I think I'm gonna like it here :)
What is up minun perheeni? My goodness...the halloween party was this week! I hope it was so great! Mom, we made taco soup in honor of your party...it wasn't quite as good, but I did dress up as a missionary...psych...it's not a costume, but it was still way fun to think about all of you that day! I hope you had a great time. Oh and Tay and Ash...ONNEKSI OLKOON!! :) Your costumes were pretty great! I have missed this party two years in a row...you best believe I am coming next year though! :) I even have some costume ideas already...Finland has inspired me! Plus, I have a feeling I will need the prize money, so that's another bonus! haha just kidding! I just love you all so much and, can I just say how grateful I am that family parties are important to us? There really is nothing better than family and we are so blessed that we live so close to one another. There are so many people in Finland whose family live in America or Sweden or England or France or all these random places in the world and they never see each other. I am just so grateful I have always been so close to my family. It is such a great blessing!!
Man...I don't even know where to begin. I have to tell you when I write my emails, my fingers start to cramp up because I write so much and I try and write so fast. It's worth it though...take one for the team! :) I really look forward to writing you all. It helps me to reflect and be grateful and to think about how much Heavenly Father has blessed me over the week. President Watson challenged each of us missionaries to take 5 minutes at the end of every day and just to be completely still. He told us to just sit and think about our day and remember all the times that Heavenly Father blessed or touched our lives. I am repenting now, and recommitting to do that daily, but on the days I have, I have noticed a huge difference. I feel more at peace. I feel more tranquil. I feel reverent and I feel close to my Heavenly Father. It's an amazing thing!
So on Tuesday, I got all my stuff together in the morning and then I headed off to Helsinki at about 3:20. Sisar Pace and I said goodbye, which stunk, but she is going to be great! I have no doubt about that. The train was super quiet as I was riding, it was just really peaceful. I was grateful for that time I had to look at Finland...look at the North...look at Vaasa and Seinäjoki. I was so blessed to serve there for such a long time. I love how peaceful and beautiful it is. I realized this week that I am not as much of a city girl as I thought...don't worry, still love New York, but I LOVED being in the North of Finland. Everything is so spread out and it's so wonderful to have peace and quiet. Man, I just loved it. But anyways, I got to Seinäjoki and switched trains there, thankfully the elders serving there helped me. I had a lot of junk :) But then I set off again. It was super funny though, when I got to Helsinki, I have quite a few bags...not a lot, but they are just big. Finns are just so hilarious. I was struggling super hard to get all my stuff off the train and they just sat and watched me. Then, without saying anything, like 4 different guys come, take my bags, get them off the train and then leave. Literally didn't say a word. It made me laugh so hard. Finns love to help, but try and get them to talk...that's a whole other kettle of fish! :) I was grateful for their help though, and then I looked down the platform and Sister Nielsen and Sister Heggie come running over to help me. It was great to see them both. We were going to miss our train to Espoo, so we grabbed all of my stuff and sprinted to the train. Man, if I had a dollar for every time I have had to run to catch a train or a bus in Finland...I'd have a lot of dollars :) good times though. Anyways, we made it to Espoo and got all my stuff situated. Transfers are always a struggle but it's so nice to feel like you have made yourself home in a place. I love unpacking! :)
So a little information about ESPOO. First off, two of my former companions have served here as sister training leaders, Sister Fronk and Sister Egan. It's great to be in a place with so much family history! It's been crazy looking through the area book and seeing their handwriting on all the records and stuff. It's amazing how fast time flies :) Well Espoo is beautiful. SOOOO different from Vaasa, but it's good. It's actually the second largest city in Finland under Helsinki and above Tampere. The temple is here...10 minute walk from our house...I could get used to that. :) It's so beautiful and sticks out so much in the dark, cold, winter of Finland. There is such a special spirit here in Espoo and I know a large part of that is because of the temple. It is a beacon of light and hope to all of these people. It's a great contacting tool as well because many people from Espoo were here when the open house was occurring, so a lot of them have seen it. It's a very special place. We teach a lot of our lessons in the guest house of the temple...they have a guest house so people from all over can come stay here. It's really fun just to be so close. But more on the temple later. We live about 15 minutes by train away from the church. It's a cute little white church. Definitely a keeper :) I am serving in the Espoo 1 ward. It's a lot bigger than Vaasa...about the same size as Tampere, but it was fun to be back in a full-blown ward again. In Vaasa, we only have Sunday School and Sacrament meeting...just 2 hours...but now we are back to 3. I felt like a little kid yesterday at church again...it felt so much longer, but I am so grateful to have all 3 hours again. It's amazing how much I missed it! The title of my email should have been Calf Ripper X...that's a workout right? Something like that anyways :) but Espoo is quite the "hilly" place. We walk a lot and there are so many hills. My calves have been burning this week...they have been out of commission for awhile, but it's so great to be in a big city again! There is a good energy down here, always something going on! We live about 20 minutes by train from Helsinki. I love the area. I have just been so amazed again by how many foreigners live down here. Helsinki is a pretty big melting pot. We were in the train station buying my bus pass and I was just looking around and thinking, man...I wonder how many countries are represented in this building. SO MANY. It's great though! I think I'm gonna like it here! :)
