The week of the apples!
Hyvää päivää you wonderful people you? How the heck are you all doing? Mom, Dad, and Lauren....I got the New York pics...holy cow....it looks like you had way too much fun! :) I am so happy you were able to go and be there together. I don't know what it is about that place, it's just magical...the good old big apple!! I loved the pictures though and I seriously can't believe how old and beautiful Lauren is and how not old and beautiful my parents are. Seriously...I feel like I haven't seen you guys...like ever! It's crazy! Mom, I don't know if I have said this, but I really love your hair! It's real nice and you look super classy...as always! Can't bring a classy lady down! :) Lauren though, for real...when did you get so old? You are just gorgeous and way tall....then Grandma sends me pictures of her with the kids at home...Anne, Joce, and Caroline are just so dang beautiful and Luke with his little bow tie? Oh my goodness...it's too great and you look way handsome Luke! Seriously though, what the heck is happening here? No one was supposed to change!! You have all sprouted! It's amazing! We have all changed so much...I can't get over it! But I am glad you had fun and that you are all safe and sound! It's good to travel, but it's so nice to come back home! Thanks for all the letters and emails from everyone, by the way. I love, love, LOVE reading about everything and pictures are wonderful as well!! Selfies included...send them my way! :)
So mom, I am definitely ready to write Sister Fronk's intro...that is so awesome you are having her for dinner...she is my best friend and I am so glad you guys have spent time with her! She is wonderful! Just let me know what you want me to write about and I will spill my guts...you better watch out, Sister Frog...hahaha totally kidding! All the facts about you are good and wonderful so don't worry about it! :) Also...speaking of former companions...shout out to my mother/trainer Sister Egan...just got a letter from her today that was AWESOME! Man, I have appreciated her and what she did for me so much more ever since I became a trainer. I am sure that's how you feel when you become a parent...you look at your parents and think, "Man...how did they raise me? How did they do it?" I have thought that so many times, but I am so grateful for all of the wonderful family members, friends, leaders, and companions who have changed my life for the better. I have met my best friends on my mission and most of them are my companions. I love them all!!
Sister Pace and I are doing really well. She is convinced I am leaving Vaasa next transfer. We'll see. Anyways, It has been super funny this week. I have noticed recently that whenever I turn around, Sister Pace is always way close to me...like in my former life I would have said she has been "all up in my grill". Yes, I used to be a gangster. :) But it's been way funny. I didn't really think anything about it, but we were at a restaurant with some members and I was trying to decide what to order and Sister Pace looked at me and said, "What are you going to get?" I was like "I don't know yet, I am kind of torn between two" and she said "K well tell me when you decide." At first I thought she was just wanting to make sure she didn't order anything more expensive than me, which is polite #goodgreenie, but I ordered and she said, "I want the exact same thing as her." It kind of struck me as funny because I know she doesn't like burgers very much and that's what I ordered, but I kind of brushed it off. Didn't think too much about it. As the week went on, I noticed she was doing it ALL THE TIME. Whatever I would say, she would echo. Whatever I would choose, she would choose the same. It's been super funny. I don't really know what brought about the change, but although it has been a process for us to become friends, I really think we are both going to miss each other a lot. She told me the other day that it scares her to death to think that I am not going to be her companion in a month. Granted, we don't know that for sure, but it really hit me that this isn't going to last forever. None of it is. This is precious time. President Watson said something to that effect to me in his letter last week. He said that before I know it, I will be with a new companion and this opportunity will be gone. I was like...dang...he's right. It has been such a good experience for me to be Sister Pace's trainer and companion. We have had our ups and downs, for sure, but it's amazing how the people you struggle with the most, you end up loving the most. That's probably why families are so tight. I am just really grateful for her and hope our last month together is super fun! Sorry...a little sentimental...but I am just really grateful for all the people I have met on my mission. I will never forget them, that's for sure.
