First off, I just have to tell you that everyone and their dog here knows the Bitners. We serve really close to the temple, which you know, so I have been meeting a lot of the temple couples who are serving here. They are amazing, by the way, I love them all, but so many of them know either Dr. Bitner and one, Elder Dunn, even knows Grandpa Wade Bitner. He said he went to high school with him at Highland High. Small world! It's been really fun to make all of these connections. I am proud to be a Bitner, that's for dang sure! :)
So this week has been pretty awesome. They all are. Like for real. I don't know what it is about Espoo, but this place is magic. It really is the temple. This may sound kind of weird, but I have never felt the reality of the gospel as strongly as I have over these past 3 weeks. I don't know why, but just seeing the temple and talking to people so much about the temple really has just opened my eyes in a way they have never been opened before. This really is the city of dreams. I am so blessed to be here!
First off, I was able to go on splits this week with Sister Johnston. I forgot my card reader at home today, so I will have to send you a picture next week, but it was super fun to be with her. She is 4 months younger than I am in the mission, and she is a brand new trainer. It definitely made me reminiscent of those good old days...being a new trainer...it was a blast. She is such a solid missionary though. We really are best friends now. It's amazing how the gospel brings you together, but we just have very similar personalities, and we just cracked each other up the whole day. We had so much fun. Before we do splits, we call the sisters and ask them to think of focuses or goals they have for the exchange. It can be personal goals, goals with missionary work, things they want to do better, and then we do our best to help them. Well, our focuses for the day were to be exactly obedient, especially with the mission schedule, to stop people on the streets, and to help people feel the love of Heavenly Father. I was really excited for the day. We taught one of their less-active members, found this way cool investigator on the street, (who I just found out accepted a baptismal date) and talked to all the people. It was great!
So for splits, both Sister Nielsen and I go to the other sister's area. It used to be that we would trade companions for the day, but recently that rule has changed. But I was way excited to go to these sister's area because it is like straight up downtown Helsinki. I just love being there. There is such a good vibe and energy. We were on a tram heading to a lesson and no one was sitting next to me at the time, but I noticed that there was this little kid in the seat in front of me staring at me. He was about 3, I would guess. By the way, I have to tell you my theory...so I believe that babies and dogs know who the missionaries are. Let me 'splain....so every time we are on a bus or a tram and there is a baby close to us, the babies ALWAYS stare. Like always. It's incredible. Their parents will be doing everything possible to avoid eye contact or any sort of contact with us but the babies are just smiling and waving and laughing and man, it's the best. I can't even tell you how many times I have been sitting on a bus and a little kid or baby will smile or wave or laugh at us, and it's such a great way to start talking to their mom. Same with dogs. Dogs like run up to us, even if there are other people or other dogs on the street, it's always to us. It's super funny, but my theory is that they know. They know who we are and what the message we have to share is and they don't want their mom/dad/owner to miss out on the message. Now, I could be wrong, probably am, but I am convinced this theory is true! :) Anyways, this kid just kept staring at me so after a while, I just asked him "What's up?" I talked to him for about 30 seconds about hockey...finns love hockey...even 3 year old kids....but it led into a great conversation with his mom. Sadly, we had to jump off the tram before I could get her information, but it was still a wonderful experience and made me way happy! But I really learned so much from Sister Johnston on Tuesday. She has such a big heart and loves everyone...like literally. It was really inspiring to be with her and I hope I can be like her one day!
So on Wednesday, we had Zone Conference with Elder Texeira of the Europe area presidency. He is from Portugal and was in Finland for a week. We had a leadership meeting in the morning with the APs, Zone Leaders, and Sister Training Leaders. It was a really good meeting and it was fun to be taught by him on such a personal level. He talked about who a leader is and what the role of a leader is. What I took away from that is that I want to be a leader that builds. I don't just want to be an example, but I want to point people to the Savior so they will know how to change in their lives and become the people Heavenly Father wants them to become. I don't want to be someone who feels distant to other people. I want to be relateable. I want to be a builder. Anyways, it was a really cool experience. He also talked about "the loneliness of leadership". I have learned, especially on my mission, that is a real thing. He talked about the purpose of that, however, and how it really teaches us to turn to our Father for help. I have felt these past few weeks that my trust and dependence on my Father and my Savior have increased dramatically. I am supposed to be helping other people, but heaven knows I need help too. Heavenly Father will always help me though. I know that. He is so close to us. We just have to pay attention.
