Hyvää Kiitos Päivää
Waddup son? :) Happy Thanksgiving Week! Or in finnish...Hyvää Kiitos Päivä!! They don't celebrate it here....that should be fairly obvious and probably is to most people, but it took a while for it to register in my brain why Finland wouldn't celebrate Thanksgiving...awkward! :) Oh well, their loss! It's the best holiday ever. I am sad I can't be there with you, but it's ok cause my diet starts tomorrow. hahaha just kidding. But for real, I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving. Someone PLEASE eat a piece of banana cream pie in my honor and some mashed potatoes and gravy! Thank you! :) Send me lots of pictures too! I want to see everybody. Oh yes, THANKS FOR THE PACKAGE! Man, it is so great to get actual mail...in finnish it's posti...I loved all of your sweet letters and the cheez-its and candy made me cry. Do you want to know something, Finland has not hopped on the peanut butter train yet...like none of their candy has peanut butter. Eating a Reeses made me pretty happy! Man...Americans just do food right. We may be a bunch of fatties, but at least we enjoy ourselves...just kidding...it's still important to eat right and exercise, but man, we should enjoy our food too! Ok, I am done monologuing about food. I just really missed Peanut Butter so thank you for thinking of that! :) I love you all and really appreciate everything you do! You are the best!
Guys, it is almost December. I came to Finland last December. EW. Seriously, I would be lying if I said that I wasn't having like a "mid-life crisis" so to speak right now. I just feel so old. I feel so Finnish. It's great. I feel like I have never lived anywhere else. I have grown to love this country and these people and this culture and this language so much. I can't believe it hasn't always been a part of my life. We all have to come see it one of these days. It's really not an option anymore! :) I love Finland and am so grateful for the opportunity and privilege I have to serve in this beautiful place! It will always be a very sacred place to me.
So this week...this week was good! As always, we did splits on Tuesday. We went with the sisters in Espoo 2 or the south ward. I was able to go with Sister Bruce. I sent you a pic! She is awesome. She has only been in Finland for 3 weeks. It was fun to be with a greenie again and to feel the special spirit that they have. I love when new missionaries come because they are just ready to take on the world! It's so fun to see! Sister Bruce is from Arkansas. Her dad actually served his mission in Finland which is way cool. She took two years of finnish at BYU before she even knew she was serving here, needless to say, she speaks finnish SO WELL. It was amazing! We really wanted to focus on talking with everyone and serving from our strengths. One of Sister Bruce's strengths is honestly her spirit. She has the most pure, sincere heart and her motivations and desires were pretty inspiring. It was so fun to be with her. Being with her got me thinking about how I felt at that stage of my mission...excited, anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, inadequate, and a lot of the times, pretty hopeless. I was never going to learn finnish, never going to know Preach My Gospel, never going to be able to talk to people, never going to see the sun again (I am still wondering that now :) but it's amazing what happens when we stop fighting the journey. We have to stop fighting the process. The process and the journey is what brings a "mighty change of heart". I experienced that and it was incredible. Hardest thing in the world? Um...ya...it was hard. Worth it? Um...YA!!! I am so grateful for my mission. I love it so much and I know that it is only through my Savior that I am still here today, loving being a missionary! I am also so grateful to be able to work with these sisters. I learn so much from each of them and I know we are all here with each other, in Finland for a reason! It's pretty incredible!