So Sister Nielsen is awesome! She has 2 months left on her mission, but is going way strong. I am excited to serve with her. She is originally from Chicago, but her family lives in Salt Lake now. She has 3 little brothers and is going to BYU next semester. She is a really solid missionary. She works hard and follows the spirit. I am really excited to be her companion. I have already learned so much from her. :) Funny thing about our companionship...ok so Sister Nielsen is really tall...like 5'11''. As such, she has really long legs....sooooo when she takes one step, guess how many I have to take to keep up with her? like 4! It reminds me a lot of when Courtnee Wood and I used to run, she would be "jogging" and I would be sprinting just to keep up with her. Love you Court :) haha I never felt like a munchkin before in my life, but man...I have been hustling along this week! Sister Nielsen and I laughed way hard about it, but we have established a good pace and I think it will work out. :) Man...my short little legs...what to do? :)
So the people down here in Espoo are AWESOME! They have had at least one baptism every month for the past 6 months down here...oftentimes more. We have so many recent converts we are working with. One, H, is actually someone that Sister Fronk taught when she was here. We met him this week and I remembered hearing a lot about him from Sister Fronk, so we had a great time talking about her and laughing about all the good times we both had with her. It was really fun to get to meet him finally. He is from Vietnam and actually hit his "year as a member mark" yesterday" so I guess he isn't a recent convert anymore! We are still working with him though. We are having him teach us the lessons. Last time, he taught us about the Restoration and it was so good. He is a pro! We challenged him this next week to focus on prophets, especially President Monson and that we would come and discuss more about that. I love Vietnamese people! My goodness! Vietnam and China...two places that have come to be very dear to my heart. Who would have thought?
Speaking of China...I sometimes forget I don't serve there...especially in Espoo. We have 2 chinese investigators! They are all seriously the best things ever. We have S and L who the sisters have been teaching for awhile. They are so golden. We haven't been able to have an official lesson yet, but they both came to church yesterday and are coming with us to FHE in Helsinki tonight! We are super excited. We only have 4 investigators right now, but I like that so much better. The Lean Machine man, it works! :) So we have S and L and then T...he is from Vietnam. He has been taught all the lessons, but told Sister Nielsen and Sister Heggie last week that he wants to investigate other churches now. The funny thing about him though is that the sisters have given him to the Lord so many times, but he just keeps coming back. He keeps wanting to learn more. He just can't get enough. That's one thing I have been thinking a lot about this week...the gospel never runs out. We will never EVER fully know or understand the gospel. That's what is so incredible about it. Each and every one of us, even President Monson, learn more and more and more every single day. That's the purpose of it. That's why it is "the living waters". That's why Christ said that as we drink of the water which He can give us, aka the Living Water, we will never thirst. We can always receive more knowledge and more testimony. It's one of my favorite things about the gospel! :)
Super cool story of the week...definitely a tender mercy. Ok, so on Wednesday evening, we were heading up to T's house and we saw this guy standing at the top of the hill looking at his phone. He seemed confused so we stopped and asked him if we could help him. He turned around and said, "Oh no, I was just chatting with my wife, she is still in China." Anyways, we proceed to talk to this guy. Turns out he just moved here about 2 months ago, he has a wife and son in China who are moving to Finland in about a month, and they decided to move because they wanted a better life for their son. It was funny though because the conversation was kind of dying, but, we later came to find out, Sister Nielsen and I were both praying that we would be able to get this conversation to a gospel subject. Without us saying anything, D...the guy...said, "Actually, I have wanted to move away from China for about 10 years now. My mother died 10 years ago and that is when I started believing in God." uh...what? This guy didn't even know we were missionaries at this point. Talk about answering prayers! :) We had such a great conversation with him. We told him about the temple and how in the temple we can be sealed to our families forever. His eyes got super wide and he said, "When can I go to the temple?" We told him we would love to give him a tour of the grounds and the guest house and we also invited him to church. You should have seen how fast he whipped out his phone. "What time is it?" "Where is it?" "How do I get there?" He was just rattling off questions and was SO excited to come. Anyways we scheduled a time to meet him at the train station on Sunday so that we could go together. We get to the train station on Sunday, and he wasn't there. I was SO sad. I was like "What? He was practically begging to come to church!!" But we had to leave so we got on the train and set off. Well, about 3 seconds later, we get a text from him. Apparently he was under the bridge, just about to make the train, but he missed it. We were both super bummed and, probably wasn't a good way to think but I thought, "Oh well, better luck next week." Then he calls us and says, "Sisters, I will be at church...I am catching the next train." Man...this guy is golden! Well, as luck would have it, he made it just before the sacrament. We never really had a chance to explain that church was 3 hours and all that good stuff. He had scheduled an appointment for right after sacrament meeting, but he came up to us and just kept apologizing and saying how sorry he was that he couldn't stay for all 3 hours and he promised to stay for all 3 next week. This guy is awesome! We set a vision for our area and we both felt like our next baptism was going to be on November 29. It's going to be D! I just know it! :) We have our temple tour with him this week so pray for him. I am really excited!
