This week has been really good. The weather is nice and cold in Finland...not going to lie, Dad, we have busted out the Christmas music. But let me explain myself...last year during Christmas season I was in the MTC and didn't get to listen to anything and since they don't celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving in Finland, it technically is Christmas season so MERRY CHRISTMAS everybody! :) Hopefully it snows soon so I feel like less of a goob jamming out to MoTab's christmas album! I am definitely making up for lost time! In all seriousness though, there is nothing quite like Christmas music. Nothing brings the spirit of Christ into a room quicker than that and what a wonderful first Christmas present God gave to us all! The birth of our Savior. It's pretty wonderful!!
So we have been working on our lean machine again in good old Vaasalandia! It's been going really well. We have a lot of less actives we are focusing on and working with and there have been so many miracles lately as far as they are concerned. It's amazing to see the hand of the Lord in this work. He is with us every step of the way. We have been trying to get in contact with this less active J lately but she is always busy. We went and heart-attacked her a couple of weeks ago...btw, heart attacking means putting hearts on their door...just in case you didn't know...and while we were in her building, we decided to do 10 doors. Well we had a pretty good conversation with one of her neighbor's so this week we decided to go back and try that door again. Well as luck would have it, the potential wasn't there but as we were coming down the stairs, in walks J!! We had a great conversation with her and she told us her boyfriend really doesn't want her coming to church, but she still wants to meet with us! It was such a tender mercy!
A few weeks ago when Sister Pace was on splits with Sister Hubner in Seinäjoki they found this investigator, we will call him A. I am not going to put first names of finns or investigators anymore...President talked about the privacy laws again in Finland and I just want to make sure I am not doing anything illegal. Anyways, A is from England, he is in his 40s and used to be a hard core, rock and roll guy. He is living in Finland now...I am still not really sure why, but they met him tracting and he invited us to come back. We took a member with us from Seinäjoki who is actually a less active which was AWESOME!! She really enjoyed herself and said she would like to come with us again to another lesson. Way cool!
Anyways, A was quite the chatterbox. He talked about all the things he has done in his life...it really amazes me how much people get around in the world. He said he was born a Catholic and always went away from the church, but always found himself being drawn back. This guy really is golden. He basically explained the whole Restoration lesson and talked about how frustrating it was that there isn't just one true church on the earth....or so he thinks :) Anyways, he talked so much during the lesson, we just were able to talk a little about the Book of Mormon. It was really interesting though, we showed him how to download "Gospel Library" on his iPad and while we were on it, he stops us and says, "Hey I was actually reading something about the Book of Mormon the other day on the internet." He starts scrolling to it and the spirit said so strongly, "Do not look at what he is going to show you." When he started to show us I sort of pushed the iPad away and said, "No, we don't want to see that." I really don't know what it was on the iPad, but man I am so grateful for the Holy Ghost. It keeps us safe from physical and spiritual danger. I really appreciate though when people come to mormons to learn about the Mormon church. The internet is full of so much stuff that just isn't true. It's also full of a lot of good things, but it's so important we don't get caught up in that stuff. Just focus on the Book of Mormon, lds.org, and other things like that. It was definitely a good reminder for me.
After our lesson with A, we went and had lunch with the L family. They are wonderful and super hilarious. Sisar L is super classy and if I were 50 years older and lived in Seinäjoki, I would definitely be her best friend :) It's way funny though, the title of my email is "Ai yah." I don't know if you can get the right attitude into it when you say it, but Sister L ALWAYS says "Ai yah" after everything. It basically just means "uh huh" or is something you say when you are agreeing with someone. Anyways, apparently I have started saying this. Sister Pace thinks it's pretty hilarious and always jokingly calls me Sister L. Apparently it's something only older finns say, but I think it makes me sound more finnish! :)
So a couple of weeks ago, Sister Pace and I were walking into the gym to play sähly, when we saw this kid playing basketball by himself. We went over and started talking to him just a little about why he was here in Finland and stuff like that. Anyways, we got his phone number and invited him to family night and sähly and all the other activities we have and he has been to everything. He is really cool. He is about 20. Is from Vietnam and is pretty dang hilarious. Most of the vietnamese people I have met are super sassy! It's way funny, but anyways, he is our new investigator and we are really excited about him!
My year day was on Thursday....that was really weird in a good way. I remember leaving you all and how hard it was, but I was just so grateful all day that through the Atonement and with the help of my Father in Heaven, I have been able to change and have the best year of my life. Anyways, on Thursday morning, Sister Pace and I both felt very strongly that we should bike out to this random less-actives house. Not random, as in the person, but it was just a way out of the blue feeling. We both felt good about it, however, so we set off on our bikes. It is super cold...my eye water was freezing, but we were all bundled up and just plowed through that nice icy ocean breeze! :) Anyways, as we are coming over this hill, we jumped off our bikes because we didn't want to slip and this lady comes up to us and says, "Are you Jehovah's witnesses?" We said, "No, actually we are the mormons" and she said, "Oh, do you know Sister N?" (this member in our ward) and we were like "Of course we do, she is wonderful, how do you know her?" Anyways, come to find out, this lady that stopped US on the road is the same person our member Sister N has been telling us about for 7 months. We have tried to be able to meet with her, but it's been the biggest struggle and we have never received her phone number or anything. So we talk with this friend, R, for about 45 minutes on the street about Jesus Christ and His Atonement and how through him we can find comfort and strength and she told us to get her phone number and address from Sister N and that we could definitely come and see her...TENDER MERCY. Seriously, it's amazing how much the Lord takes care of us. Who would have thought on a freezing cold day we would meet this lady. We really hope she becomes a new investigator this week!!
