"For all the WONDERFUL you add to the world..."
What up, buttercup? :) How the heck are you all doing? Another week down...where does the time go...ok I am done with the intros...Guys....I GOT YOUR PACKAGES THIS WEEK....oh my goodness. Seriously you guys are the best thing that has ever happened to me!! Two elders from our district were down in Helsinki this past week so they were able to bring my packages to district meeting...not going to lie, birthdays have always been my favorite, but this birthday and getting packages from you all was something special! Grandma, Rachel, and Anna...thank you so much! It was AWESOME to have all that birthday stuff...by the way, how did you get my name on that banner? You guys are the best! Thank you so much for thinking of me and I especially loved the scratch and sniff root beer stickers...you all know me too well! :) They don't have root beer in Finland so it was great to get to smell it at least! hahah I love you and thank you for the sweet cards! You are my best friends and I love you all! and Mom, Dad, Jocelyn, Anne, Lauren, Luke, and Caroline...HOLY FRIJOLES! You guys are the best. I LOVE the new shirts...they couldn't have come at a better time! And thanks to Jose Eber as well...my hair is not completely boring anymore! :)
Thank you for the sour patch kids, white chocolate hersheys, cheez-its, no bake cookies, earrings and all the other wonderful things. You all know me WAY too well! :) Thank you for the letters you wrote...I have read and re-read them so many times this week and every time I read them, I just think, man, I literally have the best family in the world. It's not even a contest! Seriously, I don't deserve you guys. Thank you so much! I have to tell you though, above everything else....the Louis Armstrong card...OH MY GOODNESS. K, so I just have to tell you the story...I could tell that it was a thicker card and I was like, "Oh man, if it's one of those voice recorder cards I am going to die"...you know how you can do that now, like put your voices in the card? Anyways, I was kind of nervous cause I knew I would bawl my eyes out if I heard your voices so I saved it until the end. Anyways, I am sitting there and Sister Pace is watching me and I open the card and read, "For all the wonderful you add to the world..." then I open it and hear, "YEEEESSSSS, I think to myself, what a wonderful world." Guys....I was bawling my eyes out. I was laughing and crying and ahhhh...I just missed you so much and was SO stinking happy that you found that card! It literally made my life. It is the most wonderful thing in the world! Thank you so much! Sister Pace was crying too...it was hilarious... and she said that my face was priceless...I wish I had a picture, but just know it made me so happy! I loved what you said Anne, "I wish I could see your reaction to this card" and then Mom when you said, "I saw this card and couldn't resist"...man...you really are the best! I love you all so much! Dad thank you for the money and for your sweet note...I love you so much and am so grateful for your example and for how hard you work for our family! We don't tell you half as much as we should, but we all appreciate it so much! I think about what how hard you worked to get through school and everything and how hard you have worked for everything that you have. The best part is, I know you have done it all because you love us...Thank you and I love you! Anne...you are wonderful and thank you so much for all the sweet things you said! P.S. your schedule looks bomb awesome! You have Brother Palmer? He is a way good teacher! Tell him I said Hi! Lauren, thank you so much for your letter! I was laughing SO hard when you were talking about cursive and spelling! You have changed so much, but will always be my BB! Luke and Caroline, thank you so much for the pics! I have them hanging up in my room! And Doce...Thanks for the email! You are the best too! I have just had the biggest bursts of love for you all this week...for as much as I type and ramble in these letters, I really can't express how much you all mean to me. Hopefully one day you know, but for now, just know that I love you all with all my heart and pray for you in every prayer! I hope you never forget that! :)
One thing I wanted to say though, Mom and Dad, I have thought a lot this week about saying "I love you" to our family members and I just wanted to thank you both for making that such a big part of our family. I can't remember a time in my life when I walked out of the house or got off the phone with a member of our family and didn't tell them that I love them and have them say it back to me. I never really thought much about it as a kid, it was just what we did. Now that I am an old woman, however, :) I have come to realize how important it is to tell the people we love that we love them. All the time. There is no reason not to and it makes relationships SO much better. Just that little thing. Mom and Dad thank you so much for making that a part of our lives. I have been thinking a lot this week about "laying up treasures in heaven". I have just been so grateful for the value and importance our family places on relationships. Apart from knowledge and our testimonies and experiences in life, relationships are, in my opinion, the most important things in life and really will be our greatest treasures in heaven. They are the hardest, but most important thing and I am so grateful to you all for the relationships I have with each of you. Man, talk about a full heart this week...is it almost Thanksgiving? Everyday should be thanksgiving, No but seriously, I just love you all and hope you know that!! Thank you for everything!
