Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Homeward Bound

    Hyvää Huomenta! How are you all doing? Things are great in good old Suomi...my toinen koti maa! :) My other homeland! It's been a really good week. Not going to lie, it's been really rough, but good. I have never felt so many emotions at one time. It's like when a crowd of people is all trying to get into a tiny door at the same time. After pushing, one eventually breaks through...sometimes that's "sad" or "happy" or "sentimental" but I know this is probably really normal and it's going to be weird for awhile. I am just so grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve a mission. That's really the prevailing emotion I have had this week. So many times during the week I have found myself reflecting or a memory will pop into my head and I think, "Wow, did that really happen to me?" It's like I've been living the best dream in the world and now I get to come and see you all again. That is pretty amazing and I am so excited. I hope in spite of all of my sadness to leave, you all know how excited I am to see you again. Seriously, if you weren't there waiting for me, I wouldn't leave. You are my reason to come back and I am so excited to see all of your beautiful faces! You are the best!

    I hope the title of my e-mail is dramatic enough for you! hahaha I crack myself up. No but seriously, that song for some reason has been popping up on my iPod this entire week, but the words are pretty amazing. Now I may butcher these, but these are the words I hear when I listen to it, "Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow, set me free to find my calling and I'll return to you somehow." That's how I feel about my mission. You all, including Heavenly Father have given me the opportunity to serve a mission and to experience a level of joy that I didn't even know existed. You have allowed me to change and become better. I am so grateful to each one of you for the influence you have had on me over these past 18 months. I have thought about each one of you, individually and all the things you have taught me. You may not believe me, but it's true. My parents, my siblings, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, ward members, leaders, soccer teammates, coaches, co-workers, everyone. You have all impacted me in so many ways and now I'm coming back. I'm homeward bound. It's a surreal but amazing feeling. I love you all so much and can't thank you enough.

    Well, let's get on to the week, shall we? :) It's been one heck of a last week, thanks to all the members and investigators and missionaries I have come to know and love. I had my last district meeting on Wednesday. Our district leader is also going home in our group. He asked me if I would bear my "final testimony" during district meeting. I was really happy to do it. I bore my testimony about the Book of Mormon and just missionary work in general. It felt so good to talk about how much I have loved sharing the Book of Mormon. I think I may have told you all this before, but I love carrying a Book of Mormon around in my hand. I feel like I have a sword. The Sword of Truth. :) It's the most amazing book. I don't know what it is about it, but literally, you open it and can feel power just pouring out of it's pages. I feel closer to the Holy Ghost while reading the Book of Mormon than any other way. It is amazing and I know that it is God's word. I know that anyone, literally ANYONE who reads the Book of Mormon, ponders what it says, and then asks God if it is true will receive a witness that it is true and contains the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am so grateful for the Book of Mormon. 

    We had a dinner appointment Wednesday night with our bishop and his family. It was so much fun. He told me that he really appreciated my talk and that the ward really appreciated it as well. He said I spoke Finnish well....all the Finns say that...it doesn't really mean that I am good, but hey, I will take the compliment! :) I have really loved getting to know our bishop and his family. They are such wonderful people and we have a really good relationship. I remember before my mission, well while I was in the MTC, they told us that if we made good relationships with members, our missions would be so much better. I am so grateful for that advice and am beyond grateful for the relationships I have with these members. The Finnish members are the best members in the world. They are so strong in the gospel. When you convert a Finn, you convert them for life! :) They are wonderful. They are shy, quiet, sometimes a little abrupt, and they really don't like to talk with crazy Americans, nor are they "touchy" (that's why I love them haha), but they are also loyal, honest, dependable, kind, generous, hilarious, and honestly the best people I have ever known. I strive to be a member like the members in Finland. The gospel is who they are, not just what they do. I have learned so much from them. I will always remember them and keep them very close to my heart. Minä rakastan suomalaisia! 

