It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas :)
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 time...it'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 India...you 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 tattoos...one 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.
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!|
|THANKS FOR THE PACKAGE!!!!|
|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 SNOWED...like 1/2 and inch, but IT SNOWED!!!!|