Man...whew...that was fun to talk about! But now, onto our week! We had a really good week this past week. Our numbers were the best this week they have been in a transfer and a half...not that numbers matter, but it is always good to be progressing and Sister Pace and I are really working on tightening up the screws and taking our missionary work to the next level. We had another lesson with Milla this week. She has read so much of the Book of Mormon on her own which is so awesome! I am so happy that she is enjoying it and really seems to understand it. We had planned on inviting her to be baptized this week, but I don't know, it's kind of been rough with her because she kind of doesn't take us seriously. She loves the Book of Mormon which is so good...like really, I have such a strong belief that the Book of Mormon, a willing heart, and the spirit are all it takes in missionary work, but as we were testifying and about to invite her to be baptized, she cracked some joke and the spirit totally left her home. We tried to bring it back, and I think she knew that and just kept laughing and talking and offering us pulla aka finnish delicious bread and anyways, the lesson didn't go so well. She lives with her boyfriend and we are pretty sure she knows that is wrong and that we are going to say something about it, but I know she likes us and likes when we come. It's hard sometimes because people feel the spirit when missionaries and members come and they know it's good and they like how they feel, but it scares them at the same time. Anyways, she is super busy with work so we are just trying to meet with her, but pray for Milla! She needs all of your faith! :)
The kids are doing well. We are still trying to figure out how to work with the parents. The kids want to be baptized, but Caspian and Ronja are so young and to be honest, they get bored at church. But they really have no support from their parents to come so if they don't want to go, the parents don't make them go. That's what happened yesterday. Tinja, the 11 year old wanted to come to church. In fact, when we went to the door to walk with them to church, Tinja came running out of the door and ran out of the apartment building...she told us she loves how she feels at church because it is a "pyhä paikka" aka holy place! Man...become as a little child folks, its the way to go! Anyways, the kids are with their dad this week...it is SO much harder to work with him, but I am not giving up on these kids. They need this and if we have to keep driving to their house, teaching them at the door when they are with their dad, then that's what we will do. It's funny because the parents both like church, they just don't want to "pressure the kids into joining." I totally agree. No one should be pressured, but these kids want to be baptized, they just have 0 support. I don't know, maybe I am way off base. The bishop has said SO MANY TIMES that these kids need to be baptized and heck, I know they need to be baptized and Heavenly Father knows it, but maybe we are working with the parents the wrong way. The thing is though, if we keep pushing back the date until the parents are coming to church and supportive, it may never happen. Anyways, sorry to ramble, I am just at a loss right now of what to do with these kids! Just pray for these kids! They need some serious help...it's easy to feel small sometimes, working with people that have BIG problems, but that's when we turn to the Lord! Sister Pace and I were talking about that this week as we were walking down the street. She asked, "You know, I am not trying to destroy faith here, but why would anyone want to stop and talk to two american girls on the street who don't speak finnish about God? It's kind of crazy." It really is when you think about it. After much debate...ok it lasted like 30 seconds...we came to the mind blowing conclusion that they listen, because it is true and the ones who are prepared recognize the truth when we tell it to them. There is no other way this would work! I am so grateful that this is all true! It's all real! It's the best!
So we taught Terttu and Leinä again. Seriously, they were two of the best lessons I have taught on my mission so far. It was funny because both of these ladies are SUPER active in their churches, Lutheran and Pentecostal. They both just wanted to bash with us...why do people like that? :) Anyways, at the beginning of Terttu's lesson, there was just a real bad spirit in the home...like a spirit of "We're about to throw down". We started talking and, just as expected, she just started ripping everything apart. As the lesson went on, what I had studied in personal study just kept pounding in my head...the words, "Make this personal...this is all about her" kept running over and over in my head. I have always known that...I think...but this was the first lesson in a long time, especially when someone is ripping apart everything that I believe and love, that I just stopped, looked at her and felt Heavenly Father's love for her and I knew in that moment that all he wants is for her to return back to him. She paused for like 0.4 seconds to take a breath and while she was pausing, I jumped in and testified of Heavenly Father's love for her. I told her how important she is to him and how He really just wants what is best for her. It's funny because what I said is something that I think in almost every lesson I teach, but I realized, right then, that I don't say that as much as I should. That really is what all of this is about. It's to bring Heavenly Father's children back. It's not about numbers or the missionaries. In fact, it never has been, never will be and never should be about anyone other than the investigator. It was just a super cool experience and afterwards, she committed to read the introduction to the Book of Mormon and to pray and ask Heavenly Father if what we had taught her was true! I had a really fun time teaching Terttu and Leinä that day! That is one thing I really want to do from this point on is to make everything we teach totally and completely personal for these people. That is when the spirit can testify that they really do have a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for them and wants them back. It's awesome!