    So this week was the big graduation holiday in Finland, Vappu. Vappu or "May Day" is when all of the students graduate. They all wear these hats that resemble sailor caps and they party all night. It's a good idea...sadly they take the partying a little too far. As missionaries, we aren't allowed to be on the street on Vappu because of all of the drunk people. It's kind of lame, but hey that's ok. We were able to go to the mission home on Thursday night in preparation for MLC. It was fun to be with Sister Watson. She seriously is the greatest person in the world. She told me she will tell her kids that I am available to babysit their grandkids. hahaha totta kai! I would love to do that! :) We have such a special relationship. I feel like I can talk with her about anything. I know she loves me and I love her. She is great.

    MLC was pretty amazing. I was just struck as we talked about the mission how far it has come. Now I know I probably just sound like an old fogey...foggy...fogy...fogi....like an old person raving about how things were "back in the day" hahaha but for real, this place is different. Finland is exploding. Numbers don't matter, but since that is how we track progress, our numbers are substantially higher than they have ever been. At this point of the year, meaning May last year, we had around 10 baptisms total. 10 baptisms in 5 months. This year we have had 25 at this point. Wow. That may not blow anyone else's mind but like seriously, that's like a 150% increase. I know that the Lord is pleased with us for taking steps forward in obedience, diligence, and faithfulness. We are better missionaries now and it really is such a special time to be here. Any incoming missionaries to Finland that happen to read this letter, YOU ARE SO LUCKY. Holy cow. Thank your lucky stars that you get to come here. It is the best place to serve in the world. There is no greater time to be here. 

    The thought came to me during MLC that I need to share all of my stories with you. Like all of them. I know I have written a lot in e-mail, but man, I haven't even covered half of what has happened here. It's a good thing I love to talk. I will just talk all of your ears off if you will let me. I know that is something that I need to do, and I am so excited to tell you all of my stories. We talked a lot about confidence during MLC. People need to see confident leaders, but also leaders who are humble and willing to let the Lord shape them. That is what makes a good leader. Consistency in doing the simple things is what brings about confidence. I have felt and experienced both sides of that coin on my mission. There is no greater feeling than knowing that you and the Lord are on the same page and you are willing to do what He asks you to do. On the other hand, it is really hard to be a happy and successful missionary/person when you are trying to do things your own way and you stop relying on the Lord and doing the little things, consistently. I have gained such a testimony of consistency and I know that will bless my life forever. One of the sisters in the mission has a quote on her wall that I love that says, "If you don't feel close to the Savior, who moved?" Wow. That's so powerful. It really is up to us how much Heavenly Father and our Savior are involved in our lives. The choice is ours. They never change. That is one of the greatest lessons I have learned on my mission. President shared some scriptures from Alma 26 about Ammon as he was "concluding" his mission. This is what he said, Alma 26: 11-16:

 11 But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.

 12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

 13 Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?

 14 Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.

 15 Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.

 16 Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.


    I cannot say the smallest part which I feel. Its not very often when Sister Bitner is speechless, but as we read those scriptures, I felt the words ring true in my heart. No one but the Lord can really know how I feel about my mission because I can't effectively communicate it...only He knows, but that's good. He is the one that needs to know. I love that scripture though, "I know that I am nothing, as to my strength, I am weak..." Wow, that is definitely what happens to you on a mission. You are cut down to size pretty fast. You are backed up against a wall of all of your weaknesses and sins and you get to just sit there and look at them. But then Christ comes into the picture and all the sudden, everything changes. Light comes into your life. You change and become better. You trust Him and give Him the reins and through that, you become a new creature in Christ. "...therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in His strength, I can do all things." I know that is true. I, Sisar Olivia Bitner, am nothing. I have not done anything on my mission. And thank heaven for that. It would not have been very successful or meaningful. But I am so grateful that the Lord has been with me every step of the way. Even when I make mistakes...which happens a lot. He has helped me turn some, but not all of my weaknesses into strengths. I will be working on my weaknesses for the rest of my life, but He has made these past 18 months beautiful. He is always here as long as I want Him here. He doesn't move. He doesn't change. Ever. His love is endless. Who can glory too much in the Lord? Not me. :) It's only just begun!