So Elder Texeira at Zone Conference challenged us each to set a goal for how many of Book of Mormons we wanted to give away before the change was over. Sister Nielsen and I set a goal to give 85 away in 40 days. Just wanted to tell you that so we can be accountable to our families when we skype...in a month...ok....nobody freak out! :) I am so excited to see you all. But anyways, be sure to ask me about that on Christmas! We have given away 5 so far last week, we need to up our game, but we are really trying to make it meaningful when we give it away! Bank on the Book of Mormon...that's our strategy! :)
We had another lesson with S and L this week. They are so hilarious. I love them so much. We went to S's apartment, and she had cleaned the kitchen like spotless and had cheesecake sitting out on the kitchen table for us. It was so cute because I had talked to her a few weeks ago about life and her and what she likes to do, her favorite foods, and all that stuff. She asked me what my favorite restaurant was in America and I told her Cafe Rio...obviously...but then I said Cheesecake Factory. She said "Woah...a factory with cheesecake?" hahaha but I explained to her what it was and told her about all the delicious cheesecake. I told her I missed it, but when she comes to America to visit, she and I are going to get the Godiva chocolate cheesecake. Anyways, apparently she remembered because she made cheesecake for me. It was so sweet and really good! I was impressed.
We brought our friend H to the lesson with S and L. H got baptized 4 months ago and is a rockstar!! She was actually studying to be a Lutheran priest when the missionaries found her...go figure! but she is on fire and loves helping the missionaries. We taught S and L about tithing and fasting and the spirit was really strong. H testified about how her life has changed since she started paying tithing and how grateful she is to be able to help contribute to the Lord's kingdom! My testimony was strengthened of the importance of tithing. It's amazing when you teach something, new things come to your mind that you never thought of before. I think that's why I love teaching so much. A, I feel the spirit, and B, I always learn so much. It's great. S and L committed to live the law of tithing and fasting. :) They are feeling pretty shaky about their baptismal date.The funny thing is, when we asked them why they want to be baptized, L said, "To become clean" and S said, "Because it is the gate back to Heavenly Father." I get so confused sometimes. If people really believe what they say, which I think S and L do, why don't they go jump in the font? Those things are both true, but I guess the reality of the situation just hasn't clicked quite yet, but it will! The problem...well not problem...but the issue is, they both go out of town for a month on the 12th of December so we wanted and felt like they could be baptized before then, but we are just continuing to work with them to prepare them for baptism. They are so ready, they just don't think they know enough. Continue to pray for them though. They are so sweet and have the purest hearts in the world! I hope you got the pictures I sent of them last week! S is my buddy. She is the one with longer hair. I love her so much!! And I love L too!
Something Finnish for the week....these Finnish YSAs are all single. It's so annoying! They are the most classy, put together kids I have EVER met and they just are too shy and reserved to put themselves out there. I didn't think it was that big of a problem, but seriously SO many of them are returned missionaries, going to school, just the best people ever, but they have a hard time dating. I guess everyone does, but it's just like it says on "My Turn on Earth"..."It isn't good to be alone, it isn't good." :) Anyways, I know if they went to BYU or Utah State they would all be married in like 5 seconds. Battling with the culture man, it's rough stuff. But I love the YSA here. They are such solid members and they are going to be the ones to build the kingdom here in Finland. We just need them to have eternal families and to keep their missionary fire! They are so great!
Anyways, our recent convert A from India is doing great! She just received a calling to be the English Sunday School Teacher. There are surprisingly a lot of Americans in this ward that have married finns. I didn't realize how much I missed hearing names like "Brother Douglas" and "Brother Stuart". It's pretty great. She is really excited about her calling though. She has been Christian her whole life so she loves the Bible and is a really good teacher. I am so grateful for a ward that is functioning and is working to get these recent converts integrated as soon as possible. That really is the key. Just like President Hinckley said, all converts need 1, a responsibility, 2, a friend, and 3, nourishment by the word of God. I have such a strong testimony of that!
Our other recent convert R is SO COOL!! He is from Ghana and was baptized about a month ago, right before I got here. We were walking down the street the other day and got a call from him so we chatted for awhile and he said, "Hey Sisters, I met this woman on the train today...I could tell she needed the gospel so I got her number and address and told her I would send my 'strong sisters' (meaning the missionaries) over to meet her. Can you go visit her for me? Am I allowed to do that?" hahahaha uh ya R, we would be alright with that! This guy is like finding people for us. It's incredible! He has given 3 referrals to missionaries in Haaga and Espoo and Helsinki this week. He introduced us to 2 of his roommates, one is a new investigator B, and he is just kicking butt and taking names. When we asked him why he is such a good missionary, he said, "This joy I have felt is like none other. Reading the Book of Mormon, coming to church, and praying helps me understand things so much more. Everyone needs this." R needs to be the poster child for missionary work. That is where the church is going. If every member did what R is doing, church membership would skyrocket. He is such a good example to me of what kind of a member missionary I want to be when I go home. I am grateful for his example!
