Oh, BTW...I just found out my actual release date as a missionary. This is horrible. It's May 7, 2015. It's about 2 weeks later than my original date, but don't worry...I think I might get home before Mother's Day so that will be fun! Anyways, just thought you would like to know...maybe you already knew and I didn't...oh well! It will be a great day, but I still have loads of time...thank heaven for that! I know I have said this already, but honestly, if you would all just like to move to Finland really fast, I will gladly stay here and do this forever. K cool! :) I already have a house picked out...it even has a farm mom! :) We would have way too much fun in Finland! One day though, one day!!
Man, where to even start with this week...it's been way good. All the weeks are good. Even when they are hard, they are good. I remember before my mission, Grandma Parkinson always used to say, "Liv, you can do this because we can do hard things." I have thought about that so many times on my mission. With our Savior's help, we really can do hard things. It's such a comfort to know that in spite of whatever comes in our lives, we really can get through anything and we are never given anything we can't handle. Man...I just am so grateful we have that knowledge, but always remember that everyone...we can do hard things! :)
So this week...first off I have to explain the title of my email. So in our car...there is a little port for a USB. Since I am brilliant...NOT...I bought a USB a long time ago and loaded it up with quality EFY music from lds.org to listen to in the car. I was super bummed because I have my iPod with all of my favorite church music, but alas, no iPod jack in the car. About a week ago, Sister Pace said, "Why don't we listen to your iPod in the car?" I said, "Man, I wish we could...it doesn't have an iPod spot" then she said, "Have you really been on your mission that long? Your charger has a USB on the end of it...you can plug that into the car and listen to your iPod." .................................................................................................................................dang it. I have been living a lie. Did you all know that iPod chargers have a USB on the end of them? What the heck? Man, I felt so old when she said that...I was like "Oh, ya, I totally knew that...." Ya, I had no idea. But anyways, long story short....its probably too late for that...but we have been listening to my iPod recently and its way better!
We were driving home from Seinäjoki on Thursday this week and "My Turn on Earth" popped up. It was "The Golden Rule". I had totally forgotten about those songs so I said, "Oh man, Sister Pace, do you know My Turn on Earth?" She looked at me like I was a weirdo...which is true...but we proceeded to listen to the My Turn on Earth CD. Oh my goodness I was laughing and crying and singing my heart out. I kept having flashbacks of Jocelyn singing the "Jesus' plan vs. Satan's plan" song and jumping up and down from the fireplace...oh my goodness! It was way too funny! Also the "Everybody ought to have a body" song...remember how we would always do the kick line at the end when the song starts to pick up? Oh man...we are too funny guys! I missed that so much! But anyways, just wanted to share that story with you! I was laughing super hard and felt like you were all here with me! :)
So I told you about our investigator Heini last week or a couple weeks ago...the one we met doing "10 doors". We had our first lesson with her last Monday. She has the cutest little baby Alexi. They are just a cute little family...well she said her boyfriend isn't interested...so that's a bummer, but still she is great. We went into their house and come to find out, their dog is the mental dog from a few weeks ago that tried to break down the door with it's head...it's messed up! :) Anyways, she opens the door and this dog just goes CRAZY. I have never seen that look in an animal's eye before, but it looked like it was going to kill me. So the dog is standing there, blocking the door and Sister Pace and I are awkwardly standing outside saying, "Oh, what a lovely dog." Actual train of thought=how am I going to kill this thing when it tries to attack me? But all the while, Heini is just standing there, ushering us in, assuring us that he is totally harmless...come to find out he is...big phony...and by the end he was trying to jump up in my lap. Can I just say, I love dogs...always have, but being a missionary has just solidified in my mind the fact that my dog or any other animal I have will NEVER be in my house. Anyways...Heini had a TON of questions. We started getting to know her, but by the end, it sort of turned into an interrogation on her part. She asked us all sorts of things about polygamy, having horns...which I just learned the word for in finnish during that lesson....then she had more realistic questions like "What happens if you fall in love with a non-mormon, can you marry him?" and "Why do your members drink caffeine in soda, but not in coffee." Those are valid questions...thankfully the answer for all of the crazy questions these people have are 99.9% of the time....read, pray, go to church. But we resolved some of her concerns and ended up having a really good lesson. We hope all continues to go well this week...and we are friends with her dog so 10 points to Gryffindor! :)
I just have to tell you....this week I have gained the strongest testimony of DAILY CONTACT with our investigators. That is something Preach My Gospel mentions all the time, but I have always struggled with it. A, it's kind of awkward, B, we don't want to be too up in their grill, C, I am just not creative enough to come up with ideas. After I stopped rationalizing why I shouldn't do daily contact, I started doing it and HOLY COW. It's been amazing. We have worked with our members to just shoot our investigators a text or to invite them to FHE or to invite them to church or to ask them how their day is going or to stop by and say hi and ask about their reading...all sorts of great ideas. I had a strong feeling in mission conference that daily contact would really change my missionary work, and it totally has. It's been amazing. Now, our investigators trust us more. They feel like we actually care about them, not just getting our message in. It's super important that they feel special. We just take a little time during nightly planning to actually write out HOW we are going to be in contact with these people on a daily basis. It requires a little extra planning, but man it is so worth it and you really get to know your investigators better that way. But anyways, for all you future missionaries out there, daily contact is the secret. I really believe that!!