    We had 5 missionaries from our MTC group at MLC. It was amazing to see them all. All of the elders from our group are freaking out because we are leaving. I never realized how weird that would probably be, but I love the elders from our group. They are my brothers. They have been a part of my mission since day 1. They are great and I know we will always be great friends. We were all talking afterwards and I asked them "What has changed most about you since you have been on your mission?" I wanted to share all of their answers with you. They touched my heart. 

    Elder Hatch from Idaho: "The desires of my heart have changed. The things that I want and the way that I want them are so completely different."

    Elder McKnight from Texas: "I have learned how to be motivated by love. I have learned that charity is the only motivation that ever works. I realized that before my mission, I did things because I wanted to do things. Now I do them because I love the Lord and the people around me."

    Elder Stimpson from Idaho: "I have learned to let go of things that I can't control. I have learned to give the Lord the reins and to trust in Him and His timing."

    Sisar Pack from Logan, UT: "I have learned to trust in God. I have learned to give Him everything. I can't give Him half an offering. I have to put it all on the altar, but He will make my sacrifice into something much more beautiful than I ever could alone."

    Sisar Bitner from Kaysville, UT :) : "I have learned how to commit to the Lord. 100%. I thought I was committed before, but I wasn't even close. I know now that I will go anywhere that the Lord asks me to go and I will do anything He asks me to do and I won't ask "Why?" I have let go of the need to know "Why?"

    Sorry I threw mine in there, but isn't my group awesome? Holy cow...they have all changed so much. They were amazing before, but man, they are pretty dang special now. They are all such powerful instruments in the hands of the Lord. I feel so lucky to have been able to serve with all of them. They are incredible.

    I really have thought a lot this week about the lessons I have learned from my mission. Before my mission, in my farewell talk actually, I quoted my favorite song, "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go." I am not going to lie, I didn't really feel the way the song portrays before my mission. I didn't really feel like I could go wherever the Lord would ask me to go and everything would be ok. I wondered if He really would take care of me. Honestly, I doubted. I think that is one of the greatest gifts I have received on my mission. I can say, with confidence in the Lord now that I will go anywhere He asks me to go, I will do whatever He asks me to do, and I will say whatever He wants me to say. I know without a doubt that He is always with me. He will never ask me to do something and then leave me. He won't ask any of us to do something and then leave us to fend for ourselves. It's like when we are commanded to love, He gives us the love that we lack. It's the same with a mission. He calls us to serve. Are we all qualified, capable, burning with missionary fire, and loving the fact that we are going to a foreign place for 18 months to 2 years to learn a language and talk to people about Jesus? Not always. But He makes up for what we lack and if we trust Him, he qualifies us for the task. Wow. He truly is our loving Heavenly Father. I love Him with all my heart. I know He lives.

    Do you want to know something? There are so many experiences on your mission that are the best and the worst at the same time. One of those examples was church on Sunday. I had to say goodbye to the AMAZING members in the Espoo ward. Holy cow. They are all so nice. Sisar B from the second ward had her arm in mine all during sacrament meeting and afterwards she gave me a Marimekko gift and told me that she knows we were friends before this life. Get this..this lady is like 75 years old. She really is my best friend and I love her so much. She told me she will chat with me on Facebook to help me keep up my Finnish. haha I love her. There were so many wonderful members that came up and hugged me and told me they loved me. Some of them gave me gifts. It was so humbling. I love all of these members with my whole heart. They are amazing. I took pictures with all of them and I am so excited to show you their pictures and tell you all of the stories about our experiences with them. They are incredible and I will be forever grateful that I know them. They all said we could come visit and stay with them. Just more motivation to come back! :)

    I had my final interview with President on Sunday night. That was weird. Just the name is enough to make you throw up, but it was really amazing. He has helped me so much, and this interview was no different. He gave me so much incredible advice. He talked a lot about the future and asked me about my plans and my family and what I was planning on doing. It felt weird because I could literally feel in my heart the transition. It didn't happen then, but I saw clearly in my mind what my next "mission" is. President helped me to see that, and I am so grateful for Him. He is an amazing person. He does what is right because it's right. He is loyal to the Lord. I have learned so much from him about what it means to be a good leader. He is the kind of leader that I want to be. I love the Watsons so much and am so grateful for their friendship and love. They have made my mission that much more wonderful! :) I can't wait for you to meet them one day!

