Land of the free, Home of the Brave...Happy Birthday America!!!
Well, well, well...how the heck are you all doing? First off...you are beautiful...all of you...just had to get that out of the way! I LOVED all the pics you sent of the fourth...seriously I felt like I was there in spirit! Dad...congrats on the float! You are awesome and I was so proud to see you in the most wonderful parade in the world...that of Grantsville, UT! BTW, there is a Sister here from Tooele...fun fact for the day! :) Anyways, it was so great to be a part of your fourth of July! I wore my stars and red skirt...I have been planning this outfit since I bought this shirt! Isn't America the best! I love Finland, but man, a lot of Finns were rocking the red, white, and blue...it was actually super funny and I just felt such love for America! We sang every single American hymn in my little english hymn book and, not gonna lie, I got a little teary eyed! We are so blessed to live in the promised land! America was made for the gospel to come forth! What a blessed land! One of the senior sisters made 4th of July cookies and played American music on her iPad at zone meeting and it was awesome!! Too bad I was in a skirt or I would have been doing cartwheels and running all over the church! America is the best!! I love it and I love you all!!
Oh mom, you said you were going to send my package off next week...I was wondering if you could send me a curling iron or a wand or something so I can change up the hair...9 months of straight hair kind of gets you down! :) Just kidding but that would be wonderful! Also, my little speakers in my room I got for Christmas! I think they need batteries, but I would love to have them so I can jam out to my EFY tunes in my apartment! Ask my if i know the words to every song from LDS.org? Yes, I do! My favorites are "Not the only One" and "Brand New Year". They are my pump up songs! haha anyways you are the best!! I love you!!
Well, this week was pretty crazy! I am sorry my letter last week was kind of debby downer and sad! I was/still am sort of overwhelmed, but we are getting into our rhythm and I feel as though once again, Jesus Christ is helping me every step of the way! It's funny how easy it is to forget that. It's sad actually. He is always there and sometimes we...for some unknown reason...try to take everything on our back. He is standing there saying, "Uh, I can help you...let me take some of that" and we look up with our sweaty, dirty, tear stained faces and say, "No, I want to carry it all. I can do it alone. I just need more time." I can imagine what it must feel like to stand there and watch us helplessly go through things we don't have to go through alone. He loves us so much. I know he does. I have felt his love for me and for everyone I know too many times to think otherwise. The trick is giving all our heart and soul to him. I know he will take care of us!
Anyways, on Tuesday, I was feeling pretty bummed. I just felt like all hope for missionary work in Finland had flown out of me and I was watching it fly up into the sky. It was horrible. I felt so depressed and old and tired and just awful. I tried to cover it up as best I could...but I am horrible at hiding my emotions..you all know that. Sister Pace has been an answer to my prayers this week. On Tuesday, during weekly planning, she looked at me and said, "Sister Bitner, I want you to read this." She handed me this packet that she had received in the MTC during In-field orientation! It was a case study about a sister missionary who served in a ward in America where missionary work was dead. The members in this ward were AWESOME...much like in Finland...but they are pretty content to stay where they are...much like in Finland. As I read this case study and how this sister missionary got the members excited, I started bawling. I know...pretty pathetic...I am sorry to disgrace the Bitner name by my emotional breakdown, but man, I felt like I was reading my mission. I felt like everything this sister expressed, every emotion, frustration, and situation are the same things we deal with in Finland. Now, I don't mean to make this sound like "Oh poor me", but it's reality. Finland is the best mission in the world...duh...but it is hard. Hard work and not a ton of success. But this sister was in a similar situation and instead of getting depressed and discouraged...as I was beginning to...she completely changed how she was doing her missionary work. She gave up the tracting and mindlessly roaming the streets, and she focused on doing things as Christ would do them. Exactly as Christ would do them.
She worked with the members. She loved them, she served them, she wrote them thank you notes, she commented in Relief Society, she was always positive about the area where she served, she got to know the members, she and her companion motivated these members by love...not by guilt. I think as members, it is really easy to feel guilty. We never feel like we do enough, even when we do. Then on top of that, to have missionaries come over and guilt trip you about not doing missionary work doesn't sound very motivating. Now, believe you me, we do NOT try to guilt trip anyone...but the attitude of missionary work in this mission has really honestly been one of frustration. "Why don't the members ever give us referrals? Why don't they feed us? Why won't they come on lessons?" I have had those same thoughts...not going to lie. But this week, I realized my approach for 7 months has been wrong. Yes, I have loved the members, but in the back of my mind, those frustrations and thoughts have been roaming around. Definitely not as Christ-like as I should have been!
