I love to see the TEMPLE IN HELSINKI FINLAND!!
Mom thank you so much for the package and for the other package and for just being awesome!! I love your idea about the group message and scripture study! BRILLIANT!!! I hope that goes well!! Dad, I heard about your garage and am SO EXCITED to see it. Are all the deer heads still alive and well? I mean....dead and well? I told Sister Pace you have deer heads in the garage and she about died....she really loves animals! hahaha anyways Joce....HAPPY 18TH BIRTHDAY!!! Holy cow...I think I had some sort of a mid-life crisis with my little sis turning 18. That is insanity! But I am so happy for you and so excited for you to go tear up Utah State! Just keep the house clean...haha just kidding! But seriously! Anne, you MADE THE LAYTON HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER TEAM!!! YAYAYAYAY!!! You get to have that quality Layton High School coaching! Yeah! :) I am so proud of you though and am so excited to watch you play next year! Send lots of pictures and good luck with your first games! Remember, don't get in the way of the seniors, but definitely show them what's up...you've got skill! :) I really do miss those days a lot...it is fun to play for your school! Wear the Lancer blue well!! I am way happy for you! You will love it!! La-La, BB I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!! You are starting 8th grade??? MY GOODNESS!! Why are you so old? I didn't even recognize you in the pictures! You are so gorgeous and I am so excited that tennis is going well! You have to teach me when I get home! Promise?? Ok good!! :) Luke and shweeda shweeda....5th grade!! Man...you two are so old too! I heard you are both already better than me at soccer...dang it! Oh well, I will have to get back in shape before we play again...but I am way proud of both of you! I can't wait to watch you play again!! Man, why are you all growing up? You're making mom sad...and me! But I am so happy for all of you and hope school and everything is going well!! I love and miss you all so much!!!
Well, I don't even know where to begin with this e-mail!! SO MUCH has happened these past two weeks! It's been crazy! Speaking of which, we only have 2 weeks left in this transfer. Sister Pace and I could stay together or we could be getting split up! Also, we just found out that on September 12, we are having a mission conference which means all the missionaries in Finland are going to Helsinki because ELDER BEDNAR IS COMING TO SEE US!!! Did you know his son served in Finland and particularly in Vaasa? REPRESENT! Anyways, we are all super excited! Just some good news from up north!!
Our investigators are doing really well...well the investigators are...the parents aren't. Ronja, Tinja, and Caspian can't get baptized on the 30th because they haven't been to church yet. We have tried so hard to arrange rides and to make it as easy as possible, but it's just not happening. I talked to President Watson about it and he said that we need to approach it from a different angle. I am not tired of trying different angles, I just wish we knew what to do with them. But Milla, our other investigator is doing great. We had such a good lesson with her COMPLETELY by the spirit. It was the best lesson I have been in in a long time. We just testified of the importance of the Book of Mormon and how it has blessed our lives and at the end of the lesson she said, "Ok, I am in. I am going to do this." Bank on the Book of Mormon man. It's the sword of missionary work! Oh my goodness, funny story, so we were walking down the street one day, and this lady walks out of a building and her shirt said in big red letters, "Virginia". Well that's something you don't see every day, so I asked her, "Excuse me, have you been to Virginia before?" She proceeded to tell me that she was born in Vaasa but moved to America when she was 15. Just as she is explaining that, this Santa Claus look-a-like man jumps out of a car and says, "Ok, I need to get in on this, I know who you guys are" in perfect American english. I was like Woah, that's something you really don't see everyday. Anyways, we proceed to talk to them and come to find out, they are from Virginia, met each other in California and are here in Finland for the next 4 months. Their names are Harry and Liisa and Liisa's father passed away a few months ago, so they are living in his möki or summer home here in Vaasa. As we continued to talk to them, both of them at the same time said, "Hey can we give you our number? We would love for you to come to our home and talk to us more about your message." Uh...mer....ya....sure? haha that really really was something you don't see every day. Anyways, we have an appointment with Harry and Liisa on Thursday, so pray all goes well with them! They are awesome!!