    Well, it would only be fitting that my last dinner appointment of my mission would be with my favorite little old couple in our ward, the A family. Sisar A made my favorite food...I have been over to their house about 15 times so by this point, she knows my favorites. It was good old meat and potatoes, Finnish style with kiseli...Finnish dessert that is SO STINKING GOOD. Man she is great and we had a great time talking with them. They asked me all about my plans and told me to come back and see them soon. All of the Finns have "Vieraskirjat" or Guest books. They asked me to write in theirs. I just wrote them and told them how much I love them and how grateful I am that I have always felt so welcome in their home. Sisar A wanted to read it after I was done, she told me it was to check on my Finnish grammar...then she laughed at herself and said, "Just Kidding." I think that's one of the reasons I love her so much, she just cracks herself up. It's hilarious! But as she was reading, she looked up at me and had tears in her eyes and we both just started bawling. I don't know what it is about these Finns man, they just turn me into a bawl baby. I love them with all of my heart. I asked her if there was anything I could do for her and she said, "Just write me letters." Oh my gosh. If that's not the cutest thing you've ever heard, I don't know what is. I love them so much. There is just so much love up in here. It's the best! :)

    So last night, Sister Rochette and I went and visited another member and then we decided to take the long way home so that we could walk around Finland. And now I start crying...great...I just can't even explain how much I love this beautiful land of Finland. "Something Finnish" for the day is Finland. I love the trees, sky, clouds, hills, farms, lakes, streams, sunsets, sunrises, months of darkness, months of sunshine, snow, rain, wind, fog, flowers, birds, cute little colorful houses and everything else. I love the way the cold winter air wakes you up in the morning after you take a nice big gulp of it. I love the way the clouds come down really low and make it look like you're living in a misty dream. I love that the stars feel so much closer here. I love the smell of Finland after it rains. I love the smell of burning wood as people are cooking or heating the sauna. I love the gravel they put down in the winter so you don't slip and fall and the way it gets in your boots in the spring. :) I love running down buses and trains. I love the cute little European cars. I love the cities of Finland. I love the country. I love driving home from Seinäjoki at 8:30 at night and the sun is still at high noon. I love living next to water. I love how you walk outside your door and BOOM. Nature. I love how much the Finns love Finland and how hard they have fought for it and how well they take care of it. I love that you can pick berries anywhere you want in the summer. I love how everyone rides bikes and how good they are at ringing their bells, telling you to move. :) I love the way the snow crunches under your boots as you plow through the snowy fields in the winter, trying to find that less actives house. I love those moments on my mission when I have stopped, look around and said to my companion, "Wow. We are in Finland." It really is the most wonderful place in the world. It's just amazing. I love it all. I have been so blessed to have lived here. I have fallen in love with Finland. It is the most magical place in the world. This is a special place in the vineyard of the Lord. It will always be a very large part of my heart. I love Suomi!

    I wish I could bottle Finland up and keep it with me forever. Mom, you always said that when you serve others, you can't help but love them. I have learned that over and over again. Finland is my heart. I am leaving a part of my heart here, but I have received so much more in return. I have prayed this week that Heavenly Father would help me to remember Finland. I couldn't ever forget it, but I just always want to remember exactly how I have felt here. I have changed here. I have had spiritual, life-changing experiences here. I had to come all the way to Finland to find my true self. I had to come all the way to Finland to find my Savior but there really is no place I would rather be. I love it. I love it. I love it. 