Anyways, we decided to put this to the test. All of our investigators had fallen off the face of the earth and we literally had nothing at the beginning of this week. We had one finnish investigator, Sirkka who was out of town. We looked at our week and thought, "Well, what would Jesus do if he were here?" We started serving. We had a dinner appointment with the Nåsman family...President Nåsman is the district president here. They are wonderful and always have us over for dinner, but it has been kind of hard to get them involved in missionary work. Not because of them, but honestly, we just haven't known how to work with them. They are kind of intimidating.
Anyways, we were planning the lesson we wanted to share with them I said, "I think we should talk to them about starting a family mission plan." We have really been focusing lately on getting members these "family mission plans". Sister Pace just kind of sat there, staring at me, and then she said, "I think we should talk about how much we love being missionaries in Finland." Uh...I just sat there like, "Oh, you little greenie, you...how sweet to think that would work." But, I figured, what the heck? We have nothing to lose. We got to the Nåsman's and it was just Sister Nåsman. she is the nicest lady in the world, but she speaks finnish SOOOOO fast and has great style and is beautiful...she reminds me of my mom...except for the speaking finnish part :) but I don't know why, I have always kind of been intimidated by her. But as we talked more with her, I felt this love for her and her family spring into my heart. All frustration I had with everything...training, finnish, members, lack of investigators, just left me and we had the most wonderful conversation. We were all laughing and chatting and just having a great time. The most optimistic, happy spirit was in their home. After lunch, we got ready to share our spiritual message. Sister Pace started it out, (gotta get these greenies working :) and she shared Ether 12:4 which says, "Wherefore, whose believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God." She talked about how it is so easy to forget the "Why" of missionary work. It's interesting because I think we always remember the "How" or "What" of missionary work or maybe more realistically, we always remember "I don't know HOW" or I don't know WHAT to do", but we forget WHY we do it. We do missionary work because this gospel, this church, this doctrine is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to any of us. It is the light of our lives. It is our joy. Our loving Heavenly Father has asked us to give it to his children who don't know about it yet. That's why we share it.
Then I felt prompted to share D&C 84:88 which says, "And whose receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up." Sister Pace had totally invited the spirit and it was SO strong. I just testified of how much I love their family. I told her how much I love Finland and being a missionary here and that my greatest desire honestly is to see this branch grow! I testified of angels being with us to give us strength and courage when we feel we have none. We were all a little teary and it was the most wonderful feeling! Sister Nåsman looked at us and said, "Who are you teaching right now? I want you to bring them to our home to teach them." She also asked us to come do service with her in her yard this week. Now, I don't know if I can explain the magnitude of what just happened. The Finns don't like to accept help. We offer, but they say, "No, we are fine." They are so independent and I love that about them, but man, it's rough when you want to offer service. We have asked the Nåsman's for service opportunities and tried and tried to figure out who and how we could teach in their home, and it hasn't ever worked. For 3 months. But this time, just because we taught completely by love...it all came to pass without us doing anything. It was incredible.
Sister Pace is incredible. Missionary work is incredible. I have learned SO much from Sister Pace and it is amazing to me how much training has changed in the MTC even since I was there. They are teaching missionaries how to do missionary work in the most effective way possible...completely by LOVE. Christ-like love can change the world. The work of salvation is hastening right before our eyes and literally right before my eyes. My companion has just come out of the most wonderful training in the world and she has completely changed what I think missionary work is. The reality is...it's love. We love people, so we want to talk to them and help their families. We love the members so we want to help them feel needed and to serve them. My focus has been too much on "Finding the Elect" by my own efforts. Heavenly Father, through President Rawlings and my new companion has shown me a new way. Find the Elect through the people that Heavenly Father has allowed to be in Vaasa right now. Use the Members. They will lead us to the elect!
Anyways, we went on splits up in Oulu on Thursday...5 hour train ride later :) and we met President Watson and his wife on Friday during Zone Meeting. They are AWESOME!! There was such a special spirit when both of them talked. You could literally feel and see the love they had for each of us coming out of them! It was so great! President Watson talked completely about love and how each of us needs to pray in every prayer we say to be filled with the Love of Christ. He promised us that it will change our lives. I have started doing that and would challenge you all to do the same. Our worlds, our lives, will never be the same as we do this!
