WASSSUP?? Ok, I love you! I know I always start these emails out with a burst of love, but I can't help it. I really try hard to focus, focus, focus during the week, but man, I come to e-mail and I freak out with all the love I feel for my family and friends! I love you all so much! I love hearing from you and reading all your letters and seeing your beautiful faces! It makes my week so much better so thank you for your love and support!! You da best!!
First off, Grandma, you and I are definitely having a Chuck-A-Rama date when I get home! I will eat ALL the rolls and soft serve ice cream! :) Dad, I am so happy you are the mission prep guy! HALLELUJAH!!! Heavenly Father answers prayers! You are exactly what the soon to be missionaries need. I am so happy for you! I was thinking about what I could say that would have been useful to me before I came on my mission. Of course about 3259052908 ideas came to my mind, but one really big one would be practicing contacting or "Talking with Everyone". I never realized how much time would be spent walking around talking to people. The sooner you get comfortable with that and know how to bring up the gospel normally and naturally, the better. I think that is one of the biggest challenges I have had on my mission. I love talking to people, but as a missionary, sometimes I feel as though I am only talking to them because I have an ulterior motive. Granted, that motive is their salvation and eternal life, but the times when talking with everyone has been most successful is when I haven't even worried about bringing up a gospel topic. I just try to talk to them and bring it up normally and naturally. In Preach My Gospel, Elder Holland said that if we listen with love, something they(the people we talk to) say will ALWAYS highlight a truth of the gospel about which we can bear testimony, and then offer more. It really is all about loving the person in front of us. But yes, definitely do some role plays with that. It's actually really fun once you get over the, "I'm too cool, this is awkward" stage. There is no such thing as awkward in missionary work! :)
Another thing I would stress a lot with them is the importance of working with members. That is the future of missionary work. It's moving slowly here in Finland, but I know that is the way we are going to find the most prepared, solid people. I really don't have a lot of advice on this subject because I still have no idea how to do it correctly and effectively, but it would be definitely worth it to study about it and also ask members what they expect/want from the missionaries. How can we help them to become the most effective missionaries they can be? That's really all we are trying to do is to make it so members feel more comfortable sharing the gospel! But anyways, that is my two cents...sense...I don't know...but ya! I hope that helped or gave you some ideas! The lessons are obviously important to learn, but they come and every single situation is different. I have never taught the Restoration the same, twice. If you teach people not lessons, you really will come to know that we need to know the doctrines of the lessons so the spirit has something to feed on, but if we don't teach by the spirit, it is just a bunch of information teaching, not transformation teaching!
Oh yes, one more thing...Mom, I got the scarf from Paris! It is probably the cutest thing in the world and I LOVE IT!! Thank you so much! I wear it all the time...granted, I usually take it off because it is surprisingly hot in Finland, but you best believe I will wear it e'erday in the winter! Thank you so much for thinking of me! It was so nice to get a little something something from you Parisians! :) You are the best!!!
Ok so now that I am done rambling...hahahaha....ya right...like I will ever be done rambling...this week has been pretty good. Not going to lie, it's been really hard and discouraging, but hey, as my main man, Michael Buble once said, "That's life." The good news is, bad days and bad weeks always end and something good is always around the corner. It's just a fact of life. We have really struggled with finding and teaching a lot this week. We found 1 new investigator in Seinäjoki, Iris. She is super sweet and has great faith in God. We are really excited about her and are going to church this week in Seinäjoki, so hopefully she can come and have a good experience! She bought us doughnuts...seriously, these people need to stop feeding me...Finnish pastries are SO STINKING GOOD. Seriously, it's bad! But anyways, we had a great first lesson with her this week. We invited her to be baptized and she said, "If I knew how my life would be better after baptism, I would definitely get baptized." Valid point. It's like you always say dad, people want to know what is in it for them. I used to think that was kind of selfish, but the more I think about it, I realize it's totally not. At least not where something this serious is concerned. These people want to know what is so great about the gospel that would make them want to change their lives! Whenever people say that, I always think in my head, "Well, it's true, isn't that enough?" But we have been praying for her and praying for the gift of discernment to know what she needs! Mutta, katsotaan! That is my favorite saying in Finnish. It means "Let's see". You should all use it! :)
We had district meeting in Kokkola this week. It was AWESOME cause Elder Stimpson from my MTC group is our Zone Leader and the zone leaders and sister training leaders came to our district meeting. Seriously, my MTC group is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I love them all so much! They are all my brothers and sisters! I got a letter this week from Sister Thayne and Sister Pack, congratulating me on making it to "Hump Day". haha I love them both so much and all the others as well. Anyways, during district meeting, the sister training leaders. Sister Hubner and Sister Lund...I LOVE THEM BOTH....talked about the day we received our mission calls. They had our district leader, Elder Christiansen, read his call as we all sat, with our eyes closed and listened and tried to remember how we felt when we read our call. Well, you best believe I was bawling. I remembered so clearly that wonderful day May 23, 2013, when my life changed forever. It's funny because I sat there, thinking about that day and remembered how immediately when I read "Finland Helsinki Mission" I knew that is exactly where I was supposed to go. I think our mission calls are included in our "Preparing to go to Earth" packets up in heaven so when we read it on earth, it's like we remember something we knew before. We aren't learning something new, just remembering a part of us that we hadn't realized yet. Anyways, it was a super inspiring district meeting and that night, I recommitted myself to the work for the next 9 months! I want to look back on my mission with no regret! Does that mean I will be perfect? Heck no! But I know I can do my best every single day, and that's all Heavenly Father expects of me!