Anyways, I am sorry this letter is kind of crazy...I know they mostly all are, but I am so happy to be here. Oh man...a little bit about being a sister training leader. So basically our biggest responsibilities are to go to Mission Leadership Council with President and Sister Watson, which we just had on Friday, to go on splits with all of the sisters-we have our first splits on Tuesday, and to help run zone training! I am really excited for the opportunity. I don't know why, but I know this calling is from Heavenly Father. All I can do is my best and hope that everything else works out. I know it will. It always has! :) But I really am so grateful for the gospel. I am grateful for change. It's been a really good week, but also a rough week. I felt like I gave my whole heart to Vaasa and then I had to leave it. Sometimes it's really hard for me, and I'm sure other people as well, to understand why Heavenly Father tells us to Love Love Love things so much, and then we have to leave them. Heartbreak is pretty common in life, but Sister Nielsen and I were talking yesterday about how during those times in life when we feel like we can't go on, we can't open our hearts again, we can't give anymore, that's when God steps in and takes our little tiny amounts of love and magnifies them and enlarges them. I love Espoo and the people here, but I know that as I continue to pray for the pure love of Christ to fill my heart, it will. That's really the only way missionary work even works. When we are filled with God's love, miracles happen. I have seen that so many times on my mission. On the front of my planner I have the scripture Moroni 7: 48 which says;
48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
I love that scripture. I think that when all is said and done, the more love we have in our hearts, the more comfortable and familiar we will feel when we all see our Savior again. He loves perfectly. He loves fully. His love is real and because of that love, He is pure. I have felt His love purify and change my heart so many times on my mission, and I know He can do it again. I know that all our "losses" can be made up. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The enabling power of the atonement is real. His love is real. I know it is. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have had in my life to really love people. To get to know them, to hear their stories, to share experiences, to serve one another, to spend time with each other, and to love people for who they really are. I think the best thing about Christ-like love is it changes our view of the world. We see people as God sees them. That makes it so much harder to let go, but man...that love is so real. It's tangible. It changes people. I love the gospel. I love you all so much. I hope you know that. Thank you for loving me and for all of your support. I know God sends us angels to be our family members and friends. You all really don't know how much good you do everyday, but as a benefactor of your goodness, I just want to thank you all for who you are. You are all children of our Heavenly Father. You are children of God. Never ever forget that! I love you so much and hope you have the most wonderful week! I know this gospel is true. I know it because it's changed me and I've seen it change others. It is real. God is real. He is good. Christ is our Savior. He lives and because He lives, we will all live again one day! "Oh sweet the joy this sentence gives, I know that my Redeemer lives!"
Minä rakastan teitä!!
Sisar Olivia Bitner
P.S. Something Finnish...they have the most tricked out light fixtures I have ever seen...they have this simple plain houses and then BOOM...you look up and there is a chandelier hanging above your head...someone had a chandelier in their bathroom...hahahaha I guess in a place this dark, you need to make the light something special! :) I love you all!!
Oh one more thing, dad, I met my first South Korean on my mission!! I told her the 2 korean sentences I know, "Don't make me laugh" and "Do you wanna die?" She laughed for like 25 minutes and said to tell you thank you for serving her people! So thank you for serving her people! :) I love you!!!