This week was a great week in good old VAASA. We are just plugging along and I have just been so happy with the work that we have done recently. There is a line in Preach My Gospel where it asks how we would feel if we had to present our area book to the Lord. That really hit me for some reason so over the past few weeks I have just been going nuts organizing and cleaning out and getting our area book in tip top shape. It really is a tool for revelation and can be your greatest ally as a missionary. I know Heavenly Father has blessed us because of our efforts cause guess how many investigators we have? 17. That's right. I have never had so many on my mission. Granted, 17 is not manageable and we are working to focus on the "real-intenters" but man, we have contacted so many formers and potentials we have been wanting to get in contact with and the results have been miraculous. I know this is God's work and He is working with us.
So one former investigator we found is named Emmanuel. He is from Angola and has been in Finland for about 10 years so he speaks finnish pretty well. Apparently Angolese people speak finnish really well....who knew? Anyways, we found his teaching record in the "Olympia swamp" and went to visit his house, but no one lived there anymore. We called his number and he told us that we could come over. So on Tuesday morning, we took a member and headed over there. We sit down, and the member we brought with us apparently knew him so they just started chatting it up. I was like "oh man...this is golden...already a member friend...." The lesson went really well, except Emmanuel has some issues with people being baptized that aren't ready. He said that he knows a mormon who got baptized and had never read any of the bible and very little of the Book of Mormon. He was all like, "I love the mormon church, but it worries me that you let people get baptized who aren't ready." It kind of hit me way hard when he said that. Baptism is so important and sometimes it's easy to forget what it really means to be baptized. It isn't just so that people can join the church or so that they can follow the example of Jesus Christ. Those things are important, but I was reading today in 2 Nephi 31 and Nephi is explaining why Christ was baptized. In verse 7 it says,
Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
That really stuck out to me. Christ was perfect. He didn't need to be baptized. But he HUMBLETH himself before the Father and WITNESSETH unto the Father that he would be OBEDIENT unto Him. That's pretty simple but SO crucial. So many people in the world say, [read in african voice] #notracist "Oh Lord Jesus, I am a vile sinner, but I believe in you and have accepted you...thank you and good night". What the heck is that? That's not humbling yourself before the father and witnessing unto him that you are willing to be obedient and keep his commandments. How many "christians" are there in the world who take the name of God in vain and don't keep the sabbath day holy and commit adultery and steal and lie and covet....way too many to count, that's for sure. Flip, I am so guilty of doing some of those things...we all are. That is why we have to be baptized. Christ can cleanse us from our sins but only on the conditions that he has set forth. In Preach My Gospel it says...
The Savior satisfied the demands of justice for those who repent of their sins and endeavor to keep all of His commandments when He stood in our place and suffered the penalty for our sins. This act is called the Atonement. Because of this selfless act, Christ can plead with the Father on our behalf. Heavenly Father can apply mercy, withhold punishment from us, and welcome us into His presence. Our Heavenly Father shows mercy when He forgives us of our sins and helps us return to dwell in His presence.
However, Jesus did not eliminate our personal responsibility. He forgives our sins when we accept Him, repent, and obey His commandments.Through the Atonement and living the gospel we become worthy to enter the presence of our Heavenly Father permanently. We must show that we accept Christ and that we have faith in Him by keeping His commandments and obeying the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.
I love the "However" portion. He did not eliminate our personal responsibility. We have to have faith in Christ, repent, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. Those are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. That's why it doesn't work just to say you have accepted Christ. Baptism is a witness before God and has to be done by someone holding God's authority or there is no point. Anyways, sorry to get all preachy, that has just been festering and ripening in my mind so I wanted to share...yay for how much I want to share, right? Just kidding...sorry if it's annoying how much I write...you really don't have to read the whole thing...I promise! I won't feel bad...k kind of, but just don't tell me and all will be well! :) But long story short, Emmanuel is an investigator and he has a wife and a cute daughter named Belma...sick name huh? Mom and Dad, get ready to have a granddaughter named Belma someday. I am using it!