    Last night after we walked through the forest, we realized that we wouldn't make it home on time if we kept walking, so we hopped on a bus. There was no one on the bus, but I prayed and told Heavenly Father that if He would lead someone to the bus, I would talk to them and give away a Book of Mormon. Well, these 3 people got on the bus at the next stop. One of them was a younger girl and she sat in the row right across from me. I figured, "Ok, this must be my chance" so I leaned over and asked the girl how she was doing. She was about 25 and she looked at me with a huge smile on her face and said, "I am great, how are you?" I continued to talk to her and after a while, she asked if she could come sit by me. We talked about everything...life, friends, Finland, America. She actually was an exchange student in Indiana. I told her why I was here in Finland and brought out the Book of Mormon. I asked her if she had ever heard of this book before. She said no and so I proceeded to bear testimony to her and to teach her about the Book of Mormon. She just sat there and stared at me and afterwards, she said, "Wow. That is pretty amazing. If this book is really from God, I want to know what it says. How can I get one?" I gave her my copy, got her number, and talked about her coming to a temple tour. She was so excited and as I was getting off the bus she said, "Thank you for talking to me." What an amazing and tender mercy from the Lord. The Lord hears our prayers. Whether spoken or unspoken. They have entered the ears of the Lord and He will always answer. I have loved being able to talk with and get to know the Finns. They are incredible people and I can't wait to tell you all my funny and amazing stories. It was such a cool experience. Her name is S. She is going to get baptized!

    I have been thinking a lot this week about Jesus Christ. Through many different ways, I have come to know and love Him in a deep, real way that I never could have found without my mission. He is my rock and my Everlasting God. I was thinking this morning, more like reflecting this morning. I thought about all of the things I had done on my mission and in my life. I have made so many stupid mistakes. I have done things I shouldn't have done. I haven't kept all of the commandments, always. I honestly started feeling guilty this morning as I thought about all of the things I "haven't done" on my mission and in my life, as well as the things I have done. I was saying my prayers this morning and nothing was really coming to my mind. I just kind of sat there. But I prayed that Heavenly Father would help me have clarity of mind and the words to my favorite hymn came to my mind:

1. I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
(Chorus)
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!
2. I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
3. I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.

    Wonderful is the only way I can describe the Atonement and gospel of Jesus Christ. I have found myself marveling today that He descended from His throne divine to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine. Who am I to merit that kind of love? Well, I don't know. But I do know this: I am a Child of God. I am important and special to Him and He loved me enough to send his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ into the world to die for me and for you and for all of us. He fills in our gaps. He makes us whole. His love is real. It's life-changing. It's the balm in Gilead. I have prayed so many times on my mission just to feel peace and comfort. You can make up peace all you want...a lot of people in the world are under the illusion that they do feel peace, but as great as that peace may be, it is nothing compared to the peace that comes from living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel works. His Atonement is real. It is there to cleanse us from sin, but also to make good men and women better through the enabling power. I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that regardless of who we are or what we have done, He loves us. His grace is sufficient, we just have to turn completely to Him. Give Him the reins and enjoy the ride. It's such an amazing and happy way to live life. I love Him with all my heart. I know He leads this church and that He will come again one day. I look forward to that day with great anticipation and excitement. What a glorious day that will be!

    In Preach My Gospel, at the very beginning is a message from the First Presidency that I wanted to share with you. Part of the message says:

Dear Fellow Missionary:

We compliment you on the great opportunity you have to be a missionary. There is no more compelling work than this, nor any which brings greater satisfaction.

We challenge you to rise to a new sense of commitment to assist our Father in Heaven in His glorious work. Every missionary has an important role in helping “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

The Lord will reward and richly bless you as you humbly and prayerfully serve Him. More happiness awaits you than you have ever experienced as you labor among His children.

The First Presidency


    I love that message. I love that it talks about the happiness that will come as you surrender your will to the Father, trust in the Savior and serve them with all your heart, might, mind and strength. There really is no more compelling, challenging, stretching or taxing work than this, but also no other work will bring you the pure joy that missionary work brings into your heart. I love being a missionary. I will always be a missionary. That's the best part about coming home for me, it never stops. The nametag never comes off. How cliche can I be? :) But it's true. I am so grateful for all the experiences in my life that have led up to my mission. I am grateful for everything, especially the hard times, because those times have lead me to where I am today. I am not perfect. Not even close. Oh boy...I am so far from perfect, but heck...I've still got a lot of life ahead of me. I want to love life. I want to live life to the fullest and I am so grateful that my mission has taught me how to live life and how to love life. It all goes back to Jesus Christ. This is His work and we are all a part of it. I put my real nametag on on August 31, 2002 when I was baptized. My agency and will were turned over to the Father at that point. I am His agent. I represent Him. I am expected to do and say what He would do and say if He personally were ministering among men at this time. It's worth it to fight to become a consecrated disciple of Christ. It's a lifelong process but as Elder Neil A. Maxwell said, "Consecration is thus the only true surrender which also constitutes a complete victory." We are on the winning side friends. This is all real. As Joseph Smith said:


