Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Monday, December 22, 2014

    It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas :)

    Hey guys!! What in the world is this??? It's Christmas....again! My goodness!! Where does the time even go friends? I remember last Christmas like it was yesterday. It's actually really scary how fast this has gone, but it's been so wonderful and I am so grateful for the Christmas season! There is nothing better! First off, thank you all so much for the package! I loved all the gifts...well I haven't opened them yet, but they are waiting for me! I loved all the candy...the sour punch straws are gone....#fattyforlife, but thanks to all my cute siblings and cousins for all the pictures and cards! I can't wait to read them all on Christmas!! Also, skype time....I will be skyping you all at 8:00 in the evening, our time which is about 11:00 in the morning, your time! I hope that is ok. At least now you can open gifts and kind of chill before I put a dent in your Christmas morning! :) I am so excited to see all your beautiful faces and to hear your voices. This is the longest in my life that I will go without talking to you all...the stretch from Mother's Day to Christmas is rough, but we did it guys! WE ENDURED!! It will be so wonderful. I will call Mom's skype name from my account or possibly from Elder or Sister Bullock's account so just look for someone to call you at 11 in the morning! It will be so great!! I can't wait!! Also, Mom, we are making your cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning! It will be so good and I hope they turn out well! I love you!!

    So this week has been pretty great! It's been so fun to just talk with EVERYONE about "He is the Gift". They actually translated it into Finnish this week which was a little bit of a Christmas miracle. There are just so few Finnish speakers in the world that hardly anything gets translated into Finnish, but we were all so grateful it was available. It definitely brings a special spirit into the room when it's in their mother tongue. Plus I just love Finnish. We always joke as missionaries that we serve in the "hipster" mission of the world. Like for real, how many people speak Finnish? Like 5 million. We spoke Finnish before it was cool! :) I think that's "Something Finnish" for the day. It's Hipster! :)

    We went on our last splits for the transfer this week in Marjaniemi which is the neighboring city to Helsinki. It was a great day and I was able to go with Sister Raphael who was actually my sister training leader for a while when we served in the North zone. It was so fun to be with her again. She is the most creative person I know. We wanted to focus on using the Book of Mormon in correlation with He is the Gift and while we were discussing it, she runs into the other room and grabs this Book of Mormon that she had decked out with a cute bow and her testimony in the front cover and she had marked verses about Christ and it just looked way cute. I thought, "Dang, I would just want that book because it looks so good." She really inspired me to try and fire up my creative engines. They have been out of commission for awhile, but it was good to be with her. She goes home with Sister Nielsen next week. It's been really good to see how these missionaries are finishing their missions strong. They are all such good examples to me.

    We found 1 new investigator that day from a referral and taught 9 solid lessons on the street. There was this one "born again" lady on the street who tried to convert us...haha those are always fun, but after we talked to her, this cute lady and her son walked by us and we stopped and talked to them. At first this lady, M didn't appear too excited to be stopped when it was freezing cold and dark, but we started talking to her about God's love and the gift that Christ is. We told her that God loves her and she can come to know Him better by reading the Book of Mormon. It was one of the coolest contacts I have ever had because as we said that, tears filled her eyes and she looked at us and said, "Really? All of that from this book?" It felt so good to testify that "Yes, all of that can happen because of this book." She took the Book of Mormon and gave us her address and phone number and just kept thanking us. She held the Book of Mormon like it was the most wonderful gift she had received. I was so happy. It really is moments like those that make all the other aspects of a mission worth it. It's worth it to try because you never know when someone will say yes! I love being a missionary! :)

    On Wednesday we had a lesson with R, our recent convert from Ghana. He is just so solid. My gosh...I love teaching him. He really teaches us. He didn't get a chance to see the First Presidency Christmas Devotional and we have been wanting to teach him about prophets so we thought, "Why not watch it with him?" We had the Bullocks with us and can I just say how AWESOME the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is? My goodness, when they sang "Oh come all ye Faithful" I was BAWLING. The spirit was so strong especially when the organ started playing. I don't even like the organ and I loved it during that song! :) The talks were brilliant. They always are, but I especially loved Elder Christofferson's talk. It was so powerful. I just found myself crying and crying as I thought about my Savior and how wonderful it is that "he descended from His throne divine to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine." I promised myself and the Lord during that devotional that I will be numbered "among the faithful" at the last day. That's what I want more than anything. It just hit me that the faithful are the only ones who will really be able to endure to the end. But being one of the faithful isn't a free gift. You have to work to be faithful. You have to turn away from self and sin and turn completely to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It's not easy, but man, it will be so worth it when we are reunited with them and we can feel comfortable in their presence. It was such a great devotional! I am so thankful for the leaders of the church.

    We had zone conference on Friday which was so good, as always. President is such a good teacher and he really involves all of us in conferences. He leads discussions and I love being able to hear everyone's insights. I know I am biased, but I love the missionaries in this mission. They are some of the most amazing people I know and I learn so much from them every day. It's such a privilege to serve with them. We talked about a lot of things but everything focused on Jesus Christ. We talked about the reality of his leading role in the church and that he literally is involved very closely and personally in the affairs of this church. Just ponder that for awhile! :) Talk about blowing your brains out. Pretty cool stuff. I love hearing the prophet's testimony and the apostles' testimonies of the Savior. When they say "I know He lives" they really KNOW He lives. There is no doubt in my mind about that. 

    We talked a lot about doing all we can, but not only doing all we can, but being happy about it. I think that is the difference between "enduring to the end" and "enduring well or enjoying to the end". I don't want to just endure my life, I want to do everything I can and be happy about it. I loved when President said that. What a powerful life lesson. I have actually really loved being able to serve under two mission presidents. President Rawlings set Finland up for everything that President Watson is doing. He is making a lot of changing, really tightening up the screws, and we are seeing miracles because of it. I may have already told you this, but there is this building in Vaasa that really has become so symbolic to me on my mission. So when I got to Vaasa in March, there was this big empty lot right next to our apartment with tons of construction workers and cranes and all sorts of things. They had just started working on the foundation of this "huge building." For the first 6 months I was in Vaasa, absolutely NOTHING changed on that building, or so I thought. I would see people working day after day in that lot, but nothing ever happened. No building went up. Nothing changed. I remember thinking, "Man, it must be so hard for those workers to work all day and never see any of the results of their work." 