So we have been doing really well with finding investigators these past few weeks. Last week we found 5 and this week we found 4. BAM! We have really been focusing on talking with everyone, by the spirit, asking for referrals from EVERYONE, and utilizing our assets better. We found 1 new investigator through "The Area Book Cleanse". Sister Pace had the flu on Friday and Saturday. Friday we did work, but Saturday she was super sick, so she was sleeping it off and I went through and cleaned out the Area Book. So here's the thing...in Vaasa, there is a block of student housing known as "Olympia". I think I have talked about it before but man...you know the slums on Batman Begins? Ya, that's what Olympia is like but not as dark or scary. It's just this maze and this place is chuck full of foreigners. Well, in the past, a lot of missionaries have tracted out Olympia to find investigators, because you are pretty much guaranteed to find someone. We teach anyone who will listen, but the problem with doing that is that these students who the missionaries teach live in Finland for like 4 months to 1 year and then they leave and never come back again. Anyways, our area book was just stuffed with teaching records of people with only their name and their telephone number. So while Sister Pace was sleeping, I called all the people...ALL the people. It was awful, but we got it cleaned out and actually found one new investigator through it. His name is Femmi. He has lived in Finland for 3 years and LOVED meeting with the missionaries about 2 1/2 years ago and then for some reason, they never came back. Anyways, we taught him last night and he is super genuine. Like I was a little skeptical, not going to lie, but he had a lot of good questions and we are teaching him again this week and are super excited about it!
While we were going to Femmi's house, there was this african woman standing outside her house, smoking. Sister Pace and I stopped and started talking to her. Come to find out she is like hard core Protestant and believes she is saved...sidenote: I can't believe people really believe all you have to do to "be saved" is to tell God you sinned and "mean it"...man...being saved on those terms seems like a little puny thing...it's so not! Anyways, this lady wasn't wanting to talk, but she said, "Hey, I have a roommate who needs God...she is from China...would you two like to talk to her?" Of course we said YES and this cute little chinese girl in footie pajamas #rockon came out and said, "I would love to learn more about the God." The chinese are back everyone! The whole in my heart is being filled! :) Anyways, we have a lesson with Hexiayan tonight...that's her name...she wrote it down...I have no idea how to say it...and I am way excited for it. Honestly hearing someone pray for the first time who has never prayed before is my favorite thing. We are focusing on prayer tonight, so hopefully all goes well and hopefully she prays with us! :)
We have a new district...that's always a fun time! We got two new greenies in our district, Elder Smith and Elder Reyes. All the rest stayed the same! Elder Reyes is a convert of a little over a year and he told us his conversion story during lunch after district meeting. Man, it was so cool. He is from L.A. and he told us how earlier in his life, he had nothing. He didn't believe in God at all or really anything for that matter and he told us that when he thought about life after death, it scared him. He worked as a paramedic...or was studying to become one...and he said this 40 year old guy came in one day...or his family brought him in because of heart failure. This family had been playing basketball and the dad just dropped. Anyways, long story short, they couldn't save this dad and he passed away. Elder Reyes said that when he watched the man die and then went out into the hall and saw his kids and wife crying and mourning for their father, he knew that there had to be something more after this. He said, "I never really understood why I wanted to be a paramedic, but that day, I knew that I needed to have experiences like that in order for my heart to soften." Anyways, he had a member friend who he talked to about life after death and all the good things. He started meeting with the missionaries, but he was drinking way hard and was into drugs. He said the missionaries literally saved his life and he loves them so much. It was so cool to be able to hear about someone's conversion from their perspective, especially a young, "punk" surfer dude from California who really didn't care about anything and now he is here in Finland, wearing a white shirt and tie, talking to people about God. The gospel is incredible and can change anyone. No problem is to big. It was a really cool experience to hear his story!
Sorry this letter is kind of lame. Sorry if all of my letters are kind of lame. I found myself wishing the other day that I had amazing stories of "thousands being baptized" and all the other stuff, but I have learned a lot this week about gratitude. You know, we all see miracles in our lives everyday. I see them all the time here in Finland. Ya, there may not be thousands of members here and we don't have the highest, record breaking numbers here, but the work is going forward, unhindered. It really is. Every time I start to get frustrated or start to lose hope, I just think of how much the mission has changed since I have been here. It's pretty incredible to see how things that we used to focus so much on when I was a greenie are just second nature to all the missionaries now. I am so grateful for President Rawlings and all he did for this mission and for President Watson's leadership as well. I am just so grateful to be where I am. Granted, it's not always easy. I have to tell you, I have been really worried about being in one place for a long time. I have been in Vaasa for 6 months...that's not too long, I know people are in places for 1+ years, but I just don't want to get too comfortable. I have this fetish in my brain that I think I have developed on my mission. I feel as though if I am not struggling or having a super hard time in life, I am not progressing or moving forward.