So, as you can tell, I was feeling pretty good about missionary work...but then I looked at our teaching pool...and our empty schedule for next week and was just like..."Man...dang it." That's seriously what went through my head. We went to Seinäjoki for church this week and as I was sitting there kind of mulling things over in my mind, our former investigator...whom we had dropped a few months ago...comes walking into church, sits down next to me and says, "I want to meet with you guys again." Uh, what? Boom, 1 new investigator. Oh funny story, while we were driving to Seinäjoki, we pull up to a stoplight and there was a cop there. He signaled for me to pull over, muttered something in Finnish, and held out a little white tube with a little handheld machine attached to it. I about died. I was like, "what in the world is going on?" Ya, I was being drug tested. Thank heavens for the word of wisdom! Anyways, funny story, but good news is I passed! You can all stop worrying now! :)
We had a dinner appointment on Sunday after church with the Relief Society President in our ward in Vaasa whose husband is less active. Sister Pace and I were still recovering from the shock of Anna showing up to church, but we both felt like we should go the way of "love" again. We did a similar message and then the thought came to tell Sisar Eriksson about the "BOO" idea that we do in Utah. You know where someone makes cookies and drops it off at a member's house and then it goes around the whole ward? Anyways, I explained that to her and asked if we could come start this little idea with her, and she was kind of hesitant. Her husband was still sitting at the table, sleeping, but he woke up and walked off to his office...he doesn't usually stay for the spiritual messages. Anyways, Sister Eriksson said, "I don't really know" but then from the office we hear her husband yell, "I have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies...when are you guys coming over?" I will never forget Sister Eriksson's face. She smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen and basically jumped a foot in the air and said, "Oh yes, this is such a great idea, when can you come...Oh can we give them to this family, oh how about this family, oh this family would love this.." and so on and so forth. Her husband came out of his office with his chocolate chip cookie recipe in hand and a HUGE smile on his face. He said, "These are so good. Come over and Tuesday and we will make them with you." Oh my goodness. Less Actives offering to bake cookies with the Sisters...what??
As we were walking from the Eriksson's, still completely flabbergasted, we get a call from an unknown number. I answer and say, "Moi, Sisaret täällä!" or "Hello, this is the Sisters" and this guy says, "Well finally I get a hold of you. I met you on the street two months ago and you gave me your card. I have decided I want to learn about your church. Can you meet with me on Tuesday at 4:30?" Uh....what? New investigator number 2. His name is Markkus.
Then....THEN....later Sunday night, we were sitting doing some 12 week program study, and our phone rings again. It is our friend Jan, whom we met last week while trying to contact a referral. He said he was too busy to meet last week, so he didn't become a new investigator, but this week he calls and says, "Um, do you know the Nåsman family?" I said "Of course we do, they are awesome!" And he said, "my little brother is best friend with their son Thomas (Thomas is a missionary in Taiwan right now) and I would really like to meet them and talk with you a little bit more about your church. Can you meet on Tuesday at 2?" OH MY GOSH. I seriously am still pinching myself right now to know if this is really true. New investigator number 3 and he wants to meet with the Nåsmans. All Finns. All from us doing NOTHING but loving the people and serving those whom God has given us to love. What is this? I am still shocked.
But just wait, it gets better. So there is this less active family in our ward. Well part member, less active family. The parents are both members but got a divorce and haven't been to church since the divorce. They have 5 kids, 3 boys and 2 girls. The boys are all over the age of 8 but have not been baptized. At the beginning of my change with Sister Fronk, we established a vision for Vaasa based on what this branch needed. What we came out with is 2 youth baptisms...we only have 1 young man in our branch, 6 member families implementing mission plans, and 1 reactivation. Well we have wanted to teach this family for a long time, but the mom won't answer our calls or answer the door when we visit. Last night as we were starting to plan, we get a call on the phone from THE MOTHER OF THIS FAMILY. She asked if we were available tomorrow night, meaning Monday, to come and start teaching her kids about the gospel. I SERIOUSLY CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT IS GOING ON. After today we will have 6 new investigators...all Finns...all fit our vision...and we have made friends with the less active husband of our Relief Society President.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail - But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him." Moroni 7:46-47
I seriously cannot even tell you how amazing this week was. I really don't know what else to say other than the church is true. All of this is real. It's God's work. When we do it his way, we can't fail. I love this gospel. It's so worth it to go through the muck to experience these wonderful miracles. I love the Savior. I love you all!!
Oh, "Something Finnish" for the week...the strawberries in Finland are TO DIE FOR. They have little stands all over the place and they taste like sugar. They are pretty expensive, but we managed to scrimp and save to buy some! Sister Pace said she will make me strawberry shortcake for my birthday! YIPPEEE! You are all so wonderful and I hope you have the most incredible week ever! :) Pray for Jan, Markkus, Anna, Tomi and Maria (Potentials) and Tuulia and her kids and for Veli Eriksson. There can be miracles when you believe! Thank you for your prayers and support! It means the world to me!! I love you all!!!
Rakkaudella, Sisar Bitner
|Sister Pace drew a picture of she and I...that's what I look like studying...she is a goof!! I love her!!|
|This was my compy for the day in Oulu...Sisar Hubner! She was trained by Sister Egan as well!!|
|I STILL LOVE AMERICA!! Happy Birthday to the most wonderful place in the world...and yes I am wearing boots in July...yes it is freezing some days...Finland is nuts! I love you!!!|