is this really my life? moments that happened this week so hopefully I can share them all with you!!
First off, you know you serve in Vaasa when your investigator Michael who is GETTING BAPTIZED NEXT WEEK, comes to conference in a snappy suit and takes notes during the whole thing. He loved conference and afterwards I asked him what his favorite part was and he literally said this to me, "My favorite part was the talk that Elder Russell M. Nelson of the quorum of the 12 apostles gave about faith and becoming my true self." Uh...mitä? Ok Michael...he is incredible!! hahaha I was floored, then he asked me what my favorite part was and I forgot the name of the seventy (by the way it was Elder Zwick...what an incredible talk) and Michael said "Oh, you mean Elder Zwick of the seventy who talked about no corrupt communication and viewing life from the other person's eyes." Uh...ok Michael! It was hilarious and I was so happy that he enjoyed it so much!
After conference, since Michael was just on fire, we taught him about the Law of Chastity and Word of Wisdom...sometimes it's best to get those in there when the spirit is strong...haha just kidding. But for real. Anyways, we taught it to him and after the lesson, he held up both of the pamphlets, looked Sister Foster and I straight in the eye and said "This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. This is awesome. The only problem I have is with the Word of Wisdom. I am going to have to start eating more fruit." HAHAHA oh my goodness, there can be miracles when you believe folks! Michael is on fire and has 5 brothers and they are all going to be baptized and carry the church in Ghana! Vaasa is the promised land!! Oh and hopefully I have some sweet pictures of his baptism to send to you next week! My first baptism on my mission folks...Needless to say I am pumped, but mostly I am so excited that Michael has found this church. He is so prepared. He is so ready and now he gets to experience the joy of the gospel! There is nothing better than being a missionary!
Second, you know you serve in Vaasa when it takes 2 hours to drive to district meeting and you eat some really sketchy kebab for lunch afterwards. Have I told you about kebab? Oh man, k so a lot of foreigners live here...did you know that? :) But anyways, the middle eastern/greek foreigners all have these kebab shops all over Finland. It is like the big thing to have a "pizza and kebab" store. Anyways, I have had kebab a few times...basically what it is, well at least what I think it is is lamb and they shave it off of this giant spit thing...it's pretty disgusting when you look at it, and then they put it on pizza or french fries or make a wrap out of it and you eat it. It's really sketch...it's actually not even legal in America. I now know why that is the case! I have always gotten the kind in a wrap cause I figured it was the "healthiest" psh...ya right, but this time everyone got the french fry thing so I wanted to try it. Oh my goodness...talk about stomach bomb. It was disgusting and we had to drive two hours back from Kokkola to Seinäjoki and then to Vaasa and I wanted to throw up the whole way! It was gross, but lesson learned! :) Just thought you would want to know that! haha sorry if it was TMI, but such is my life here in good old Vaasa!
Third, you know you serve in Vaasa when your Polish, less active member friend invites you and your companion to lunch at your other Vietnamese, less active friend's restaurant. Seriously, Vaasa is the melting pot of the world. I am buying a map and keeping track of all the different people I meet and where they are from. It is so exciting! But anyways, Konrad is the Polish guy and Ha is the Vietnamese girl. Konrad is hilarious and tells you straight up how he is feeling. He told me that I needed to sit closer to the table when I eat...I hadn't even spilled or anything, and he told me that sometimes I say "Um" too much and I really need to stop because it is irritating him...thanks Konrad! :) Haha but I really like him and Ha as well! Ha is super cool and moved here four years ago to open her own restaurant. She is only 27 and she just left her home when she was young and has put herself through school and now she has a restaurant in Finland and she is pretty dang successful! I really admire her a lot, but also I really feel bad for Konrad...he joined the church a few years ago, but he has just lost his testimony and needs to find it soon. We are really trying to get him to activities and get him coming to church. He really just needs friends and support.
One of the hard things about Finnish culture is that they are EXTREMELY private people. Like they NEVER just drop by their friends or call someone up...they are pretty by the book, very scheduled, and they don't like to waste time...I know I know, it sounds like me, but it's really hard for all of these foreigners here, and especially foreign members because they just don't have a lot of friends. It really is true that when you make friends with a Finn, they are your friend for life, but getting to that point is pretty difficult. It's ok though...we can help them! President Rawlings talks a lot sometimes about teaching people to be each other's friend. I never thought that would be a part of my mission, but I am so grateful for all of the wonderful friends and family I have who have been such an example to me of being someone's friend and of really loving someone! But anyways, we are working on building some friendships here...it is starting to work slowly, but surely! Line upon line, precept upon precept! :)
Fourth, you know you serve in Vaasa when you have to do a DTL with your investigator...determine the language....because they don't speak English or Finnish very well...and you have to excuse yourself from the lesson because you are laughing so hard at the situation and thinking "Is this my life?" but anyways here is the story. So we were on our way home one day actually and we saw this cute little Thai lady walking on the street so we went and talked to her, in Finnish, and she started speaking back, in Finnish, pretty simple Finnish which was great, but in Finnish. We told her we were here as church representatives and she said, " I want to see your church" so we walked her over to the church...and gave her a church tour. While we were in the chapel, she just broke down and started crying and kept saying "Kiitos Jumala" or Thanks God! It was so sweet and we were feeling the spirit pretty strong! Her name is Laksana, she is married to a Finn, has one son, and we set up an appointment with her for a couple days later!
