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 time...in 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." Man...talk 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 americans...us...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 you...you 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? christmas.mormon.org? 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 man...it'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, man...it 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!!!
|THE TURKEY BOWL!!!|
|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!|