    During my last month in Vaasa, everything changed. All of a sudden out of nowhere, that building shot up. It was like a miracle. One day it wasn't there and the next day it was. It actually shocked me because I think, whether consciously or subconsciously, I had looked at that building every day and wondered what the heck they were doing over there. So now getting to my deep comparison....that's what has happened in this mission even since I have been here. When I first came here, really for the first half of my mission or first 8 months in Finland, nothing huge happened. We worked SO STINKING HARD day after day and week after week and month after month and nothing changed...or so we thought. What I didn't realize then that I do realize now is that we were laying the foundation. That takes a long's rough because you don't see results, but it is so crucial. Now, President Watson is ready, we are ready, Finland is ready, the Lord is ready to take Finland to the next level. And it's going to happen fast. Oftentimes the President of a mission will establish Standards of Excellence or numbers in the key indicators that missionaries should all be striving to achieve and then maintain. When I first came to Finland, the Standards of Excellence  per week were:

    Monthly baptisms: 1
    Investigators with a baptismal date: 1
    Investigators in sacrament meeting: 3
    Lessons with a member present: 7
    New investigators: 3
    and Total lessons taught to contacts, members, and investigators: 20

    Now the Standards of Excellence are:

    New Investigators: 6
    Investigators in sacrament meeting: 3
    Investigator lessons with a member present + Other lessons to investigators: 21

    Now that may not seem like a huge deal to some people, but holy cow...when President announced these new standards, the room went silent. Everyone was like "Uh, what? Is that even possible." The cool thing is though, with the Lord all things are possible. I know that these standards are going to be hard, but I also know that with faith and hard work, this will not only be a reality, but it will be the minimum. The Lord is working miracles here and it is so fun to be a part of it! I love Finland and am so excited to get to work on these standards!

    So A, our other recent convert is hilarious and so great! I stinking love her family. They are from knew that right? Anyways, her daughter S1 had a birthday this week. She turned 7 and she wanted Sister Nielsen and I to come to her birthday party SO bad! Well they invited us on Saturday to come with them. They had a huge group of people, also from India, who work with her dad and then Sister Nieslen and I. We stuck out like a sore thumb, but it was so fun to be there with all of them. S1 wanted to sit by both of us and we had so much fun talking with her. I love little kids so much. They are hilarious. Anyways we had a great time and we just laughed at how funny the situation was! I will send some pictures!

    So cool story of the week...we were walking home from A's house after a lesson and normally we do just that...we WALK home. But as we were walking, the spirit said, "You should take a bus to Leppävaara". Leppävaara is like the central port for all the buses and is close to our house so I just said it out loud and Sister Nielsen said, "I was just thinking the same thing." So we crossed the street to the bus stop and sat down to wait. Well this guy came up to the bus stop...He looked pretty scary. Covered in was a cross so there you go :) but he was smoking and just looked kind of not nice. Well the bus came right after he did so we got on the bus. He got on after us and he came and sat down right next to me. Like this isn't normal. A, he was a finn and they NEVER do that, especially in an empty bus, and B, I had previously thought in my mind "Wow, that guy is scary." I was scared guys...real scared. But I figured, what the heck so I started talking to him. Long story short, he has been looking for religious direction in his life for a long time. He went to a priest one time and the priest told him to pray. He prayed and he told us that he felt a warm feeling in his heart. He then asked us, "Do you two know how to get that feeling back?" Wow. Talk about a tender mercy. Anyways, we talked more about prayer and the Holy Ghost and then set up an appointment with him. His name is R. Not really, but that's his code name :) So pray for R. He wants to find the warm feeling again :)

    So this week has just been great. I love Christmas. I love the spirit of Christ. I love Finland. It snowed like 1/2 an inch and we are praying it stays for Christmas! :) I love walking out in the morning all wrapped up in my scarf and ginormous coat and hat and boots and breathing in that freezing cold Finnish air. It's the best feeling in the world. I just really love being here. It's so great. I finished Jesus the Christ this week. That was my goal, to finish it before Christmas. It is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I started reading that book because I felt during General Conference and during our Mission Conference with Elder Bednar that I needed to get to know the Savior better. I feel like I know Him better now than I ever have before in my life. I love Him. He lives. He was born, He lived, and He died for us all. During Zone Conference, we had a discussion about Christ and everyone shared their favorite scriptures about Him. One scripture that has come to be my favorite as I have learned more about Him is D&C 50:40-44 which says:

40 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.

 41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;

 42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.

 43 And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.

 44 Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.

    I love these scriptures because to me, it illustrates our relationship with the Savior so well. We are His. He bought us with His blood and  because He lives, we all will live again. The coolest thing about the Atonement I think is just the reality of it. It isn't just some nice thing or some abstract thing, it's something we can all come to know, experience, and trust in for ourselves. It's something we can rely on. I love this passage. I love each verse. The first verse: He doesn't expect us to know everything now. He wants us to learn and grow. The second verse: He doesn't want us to be afraid. We are His. The third verse: if we live according to His gospel and remain faithful and worthy to be called "His", we will never be lost. The fourth verse: If we receive Him and allow Him to touch our lives, He and the Father really are in us and we are in them. The last verse: He is always with us. He is our best friend and also our rock. We will NEVER fall if we trust in Him and His goodness. 

    This message is a message of hope. This gospel is the truth that so many people are searching for, but can't find. We are members of His church. How blessed are we? What could we ever do to say Thank You for all He has done? We can be faithful. We can bring others with us. We can invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We all are missionaries forever. This is His work and if we are on His side, we will never fall. 

    I am so grateful for Jesus Christ. I am so grateful for a loving Heavenly Father. I am so grateful for the Holy Ghost. I am so grateful for the blessings of the gospel. I am so grateful for the commandments. I am so grateful for the Book of Mormon. I am so grateful for a living prophet. I am so grateful for the temple. I am so grateful for the sacrament. I just love it all! My goodness, my heart is so full, especially at this time of year! I hope you all have the most wonderful Christmas and that you know how much I love and appreciate all of you. I love you more than you know and am so grateful that I am your daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend. You are all so wonderful and I am so grateful we have each other forever. Have yourselves a Merry little Christmas and I will see you all on Thursday! :) Woot Woot!!! 