    “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” 


    The work isn't done yet. There is so much to do. The Lord needs us. So let's get on with it, for His sake. :) I love you each so much. I cannot wait to see you and to share all I have learned with you and I can't wait to hear all your stories. I just want to sit and talk and laugh for hours and hours. We are always going to be a family and that knowledge has kept me up over these past 18 months. God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be. You are literally the best people I know. I couldn't love you more than I do right now. Thank you for everything and hey, I will see you in 2 days! :) I'll be the one in the black coat with the Ogio bag in hand. See you in good old Salt Lake City, UT! I'm coming home! :)

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Bitner

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Live to See the Miracles

    Wow. Guys. I don't even know what to say. I love you all. I am really humbled to be here, writing this second to last email of my mission. What? Where in the world has the time gone? I am speechless....can you believe it? It finally happened :) Nah, I'm just kidding. But seriously, I wish I could effectively communicate over email how grateful I am for your support and strength over the course of my mission. I am astounded at how blessed I am to have such wonderful people in my life. You are all my "angel faces" and I am so beyond excited to see you. I am grateful that I have a week left in Finland. There are so many emotions running through my head, like all of the time, but mostly, I feel peace. I feel hope because I know that my Father in Heaven and my Savior and you all are going to be with me...forever. Like what? How cool is that? The gospel is true. It's all true. You are all great and I love you so much!

    Well, we have had a really good week this past week. We have been incredibly busy which is always appreciated, but it's been so good. First things first, last week after we emailed, we went to the mall and met with Canada K! We got to give her your bracelet Grandma. She absolutely loved it. The best part about it was, other than the fact that she actually met with us, was that her dad is not against just our church, it's just all churches in general. He has kind of calmed down and K has been watching conference and reading the Book of Mormon and loving the church. She is meeting with the sisters next week on Friday because she is out of town this week but can you believe it? Oh my gosh, I about died when she told me that she could still learn about the church! Dreams do come true. She is definitely one of those people I will remember forever. She told me I could come and visit her in Canada. She lives on Prince Edward Island #carrots I am so grateful for all of the friends I have made on my mission. They are eternal friends, that's for dang sure! Thanks again for the bracelet Grandma. That was our key to meet with her. You saved the day! Happy Late Birthday by the way! I have a Finnish present for you, so stay tuned! :) You're the best!

    So I don't remember if I have told you about our investigator S before. If I have, bear with me, if not, here's the story. So this guy has been calling the temple repeatedly over the past few weeks asking, no wait, more like begging for missionaries to come and teach him. Well the temple called us because this man lived in our area. They told us, "Hey there is a guy that wants to get baptized, would you have time to go and teach him?" You don't have to ask us twice! :) So we set up an appointment and went over there about 2 weeks ago. Well, we had never been anywhere near the address they gave us and when we got there, we realized it was an old folks home/mental hospital. We were a little confused, but went inside and asked if he was there. We went in and met him and had a great first lesson. He seemed very coherent. He answered all of our questions and knew about the church. He had visited the temple open house and had wanted to join the church since then. His nurse said that he was free to continue meeting with us so we thought, "Ok sweet, he is just an older man, but he can still be baptized." The member that was with us got his number and we thought all was well.

