Flying South for the Winter
Well first off, I have to start off with change calls. Let me first explain, change call weeks are super stressful...well they aren't so much anymore, but I used to get way stressed out. They usually come on Saturday, so Saturday morning I woke up and was pacing all around and messing up my normal morning routine...I was just a little anxious! I had no idea what was coming. Anyways, at about 8:30, President called us and said, "Sister Pace, you are staying in Vaasa and getting Sister Jones as your new companion." That's right...SISTER JONES....MY SISTER JONES!! I am SO excited for these two to be companions. Sister Jones is the most amazing missionary on the face of the earth, same with Sister Pace and they are definitely the dream team! I am so excited for them! They are going to do amazing things together!!
Anyways, continuing with change calls, "And Sister Bitner we are bringing you down south to Espoo to be our new Sister Training Leader with Sister Nielsen." HOLY COW. I am flying south for the winter!! WOOHOO!!! I am so excited I can't even tell you!!! I have always wanted to serve down south. The best part is, A, I get to be a Sister Training Leader which is AWESOME, B, I live right next to the temple, C, my new companion was trained by my same trainer and she is wonderful, and D, I am in President's ward and E, this means I have officially served in all 3 zones of our mission!!! hahahaha can you believe it? Man, I am so stinking excited I can't even contain myself! It was definitely the best change call I have received!! It really is way humbling to get to be a sister training leader for the Helsinki zone...there are a lot of sisters down there and I am so excited to work with them. I have always loved going on splits, and we get to do it all the time. I am sure I will have more information about how it all works next week, but I love learning from all the sister missionaries that serve in this mission. They are wonderful and I have so much to learn from each of them. I am really really happy!!! :) Anyways, Sister Jones comes up from Tampere on Tuesday and I head down to Helsinki and then to Espoo. I can't wait to tell you all the things about it! This means bus contacting again (YESSSSS!!!!), I won't be riding my bike (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO) but don't worry, I am taking it with me, and I get to go to the temple at least once a month! I AM SO HAPPY!!!
Now, on the other hand, I am still trying to figure out how to say "knife to the heart" in Finnish, but man, I am so beyond sad to leave Vaasa and my greenie! This is hard. It's real hard. I was so excited about change calls and I still am, but man, church yesterday was ROUGHI sent you like 9000 pictures, but I could not leave this place without getting pictures of all the wonderful people I have met in Vaasa. They were all so sweet to me and they all made me cry the whole blasted day. Aren't relationships the most wonderful thing in the world? Honestly, I have met and had the privilege to get to know some of my best friends in this ward. Some of them are 85, some are 18, but I literally love every single member here in Vaasa with my whole heart. I couldn't get over all the kind things they said to me...I wrote them all down in my journal so I will remember, but I am definitely leaving a big old piece of my heart here. It is the best place in the world...honestly. I am so lucky I was able to serve here for so long! It will always be my home ward in Finland!
And I am leaving my greenie....goodness gracious...this is real hard. I have never had a companion for 4 months before, and it really is harder to leave someone the longer you are with them. Sister Pace and I were weekly planning a couple weeks ago and we wrote in some packing time, just in case someone was leaving. I said, "Ok, so one of us will probably need some time to pack so we can do that after church................................." silence for like 5 seconds....then we looked up at each other and man, tears just shot to my eyes. I was like, "Wow...this is weird." I was so sad to even think about it. My relationship with Sister Pace is so special to me. She is a wonderful person and an amazing missionary. She has so much good to do in the world and it really was a privilege to be her trainer. I learned so much from her and will always be grateful that we were companions. I know that Vaasa is in good hands...the best hands! God's hands and Sister Jones' and Sister Pace's hands! It's all going to be great and I am excited to see what happens!!