  Sisar Olivia Bitner

All the sisters in our zone

Us and the birthday girl

The whole group! Partay! I look sketch in this but it's from S Nielsens camera so ya....hahaha

Me at the train station in Leppävaara! It was really cold!


My food...holy cow...they eat so much...don't worry, I didn't eat it all

Me and S...A's daughter at her birthday party...we were the guests of honor

Thanks for the gifts and decorations :)

It 1/2 and inch, but IT SNOWED!!!! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"By this shall men know..."

    Huomenta!! :) How are you all doing? My gosh guys....WE GET TO TALK IN 10 DAYS. This is the longest in my life I have gone without talking to you and it probably needs to in 10 days! :) I am so excited. I have to admit, I don't really let myself think about it until it's close enough that it's sort of a reality, but I am beyond excited! Speaking of which, we are skyping a little later this time because we have dinner with a member on Christmas but they don't have skype so we have to go to the temple guest house and some of the temple missionaries are going to let us use their computer. Anyways, we should be ready to talk around 10:30 in the morning your time! I hope that works for you. If not, let me know and we can try and arrange something else. I just love you all so much and can't wait to see your beautiful faces!

    We have had a good week this week. I have learned a lot this week. I learn a lot every week, but especially this week. I can't wait to tell you all about it. Some major life lessons have been learned. I am so grateful for this time as a missionary. I just feel like I am a little sprout in an incubator and the rate of growth and learning is like insane. But anyways, we had a Christmas party with the YSA on Monday in Helsinki. C and S were coming with us so we were able to go down there which was way fun. We sang Finnish Christmas songs and played some way fun games. They asked Sister Nielsen and I to do the spiritual thought about "He is the Gift." It was sort of sprung on us, but such is the life, you know? :) We thought it would just be a few kids, but boy oh boy were we wrong. There were like 60 YSA there, plus a lot of the missionaries from the Helsinki area. We both went and stood up there and man, I felt super intimidated. It was way scary. A, they are our peers, B, they are Finnish. Man it was scary. But it was so cool to be able to testify of the Savior and His birth, life, death and resurrection. That's really what it's all about. I love working with and building up the youth and young single adults of the church. I love doing it especially as a missionary because whether we want them to or not, they look to us as examples. We had a lot of them come up afterwards and tell us thank you for the message. It felt really good and I was grateful for the opportunity! 

    After the party we jumped on a train and headed to Lapeenranta for splits. LPR, our nickname for it, is really close to the Russian border. It took about 2 hours by train to get there. The train was super quiet and it was really dark outside and I felt like I was in the Hunger Games or something. Finland feels like that a lot of the time :) Anyways, I was able to go on splits with Sister Nyman, one of my best friends from the mission. She is in the group above me, and I met her over a year ago at the MTC because my group and her group overlapped for a few days. She is the most incredible missionary. Like seriously, she is amazing. We had such a fun day together and talked a lot about the kind of members we want to be when we go home. We talked to all the people about "He is the Gift" and found this way sweet potential investigator whom we talked with for like 1 hour about Christ. It was amazing! Sister Nyman is just so loving and really lives the gospel of Jesus Christ. She doesn't just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She doesn't need attention and she is just really content and confident with who she is. She is one of those people that just shines with goodness. I love her so much and we had a great day together! 

    So my first life lesson, really the whole theme of this week had to do with love. There is a member down in Helsinki who is from the Philippines. She joined the church a little over a year ago and LOVES the sister missionaries. Like LOVES them. Well, she has been known to give the sisters nicknames and it's kind of like "a cool thing" to get a nickname. That's when you know she likes you. Well...I had heard a lot about her from Sister Fronk, and I didn't really believe she was real, but I have been able to meet her over these past few weeks. Now I am not saying this to be dumb or for a pity party but man, she just didn't like me at all. Like at all. She would completely ignore me and wouldn't talk to me and it was weird. Now bear with me...this story has a point. Well, I really don't get too upset when someone doesn't like me, ya know? Sometimes that's just the way life is. I have kind of had the mentality my whole life like, "Psh, you don't need me, I don't need you." I have realized on my mission how hard it is for me to unconditionally love people like this member. People who pick and choose favorites and try to make people feel bad. Now I know what your're thinking, "That's hard for everyone" and it's true, but some people are definitely better at it than me. It's definitely a weakness I have. I don't need people that don't need me....definitely not a good way to be.  Anyways, I kind of subconsciously has a chip on my shoulder from this member. I was like, "What the heck did I do to you?" I noticed that I would get really annoyed anytime we were around her and I was not having the most Christ-like feelings towards her. I thought, "Man, the sisters spend way too much time with her, this is a waste of time, we could be doing such better things with our time" bla bla bla. I was really frustrated with the whole situation.

    Anyways, on Wednesday we had a lesson with this member G, and A, our recent convert. The lesson went really well and at the end, Sister Nielsen asked G to share her conversion story. I grumbled and mumbled in my mind and was like "Oh man, here we go..." but something amazing happened as she told the story of her conversion. I could literally feel my heart melting inside of me. I had this overwhelming feeling of love come over me for this member. I was blessed from Heavenly Father to really see her how He sees her. The thought came into my mind, "Sister Bitner, it's ok to love everyone." Now I know that probably sounds way lame, but I realized my flippancy and attitude of "who needs haters" was not at all how Christ loved and it really was a self-defense mechanism to kind of mask the pain I have felt in my life from people "not needing me". Maybe this doesn't make any sense, but the lesson I learned from that experience is that God really will take care of us. He will take care of our hearts. While we were sitting there as well, the words to "Come thou Fount" came into my mind:

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above

    I know that those words are true. I especially love the last line, "Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above" I learned this week that we really can give our heart to the Lord and He will take care of it. He commands us to love everyone, but gives with the commandment, the love itself. It was an incredible experience for me and a lesson I will always remember. 