So we had a couple of miracles happen this week. I decided this week that I am really glad I am serving in Europe. Yes, what everyone said is true, it is a "hard mission". But man, when you have success, it just makes it that much sweeter! Our chinese investigator Lili is one of the miracles. She works here as a nurse and is planning on staying here forever which is great. She speaks finnish basically fluently. Chinese people have great finnish accents...who would have thought? Anyways, we had a lesson with her. Sister Pace and I were both kind of hesitant about whether we should continue to teach her or not. She is super nice, but she hadn't kept her commitment to read the Book of Mormon for like 3 appointments in a row, and we were just like...man...dang it. She really is so nice and great! But anyways, on Tuesday, we decided that we needed to invite her to be baptized. We were explaining about Christ and how through Him we can become clean from everything. We can get rid of guilt, shame, anything from our past, and we really just testified of His love. The spirit was so strong in that lesson...we were praying for each other super hard during the lesson and you could tell. Anyways, as we had finished explaining baptism, before we could even invite Lili she said, "Well I haven't been baptized yet. Do you think I need to get baptized?" hahaha yes. We do. Sister Pace said, "Everyone needs to get baptized. Will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized by one holding the priesthood authority of God?" and Lili said, "Oh yes, I would love to." YIPPPEEE!!! Her baptismal date is November 29. It is kind of far out, but she basically has no knowledge of God...well now she does, but we just want to make sure she understands before she is baptized. We are super excited for her though! It's always so great to see the light in someone's eyes change when they say they want to be baptized. It's true what you said Dad, you really can tell so much about a person by their eyes. It's amazing how true that is!!
So miracle number 2...well more like 124789, but the second one I want to talk about is Milla. We had a lesson with her on Wednesday morning. It went really well and we talked about faith and repentance. We really have been trying so hard lately to improve our skills as teachers so we can get out of the way of the spirit. This lesson really was a discussion and the spirit was there so strongly. Milla shared with us how she doesn't think it's right that people can just say they believe in Christ and then they are saved. Thank you Milla. But she said she doesn't really know how we can really be saved other than just by saying it. Can somebody say SEGWAY?? It was brilliant. We then talked about baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost and invited Milla to be baptized. At first she said maybe. I really appreciate when they say that...I know, weird, right? But then we are able to talk about what would be stopping them from being baptized. Anyways, she said that she doesn't know if she is ready to give up beer and coffee. It was way funny she said, "I don't know if I am weak or if I am just finnish." She knows that it's right to quit those things, but that is a hard thing to do...give up something you literally depend on. Also, she lives with her boyfriend and she asked us the same question as Heini about whether or not she could marry her boyfriend if she were a mormon and he weren't. She really had so many valid concerns and I was just so grateful that the spirit was there and she felt like she could trust us and really tell us how she was feeling. We testified of the power of the Atonement and how Christ really can help us change things about ourselves...even our very natures. She agreed to work towards the 22 of November as her date! We are just so excited and she is coming to FHE tonight to watch the full length Joseph Smith movie. We are super pumped. But pray for Milla and Lili. This is always when Satan tries to make them doubt, but these two are strong. I know it will all work out!