We had a lesson with Tomi and Maria this week. It was awesome! Sisar Pace and I were both pretty scared just because these guys are awesome and we really want things to work out! We went into their home and sat and talked with them about their lives and beliefs and their expectations of our visits. We realized, as we were sitting there A, teaching people, not lessons is so important, and B, these people really just want to have a strong family. They want their kids to have good values and are doing their best to achieve that. They have 4 boys, 2 are baptismal age and they are just awesome. They are former investigators as well and it's funny because on the record, it said how they don't want to change and are too set in their ways. Granted, I only have met them like 3 times, but the spirit we felt in their home was so strong. I know they will be members. Tomi is going to be the Branch President!
So Jan....oh boy...Jan...what a gem! He is a way cool guy! We had a lesson scheduled with him on Wednesday and literally, I kid you not, EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN OUR BRANCH WAS BUSY. We could not find someone to save our lives. I was so frustrated and stressed. It ended up that we had to move the appointment to the following day. Thankfully Jan was super cool about it. But anyways, we kept trying to get members to come for the following day and literally no woman could come. It was insane. I was like "Ok, it's been hard to get members to lessons before but literally, this have never happened." Sister Pace and I were sitting there at lunch and I just looked up at her and said, "I think we need to pray." We prayed together and then both went and prayed individually. We came back together and literally, we both said at the exact same time, "The elders need to teach Jan." Man...not going to lie, I did not want to give our golden boy away, but, for some reason, we knew we had to. So we told the elders about the church tour, they found this really cool, hipster member to go with them, and now Jan and Patrick...the hipster...are best friends! Seriously, the Lord works in mysterious ways. I learned a valuable lesson though. Sisar Pace and I both did. We realized that our pride was getting in the way of the Lord's work. Yes, we needed to find Jan, but Jan needs to be taught by the elders. I don't know why, but he does. It's kind of funny how literally nothing was working out and the second we "let go" it all worked out perfectly. Heavenly Father knows best. But yes, that is the update on Jan! He will probably get baptized which would be awesome so keep praying for him!! I know you all do!
Funny side note: our sink got clogged this week so I learned a lot of new exciting vocab like clogged, hairball, drain, pipe, and repairman. hahaha I had to call our landlord and then the building man and I tried to explain what was wrong...I think he caught on pretty quick that I don't speak finnish very well so he hung up on me and just came over and fixed the drain! It was hilarious! oh man, the mission life! There is nothing better!!
We didn't get to meet with Tuulia's kids all last week. Man...agency of others really gets you sometimes. She doesn't answer her phone and it's super frustrating because I know, the second we start meeting regularly with those kids, they are going to be baptized. Pray for them and that Tuulia and Caius will be open to us coming over! I love this family so much and want them to be baptized! They need the church now more than ever!!
Sister Pace and I are doing a lot better. I have this list in the back of my journal called "Lessons learned as a lähetyssaarnaja". I added to the list this week, "There is no person you cannot love once you hear their story." That happened this week. Sisar Pace is pretty incredible. I have never met, hung out with, associated with anyone like her in my life, but I love her. I really do. She teaches me new things every single day! She really is so wonderful!