    On Thursday we had to say goodbye to S. Well for a few weeks. She is traveling around Europe for Christmas so it was Sister Nielsen's last time seeing her. It was really sad, but we had a great lesson. I really felt while we were there that the relationships we build on missions are eternal. Sister Nielsen and I will see S again and I will see all the people I love again. Not just family, but dear friends. She was so cute though, she said the closing prayer and blessed Sister Nielsen to "be able to find people to teach in her own country" and that "Sister Bitner would stay here and have a happy and healthy time." Is that not the cutest thing you have ever heard? Man...she is going to get baptized and I can't wait to be here for it! I love S!!!

    So I don't know if I have told you about the temple couples that work here, but man...I just have to tell you about them. They are incredible and we are so spoiled that we have them so close. There are 3 couples that we are especially close with, the Bullocks, the Merrills, and the Smiths. We bring them on our english lessons all the time, the Merrills and Smiths are American and the Bullocks are Canadian, but we just love them. They really are like our grandparents. :) It's so nice to have them. Anyways, we had a DA with the Bullocks on Thursday and we just had a great time talking with them and getting to know them better. Last Monday after we emailed, Sister Smith came into the email room because we email at the temple guest house and she asked, "Sisters, would you like some quiche, I just baked it?" hahaha uh yes! So we had lunch with the Smiths and then we walked downstairs and Elder Merrill was playing Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" which we all know is my personal favorite! :) I freaked out and was like "Elder Merrill, this is my favorite song of all time." He said, "Well get over here and sing it then." haha he plays the piano really well, so we sang Christmas carols with the Merrills last p-day! Did you like that? It came to me just now :) It was wonderful! :) We love them a lot!

    So on Friday it was POURING rain all day. I have never been so wet my entire mission. It was windy and super cold and man, it was rough. We smelt like wet dog all day and kept commenting on it to each other. It was pretty hilarious. That night though, we had our ward Christmas party which was SUPER fun. I love this ward so much. They are all so amazing! The missionaries did a musical's the same one I did last Christmas for the ward party in gosh...I feel so old. But anyways, we did the cup know the one all the kids do these days while singing "Oh come all ye faithful". It was pretty hilarious and was a huge hit with the members. They loved it. We sang all the Finnish Christmas songs again and it was just a great night. The J family came and A came! It was a wonderful evening. I am going to miss singing Finnish Christmas songs. It's hard to be away, but I am grateful I have two Christmases here. It's a blessing! :)

    So there is this awesome older couple in our ward, the A family. They are stinking hilarious. The husband is 86 and the wife is late 70s. They are the best and invite us over for dinner all the time. We had salmon with dill sauce this, you would have loved it! SO GOOD. Afterwards we were looking at their pictures and I commented on one of the two of them and Sister A said, "That picture is horrible. We had just come from a funeral and my husband said, 'Honey, what pictures are our kids going to use when we are dead? We need pictures' so we went to a cheap picture store and had a photo shoot." The pictures were hilarious, but I just love how practical and honest finns are. Instead of mourning the fact that they will die or feeling sorry about just being at a funeral, they don't waste any time but go to the photo store to get their funeral pictures ready! hahah SO Finnish! That's my "Something Finnish" for the day. They are the most practical people I know.

    We had a lesson with R, our recent convert this week. We talked about missionary work and challenged him to give a Book of Mormon away as a Christmas present. We gave him the book of Saturday and on Sunday he comes up to us at church and says, "Sisters, I gave my friend the Book of Mormon and he was so happy. I am going to see what he says, but then I will give you his number." YES!! That's member missionary work right there folks. We were so happy! :) It was great!

    Another cool experience that really hit close to home was that Sister Nielsen and I were asked to teach the lesson in Young Women on Sunday. We thought to go the route of "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ", but as we were planning it, we really felt like we needed to help these girls Discover, Embrace and Share the gift of Christ this year. We started with the "Because of Him" video and had a great discussion about how we can discover and embrace this gift of Christ and His love and Atonement. As I was looking at all of the girls, I just felt my heart fill with love again. Plus, my beautiful sister's faces popped into my head and I just wanted so badly for these wonderful young women to know how much their Savior loves them. It's not always fun to be in high school or junior high. It's awkward. It stinks. There is so much pressure to be this or to be that. You never feel good enough. You want a best friend. You want a boyfriend.'s rough. But I know that Christ is with us through it all. That's really what we tried to communicate and the spirit was so strong and we were all crying! It was great! :) Quality bonding time with the Sisters. But at the end, we challenged them all to give away a Book of Mormon as a Christmas gift. They all accepted it, which honestly kind of surprised me, but they are determined to do it. We are so excited for them. I really hope I get to work with the Young Women of the church. It would be so much fun!!

    Well, I learned a lot this week, but it was also a really rough week. We basically have either lost or given all of our investigators to the Lord. Granted, S is out of town, but it's been really rough. We are doing everything we can. Talking to everyone. Praying in Faith. Preparing. Being exactly obedient. I feel like I am being the best missionary I have been on my mission to this point, and I feel like nothing is happening. It's just been way rough. But it's ok, because it always gets better. That's the thing about rock's rock bottom. You literally can only go up from here! It's been really strange having a companion who is going home again. We have talked a lot about how "the nametag never comes off" and it's all true, but I realized this week how sad I am going to be when I don't have my missionary nametag on anymore. I love my nametag. It is so special to me. As I was working over this in my mind, I read Jesus the Christ. At this point in the book, Christ is hours away from being crucified. I can't imagine how He must have felt at that time. In the book it talks about how sad He was and how heavy He felt. We really can't even comprehend what that was like. But in his last recorded sermon to his apostles this is what He said:

    "'Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me, and I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.' The law of Moses enjoined mutual love among friends and neighbors; but the new commandment, by which the apostles were to be governed, embodied love of a higher order. They were to love one another as Christ loved them; and their brotherly affection was to be a distinguishing mark of their apostleship, by which the world would recognize them as men set apart."