Man....isn't change the weirdest thing in the world? I know without change, we couldn't ever grow. It's funny because as sad as I am to leave, I wouldn't really want to stay in Vaasa. It's like when I left home, I wanted to stay so bad, but not really. I knew I had to move on with my life. It's like that quote that says, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." That is such a healthy way to live your life. We can't live in the past or pine over it, but we can be grateful for it and move on. It's a lot easier said than done, but I am so grateful for change. I am grateful for this new adventure. I am so excited to go down to Espoo and to do some missionary work down there! Man...it's going to be great! :)
I'm not going to lie, it's been pretty strange these past few days. I have been in Vaasa for so long, I kind of felt like life was on a standstill or something. I always used to say to myself, "As long as I am in Vaasa, my mission will never end." Now I am leaving and the reality of my time left here in Finland has hit my face like a sack of bricks. This isn't meant to last forever, but man, I wish it could. I love being here. I wake up every single day, even on the hard days, with gratitude in my heart because I have been given the opportunity to be a missionary here in Finland. I know everyone thinks their mission is the best, but Finland really is the best. It is so challenging, but it is SO REWARDING! I can't even begin to express my feelings about Finland. I love it with all of my heart and I am so excited to finish these last six months strong! No regrets! Leave it all on the field, as I used to say! :) Let's do this!!
Speaking of rewards, time for the next best news of time and all eternity...the kids guys....THE KIDS GOT BAPTIZED! Oh my goodness, it was without a doubt the most spiritual baptismal service I have ever been to. But let me start at the beginning. So Sister Pace and I came to the church super early to fill up the font and make sure everything looked good. We were so excited. There was definitely a buzz in the air :) But anyways, the kids got there at 5 oclock, looking all cute in their new church clothes. We went and got their white clothes for them and they changed. Sister Pace and I were in the chapel practicing our musical number (I played the piano and Sister Pace sang "I am a Child of God" with the kids) and the kids all come running in, all dressed in their cute white clothes. I kid you not, I about lost it. My heart was so full. I love those kids so much and seeing them all ready to be baptized made every cancelled appointment, every frustration SO WORTH IT. I wouldn't have traded anything for that.
Their parents both came which was wonderful. The support of the members was amazing. We were super worried because there was this activity for members down in Lahti this weekend, so a lot of them were away, but man, people came out of the woodwork to support these kids. I was so humbled and grateful to see it. We sang "I'm trying to be like Jesus" as the opening song and there was not a dry eye in the house. I realized something as we were singing...this baptism really meant a lot to this ward. They have tried to work with this family for a long time, but they really needed a lot of attention and thankfully, we as missionaries have that time. There are so many people in the ward that love this family, even though the parents don't come regularly, it was so wonderful and inspiring to see the way they reached out to each of them.
I also realized, again, how beautiful and important and wonderful baptism really is. There is nothing more special than seeing someone you have helped teach be baptized. Honestly, it is the most rewarding thing in the world. I was so happy. I can't remember another time in my life when I was that happy! :) When the kids came out of the water, each one of them had the biggest smile on their face. They were so ready and so excited to be baptized. We asked them afterwards how they felt and they all just smiled and said, "So happy!" It was wonderful. Afterwards, the youngest, the boy, was confirmed because he is 8. The girls were confirmed in sacrament meeting yesterday and man...I am just so grateful I have been able to teach those kids and that I was able to be here for their baptism. They are very special to me. I wrote them all letters yesterday and I just cried and cried. I didn't want to leave. It's funny because during the process of your mission, you don't feel like you will ever leave. It just kind of feels like this is your life now, but writing those letters was a big reality check. I told the kids to send me emails and I know we will stay in touch. The oldest girl turns 12 next May and she is planning on going to the temple. She wants to do family history work already. They are so wonderful! I hope you got the picture of them! I love them so much!