So after our lesson with Emmanuel, we finally were able to meet with Milla. Holy lands I was so apprehensive about this lesson. I don't know why...probably because I love Milla so much and know how much she needs this....Milla needs this so bad. Everyone needs it, but she REALLY needs it. Anyways, we get to her house and chat for a second. Then we pray and follow up on her Book of Mormon reading. Sidenote: It's always super cute when we go to investigator's homes...every single pamphlet, card, book, movie, or whatever we have given them is always sitting on the table so we can see it. It's awesome...either that or they "lost it". But anyways, Milla had everything on display and when we asked about the Book of Mormon, her eyes lit up and she said, "Oh my goodness, I love this book. I have read 10 chapters since the last time we talked." Mitä? Come again? She had read all the way up to 1 Nephi 10 on her own. It was amazing. When Elder Bednar taught us, instead of asking us "How we feel" he would ask "What did you learn from your experience?" I really liked that and thought that was one way we can help those we teach to learn by faith, not just by "force-feed." Anyways, we asked Milla what she learned and she opens up to 1 Nephi 7:17 which says:
17 But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord,according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me fromthe hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I mayburst these bands with which I am bound.
She then proceeds to tell us that she loves that Nephi prayed to be given strength, not that his circumstances would change. She looked at me and said, "Can I pray like that, too?" I was like, YES Milla, you can pray like that too! :) Talk about best question ever! She really loves the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon, a willing heart, and the spirit...that's all it takes. Anyways, we watched the Restoration video with her afterwards and she just loved it and said, "I feel like that movies really starts when it ends...I want to know more about Joseph Smith." Man...I just can't even tell you how happy we were after that! The spirit was so strong and we had planned to invite her to be baptized when her boyfriend calls on the phone and she had to leave to go pick him up from school...like for real...talk about opposition in all things. We need to get her a baptismal date so that she can have a goal and be working towards something, but that lesson was so good and we are just really happy about everything with Milla. She is wonderful!!
So Tuesday afternoon, we headed up to Oulu for splits with the sister training leaders. It takes about 5 hours by train to get there, but I love riding trains. I wish we had them more in America and they were used, but anyways, we were with Sister Hubner and Sister Lund again...they are both wonderful missionaries and I learn so much every time we go on splits. I was with Sister Hubner this time. She is hilarious and we get along really well. People kept asking us if we were germans because our names are both german...we debated lying and pretending to speak german but then figured....that was dumb....so no but we had a great time! I really love Oulu as well. It is a beautiful place and has the best bike paths IN THE WORLD. Biking in Oulu is one of my greatest joys! It was so much fun. We taught one of their investigators about the Word of Wisdom. That was fun. This guy is half Pakistani, half Finnish and he speaks finnish about 42432789 miles per hour. I had no idea what he was saying. It made me feel like a greenie again and boy oh boy...I didn't miss those days! :) It's great to be a greenie, but it's even greater not to be a greenie! It was great though and I love Sister Hubner a lot.
We had zone conference up in Oulu the day after splits. It was awesome to be together again. President said that when he drove Elder Bednar back to the airport, Elder Bednar just thanked him for allowing him to be a part of that meeting. He said that out of the 4 groups of missionaries they talked to, we were the most prepared group. Not to toot our own horn, but I was just so grateful that we had all prepared so much. Elder Bednar said that the spirit can only teach us what we are ready to hear and I was just so grateful that he had encouraged us to prepare. It was amazing. But Elder Bednar said something interesting to President. President said they were driving in the car and Elder Bednar looks at him and says, "You know what you have to do now right?" I love President...he is way honest and hilarious and told us, "I had no idea what he wanted me to say...I was nervous." But then Elder Bednar said, "You need to follow up with these missionaries in zone conferences soon. Much has been given today and where much is given, much is required." Woah. That's cool.