    I will take my nametag off one day and that STINKS. I love being a recognized disciple of Christ. I love wearing my nametag and just by that, people now who I am and what I believe in. It's going to be a lot harder when I get home. I realized that I always want people to know that I am a Christian. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How are they going to know that? They are going to know that as I love EVERYONE with the love of Christ. That is the new commandment. It's the higher law given by Jesus Christ. By this shall men know we are His disciples, if we have love one to another. I am so grateful for the goodness and mercy of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We were watching the "He is the Gift" video with the Bullocks and I had the strangest experience where I kind of felt like I went back in time to who I was before my mission. I realized in that moment how frustrated I was with my life. I had no idea where I was going. I didn't know what to do. All these things I thought I wanted, weren't what I thought they would be. I was just confused. then on October 6, 2012, Heavenly Father reached out in love to all His children, but to me personally and gave me the opportunity to serve as a missionary and introduced me to this higher love...the higher road, the way I could travel to get to where I really want to be. He gave me light into my life. Man, "How great the wisdom and the love." I love my Father in Heaven. I don't always do everything I know I should, but I want more than anything to be obedient to Him and to do what's right. I love my Savior and am so grateful that through Him I can return to my Father again. I am so grateful for the gospel and I am so grateful for all of you. Let's all try this week and this next year to really develop Christ-like love so that through us, people will see Him! I love you all and hope you have the best week ever! Next week at this time, we will be 3 days away from talking to each other! I can't even stand it! :) I LOVE YOU! Minä rakastan teitä!!


    Sisar Olivia Bitner 

My comp for the day, Sisar Nyman from Norway!!

The temple...don't be fooled, it's rain, not snow! :) 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

 "..Of such is the kingdom of God." 

     Heido! What's up family? How are you all doing this fine morning? Is it nice and snowy in Utah cause it sure isn't here in Finland. It is pouring rain as I speak. It's been really weird weather this hair is nice and frizzy because of the humidity, but hey, that's the price you pay, you know? :) It's all worth it. I hope you have all had a great week. We have had a good week in good old Espoo. It's the place to be this Christmas season! :) I love being here and feel especially blessed this Christmas season! 

    So this week has been really good. We have seen a lot of miracles with the "He is the Gift" video. It's an amazing thing. The church is so cool! It's so true. That video is amazing. But anyways, back to the week, so I have been excited to go on splits this week for like....6 weeks since I have been here because guess who we were going to see? Sister Thayne! Man...I just love her. She is so great! Anyways, we headed to Pasila on Monday night and met up with Sister Thayne and her companion Sister Dowd. We had prayed about it, and both felt like Sister Nielsen needed to go with Sister Thayne and I needed to go with Sister Dowd! Sister Thayne and I had a great time reminiscing and talking about where we were a year ago and how much has changed. It's incredible to see how much we have both grown. She has really been such a good friend to me during my mission. I love her so much and it was great to catch up.

    So on Tuesday, Sister Dowd and I set off. She is in the same group as Sister Pace and it was fun to talk to her and get to know her better. We really wanted to focus on being finnish...not the easiest thing to do as everyone learning a language knows, and on using the "He is the Gift" video in our contacting and talking with EVERYONE. Well Sister Dowd is amazing. She definitely showed me how work is done, and she just talked with everyone and shared the joy of Christ with ALL the people. It was so much fun. We went to contact this one potential they have had for awhile and she let us in. She was really nice and wanted to talk, but when we brought up the church, the atmosphere in the room totally changed. She kind of turned on "defense mode" and wasn't about to hear anything we had to say. We asked her if we could show her a little video about Christmas that had just come out from our church. She reluctantly said yes, but as the movie started, the spirit in her apartment flipped 180 and the warmest, most peaceful feeling came into the room. It was incredible. We both testified of Christ and that this is His church and at the end of the meeting, we had a new investigator and a return appointment to discuss the Restoration the following day. I am telling you people, Christ is changing the world and we are helping Him do it through sharing this video! It's SOOOO cool!!! I love it!

    So coolest contacting experience ever happened to me while we were on splits. So finns are pretty private...did you all know that? But about 99% of them walk around everywhere with headphones better believe I have made a pact with myself NEVER to wear headphones when there are people to talk to, but anyways, it makes it kind of hard to contact sometimes because they don't hear us. Well, I got on a bus and sat down next to this girl, she looked like she was about 20 years oldish. I asked her how her day was going and soon realized the dreaded headphones were in full force. DANG IT. I was so tempted to pull them out and ask her again, but thankfully the spirit isn't stupid and he told me not to do that :) But for some reason, I felt prompted that I really really needed to talk to her. So I know I have said this before, but there is no such thing as "awkward" as a missionary. I don't even know what that feels like anymore. But I wanted to get her attention in a non-weird way. I kind of leaned forward and dice. I coughed obnoxiously loud. No dice. I even bumped into her, no dice. Then finally I prayed. I said Heavenly Father, help me not be awkward (too late) and talk to this girl. I kid you not, right then, she whips out her headphones and says, "I like your bag." I was like, oh my gosh...when will I learn? But we had the best conversation EVER and it ended up with HER asking for MY number and wanting to meet with the missionaries again. WOAH. God answers prayers...even prayers to help us not be awkward. Sometimes a little awkward is good though. :) Prayer works!

     It was definitely overall one of the best splits experiences I have had on my mission. Us 4 together taught 25 solid teaches about the "He is the Gift" video, found one awesome new investigator, and we were just buoyant with the love of Christ. It was an amazing day! Those sisters are incredible! I love them a lot!