I have to tell you all about my experience with church this week. Church is the place of miracles. I was doing pretty well this week, in spite of not having a lot of success until about Saturday night. After we had planned for the day, I just felt this wave of despair and hopelessness crash into me. The worst part is, I know it was a choice. I made the choice to be disappointed. I felt the hope leave me. I have tried so hard for 7 months to work with these members. I have tried to motivate them by duty, responsibility, making them cookies, doing service for them, and it's still just like pulling teeth sometimes to get people on lessons. I love all the members of the church, especially in Finland, but man, I was just so frustrated! I went to bed that night feeling pretty sad and woke up Sunday morning and just felt sick. I didn't want to go to church. Of course we went, but I was sitting in sacrament meeting and I just felt tired. I felt heavy. I felt no motivation to do anything.
During the actual sacrament, my first Sunday in Vaasa flashed through my head. I remembered looking at all the members as I bore my testimony and the love I felt for each of them. I saw Sisar Eriksson who said to me, "I always save a seat next to me so when my husband comes, he has a place." Her husband is less active. He doesn't come to church. Talk about hope. I saw Sisar Raitila whose husband isn't a member, yet who brings her daughters to church every week and is the district young women president. I saw Sisar Vuorinen whose kids are all less active and whose husband isn't a member, yet she still comes to church every week and is always kind to those who don't have many friends. I thought of Sisar Nieminen who lives alone and tries to share the gospel as much as she can with literally everyone she meets and I saw the Bishop's family, the Alahäivälä's. Their two oldest sons are blind, Sisar Alahäivälä literally does EVERYTHING. She is amazing and Veli Alahäivälä works so hard for his wonderful family and for this ward. Not only did I feel love for these people, but I felt the same way I felt after leaving Larsmo, "I am not worthy to be serving with these people. They are incredible." Really they are. They do so much. The thing about Finland is that these members, the ones we are working with now are still in the process of building the foundation of the church here. It's so easy sometimes to get frustrated and think, "Well, why don't wehave ward missionaries?" or "Why doesn't our BML even live in Vaasa?" But the thing is, we...all of us here together are building this foundation so in 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, the church here in Finland will literally not be able to accommodate all the people who will want to come in, just to feel a little bit of the spirit. I know that day will come. These members don't need to be guilt-tripped into anything. They need love, support, and they need our help. I do not feel worthy to be here, but I am so grateful to be! Sisar Pace shared this poem with me this week. I really love it and it pretty much sums up how I have felt about being a missionary here in Finland. It's called, "Love". The young man is a missionary...substitute young woman in there if that applies to you :) but it really has such a great message:
The young man walked down the city street
in a strange land, with his own now far away.
And his newness clashed with the echoing beat
Of horse carts and cobbled streets. And they say
He preached of a better world to those who loved their own,
And he prayed, "Oh God, I would my good be known!"
And no one understood.
The young man stopped in the pitted road,
His manner not so shiny now, and gazed
At humble folk, their backs bent 'neath their heavy load.
And vaguely sensed the meaning of eternal days.
And preached, "Come follow me that you might have rest."
And prayed, "Oh, God, help me to do my best."
And few men understood.
The young man trudged down the country lane,
No stranger now he came, still searching for those paths to roam,
But somehow unashamed, a little older now he came.
And deep within his heart he sang, "This place is home."
And he preached the brotherhood of man, and peace and charity;
And prayed, "Oh, Lord, that I may be worthy of such as these
In some far eternity."
And lo, he understood.
I love that so much! Also, Sister Thayne sent me this quote in her letter she wrote me and I LOVE IT and want to share it with you:
There once was a man who had a huge boulder placed before him. The Savior came to him and told him to push the stone out of the way. Day after day and week after week he pushed and strained to move the stone with no success. The devil came and discouraged him after not moving the stone even an inch. He started to lose faith. He complained to the Savior that there was no way he could ever do this and that it was a waste of time. The Savior replied "Look at your arms, they have received strength. Look at your shoulders, they have grown so broad. Look at your back, chest, and your legs, they have become stronger. Your job is to push, my job is to remove." And with that, he removed the stone.
I love that so much. I can't move the stone/boulder on my own. But it's not my job to move it, it's my job to push. I know I can push everyday. I can give my all and work as hard as I possibly can and if I do that, whatever happens will be according to the Lord's will. There is always sunlight through the clouds. In Finland, there is always sunlight...period. hahaha but I know that sometimes getting the rock rolling is the hardest part! I know God is here with us and he is helping us! Thank you for your prayers! I feel them everyday! I love you all and hope you have a blast up in BEAR LAKE!!! Get nice and tan for me! :)
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. Something Finnish for the week....CROCS AND SOCKS MAN!! They all rock the crocs and socks! It's hilarious! I miss my crocs! You are all wonderful and I love you!!!
Oh and mom, your no-bake cookies are changing Finland! Thanks for the recipes! :)