So we are working with this Less Active Family, the J family. We have been trying to get an appointment ever since I got here, but no dice. We haven't been successful. The husband is finnish, the wife is chinese and they have 2 adorable little girls. Well, this week, they called us and invited us to come over. We were way shocked, but happy so we went over. We didn't want to take up too much of their time, so we just planned to share like a 20 minute FHE lesson, but we walk in and the wife had prepared this HUGE feast of delicious Chinese food. It was so good! We had a great time getting to know them and had a great lesson. We watched the mormon message, "Earthly Father, Heavenly Father"...if you haven't seen that lately or at all, GO WATCH IT. Listen to the words. It is so powerful. I was just overcome as we watched that video. It talks about how much parents love their children, and I had the biggest love burst come into my heart for my parents. I am so grateful for you, Mom and Dad. I am so grateful for the life that you have provided for me and of the love and support you give me. I am also grateful for my Heavenly Father. There is a line in that video that says, "I am far, but close, always thinking about them." "Them" being this man's kids, but I realized that is how Heavenly Father is. He is far, but close. He is always thinking about us, wondering and wanting to hear how we are doing. I love that the relationship we have with Him is that of Father and Child. It's so special and so powerful! Anyways, they J family invited us back over these week, so hopefully all goes well...I can't take many more of those chinese feasts though...so much food! :)
So we had an awesome experience with a new investigator this week. His name is C...he is from Romania but has lived in Finland his whole life, so he speaks finnish fluently. We found his name in the area book. The sisters awhile ago had invited him to play soccer with them, but Sister Nielsen and I both had the strong impression to invite him to a temple tour. He came and it was one of the best lessons of my mission. The spirit was so strong. We had this whole lesson plan set up and ended up just throwing it out the window cause the spirit wanted us to take it in a complete different direction. We had planned to talk about the Restoration and specifically Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, but after we showed him the "Temple Tour" video, we both felt strongly that we needed to continue talking about temples and the blessings the temple has brought into our lives. We talked about eternal families and baptisms for the dead...in the first lesson...not something you do everyday...but as we spoke, his eyes started tearing up. He opened up and told us about his dad being sick with cancer and how worried he is about his dad. We testified that families can be together forever and man, you could have cut the spirit with a knife. We were all teary-eyed. Anyways, he gave the most sincere prayer at the end of the lesson and prayed almost completely for his dad. It was so incredible! I am so grateful for the temple. I am grateful for eternal families. I am grateful that whatever comes in life, we know that this life is so short and we will see each other again. C didn't know that, but he does now and it really changed his life. A new light came into his eyes. It was incredible to see. I love the temple!
We had a DA this week with a member whose DAs are pretty infamous. She gives us SO MUCH FOOD and doesn't let you leave until it's gone...like completely. Well, I didn't eat all day before we went to her house...dumbest idea ever...but she just loaded us up with all this food. Man...I have never been so sick in my life. Her name is Sister T. She is 80 and super sassy! I asked her all sorts of questions about her life and family and she answered me in the most complicated finnish ways, I had absolutely no idea what she was saying. Sister Nielsen told me later that she likes to stump the missionaries because she thinks it is funny! Whatever floats her boat, you know what I'm saying? :) It was pretty funny! We have really good members here. They are so strong. It is a privilege to serve with and learn from them!