    Well, we have realized over time that S is probably not capable of taking the lessons. Nothing seriously bad has happened, but S has been calling us about 10 times a day as well as our member, asking when we are going to visit him and when he can be baptized and all of these things. It's kind of a mess. The frustrating thing is we went to the place where he lives with a member and talked with his nurse about his mental state and she said he was totally fine and would be free to learn. But then after he had called us a lot, we called the home and the other nurse said that he isn't mentally stable enough to take the lessons and that she wouldn't recommend us coming back. So now we have this awkward situation where we don't know who is telling the truth. He seems to be normal when we are there and we think he is calling us because he is lonely and really like to have anyone come over. We have talked to our WML and have him coming with us to our next lesson to talk to S and see what kind of state he is in. It's just really rough because S wants to get baptized. He remembers enough to remember how he felt in the temple, but at the same time, we obviously have to be careful. It's an interesting phenomenon, I never thought I would have to tell an investigator that they couldn't be baptized...go figure! But anyways, we are trying to figure things out with him. Pray that we can figure it out. We don't want it to be a burden to anyone.

    Our investigator E is doing SO WELL. Holy cow, she is like the best investigator in the world, expect for the fact that I don't speak either of her languages! She has read about 25 chapters in the Book of Mormon already...keep in mind, we gave it to her 3 weeks ago. We had a really good lesson with her about baptism. We completely used the pamphlet in Swahili and then had our member translate. She told us that she wants to get baptized when she knows it is true. It's seriously been amazing to see the hand of the Lord in this. Swahili and French speakers have literally been falling out of the sky as we have tried to fellowship her. The members love her, she is learning Finnish, and it's just all going really well. Plus, little sidenote: Our recent convert who is from Kenya and speaks Swahili and E have become really good friends. Neither are married...who knows? The Lord works in mysterious ways. :) It's amazing to see how much the Lord does just to bring one of His children back to Him. I am so grateful to be a part of it. Another sidenote: E came to church on Sunday with a wig on and it was the biggest afro I have ever seen in my life. I about died when I saw it. She was rocking it though. If you got it, flaunt it, you know what I'm saying? :) It was really funny!

    So our little Indian family is doing well. We watched the Restoration video with them during our last lesson. The Spirit was so strong. I love that video so much. Their little daughter K who is 5 years old was running all over the place, bouncing on everything, but when the first vision part came, she completely stopped and just sat there and stared at the T.V. You could have heard a pin drop in that place, the spirit was so strong. After the video, we asked A what she thought of the video. She said,"I believe it's all true and it's exactly what we teach in our church" meaning the Catholic church. That is our biggest struggle with her right now. She agrees with everything that we say but then puts it into her own frame of mind. She came to church on Sunday which was awesome, but she was really stiff and uncomfortable the whole time. She was trying to explain to us all of the saints in the Catholic church and how she goes to the church of Saint Mary but they still believe in Christ and talking about ceremonial burials and recited prayers and on and on. Honestly, I was confused listening to her and you could tell that what she said was confusing herself. The spirit is teaching her truth, she just doesn't have "ears to hear" quite yet, but that's ok. It's so amazing to see how the Spirit literally can't go into someone's heart unless they want Him there. A has felt the spirit so many times, she just isn't allowing it to penetrate her heart. She is afraid. It makes sense though. I know if I found out or started to realize that something I had completely devoted my life to didn't make sense or wasn't true, I would be terrified. We are really working on helping her overcome those fears by helping her gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. My favorite line in the Restoration video is when it says, "The gospel was back in beautiful simplicity." I am so grateful for the beauty and simplicity of the gospel. It works. It's simple. It's true. 

    So this week we have had two random numbers call us and ask to meet with us. As we were talking to the people, we realized that they were people to whom we had given a pass-along card with our number on it. One woman called and said she wants to meet with us and wants to meet our bishop as well. Another couple called us and said they had many questions for us and they want to meet with us. Like what? So many miracles. As a matter of fact, on our way to the temple guest house to email, we were walking on the street and we saw this woman who I have talked to many times before. We stopped and I said, "Have I talked with you before?" She told me yes and seemed SO HAPPY that I actually remembered her. We had a great conversation and at the end, we had a temple tour set up with her for next Thursday. Wow. So many miracles. I am floored at how much the Lord is blessing us. It makes me so happy. He really does love all of His children and we have a front row seat to watch it. I love being a missionary! :) 

    We had our last "New Convert Lesson" with A last week. It went really well. We asked her the baptismal interview questions over again, and she was able to answer YES to all of them, especially about Joseph Smith and President Monson. Prophets has been a hard concept for her to grasp in the past, but as we asked her the questions and asked her how she knows Joseph Smith was a prophet and that President Monson is a prophet, she said, "I have read their words. I have read the Book of Mormon. I have listened to President Monson and they Spirit bore witness to my heart that they are prophets." Wow. What better thing could we hear from a recent convert to the church. The spirit is the teacher here, not us. How grateful I am that that is true.