Anyways, two weeks ago...man that feels like 23478932798 years ago, we had our mini missionary, Sisar Koivisto from Turku! She is awesome! We had such a great time with her and she taught us so much! We didn't really do anything different other than normal missionary work, we just had a fluent companion. It was wonderful and she answered SO MANY of my finnish questions. I wonder if I will ever not have questions about finnish. Some days I feel really good about it and other days when someone starts talking to me I feel like Elder Calhoun on the Best Two Years when he tries to order bread from that bakery! I hope my siblings all appreciate that reference! :) But she is 18 and is planning on serving her mission next summer. She was so cute and wrote Sister Pace and I notes all the time. She was way too nice to me, but really just made us feel so good about ourselves. Honestly, I have to brag about the finns for awhile....they are the best people in the world. I have conversed with them, gotten to know them, and been in their homes for 8 months, but man, having one as a companion really shed a lot of light on their goodness and their desire to serve our Heavenly Father. Not to mention they are like the sweetest people and the best friends you could ever have in the world. Sisar Koivisto would always mention how this was just the beginning of our lifelong friendship. We spoke in English in the apartment and then Finnish outside...or at least we tried, but she was super patient and helped us out a lot! She told me that before I leave my mission, if my family comes to get me, we have to go to Turku and stay with the Koivistos so plan on that! :) Anyways, I just love her a lot and was so grateful that we had the chance to be with her. She taught me that sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference and that it's so important that we share our testimony at every opportunity we are given. Man, it was just a wonderful week with her!!
So we dropped her off at the train station on Saturday night and then on Sunday, Sisar Pace and I headed down to Helsinki. Oh my goodness...I have to tell you about the train...hahahaha ok so we get on the train and head to our seats and these WAY SKETCHY looking guys were already sitting there. When I say sketchy, I'm not kidding. Probably super judgmental, but these guys had no shirts on, were COVERED in tattoos, too many piercings to count, no shoes, and two big glasses of beer in each hand. I walked into the car on the train, looked at the seat numbers they were sitting in, had a heart attack...and then I, being the senior companion said in my wonderful finnish...NOT...."Uh excuse me, I think you are sitting in our seats." One of the guys looks up at me with a beer foam mustache and busts up laughing and mutters something...in swedish...to his buddy. They looked at us and both just busted up laughing. Needless to say, they didn't move.
Anyways, Sisar Pace and I found other seats, but we came to find out real fast that it was a full train. No extra seats. So we proceed back to our dear shirtless friends and I said, in English this time..."Excuse me, these are our seats." The same mustache guy looked at me with bloodshot eyes and stood up and staggered off down the aisle. His friend stood up and moved out of the way...I sat down...and then he sat down right next to me with his beer sloshing all around in his cup. So if you can picture this...Sister Pace and I are sitting across from each other....this guy is sitting next to me with his bare feet up on the seat next to Sister Pace just slurping his beer and burping right in my face. I was pretty terrified, but at the same time, it really motivated me. I thought about talking to the guy, but he was so hammered he couldn't even hear what I said. Anyways, it just made me so sad to see what horrible things alcohol does to people. That guy was completely out of his mind, practically naked on a public train. What kind of a life is that? I felt so awful. It's just sad how Satan gets people. We have to do the little things every day to stay safe. We had a lesson on Sunday about being in the world but not of the world. It's so true. We have all this junk around us all the time, but we have to stay strong. We have to stand up for our beliefs. We will all be called upon at one point or another to do it. We need to be prepared for that. Anyways, I will hop off the "Missionaries against Alcohol" soap box, but it was a pretty interesting train ride, to say the least.
So we made it to Helsinki! I really enjoy Helsinki. I would bet 5 million dollars that there is at least one person from each nationality in Helsinki. It's awesome!! We stayed with Sister Owen and Sister Venz while we were there! They are so wonderful and we had such a good time with them! Oh wait, maybe I can kind of explain what happens at Interim. Ok, so when a trainee gets to 6 weeks, or 7 weeks in our case, in the country, we have Interim training. All the trainers and trainees go to Helsinki for 3 days. On Monday and Tuesday, we have training in the mission home with the AP's and President and Sister Watson and then on Wednesday we have language school in the morning and then go to the temple in the afternoon. Well needless to say, Monday morning I was STOKED!! I was so excited to see Sister Thayne and Sister Woods and all the other wonderful missionaries that I know and love. We walked in and Sister Thayne had saved me a seat...she is just the greatest thing in the world. I love her so much! But anyways it was just so good to see everyone!