     So I told you about the interview we had this went really well. The guys name is M and he is actually a swedish speaking finn so the interview was in english. He asked a TON of questions about the process of becoming a missionary, why we wanted to be missionaries, how we felt about Finland, what it was like when we first came to Finland and all sorts of other things. The spirit was really strong and I was so overcome with emotion about the process and journey I have taken of becoming a missionary. The more I remember how I felt and what state of mind I was in when I left, the more amazed I am that I am here, one year later, LOVING being a missionary. I can't wrap my head around how much Heavenly Father and Christ have helped me. It's amazing. But at the end of our interview, you could totally tell that M wanted to learn more about the church and what we actually believe in. He sort of beat around the bush and said, "So hypothetically, if one wanted to learn about the church, how would they go about it?" Man...that was the best question of the day. I said, "M, do you want to come to a temple tour on Wednesday?" and he said, "Oh ya, I wasn't even thinking about that, of course I would love to." hahaha He is so funny. I mean, he is writing his article for his school paper about Mormon missionaries...we are cool, but we aren't that cool :) People just know there is something cooler that we have to share with them! So pray that our temple tour goes well with M! :)

     We met with the J family again this week. Only the mom was there with her 2 kids, but she really opened up to us and expressed her feelings about the church and how she wished she could be more active. She was baptized about 10 years ago and really hasn't been super active since so she really doesn't know the doctrine of the church at all. We told her we wanted to go through the lessons with her again and she said, "I would love that. You always bring the spirit into our home. It's the only time I feel it." My goodness. I wanted to cry. She is such a good mom to her two ADORABLE little girls. You can just feel her goodness and her desire to do what's right. I really believe so strongly that people don't keep commitments or don't keep commandments because they really don't understand them fully. It's so important that we as members of the church increase our understanding of the doctrine of the gospel. That's why I love Preach My Gospel so much. It sets out the gospel so simply and plainly and that really is what you need to know and focus on. I really hope that everyone has a copy of Preach My Gospel, whether you are preparing to serve a mission or not. It really is scripture from living prophets. I love it!

    So Saturday was Finnish Independence Day. They don't go as hard as America, but let's get real, no one goes as hard as America! Sister Nielsen and I were decked out in our blue and white though to support our second motherland! :) That is one of the things I love most about finns...they love their country. They fought for their country. They really do love Finland and have a lot of Suomi Pride! I love it so much. But we went to a member family's house and had dinner and had a history lesson about Finland! :) It was really interesting and it was so fun to see how Finns celebrate their freedom! 

    So our ward in Espoo is built up of 2 cities, Lohja and Espoo. Lohja is about 40 minutes away from Espoo and ALL of the families with kids in our ward live out there. Last week when we helped in primary, there was this CUTE little girl in the front row who just kept smiling at us. Like I kid you not, the entire hour, she was smiling. After church when we were standing in the foyer, she ran up to us again and just stood there and smiled and smiled. We were both like, "Whose kid is this?" But then her mom came up and said, "Sisters, my daughters REALLY want you to come to our house for dinner next Sunday, but we live in Lohja. Could we give you a ride to our house, you could eat dinner with us, and then we can drive you home?" Uh...yes. That would be great. Well we went out to the B families house yesterday and it was SO much fun. My goodness, I love talking to little finnish kids. I just love talking to kids. I love treating them like there are adults and asking them questions about things and just hearing how they respond. It's so stinking cute. I also realized how much I miss all my cute little siblings and cousins. Gosh dang it...I miss you all. But it was good to be able to be with their family. There are so many great examples of strong, eternal families in this ward. I love being able to visit with them and be in their homes! The spirit in the home of a member family is so tangible. It's so real. I love it!

    Well, Jesus the Christ got me again this week folks. I just learned you are supposed to italicize book titles so sorry for my lack of know-how in previous weeks! :) But anyways, I am going to try not to cry writing this because I have already cried way too many times this week while reading this story. So my FAVORITE story of all time from the New Testament is when Jesus blesses the little children. Speaking of, have you all watched the Bible Videos the church has released? Oh my gosh, if you haven't, go to right now and type in Bible Videos and watch them all...but especially the one about the little children. I cry every single time. Anyways, I just want to basically quote the whole story of this from Jesus the Christ because it is pretty much the sweetest thing I have ever read:

     "The next event of record is one of surpassing sweetness, rich in precept and invaluable in example. Mothers brought their little children to Jesus, reverently desiring that the lives of those little ones be brightened by a sight of the Master and be blessed by a touch of His hand or a word from His lips...The disciples, zealous that their Master be not troubled unnecessarily, and conscious of the continuous demands on His time and attention, rebuked those who had so ventured to trespass...Jesus was displeased over the misdirected zeal of His followers, and rebuked them. Then He uttered that memorable sentence of infinite tenderness and divine affection: 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.' Taking the children one by one into His arms, He laid His hands upon them and blessed them. Then said He: 'Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."

    I am so grateful, especially at this Christmas time of year for my parents, and my siblings, Jocelyn, Anne, Lauren, Luke and Caroline. As I was reading this story, I knew in my heart that if Christ were here right now, mom, you would do ANYTHING in your power, just as these mothers did to make sure that your children would be blessed by the Savior. Even though Christ isn't here, right now, in the flesh, you have done everything you could to make sure that Jesus Christ has been a part of my life. I have always known He is my Savior and I owe that testimony in large part to you. You taught me about Christ. You showed me pictures of Christ. You told me that He loves me, but most importantly and powerfully, you have lived a Christ like life. Mom, you are the most Christ-like person I know. Stop shaking your head, it's true. :) I have 7 other witnesses....probably like 423723 other witnesses of people who know and love you who can back me up. I know you aren't perfect, but every time I watch this video and see the look on those mother's faces as they bring their children to Christ, I know that you would have been right there, on the front lines, with all 6 of us in tow, "reverently desiring that the lives of those little ones be brightened by a sight of the Master." Thank you so much for teaching me about Him. Thank you so much for loving Him. I know He loves you! are obviously included in this. The story was just about mothers :) But I love you all so much. Thank you for loving me with Christ-like love. I know I do and have done so many stupid things in my life, but thank you for looking past that and loving me anyways. Your love keeps me going. Christ's love keeps me going. It always comes back to love, you know? The Beatles really knew what they were talking about! All we need is love! But not just any love, the love of Christ. It changes us. It is changing the world! I love you all so much! I know Heavenly Father lives and loves us. Christ is His son. He is my Savior. I love Him. He lives. You are the best! Have a great day and I will see you all SO SOON!! More info on that to come...stay tuned! :) 


    Sisar Olivia Bitner

    P.S. Something Finnish...they have the most bomb awesome thrift stores here called kirppis...I don't even like thrift stores, but man, these are pretty legit! :) 

Sister companion for the day :)

MY BESTIE Sister Thayne!!!! Sorry the first one is fuzzy and tilted.... 