Right now, life is pretty simple. My companion and I are friends now, our area is growing and doing really well, we love the members and they love us, my family is all happy and well, my friends are awesome and are all being just their amazing selves....I have found myself looking around and thinking, "What the heck, this is too easy...I must be doing something wrong." Talk about backwards thinking. I was praying the other night and was just super frustrated with myself. I have been thinking and praying a lot to know why I am still in Vaasa and what Heavenly Father wants me to do here because honestly, I felt like I was leaving and I felt like I needed a change. I was just kneeling there by my bed, not really saying anything, and I really felt the "still, small voice" tell me that I need to slow down, look around myself, and enjoy the journey. It really was that straightforward and simple. I think I have a tendency to get so focused on the task at hand or the end goal that I completely forget to stop and look around me and just to enjoy my life and enjoy all the blessings my Father in Heaven has given to me. I have been better with this at times on my mission than at others, but I just look back on my life and my mission and I have realized I haven't let myself enjoy my life as much as I should have. Now I don't mean to say that I haven't enjoyed my life at all, because I have, but I just want you all to know that I have a testimony of Heavenly Father's love for us. That love includes his desire for us to be happy and to enjoy our lives and to be grateful for all that we have. He wants us to work hard, but he wants us to SLOW DOWN. We can never stop trying to be our best, I know I can never stop trying to improve, but I know that Heavenly Father wants me to enjoy this time I have in Vaasa...my favorite place in the world with people that I love SO much, being supported by a family as wonderful as you. I really don't know why he has blessed me so much. I feel so unworthy of all that I have, but I just hope you all know that I am working as hard as I can here in Finland. I want nothing more than to make you all proud and to do the will of my Father in Heaven. If serving a mission is a way that I can say thank you to my Heavenly Father and my Savior for all that they have done for me, I would stay here and do this forever. You all mean the world to me. I know I am so not perfect, but thank you for loving me in spite of that. When I opened your package, I just cried and cried. Why am I so lucky? What did I do to deserve you all? Probably nothing. Heavenly Father just knew I needed you all. Thank you for who you are! I wish I had time to write you all individually, every single one of you and tell you everything I love and appreciate about you, but I pray every day that Heavenly Father will help you all to feel of my love for you. Anyways, I just hope that you all feel that you are a part of my mission. I know I ramble and write about things that probably don't matter, but I just want you to be a part of it and to really know and feel what it's like to be a finnish missionary...at least through my eyes. Ok, I am done now! I just love you! :) Thank you for all "the wonderful you add to the world."
Anyways, "Something Finnish" for the week...a member in Tampere told me...in English...that all Finnish people fall into the category of gnomes, trolls, or elves. Let me 'splain...so their facial features resemble that of a gnome, a troll, or an elf. I read my journal the other day about that and I laughed for about 43895 hours because it is SO TRUE. There are 3 distinct groups and you can pretty much put them all in one...how is that for generalizing my favorite people in the world? :) It's just way funny...Finns are the best and I love them a lot!!!
We are super pumped this week...we go down to Helsinki on Thursday and then ELDER BEDNAR IS SPEAKING TO ALL OF US ON FRIDAY! I am so excited and I have been praying so hard that I will be able to receive some answers to my prayers during this meeting. Elder Bednar told President Watson that he REALLY wants us to prepare well. I have heard Elder Bednar has cancelled meetings before because he felt people didn't prepare or weren't ready...man...I hope you guys enjoyed those talks I sent and really studied them. They are so good and apply to each of us for different reasons! Anyways, I am so excited to tell you about it next week and will probably have all sorts of good pictures of me and ALL MY FRIENDS!! 3 of my former companions are dead...RIP Sister Egan, Sister Foster and Sister Frog...Fronk.. :) But I am SO PUMPED to see Sister Thayne, Sister Pack, Sister Woods, Sister Dixon, Sister Jones, and all the other wonderful missionaries I know and love! My best friends are in this mission! It's going to be so great and we get to stay at the mission home! Party on! Anyways I love you all so much and if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know! I want to help you all if I can! Keep me posted on all the good things! Thanks again for the packages...it literally made my life! :) I am saving the blue shirt for the Elder Bednar day...I have my outfit all planned out! hahahaha some things never change! I love you so much!! Have the best week ever!
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. My bike is a champ...seriously she is holding up really well! Thank you so much dad for letting me buy one and for all the other stuff! I am just really grateful for you! Ok, bye!!!
|My greenie and our ex AP, Elder Heaney...he just went home|
|My attempt at being creative...I was a photographer for the Fairfield Junior High yearbook|
|Finnish clouds...dang girl|
|BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING!!!|
|I love you all more than life itself!!! Thank you so much for everything!!|