We had zone meeting in Oulu on Friday which was really fun. We had a language test again before, however. I was pretty nervous, but it was a lot easier than last time, I think the test was just an easier test, but I am just so grateful for the gift of tongues and for all of your prayers. It's still a miracle to me, every single day that I can sort of speak this language. It's amazing! But zone meeting was really good. We talked about unity and area books. It really is amazing how crucial it is that we keep good records. Area books can be our biggest tools to find, teach and baptize people as missionaries. I was thinking about unity during the meeting and how much more successful I have been with each of my companions as we have worked in unity. There is so much power in unity. It's like with oxen. They can pull so much more weight when they are yoked together and are pulling at the same time. It's just the same in life. When we have people with us, all working together, we are able to do so much more than just by ourselves. It especially applies with the Savior. We are able to do so much more and endure so much more as we yoke ourselves with him through covenants. I am very grateful for inspired leaders that have helped me throughout my life and my mission.
So best news of my life...THE KIDS ARE GETTING BAPTIZED THIS WEEK!!! Holy cow, I am so excited! The stars are just aligning and can I just say how grateful I am for a Branch Mission Leader? He has helped us so much with this whole thing. The ward had a sign up sheet for refreshments, people are helping us with the clothes, and everyone seems really excited for the baptism, especially the kids! They are so excited and keep asking and asking us every time they see us, "When are we getting baptized?" We still have a few things to figure out, but we are just so excited. Hopefully I can send a picture of them to you next week...I just realized you have no idea what they look like! :) I really have loved teaching them so much. I love teaching the gospel to kids...whether as a primary teacher or a missionary, I love it because we teach it so simply and they ask the best, most pure questions. We asked them all why they wanted to be baptized this week and their answers were so sweet and honest. "Because I love Jesus." "Because I know Heavenly Father wants me to and I love Him." "Because I want to go back to Heavenly Father someday" "Because I know the church is true." Man...become as a little child! The youngest boy said, "Because swimming is fun..." hahaha we had a way good laugh over that and explained that he wasn't swimming but he is only 8 and has the sweetest testimony. He loves singing the hymns in sacrament meeting...REALLY LOUD. I think he is really enjoying the fact that he can read finnish better than Sister Pace and I can! haha but for real, it has been such a privilege to teach them and I am really excited! Pray for them all this week though! Its going to be a good week!!
I have been thinking a lot this week about self-reliance. That is something the church is very big about. Self-reliance and hard work. I am so grateful I have had such great examples of that in my parents my whole life. We know that God wants to help us, but we also know that He expects us to do all that we can do as well. Sister Pace and I were talking this week about how we can better help our less actives and investigators and members rely more on Heavenly Father. There seems to be a recurring theme with less actives or people who fall away from the church. In my mind, it seems that they are pulling their strength from sources other than Heavenly Father. They rely on the church members, the leaders, the missionaries, maybe a family singing group (The Osmonds...yes someone in Finland joined the church because of the Osmonds) :) or other things like that. They have built their foundation on the sand. I always loved that song as a kid in primary, but the message really is so true. If we put our trust in the "arm of the flesh" or depend on other people for our spiritual needs, one day, that won't be enough. There comes a time in everyone's life where we have to stand up and take ownership for our own lives and our own testimonies. It's not always easy or fun, but once you put your trust in Heavenly Father and our Savior and realize that in the end, they are really all you need, you are free. You are no longer dependent. I think that turning point is really when one can find hope. We have hope because no matter where we go, we always have prayer, we always have our testimonies, and because of Jesus Christ, we always have our families. There will be things that will happen in our lives that we have no control over, but we do have control over the most important things. Heavenly Father's plan is that way for a reason.
I am just so grateful for spiritual self-reliance. This gospel is so personal and individual. We all have a loving Heavenly Father who wants to hear from us personally and wants to help us in our daily lives. In Moroni 6 it talks about the purpose of the "church" as an organization:
4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
5 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
6 And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, inremembrance of the Lord Jesus.
We have the church so that we can be nourished by the good word of God, so we can stay in the right way, to keep us watchful unto prayer, to talk to each other about our welfare, to fast and to pray, and most importantly, to partake of the sacrament. That's what the church is for. It should not be our only source of spiritual experiences or the only time we pray or fast or are nourished by the good word of God. That is also our responsibility to do those things everyday to keep ourselves in "the right way." In Nauvoo, I remember I wrote in my journal, "This is the definition of Zion, being with people you love and working together." I still think that is true. We have the church to build Zion, but in order for Zion to be strong, we as individuals have to be strong. We can't depend on other people to take the place of God for us in our lives. We need Him. The best part is, He is always there. We can rely on Him for everything in our lives. I just love that so much. We really don't have to depend on anyone else. Yes, we are given family and friends and leaders and all other people in our lives to help us grown and learn, but in the end, it really only matters what God thinks and we can know that as we pray. I have such a strong testimony of prayer. Especially being honest with Heavenly Father as we pray. He wants to know everything. He is one person in our lives we can tell everything to and he will never judge or think less of us. He always wants to hear from us and as we pray always we can conquer the darts of the adversary! I love you all so much! Change calls are this week, so if I leave Vaasa, I may not get to email next week, but hopefully I do! Have the most wonderful week and always remember to do the little things every day. It makes the biggest difference! :)
Minä rakastan teitä!!!
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. Something Finnish...they have a lot of American food products here...like Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce...you better believe I always have some on hand! :) I love you guys!!
|The L family and I|
|I LOVE NEW YORK BUT MOSTLY I LOVE YOU|
|Sister Lund and me|
|The Oulu and Vaasa Sisters|
|Vaasa and Kuopio Sisters at zone meeting|
|I am still pretty.... pretty ugly :)|