Our temple!!! YAYAYAYAYAY!!!

This is what a train looks like in's a commuter was late at night....

Sister Nielsen....she's really tired :)

Happy Finnish Independence Day!!! :)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

He is The Gift    

    Good Morning!! How are you all doing? I hope thanksgiving was great. Mom, those pies doe...dang girl! I seriously gained 5 pounds just looking at them. :) I hope the soccer tournament was great as well! Send me pics of that for sure! I was thinking about you all on Thanksgiving! Hopefully you had a great week! Is it snowy there in good old Utah, by the way? There is no snow here yet, but we are praying for it. Finland is so much more beautiful in the winter when there is snow! Anyways, I hope all is well and I hope you know how much I love you! :) 

    We had MLC this week and President talked about email the past we have been able to take up to 2 hours, but we are really trying to cut back and only take an hour, so my emails will probably be shorter, but that's alright. I am sure no complaints will be had! :) Also, we talked about skyping times...we are only going to be able to skype for 40 minutes, I don't know what time it will be on Christmas day, but just wanted to give you a heads up on that as well. It's not a lot of time, but man, it will be the best thing of my life to see your beautiful faces again! :) Anyways, just a few logistics!

    So last Monday, we had a Turkey Bowl as a district. It felt good to play some American football again. Our team totally kicked butt. It was way fun. We have a really good district. It's a pretty old district. Sister Nielsen and I are in the first Espoo ward with the APs, the other elders in our ward are both going home within the next few months, but we do have 2 greenies that keep us all young and fresh so that's great! People were staring at us while we played like "What the heck is going on?" Man, Finns, they just don't know what they're missing! :)

    I wanted to give you a little update on D, our chinese investigator who moved away. He is really struggling right now. It literally pains me to write it, but he was progressing super well and then he slipped up and drank coffee. Now I have had like 283489 investigators do that after they have committed to live the Word of Wisdom, but D just felt SICK about it. He literally felt like he was going to be cast down to the pit because of that. The elders have kept us posted on his progress, that's why I know all this stuff, but he doesn't feel worthy to talk with the missionaries or come to church. He said he is a failure and cannot be in the presence of people like us when he has "sinned against His God." about a moral compass. He is incredible and has such a sincere heart. But pray for him. The elders have taken really good care of him, he just needs to understand the atonement a little bit more! Just wanted to let you know!

    So on Tuesday, I went on splits with Sister Heggie in Kerava. It's about 20 minutes away from Espoo by train. Sister Heggie is about a month away from going home and used to be the sister training leader down here in Espoo. I felt really strongly like I needed to be with her that day, and let me tell you, I learned so much. We focused that day on using the Book of Mormon ALWAYS and talking with all the people. It was incredible the spirit and strength we both felt as we kept the Book of Mormon in hand and just shared its truthfulness, boldly with everyone around us. It felt so good. I stinking love the Book of Mormon. How genius is Heavenly Father to give us that book so that we can know for ourselves that the Restoration is true. It really is the keystone. If it falls or fails, all of this is a lie. But if it's true, there is no truer work on the face of the earth. Luckily it's true! :) I love it. Sister Heggie and I did a role play with a family and committed them to give a Book of Mormon away. We pretended to be their friends and they role played with us. I just have to say, the power I felt and the spirit that came into my heart when those members testified of their testimonies of the Book of Mormon was amazing. Members have SUCH a special power and influence over people. I was pretending to be a non-member and I still found myself wanting to read this book that they were so passionate about. It was a pretty cool experience. I really want all of you to pray this Christmas season about who you could give a Book of Mormon to as a Christmas gift. What better way to "Share the Gift" of our Savior! I will follow up with all of you on your prayers! :) We can all give that gift to the Savior.

    So our new investigator, L, is pretty amazing. The sisters talked to her a few months ago, but have just had the hardest time getting in contact with her again. She is American, but came to Finland to study a few years ago, fell in love with Finland, and has lived here ever since. She is EXTREMELY spiritual and you can just tell that she has thought about and tried to build her relationship with God her whole life. We had our first lesson with her this week and we talked about the Restoration, focusing specifically on the Book of Mormon. The lesson had gone pretty well, nothing mind-shattering or anything, but I had the thought to testify to L of God's love for her. As I thought about it, John 3:16 came into my mind, 

 16 ¶For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

   This is a scripture we have been talking about a lot as missionaries, but I looked right at L and I said, "L, I feel really strongly that your Heavenly Father wants you to know how much you mean to Him and that He loves you." I have never said those exact words to anyone...I usually don't tell people "I feel very strongly...." I just say whatever I feel, but I know that those words weren't my words. Sister Nielsen continued testifying to her and the spirit just came WHOOSHing into the room. It was incredible. We were all teary-eyed and for the first time in my mission, I felt like Heavenly Father was saying to me, "Keep talking to her, keep telling her that I love her, she needs to know this, thank you for telling her for me." I have felt that feeling every time since then when I have testified of Heavenly Father's love. I was just so overcome with gratitude in my heart that I have the opportunity to tell people that their Heavenly Father loves them. I get to be the messenger and introduce the love of God into people's lives. What a special opportunity and privilege that is. I know that God loves all of us. He loved us so much that He sent His son. He is the Gift!