At the beginning of zone conference, President talked a lot about how wonderful the conference was and how great we all are and yadda yadda yadda, then he kind of stops and looks at us all and says, "So what? What are we all going to change about ourselves because of this meeting?" I thought a lot about conference when he said that. Like how many times in our lives have we watched conference, taken notes, felt uplifted, and then gone on with our lives exactly the same as before. That's not the point and I really realized that we are cheating ourselves if we aren't putting into actions those promptings we receive during any meeting in the church, not just conference. We should be changing and becoming better a little bit, every single day. That's the purpose of it all. Anyways, we got a lot of good counsel about rules and procedures at zone conference. A lot of good things about how to become better missionaries and how to take our work to the next level. It's going to be so great and I can't wait for conference!!
Anyways, zone conference lasted the whole day, so we came home on Friday morning. On Saturday, we played sähly, or floor hockey, with the ward and our investigators. I have never been really good at sähly. Thankfully I have played sports however, so I know where to run but when the ball comes to me, I just can't control it with the dumb stick. My first impulse is always to kick it...which I just found out is allowed...WHAT THE HECK!!! 10 months of lies! :) I am just kidding, but it was way funny because one of the members in our ward who was on my team came up to me and said, "Sister, you have an eye for the game. This is just like soccer. Get your self in the game and win." hahaha I was laughing so hard, but man...he knew how to get me fired up. I just started playing hard...not crazy, inappropriate hard, but I was going pretty hard. I scored 2 goals....that's right! I am a floor hockey pro! Just kidding...I really used my feet the whole time. What's that the kids are always saying, you can't teach an old dog new tricks? :) Alls I'm saying is Sister Pace informed me yesterday that she misses playing soccer and really enjoys it....my work here is done! :) The members are awesome though and I have made some friends here in Vaasa I know I will have for the rest of...well forever I guess! They are great!
We have these two investigators Lili and Salem. Lili is from China and actually was the elders former investigator and Salem is from Ethiopia. They are roommates and best friends. Its the cutest thing ever. Anyways, we had a lesson with them on Saturday night and I had the brilliant idea to bring my main man Chau along with us! haha I have never been on a lesson with him before...flip we were teaching him 3 months ago...but we invited him and he was so excited. He testified about the Book of Mormon in his wonderful little way..."Look, Lili, the sisters were always telling me to read the book if I had questions...but I didn't want to...but I did and I get answers. Every time." Man....that made me so happy!! There is nothing better than seeing the gospel change someone's life. Chau has changed so much. He is coming to church, blessing the sacrament, playing sähly with the members, and just really changing for the better. I am so happy for him!!
The kids came to church this week again...all 3 of them!! YAY!! I was super happy. We had to move their date back AGAIN one week because the ward is going to be gone on the 18th for a temple trip...man...those temple trips! No I am just kidding! I am glad they can go, I am just so excited for these kids to be baptized! The ward has been really excited about it and I know their baptism will be a wonderful day! I am so glad I get to be here for it!! Also, we got a new BML in our ward or Branch Mission Leader. I am SO EXCITED!! This is the first BML I have had in 6 months of being here....ya...not so good...but he is an RM, was the AP in his mission and is just super pumped to do missionary work. We have our first meeting with him tonight so hopefully all goes well!
Funny story/ cute story of the week. So Sister Pace and I were walking home from a Dinner appointment down the most beautiful road in Vaasa....I have dubbed it as such...it's my fav...sidenote: can we just all stop and appreciate how beautiful fall is? Oh my goodness. Like does Heavenly Father love us or what? He does. But anyways, we were walking and just chatting about all the good things in life when out from a bush...literally jumps this little girl. She definitely startled both of us, I thought Sister Pace was going to pass out...it was hilarious. Anyways, she blurts out, "I speak english too." We proceeded to talk to this little girl. Come to find out she is a finn, is 4 years old, has a baby girl sister, is from Tampere, and is staying with her cousins. As we are just having the best time talking to this girl we start seeing heads pop out from the windows of the house, the garage, the shed, all sorts of places. All these adults looking at this little girl like "What the heck is she doing? Is she actually talking to someone?" We told her it was nice to meet her and shook her hand and then started walking away. Sister Pace yells back to the adults, "Hän puhuu englanti todella hyvin." or "she speaks english really well"...they all nervously laughed and ran back into their house. But all the while this little girl was standing by the fence waving and yelling, "Have a good day. Nice to meet you." I was floored at how this reserved-ness and Idon'twanttotalktoyou-ness is not inherent in these people. They really do want to talk to us, they have just followed "the norms" set by who knows who, but they really do like talking. It may be uncomfortable for them at first, but then their little girl inside bursts from the bush and they talk and talk and talk. Finns really are the best people I know. I love them so much!