President Watson and Sister Watson are incredible. We learned so many wonderful things about doing missionary work and I really had been praying that I would be able to know what to do to help my companion. Sister Pace has really been struggling with everything. She is pretty hard on herself and was just super discouraged about everything. I have tried every way I know how to help her and nothing was working. I tried to talk to her, she definitely didn't want that. I tried to leave her alone and just work as usual, but then it got worse. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty heavy-hearted, discouraged, and tired heading down to Interim. President Watson really did say so many wonderful things that I needed to hear. In my mind, when I heard I was training, I was so excited and thought to myself, "Ok, I am going to do everything right. I am going to help my trainee be independent, I am going to help her do hard things, I am going to lift her up and support her, yadda yadda yadda!" Well, I got my idealist situation into my idealist brain and it all came back and blew up in my face. My trainee didn't want any of the things I had anticipated doing...in fact, those things made her angry. She wanted to be left alone. Man, I hope this doesn't sound whiny, cause I don't want to whine, but I have just had the hardest time these past few months knowing how to work with Sister Pace. I know I need to listen and love her, but even that isn't enough. I felt like I wasn't enough. I wasn't what she needed. Even right now writing this, I still don't think I am. I know we are together for a reason...God doesn't make mistakes....and I know I really don't even need to know why, but sometimes I wonder, "Why? Why are we together Heavenly Father?" I just don't understand it. She thinks I am crazy because I love to talk and to share my feelings and to really have strong relationships. She doesn't do that. Never has. It's like we are friends, but we are both always walking on egg shells because we just don't understand the other one. I don't know...I was just feeling pretty exhausted at Interim and was hoping and praying pretty hard for some answers.
We learned so much about missionary work and being disciples of Christ. I wish I could just type up all my notes and send them to you, but I will show you them someday! On Wednesday we started heading to the temple and I still just felt so heavy-hearted. That really was the best way to describe it. I didn't expect Interim to solve my problems, but I expected some answers. I got answers to other prayers, but not to this "big prayer" I had been praying about for 7 weeks! Anyways, we drive up to the temple and I just looked at it and I couldn't stop myself from crying. It was literally the light at the end of my tunnel. We walked in and it was BEAUTIFUL!!! Literally, I can't even explain it and probably shouldn't. It was so Finnish. It was gorgeous. My favorite part was that we took off our shoes...just like in every Finnish home...they had a mud room!! WHAT?? It was awesome! Anyways, I really wish I could just tell you everything about how I felt and what I experienced, but after the session, I was just sitting in the most beautiful room I have ever seen and I felt like I was home. I felt so warm. I felt so peaceful and so happy. I hadn't felt that way for a long time. I just sat there and all of a sudden, my entire mission just came rushing into my brain. It started off on October 16, 2013 when I said goodbye to my family. I went through the MTC...the hardest and most wonderful 9 weeks of my life, I went to Tampere with Sister Egan and Sister Jones and then went to Vaasa with Sister Foster, Sister Fronk and now Sister Pace and I was just overcome with gratitude and love for my Father in Heaven. He loves us. Isn't that incredible? It just blows my mind.
Dad, you always say how retrospect is an interesting thing and you are right. As I was looking back at my mission and all these different images were popping into my head, I was just overcome. Literally Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ have been with me every single step of the way. There have been so many times...too many to count where I have felt alone. Times when I have been in darkness and have been confused and frustrated and tired. He never left. He was always there. He has sent me help in so many ways. I know there are people working here with me every day. Heavenly Father has allowed them to be with me and I am so beyond grateful for that. I love my family. I love you all so much. I can't even tell you how important you all are to me. I want you all to be happy. I want you to be safe. But mostly I want you to feel how much Heavenly Father loves each of you. I love you so much, but He loves you perfectly. We can't even begin to understand the love he has for each of us. The times in our lives when we feel the spirit so strongly are just glimpses of that eternal joy we can feel when we are with Him again, as families.