During Zone Conference, Elder Texeira talked a lot about boldness. He talked about changing the way we do missionary work by changing the way we think. We all took a survey before he came, and apparently the thing our mission struggles with the most is finding investigators, particularly through contacting. We have been pushing the "normal and natural" train my whole mission. I think that is a wonderful thing, but what Elder Texeira said and taught us was so completely different from how I have always done missionary work. The underlying principle in everything he taught was "take what these people are willing to give you and run with it." The finns are not always willing to stop and shoot the breeze with the missionaries, which brings us to "Something Finnish" for the day, they are very focused. I love them for it, but man, you try and get in a finn's path when they have set their mind to do something, look out. They won't stop. But it's like what you are always saying dad, we have to have our "Elevator Speech" ready to give them. It was amazing though because Sister Nielsen and I committed after Zone Conference to be bold....always. It was so cool to see how it worked when we just took what time the finns are willing to give us. Sometimes, it is literally 2 seconds, but I have given out more mormon.org cards this week in 2 seconds than I ever have in my life. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it's totally worth it if something, even a tiny something, comes out of it. I know it will. I am so grateful for inspired leaders! We have a couple of return appointments and temple tours this week with people from being bold. It works folks...try it! :)
So now onto the investigators....oh man...are you ready for the most wonderful/saddest story in the world. So D is the most prepared investigator I have EVER taught on my mission. Hands down. We had another lesson with him this week and taught about the Restoration. It was such a powerful lesson. I was so overcome with the spirit. Honestly, D is so prepared...his lessons are just filled with the unrestrained spirit of the Lord. We were both so emotional as we taught him and testified about the Book of Mormon especially. I started to testify about the Book of Mormon and I have never felt the spirit confirm that strongly in MY heart the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I told D that when I want to feel close to my Heavenly Father and my Savior, I open the Book of Mormon and read and I feel their love...every time. That was an answer to my prayers...I know those were not my words. Heavenly Father was speaking through the spirit to me to D and back to me to confirm in my heart that I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know God loves us. AHHHH...man I just wish you could all be here in his lessons with us...it is incredible!! The spirit is so real and strong. I learn SO much each time we teach him and my heart is so full...all the time. At the end of our lesson, we invited D to pray about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. He kind of sat there, all quiet like and then he said, "I will pray, but I already know it is true." Then he said, "I just want to tell you sisters, I am not making this up, but I feel like I have heard all of these things before. When you tell me these things, it rings in my mind like I have heard it all before...like in a dream or something." Oh my gosh. I have wanted someone to say that my whole mission. It was the most incredible lesson ever.
K...everyone grab some tissues now...after our lesson, we were walking back to the bus stop with D and we were just talking about his wife and son and he says, "Actually, I have to go move all of my stuff into my new apartment so it will be ready when my wife and son come." I didn't really think anything of it but Sister Nielsen said, "Where did you move?" Guys....D doesn't live in our area anymore :( I literally cried later that night when we got home. He moved like 10 minutes away but is now in a completely different ward. We had to pass him over to the elders there. I am so sad. Seriously, I have never loved teaching someone so much in my life. He is so honest and pure in heart. He loves the gospel and has been searching and wanting and waiting for this his whole life. I know it is all about building the kingdom, and obviously D is supposed to be where he is. It is selfish for me to want to teach him, but he is the most prepared person I have ever met. He is still getting baptized on the 29th though, so I will send you a picture. Please pray for him. He is so special and is going to be the most amazing member! The church is true!
We taught S and L this week, our friends from Taiwan. They are both hilarious and so cute! We taught S about the Word of Wisdom and both of them together about the Law of Chastity. I don't know if I have told you their story yet, but they are foreign exchange students here and they are going back to Taiwan in June. They want to get baptized, but they wanted to wait until they got home. Well, Sister Nielsen and I have just felt way unsettled about that, so we have prayed and prayed about them. We both felt very strongly that they could be ready to be baptized on December 6. We invited them both to pray about it and we set that date as a goal. I know they are both so ready. The Lord has prepared them as well. Just pray for them that they will feel ready for that day. I love them both so much. Especially S. She has my heart. We were friends before this life, I know it! You meet the most amazing people on a mission. It's amazing. I am so blessed!