During zone conference, President challenged us all to get in contact with every less active in our wards or branches. We have been in contact with all of our less actives and now we are working with one specifically. Her name is Ha. She is from Vietnam and has the cutest little restaurant in the center. She is 27, is WAY pretty, and is really into horoscopes and stars and signs and stuff like that. I kind of was teasing her awhile ago and I told her that I could read handwriting. She FREAKED OUT and has written me pages and pages of stuff and wants me to read her handwriting. That's what I get for trying to be funny. Every time we go over there she is all like, "Sister, have you read my handwriting?" Man...it probably wasn't smart of me to say I could. I thought she knew I was kidding...like who can really read stuff like that? But oh no, she believes it. So if anyone wants your handwriting read, send it on over! I am in high demand here in Finland :)
Anyways, Ha has been saying a lot lately that she wants to come back to church. She is really struggling financially and doesn't believe she can pay tithing. I think the thing with her is that she really wants a huge solution to her problem, when really it all comes back to the basics. She said that she feels she has lost her faith. I was reading the Book of Mormon the other day and I had the thought, "Hello, Heavenly Father has given us books and books of instructions on how to increase our faith...its called the bible, book of mormon, pearl of great price, and doctrine and covenants." I think human beings in general just aren't satisfied with the simple answers which really would solve their problems. I think we all do it because if our problems can be fixed by something simple, then we really have no excuse not to change. We want big solutions because then we have more of a "safety net" of excuses to fall back on like..."but my problem is too big to fix, that's why I am the way that I am." Honestly, that's not true. Elder Holland said when people say "That's just the way I am" it makes him want to scream. There is no such thing as "That's just the way I am." or "That's just how hard my problem is." Nothing is so big that the gospel and the atonement can't fix. Nothing...anyways...pray for Ha. We are trying to work with her on daily scripture study and prayer and coming to church. The 3 pillars of success!! :)
We taught the kids about the word of wisdom this week! Man...that was hilarious. So we brought this whiteboard we have in our apartment and we drew a bunch of pictures on it of vegetables and fruit and wine and beer and coffee and just all the things. We taught about the word of wisdom first and then showed them the pictures. Man these kids just went crazy. They "x-ed" out those bad things so fast and did it with quite a bit of aggression...kind of scared me a little bit :) but it was just great to teach kids again...we teach SO simply, but that's how we should teach all the time. It made me miss my primary kids a lot...Avi, Ammon, Nathan, Tiia, and Samantha. I love those guys and hope they are doing well! If you guys see them at church...tell them I said I and that I love and miss them!!
So a few months ago...Sister Pace and I were riding our bikes over this bridge in Vaasa. There was a woman at the bottom of the bridge, waiting to cross the street. She had a way cute dress on, sunglasses, and was pushing her baby in a stroller. I distinctly remember saying in my head, "Ok Heavenly Father, if you keep the light red, I am going to talk to this lady." Well, the light stayed red, I jumped off my bike and started talking to her...by the way, the bike dismount in a skirt...definitely an art form...I have gotten pretty good at it :) but I asked this lady how her day was going...like normal she looked at me like "Why are you talking to me? Who are you?" She didn't really respond back and every time we asked her a question, she just responded shortly and tried to ignore us. Well, after many attempts we just decided, ok, she doesn't want to talk so we told her to have a wonderful day and proceeded on our way.
About a month after that day, after church I was standing in the foyer talking to some members and this lady comes up to me. She says, in english, "Hey I talked to you on the street the other day." I hate when people say that...cause that means I am supposed to remember and I had absolutely NO IDEA who she was. I was like "I am so sorry, I just can't remember." She proceeded to explain that day to me about us coming from the bridge and jumping off our bikes to talk to her when she was walking with her baby. Apparently, she had thought about NOTHING ELSE for the past month. She read our nametags when we talked to her that day and said she had been trying to find that place. Long story short, she meets the Elders on the street, they invite her to church and she came! Her name is Suzanne!
Want to know the best part of the story? SHE WAS BAPTIZED ON SATURDAY! It was awesome! She is so stinking cute and has a 6 year old and a 3 year old daughter. I made your lemon sugar cookies for her baptism mom...everyone loved them by the way! :) Her baptism was so wonderful. She even got up and bore her testimony and talked about the "2 crazy girls that jumped off their bikes and talked to her that day." It really is amazing how we really don't know what a difference the little things we do everyday will make. Honestly, I felt sick about talking to her that day because we didn't really testify or invite her to church or whatever, but we just talked to her and got to know her and she was baptized yesterday and asked us to come over for dinner. She is amazing! I love her so much!!