Which brings us to "Something Finnish" for the week. The finns are so generous...like literally they would give you anything you asked for. We received this referral from a member my first week in Vaasa and we have tried to contact this lady so many times but have never been able to get in touch with her. Anyways, Sister Pace and I were in her area about a week ago and I said, "Hey, let's go see if Marja-Leena is home." So we walk past her house and this little rat of a dog jumps out at us and starts barking and going crazy. Luckily it was tied to a tree...but Marja-Leena comes walking out from her back yard and looks at us and asks, "Are you two the mormons?" We said, "Yes we are." and she said, "Come here, I want to show you something." Sounds a little sketchy, right? No just kidding! It wasn't sketchy at all! :) Anyways, we walk into her backyard and there are literally thousands of apples all over. In the trees, on the ground, on the table...flip I should have taken a picture, but anyways, they were everywhere. She then said, "I don't want to listen to your message...I have heard enough about the mormons, but will you please take two bags of apples home with you...I don't know what to do with them all." haha we said of course and helped her kind of reign in her apple explosion. You best believe we made some dang good apple crumble, but it really is so true. They want to help each other...they just don't ask for help. It is kind of an interesting phenomenon, but yes...I love finns and we have so many apples from all the members and investigators that we don't even know what to do with them. Apples in the fall though...nothing better than that!!
Well anyways, I just hope you all know how much I love you and how much I love this gospel. It really is so amazing and I know that when we do all that we can do, God makes up for the rest every single time. I have so many things about myself that I wish I could change or wish I didn't do, but I know that Heavenly Father doesn't expect us to be perfect NOW. It's all about the progression. I was reading over my journal a couple days ago and I found from my MTC days when I picked my mission motto. It is 2 Nephi 31:20 and it says:
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness inChrist, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God andof all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon theword of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith theFather: Ye shall have eternal life.
I love that so much. It really is the way. It's the only way and it's all possible through our Savior, Jesus Christ. I have loved reading the Book of Mormon recently and focusing on his Atonement. It really is the greatest miracle and blessing in all of our lives. I have also gained a greater appreciation for the Book of Mormon. Because of that book, we know how to get back into our Father in Heaven. It literally gives us the steps and we just have to be brave enough to follow them. While reading my journal, I was really emotional. I am really good at expressing how I feel...did you all know that? :) and I wrote exactly how I felt in the MTC and during training and all the other times on my mission. Everyone always says that the mission is the best of times and the worst of times and it really is. I was really cut down in the MTC. I know I have said that before, but I didn't even know who I was. It was so hard, but for the first time in my life, I didn't fight the process. I didn't fight my life. I think Heavenly Father had to bring me low enough to the point where I literally couldn't fight anymore. I am not strong enough to bring myself out of the place I was, but my Savior is. He brought me out of that place and I really have changed. I will never be the same because of my mission and thank heaven for that. I love being a missionary. I am so grateful to be a missionary. I love Finland. I love the gospel. I love my Heavenly Father. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. I love the Book of Mormon. I love it all and I hope that we all remember every day how truly blessed we are to be members of this church and to know what we know. I just love you all and hope you have the most wonderful, conference-prepping, fall-enjoying week ever! I love you all so much and I will talk to you soon!!
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. I am still working on some ideas for your lesson mom...it is coming, I promise! Thanks for everything lady...I love you!!!