During our next appointment, the language barrier became a little bit more difficult...we tried to explain the Restoration as simply as we could, and we told her about the Book of Mormon, but when we were done, she said "Oh I have a Bible and a Book of Mormon, the New Testament and the Old Testament"...Er...dang it! Apparently we didn't explain it right. Anyways, after about 30 minutes of acting things out, drawing pictures, holding a Book of Mormon in one hand and a Bible in the other, we realized that we might have a serious problem! There came a point in the lesson where I was so flustered and frustrated that I just burst out laughing. It was the funniest thing and I couldn't believe what was going on. Oh man....the life of a Finnish missionary :) But anyways, we gave her a Finnish Book of Mormon and told her to have her husband help her read the Introduction. As she left, we decided that next time we should try teaching in English and see if we have more success! Man it was definitely one of the funniest experiences of my mission!
Well I am sure I will have more "you know you serve in Vaasa" moments to share, but I don't want to give all the good stuff just yet! Things are a little different here in Vaasa. Everyone marches to the beat of their own drum, but I love it and am so grateful to be here!
So my favorite talk from conference...there were so many great ones...but the one that really got me was President Uchtdorf. You can always count on him to give something great but how awesome was his talk? Some of my favorite parts were, "We should see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life...instead of being thankful for things, be thankful IN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES...The choice is ours, we can limit our gratitude based on the things we lack...This kind of gratitude overcomes all disappointments...How much of life do we miss waiting for the raindbow instead of thanking God that it is raining...Gratitude doesn't mean that we are happy with our situation, it means that we are looking forward with faith...My testimony of Christ can help me look past the disappointing endings of mortality to the bright hope of the future...Why do we resist endings? because we are made of the stuff of eternity...Endings are not our destiny, only interruptions, pauses...No true endings, only everlasting beginnings...how much we have to be grateful for...gratitude is the catalyst to all Christ-like attributes."
Man...he is great! I love that talk and it is my goal these next few weeks to really try and apply this. I love how he talks about being happy in our circumstances. Sometimes in my life it has been really hard for me to understand how I could ever be grateful when something is going wrong or when life is hard. But I love how he also brings up that having an attitude of gratitude doesn't mean that we are always happy go lucky and everything is sunshine and roses and happiness...that's not realistic, but it does mean that we are always looking forward with faith to the future. It means knowing that even though life is incredibly hard sometimes, it will all work out. It really means to me that everything that comes our way is what is supposed to happen and we have the choice to accept it and make the most out of the cards we have been dealt, or to sit and whine and make everything more difficult than it needs to be. The best part about all of this is that we don't have to do it alone. We don't have to be strong alone. I think it was Elder Bednar who said that there is nothing we can go through in life that Christ didn't go through first. One scripture that has come to be my favorite on my mission is D&C 122:7-8...I am sure you have all heard it, but it is when Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail and when he really started doubting God and himself and everything that had happened to him. He really did ask "God, where art thou?" and Heavenly Father in response said:
"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep, if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?"
That last question really gets me every time. Art thou greater than He?
Anytime I start feeling bad or getting frustrated when someone makes fun of us, or when really anything hard comes and I sometimes think, "Why?" this question, comes back into my brain, "Art thou greater than He?" The answer will always be no, but because of Christ's love and his mercy, I have a friend to walk with me through all the aspects of life. We all do and he is the most perfect wonderful friend we could ever have. Now, by that fact alone, by the fact that we all have the gift of immortality and the possibility of Eternal life, we have SO much to be grateful for. I love this gospel. I love my Savior. I love my Father in Heaven. I love the Book of Mormon. I love this work. I love being a missionary. Man, I just love my life. Life is good. God is good. My family and friends are good. Even when life isn't always perfect, it is always good! There is always something to be grateful for! Like today, I am grateful that in one month, I get to skype all of you!!! WHAT??? I just realized that as I looked at the date! I am so excited to see you all and I hope you know how much I love you! Have a wonderful week and remember to be grateful!! :) You are the best!!
Rakkaudella, Sisar Bitner