It's just been a great week! Another week in the life of a Vaasa missionary folks, it doesn't get much better! Which brings me to "Something Finnish/Something European" for the week. So did anyone else know how big of a thing hitchhiking is in Europe? After buses, that could possibly be the most used mode of transportation. There are hitchhikers all over the place. One of the elders investigators actually hitchhiked from France to Finland and met his girlfriend while he was hitchhiking. What the heck? Is this some unexplored bit of genius that we need to adopt in America...hahahaha No. It's not. But it's still way funny!
So I have thought a lot about everything that has happened recently on my mission. I feel like I have had a spiritual feast to end all spiritual feasts. It's been so incredible. I have felt an increase of the Holy Ghost in my life as I have really tried to tighten up the screws and change the things about myself that I know I need to change. President Watson encouraged us during zone conference to really study, pray and think about what we all want to become because of everything that has happened. This week during personal study, I came across Mosiah 3: 19 which says:
19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
I decided that this is what I want to become. I want to put of the natural man and refuse to be occupied with the things of this world that hold me back from being who Heavenly Father wants me to be. I want to yield to the spirit and get out of His way. I want to become a "saint" through the atonement and to become as a child. But mostly I want to be willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict on me. My year mark is coming up as a missionary...ew. that's gross. But I have been thinking a lot about what I was doing a year ago. I was writing my farewell talk, cleaning our house, and spending as much time with my wonderful family as I could. I was terrified. I have never been that scared in my life. I didn't want to go. It's horrible, but I really didn't want to.
I started my mission and didn't want to be there. I had absolutely NO CONCEPT of what it really meant to be a member of this church and what the gospel could really do for me and for everyone else in this world. I probably sound like a broken record, but I am really just ashamed of my state of mind as I left on my mission. It was bad. I have been really frustrated with myself lately about that...super lame to be living in my past, but holy cow, I had so much and have so much to still work on. I really don't understand how even in my stubborn and prideful state, Heavenly Father still loved me enough and was merciful enough to help me. I just realized...like just now...that he really doesn't ever give up on any of us. We have never fallen too far to be out of the reach of his love. It took me getting hit in the face with a spiritual 2x4 to realize that I needed to serve my Heavenly Father. I needed this. I don't want to make Him have to pull out all the stops to get me to do something again. I want to be submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, and willing to submit to all things. I am taking a part of this scripture for the next few months and stuyding in depth about how I can implement this into my life. I will keep you all posted for sure. Next week is "Yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit" week. Sweet! I am way excited for this!
On the other hand, I have come to realize this week that I need to chill out. You would think after a year of being a missionary I would have learned some of these lessons I really need to learn...one of them being to chill out. Flip, I don't know how to chill out. I really don't. Sister Pace and I had a great talk about it this week and she said, "You need to be as nice to yourself as you are to those around you." There is no way that can be an answer to my problems. I have some sort of sick problem in my head where I feel that if I am not struggling, I am not moving forward. If I am not improving in some area, I am going backward. I know we need to improve every day, but I also know I can't kill myself trying to do that. I don't know...I am kind of in turmoil about it all, but thankfully....anti-turmoil weekend is this weekend! I am so excited to watch conference and get answers to my questions. One of the best things I have learned from this past two transfers though is how important it is to be ourselves and just to LOVE people. Love can change the world. It has definitely changed me. You know that song on the Best Two Years where it says..."Don't you know, can't you see, I'm not who I used to be. Don't you know, can't you see, what Your love has made of me." That's really how I feel. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ's love for us can change us. We can become better. I know we can, but we also need to enjoy the journey. Sorry if this is all over the place today. I just really have a lot of questions and thoughts in my head and I know this weekend, I will get some clarity! I love you all so much and am so excited to talk about conference next week! We haven't watched the women's meeting yet and I am really excited to watch that on Saturday. We get to watch the Saturday morning, and Sunday morning sessions live with you guys, so think of me when you watch those! I love you all so much and be sure to eat a cinnamon roll for me...just think, next conference, I will be 1 month away from coming home....that's gross! Ok I love you all and mom and dad, please be safe when you travel! Have fun!! Minä rakastan teitä!!!
Sisar Olivia Bitner