So the day of Sister T's DA, it looked pretty warm in the morning. Since we are missionaries and are absolutely cut off from the world of Internet...except for today...we have no way to know what weather is coming. Well, it was pretty warm, so we thought, we would be fine. We put on our lighter coats, thin gloves, no hats and set off. Well we walk out of Sister T's house and there was 6 inches of snow on the ground. Literally it was dumping snow! It was awesome. Of course we were way happy until we realized we had to go out and walk in it! :) But we set off anyways. By the time we got to the bus station, I was frozen. Literally, my hands and ears and nose were numb. My hair was completely soaked. Same with Sister Nielsen. I would have taken a picture, but my hands were too cold. :) Anyways, we finally make it to the bus stop, and we waited there for probably like 1 1/2 hours. It was a joke. Finally some lady came driving down the road and told us there was a crash up the road and the whole road was blocked so no buses could get through. Well, we were out in the middle of nowhere so that was good, but we had this brilliant idea to go try and make it to the other bus stop farther down the other road. Well as we start walking, we realize that there was a bus coming from the opposite direction. Honestly we didn't care where it was going, we just needed to get on a bus, so we sprint after this bus and flag it down, we got on and started heading back to Espoo Center. Well it took forever. Not trying to scare you mom, but our bus was drifting all over the road, fish-tailing like crazy. I was praying so hard that we would be safe, but I think our bus driver was an angel. She had really white hair and was beautiful! :) She got us to the center safely and then we made it back home. Man...it was incredible! The first snow to actually stick in Finland! It makes me way happy when I am in my winter coat and hat and mittens. I learned a good lesson though...text a member in the morning and ask for the weather forecast! :)
Well, we are just plugging along here in good old Espoo. I love it so much. Really. I am way blessed to be here. I was reading again in Jesus The Christ. Can I just tell you, I love reading the Book of Mormon and Jesus the Christ at the same time. It's so cool to read the Book of Mormon and hear all of the prophesies from these prophets about Christ and then to read the actual stories of Christ come to life and all the things those Book of Mormon prophets testified of. As I have been a missionary, I have really come to connect with Peter, the apostle. Two of my favorite accounts in the New Testament involve Christ and Peter. The first one is when the Christ asks the apostles "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?". The apostles start answering. Some said "They think you are John the Baptist come back from the dead" and others said "They think you are Elijah or Jeremiah or some other significant prophet." But then Jesus asked the apostles, "Whom say ye that I am?" Now I am quoting from Jesus the Christ, but it says:
"Peter, with all the fervor of his soul, voiced the great confession: "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This was no avowal of mere belief, no expression of a result at which he had arrived by mental process, no solution of a problem laboriously worked out, no verdict based on the weighing of evidence; he spoke in the sure knowledge that knows no question and from which doubt and reservation are as far removed as is the sky from the ground...and Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed are thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. Peter's knowledge...was of a kind apart from all that man may find out for himself; it was a divine bestowal....As a gift from God comes the testimony of Jesus into the heart of man."
Jesus continues to talk to Peter and says that Peter was the rock on which he would build his church. Peter in all his imperfection was the rock. I love how Elder Talmage explains the passage. He tells us that really, what Christ said to Peter is such a crucial truth. A testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is a gift from our Heavenly Father. It can only be obtained when we are ready to receive it. Peter was ready. Peter wasn't perfect, but He was willing to do what Heavenly Father wanted him to do. It continues in that chapter to go on to the story about where Christ tells the apostles that He is going to be delivered to the chief priests and scribes and they will kill him. Now this is where I feel I relate to Peter. Peter doesn't want to go down without a fight. Peter doesn't want this to happen to Christ. Peter sees such a small part of the picture, but He really tries to do what is right. In Jesus the Christ, it says:
"Peter was shocked at this unqualified declaration, and, yielding to impulse, remonstrated with Jesus, or, as two of the evangelists state, 'began to rebuke him,' even going so far as to say: 'This shall not be unto thee:' The Lord turned upon him with this sharp reproof: "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."
