"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 end...like 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 number...it's the same one I did last Christmas for the ward party in Tampere...my gosh...I feel so old. But anyways, we did the cup song...you 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 time...mom, 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. Man...it'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 bottom....it'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! :)|