Well...those were definitely the highlights of the week, but the rest was really good as well! We went to Seinäjoki for my last time on Tuesday. There is this member there who is awesome. She is in her 20s and drives an hour to get to church every Sunday. We went to her house on Tuesday to visit her and she had made us "Sushi from a Kit" and she bought us doughnuts! I think she thinks we are american or something :) We talked about patriarchal blessings because she just got hers a few days ago. She said that she really gained a testimony during that process of her ability to receive personal revelation. Her testimony inspired me, so I read my blessing the next day and I realized something I hadn't thought about before. The scriptures are the way God speaks to all of His children, but a patriarchal blessing literally is our own personal scripture. Through studying our blessings, we can come to learn more fully how Heavenly Father communicates with each of us, personally...or in other words, what His voice sounds like to each of us. What a great tool! Each blessing is unique and individual and that's how our relationships our with Heavenly Father. Anyways, I love my patriarchal blessing and am so grateful that God has allowed us to have that special gift from Him. We need to use them more!!
So I think you can tell from one of my pictures but we had our first SNOW DAY this week! YIPPEE!! It is finally coming! It made me really happy! That day, we had an appointment pretty far out...almost to the edge of our area, but we had decided previously that we were going to ride bikes that day. We looked out the window in the morning and thought, "Oh dear, we don't have snow tires" but figured that it would still be alright. Well we drove pretty slow...it was pretty dang cold and slippery, but as we came around a corner, (I was leading) and all of a sudden I hear a scream...one that I recognized...sidenote: you know that little animal thing that Jabba the Hut has in Star Wars...the one that has that crazy laugh/cackle thing? Sister Pace is really good at imitating that so that was what I heard :) but anyways, I jumped off my bike and looked back and Sister Pace had fallen off her bike....she told me to say that it was like on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when Shia Lebauf slides under the tables in the library...that's what it was like! Thankfully she has a real nice, PUFFY winter coat and a helmet...she had a lot of protection which was good. We talked about how much less fun drifting is with a bike as opposed to a car! haha It was so hilarious but I felt way bad! We definitely need to get snow tires! But we made it to our appointment safe and sound! It was pretty funny! :)
Anyways....It's been a really good week. I am so grateful for my Heavenly Father. I have learned so much this past year about who He really is and how He really works with me. I have learned that He knows so much better than I do, what I need in my life to be happy and successful. He will never lead me astray. I know that. I have learned so much about prayer and how powerful it really can be. I never used to feel particularly edified before when I prayed. I mean, I loved praying and always did, but my prayers have changed. I literally talk to Heavenly Father and I walk away feeling like I have just talked to my best friend...because that's really what it is. I love Him and I know He lives.
I am so grateful for my Savior Jesus Christ. I have made it a goal that, before Christmas this year, I want to read the entire Book of Mormon and highlight instances and mentions of Christ's atonement, and also I want to finish Jesus the Christ. I am about 200 pages into Jesus the Christ and I am in 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon. Definitely plugging along :) I want that to be my Christmas present to my Savior, that I got to know Him better. My favorite scripture from the New Testament is Matt 11:28-30 which says:
28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I love being a missionary. That's really all there is to it. I am so grateful for a new chapter of my mission. I know it will have challenges and struggles, but man, if it's half as good as the rest of my mission has been, it will be the best thing ever! I hope you all know how much I love you. I pray for you daily and think about you often. You are all my "angels round about me bearing me up." I feel your presence every day and I am so grateful that we are an eternal family. Thank you mom and dad for being sealed in the temple. Thank you for being righteous parents and for teaching me so many wonderful things. Thank you Jocelyn, Anne, Lauren, Luke, and Caroline for being my sunshines. I love you all more than anything! This church is true. We have a living prophet. Christ is our Savior. God is our Father. It's all real. I know it! Have the most wonderful week and remember to SMILE!!!! The gospel is happy, we should be too! :)
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. Something Finnish. Did you know that Shell Gas Company started in Finland? WHAT? as well as Nokia, but I think everyone and their dog knows that! Speaking of dogs, how is Mack doing?? There are so many golden retrievers here, but none are as pretty as Mack! Tell him I said Hi! :) I love you!!!
|The elders in our district|
|FIRST SNOW DAY OF THE SEASON!!!|
|Me looking like a dork in my hat, helmet, winter coat...but we saw some swings so I wanted to take a picture|
|Grandma, Anna, and Rachel's cake for the kids baptism|
|THE KIDS!!!! Tinja, Ronja, and Caspian!!!|