Man...my heart is so full. It's always so full. I just feel full of the Love of God. His love is so incredibly powerful and can change us...our very natures. I have been thinking a lot this week about building our foundation on Christ and not depending on or trusting in the arm of the flesh. I think that's just been the theme of my mission :) But we have this member H, who is from Vietnam. He is an incredible person and has a strong testimony, but he has been sending us texts lately, trying to argue with us about the gospel. Every time we are around him, he says things about the church to try and get a reaction out of us. It's honestly really annoying, and I have prayed so hard to be filled with the love of God toward him. I have been praying for him so hard, every day, and this week as I was reading the Book of Mormon, I realized that H is dependent on missionaries. He needs missionaries for his spiritual nourishment. He doesn't know how to get answers for himself or how to rely on Heavenly Father. Sister Nielsen and I had a HUGE discussion about this and we realized that the greatest injustice we can do to a person is to allow them to become dependent on anything other than their Savior. He is literally the ONLY sure thing in this world. Family, friends, health, financial standing, possessions can all be lost in the blink of an eye. We can't depend on our parent's testimonies, we can't rely on our friend's knowledge of Joseph Smith, we can't trust in the arm of the flesh if we want our faith to last. It won't work.
I am reading Jesus the Christ and there is a part where Jesus is in a synagogue and tells the people "I am the Bread of Life". In JTC, Elder Talmage talks about how this was such a crucial point in the Savior's ministry. It was a crucial test. Jesus testified of himself as the Savior of the world, and He really put it in the hands of his followers. What were they going to do with that knowledge? The sad thing is, so many of his "disciples" left him. They stopped following him because their faith wasn't in him as Savior and Redeemer, it was in his miracles and in the things they could see. It was a time of sifting. They hadn't allowed the Holy Ghost to witness to them that this man, this person they walked and talked with really was the Son of God. The only way we can know Jesus Christ is our Savior is through a manifestation of the Holy Ghost.
After many people left, Christ turned to his apostles and said, "Will ye also go away?" I love Peter's reply:
66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go?thou hast the words of eternal life.
69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God
Peter is such a rock. To whom shall we go? If Christ fails us, all hope for eternity is gone. Honestly though, living the gospel is not for the faint-hearted. It's not for the passive-believers, but for people who are willing to step out of the dark, into the light and to stand up for what we believe in. I feel like in the past it's been easier to live in the gray area as a member of the church. We didn't really have to "choose ye this day whom ye will serve." Those days are so over. We have to choose. The world and the church are completely opposite from each other. It's like all barriers are coming down. Only the truly converted will survive all that is coming. When Elder Bednar was here, he said, "If you go home from your mission and find something that the brethren have been 'hiding from you' in church history or some commandment you didn't 'fully understand' and you leave the church because of that, you were never really converted in the first place."
Dang. How scary is that? We have to become converted...not to missionaries, not to church programs, not to the tabernacle choir, not to anything else but our Savior. He is the bread of life. If we live His gospel, we will never hunger. It is amazing how true that is. I have felt His strength come into my life so much as I have learned about Him. As I have learned more about Jesus Christ, I have realized that almost immediately when a situation comes up, the first thought that comes into my mind is "What would Jesus do?" People joke about that saying but like for real guys, What would Jesus do? If he were here right now? What would he say to this person? What would he do? We can't know what He would do until we learn about him. That is something I know I skipped a lot in my life. But as I have read about different situations in his life, I have realized how we really can know, for sure, how he would respond to any situation by reading the scriptures and other good books about Him. I know that doing what He would do will never be wrong. He is the only constant thing in this world. Peter and the other apostles knew that there was nowhere else to go, because He has the words of eternal life. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God and he has burst the bands of death. He is the reason we will all live again and have the possibility of living with our Heavenly Father again as families. It's only through Him. I love Jesus Christ. I am his disciple and representative, not because of my name tag, but because of the covenants I have made. I am his missionary. He leads this work. This is His church. It's all true.
I love you all so much. Sorry if my spiritual thought was like all over the place...I just have learned so much this week and I try my best to share as much of it as I can with all of you. Thank you for your goodness. Thank you for being examples to me of true discipleship. You all live the gospel, you don't just believe it. It is a part of who you are and that's what the Lord needs. He needs us. I know He does. I love you all so much and hope you feel my prayers for you. I have the most wonderful family in the world!
Have a beautiful week and recite this in your head before you leave home in the morning,
13 Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.
Sisar Olivia Bitner
|At the train station waiting to go home with S and L :)|
|My friends from the MTC! I love Sister Thayne and Elder Hunter|