Remember when we were in Nauvoo and on our very last night, we all sat on the stage and sang "God Be with you til we meet again?" That is one of the times in my life when I can say I was pretty dang close to perfectly happy. The temple on Wednesday was another of those times and I have had SO many of those times on my mission. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I am so humbled and grateful to my Heavenly Father that he helped me get here, even when I didn't want to be. He knew better than I. He always does and everything we are given in life...trials and challenges included...are because he loves us. He wants us to grow, but he is not here to punish us. The first thing we teach people is "God is our LOVING Heavenly Father." There comes a time in all of our lives, I think, when our relationship with Him changes from God to Father. I think about my earthly father and how much I love Him and how much I wish I could just see him for minute. Then I think about my Heavenly Father and I miss him too. He wants us all back so badly. I know he does. That's why us 80,000 plus missionaries are out here....He wants us to get all his children back. I think sometimes in life, we are afraid of what Heavenly Father has in store for us. I know I am. Think about it, every person on this earth has been SAVED for this time. Not just sent, but we were all SAVED to come here. Right now. Right where we are! Have you ever really thought about that? "Have you ever really pondered that?" to quote President Watson. This isn't a coincidence. Nothing is. Heavenly Father is in control and He will not let us fail. I know He won't. The greatest evidence we have of God's love for us is that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior.
During interim, Elder Tippetts, one of the APs told us a story about his great-grandpa. So his grandpa...I think his name was Tom lived on a farm when he was a kid. On their farm, when you turned 8, you were able of course to get baptized, but also to drive the tractor and plow the fields. Well, one day, Tom received the assignment from his father to go and plow the fields. In farming, you have to stick to the schedule so that you can harvest your crops at the right time. It was pretty critical that the field was plowed and ready for the next day of planting. Anyways, Tom sets out, gets about halfway down with the first field and then he sees a jackrabbit. Now Tom, being an 8 year old little boy stops the tractor, jumps out and chases after the rabbit into the woods. He gets into the woods and become Paul Bunyon. He is playing with all the animals and just having a great old time being a little kid. Well, Tom loses track of time and before he knows it, the sun is starting to set. He remembers in his cute little 8 year old brain, "Oh no, I have to plow the fields." So he runs back to the tractor and starts working. Before long, the sun completely sets and before he knows it, it is completely dark. To top it all off, the light on his tractor burns out. Not only can he not finish plowing, but now he can't even get home. He starts crying as would be expected. Just then, he hears another tractor coming in the distance. He looks up and sees the light of his older brother's tractor shining on him. Tom explains to his brother what happened during the day. His brother looks at him and smiles and says, "Come with me, let's go home." Tom climbs in with his brother and as they are driving back, he notices that every single one of the other fields he was supposed to plow have already been plowed. His brother had done it all for him. They get to the house and the Father asks, "Have all the fields been plowed." Tom's older brother looks down at Tom and then back at their Father and says, "Yes. The work is done." Then, the father welcomes both sons into the house and sends them to bed.
Man, that story just about killed me. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the end, our older brother is going to be the one who saves us from ourselves. He is the difference between us being out alone in the dark to being nice and warm in bed. He has already paid the price, now we just have to do our part to serve and follow him. I know He is our Savior. I know he loves us and that no matter how far we feel we have fallen or how far off the path we are, we can always come back. It is never too late! I just love you all so much and am so grateful for all you do for me. The gospel is true. It's all real. God loves us and has a plan for us! Now it's our turn to trust Him. He won't leave us alone! Thank you all so much for everything! Good luck with school and work and soccer and tennis and everything else this week! You are all wonderful and I love you so much!
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. Something Finnish....The temple...there are only 5,000 members here and they have a temple...talk about foreshadowing! :) I love you!!!
|Me and Sisar Susanna Koivisto...our mini missionary|
|Me and my comps...and Vaasa|
|Of course we bought her McDonalds for her last night with the Amerikkalaiset! :)|
|Me and Sisar Pace heading to Helsinki|
|MY BESTEST FRIEND EVER!!!|
|Our hosts for the week, Sisaret Owen ja Venz|
|THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TEMPLE IN THE WORLD....and Nauvoo and Salt Lake!!|
|this place is my home|
|oh mom, I finally saw the moon! FOLLOW ME MR: MOON!!|
|Finnish clouds....Nothing better|
|We love driving....Sisar Pace drives SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO slow...like under the speed limit....man oh man....it's way....funny....sort of :) then again, I am the one who got the speeding ticket....maybe I should learn from her....|