    So on Thursday we had Thanksgiving dinner with a member family. It was really fun and probably the most unique Thanksgiving I will ever have in my life. The party consisted of 2 finns...the members...2 taiwanese girls...S and L...and 2 vietnamese men...H who was baptized a year ago and his brother. It was really fun and the member asked Sister Nielsen and I to teach a little "Thanksgiving History" before we ate. It was fun to remember why we celebrate Thanksgiving and just made me so happy to be an American! Before we went to dinner, we had a lesson with S and L. Man...they are SO beyond ready to be baptized. Like so prepared, it's not even funny. The spirit has been so incredibly strong in our past 2 lessons. I know they have felt it. They still have reservations about their parents and what they would say about them joining the church. It was interesting because in one of our lessons this week, S brought up how hard it would be to tell her parents about the church. I started thinking about what I would do in her situation and my mind kind of trailed off and I immediately felt the spirit leave me. It was scary how fast it left. Then all the sudden all sorts of doubts came into my mind like, "Who the heck am I to tell these girls to go against their parents and join this church? What right do I have?" But then, as I was sitting there, praying so hard in my heart to get the spirit back, the thought came to mind, "Sister Bitner, this so isn't about have the right because I gave you the right...keep teaching them. Quit thinking about yourself." Boy...isn't that the truth. This isn't about me. I really don't have the right, but because I am set apart, I have the responsibility to "call souls to repentance." It's pretty humbling when I start thinking about "the mantle" of being a missionary. No one does what we do, because it really is our job. I think that's so crucial to remember, the role of missionaries and members. We as member missionaries are supposed to fellowship people, to be there to answer questions, and to provide support to our friends, but it is the missionaries' job to teach and baptize these people. It's a pretty amazing system and when we all work together, miracles happen. Anyways, S and L will not be getting baptized this week, but we are setting baptismal dates again for them, so pray that they will have the courage to tell their parents. We love them so much and they are so ready!

    We had MLC on Friday with President and Sister Watson. It was so great to be with them. I learn so much just by talking with them. They are such great examples to me of what kind of a "missionary couple" I want to be in the future. There are no transfers with that companion though, so better make a good choice :) We talked a lot about elevating our thinking and changing the culture of our mission. So many people bag on Finland as a mission. People before I left were really negative about this wonderful place. "It's so cold. It's so dark. The people are rude. You will never learn the language. They don't want religion." Bla bla bla. That's all garbage. No one really has room to talk about Finland except those who have served there. You talk to any missionary, and I guarantee you, they will tell you how much they love this beautiful country and the wonderful people that live here. The problem is, the mindset of a lot of missionaries, including myself at the beginning of my mission was, "Well, that's just the way it is in Finland." We are really working, as leaders to elevate the mindset and the vision of our missionaries. We want to take Finland to the next level and have the faith to be exactly obedient and to talk with everyone and to pray always and to do all those things we have been taught. This is the Lord's vineyard and He can do with it whatever He pleases. We just have to be ready to harvest! It was a really inspiring day and I made so many goals and resolutions for myself. I love being able to change and become better. It's amazing how there is literally ALWAYS something we could do better. We just have to be humble and willing to change and do all we can do and God takes care of the rest.

    We went to the temple. I love the temple. Honestly, it's the most wonderful place in the world. I was talking to Sister Watson after and we were just looking at the temple and she said, "Don't you just wish everyone could go into the temple?" I do. Everyone needs to go to the temple. It's our little piece of heaven on earth and I felt so happy just being there. It's wonderful!

    Sister Nielsen and I were asked to help with the music in primary on Sunday. We were way stressed with everything going on, especially on Sunday, and I am not going to lie, I didn't really want to do it, but we went and man, hearing those kids sings "As I have loved you" in finnish and "I am a Child of God" was the best reminder to me of what's really important. It's so easy to get caught up in the fluff of life, especially at this time of year. I am sure you have all heard about the "He is the Gift" initiative from the church. Holy cow...have you all seen the video? It is AMAZING. Gets me every time. We watched it for the first time at MLC and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I love the message it gives. I love how it starts with all the hustle and bustle of Christmas but then the slower music starts and the spirit just settles in nice and warm around you...oh's the best. The words of the video are so powerful:

    "The first gift was not wrapped, had now bow, wasn't purchased online or in a store. The first gift of Christmas was a simple gift, a sacred gift. It wasn't gold or frankincense or myrrh. It was a gift of love and life and peace and hope given by a Father to all His children. 'For God so loved the world.' And so loved you, and every single one of us. He gave His Son. He is the Christ. He is Christmas. He is the Gift. This Christmas season, discover the gift, embrace the gift, share the gift."

    The church is true, friends. How powerful is that. We as missionaries are really trying to sweep the earth with this video. Since Friday, Sister Nielsen and I have talked about and challenged SO many people to watch this video. We are working this week on getting return appointments from this challenge to teach people more about Christ, but seriously, this video is so amazing. On Saturday, after MLC, we just want crazy giving out cards and talking to all the people. I have never talked to so many people in one day on my mission. It was awesome! We both felt so good going to bed that night...we knew we had done all we could do that day and it felt so good to talk about Christ literally ALL DAY LONG. The next day however, we both felt terrible. So many things went wrong on Sunday. None of our investigators came to church, although 3 said they would....a bunch of other things went wrong with our area, our appointment with C cancelled, just felt like the whole world was against us.

    We sat down to plan and we both just looked up at each other and said, "What is going on, why do we feel like this?" As we talked it through we realized that Satan was trying SO HARD to put a stop to our enthusiasm about this video and this Christmas season. He always does this...always. It's so annoying and so obvious that he really is doing everything he can to keep us from sharing this video with people. But guess what? It's not going to work. All of us need to commit to share this gift. To share the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ with the world. The church took over YouTube guys. They are advertising in Times Square. This isn't a small thing. The church has never done this before. The least we can do is step up our game a bit and share this message with the world. I know that the message of this video is true. He is the Christ. He is Christmas. Because of Him, we have this special time of year "when the world falls in love". :) It's the spirit of Christ that brings us all together. I love Him and I know that He is the greatest gift of all. Share the gift guys! Let's make sure everyone knows about our Savior this year! You are all wonderful! I hope you have the best week and I will talk to you soon...literally! :) YIPPEE!!


    Sisar Olivia Bitner

    P.S. Something Finnish...they love the white furniture...white furniture with blue and gray accents. I think that's why their flag is blue and white! :)

    P.S.S. SOOOO big news...this student magazine in Finland is doing an article on Sister Nielsen and I. We have an interview on Wednesday at the temple guest house for like 3 hours. Man...people are hastening the work for us and they don't even know! Pray that it goes well! I love you all!!! 


My team won!! 

Sister Heggie and I on splits 
Me and Sister Nielsen enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at MLC

The Sister Training Leaders

Sister Woods and Sister Dixon and me...reunited and it feels so good! :)

On our way into the temple!