Man...that part always feels like a slap to the face. It's pretty harsh. I have always wondered why Christ said that to Peter in such an rebuking way when really Peter was just trying to save his beloved Master and Teacher. But it goes onto say in the book,
"Peter saw mainly as men see, understanding but imperfectly the deeper purposes of God. Though deserved, the rebuke he received was severe. The adjuration, "Get thee behind me, Satan," was identical with that used against the arch-tempter himself, who had sought to beguile Jesus from the path upon which He had entered, and the provocation in the two instances was in some respects similar- the temptation to evade sacrifice and suffering, though such was the world's ransom, and to follow a more comfortable way."
Wow. Thank you James E. Talmage. How powerful is that? Christ rebuked Peter for wanting him to fight the process. He rebuked him for wanting to fight the journey and to back out and turn to a more comfortable way. As I was reading this part one morning, the spirit came into my heart so strongly that that is what kind of a person I was before my mission and of course, I am still working to turn this weakness into a strength. I have good intentions, but just as Peter did, sometimes I feel like I know what's best. I know what is right for my life. I know what will bring me the most happiness. Peter truly thought, out of the goodness of his heart, that helping Christ avoid this death and suffering would be the best thing, but He is a mortal. He is imperfect. He doesn't understand. I am mortal. I am imperfect. I don't understand. I want to do what's right, always have and always will, but we, as humans, don't want to go through the hard stuff. We want the rewards of the "refiner's fire" but no way do we want to pass through it. That's not fun. That's not desirable. That's not comfortable.
But I love what Christ follows up with. He says:
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Here the frightful figure of the cross was again made prominent. There was left no shadow of excuse for the thought that devotion to Christ would not mean denial and privation. He who would save his life at the cost of duty, as Peter had just suggested that Christ should do, would surely lose it in a sense worse than that of psychical death; whereas he who stood willing to lose all, even life itself, should find the life that is eternal. As evincing the soundness of His teachings, Jesus uttered what has since become an inspiring aphorism of life: 'For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?'"
I think that is what I am grateful most for this year. I am grateful for my testimony of my Savior Jesus Christ. I am thankful Heavenly Father loved me enough to cut me down and build me back up into who He wants me to be. I am grateful for the refiner's fire. I am grateful that although I had good intentions and wanted good things, God had much bigger and better plans for me than I could have ever imagined. I am grateful that for discomfort and hard times in life that make us stretch. I am grateful for the process of purification and sanctification in life because that is the only way I will be prepared to meet my Heavenly Father and my Savior one day. I am so grateful for all that has happened in my life, but especially during my mission. I have so many blessings, I don't even know where to start, but on my wall, I have a picture hanging of my Savior and underneath that my parents, and underneath that my siblings. That is what I am most grateful for as well as all my other family and friends. I am so grateful to be a disciple of my Savior, Jesus Christ. I needed to come to Finland to be prepared to receive my testimony of Him, but that testimony has brought more joy into my life than anything else ever could. I love Jesus Christ. He is my Savior. He saved me and gave me another chance to live my life in the way my Father wants me to live my life. The joy I have in my heart is so real. It's like nothing I have ever experienced and I know it's because the hard shell surrounding my heart was broken and my real heart, my real self has been made known to me over these past 13 months. The gospel is true. Living the process of the gospel is what changes us. Doing the little things every day changes us. I know that is true! I love you all so much. I sometimes wish you were all here so I could give you all a hug and tell you how much I love you, but I know that time will come. For now, I am here in the most beautiful place in the world and you are there in the other most beautiful place in the world and our family is eternal because of our Savior Jesus Christ. Man, that sounds pretty good to me! :) I love you all and hope you have the most wonderful Thanksgiving! Minä rakastan teitä!!
Sisar Olivia Bitner
|Splits with Sisar Johnson...sorry my hair looks nast....You don't have to claim me as your daughter :)|
|My companion...she is pretty cool...I call her Qwazy...how do you spell that? Like qwazy motto? hahaha gosh dang it...english is hard|
|The beautiful sky...|
|Sister Nielsen and I with Hanna...she got baptized 4 months ago!!!|
|TORTILLA HOUSE....AGAIN!!! I love it|