    We had an awesome Dinner appointment with the Merrills from the temple. They are wonderful and have become my grandparents here in Finland. I love them so much! They made us Mexican food and told us wonderful stories about their lives and their missions. Elder Merrill told us a really funny story about Sister Merrills birthday. She was turning 50 and that morning, Elder Merrill said, "Honey, if you could have anything today, what would it be?" to which Sister Merrill responded "I'd want to be 6 again." Well, Brother Merrill is hilarious and loves his wife so much so he put her in the car, drove her to Disneyland, and bought her every thing a 6 year old kid could ever want. He made her ride all of the rides and do all sorts of crazy things. Well at the end of the day, they were back in their hotel and Elder Merrill said, "Well honey, how did it feel to be 6 again?" Sister Merrill looked up at him and said, "Honey, I meant that I wanted to be a size 6 again, not 6 years old." hahahaha Elder Merrill then said, "See sisters, we as men can listen to everything our wife says and still not understand a word." haha I thought it was really funny. I love them so much and am so grateful that they have been such a big part of my mission. They told me they will come visit me in Logan this fall on their way up to their relatives in Idaho! I am so excited! Hopefully you can all meet them! :)

    Well, I had my last splits this week. 6 months of splits, and this week was the last. Wow. It's been such an amazing experience to get to work with all of the wonderful sisters in Finland. I have been so blessed to know each of them and I love them with all of my heart. I was able to go this week with Sister Seegmiller. She has been here 2 months less than Sister Rochette and is training a new missionary. It was so fun to be with her and to talk about and reminisce about the good old "trainer days." I don't think anything is harder or more worthwhile than being a trainer on your mission. You learn more in those 2-4 months than you could learn any other way. I am sure that's how it feels to be a parent, but she is doing really well. We really focused on talking with everybody all day. I have to tell you, we got slammed right and left. People were just so sassy and rude that day. But we persevered. We kept talking and talking with people and starting making jokes about the rejections we were getting. That's the only way to do it, ya know? :) A few funny stories, we sat down next to this one guy on a tram and said, "Hey, we are here as church representatives" to which he rudely interrupted and said, "Otan osa" in Finnish which means basically, "My condolences." haha I was definitely caught off guard. I asked him what he said to which he scoffed and said, "I don't understand you Jesus people." and hopped of the tram. I looked at Sister Seegmiller and we both busted up laughing. It was hilarious. Then later in the day, we were stopped at a crosswalk, talking to this kid on his bike. I went to hand him a pass-along card and this old woman comes up from behind, basically yelling like that scary woman from Princess Bride saying, "Quit bugging everyone. Put your faith back in your bag and GO HOME." She said a couple other words that weren't very flattering. It's a shame I can recognize swear words in Finnish, but it's alright. It comes with the job. It was such a testimony to me, however, of the fact that we can control our reactions and attitudes about situations. We had a great day in spite of everything.

    It actually was really cool though, right before we were about to go inside, we stopped and talked to one more man. We talked and got to know him and at the end of the conversation, he had really opened up and told us about his life and questions he has about God and he asked us to come back and give him a Book of Mormon and talk more about it. I really learned that it's right when you feel like you can't take anymore that the miracles come, just as long as you keep pushing. We literally had no "success" that day other than that last man, but he made it all worth it. That is one of the greatest lessons I have learned from my mission. It's worth it to fight to finish strong. It's worth it to keep pushing. Push until you drop, then crawl...just keep going! I am going to finish this day, this week, my mission, even if I have to crawl. I know that the Lord will help us, just as he helped us that day. It was pretty amazing. 

    Funny story of the week. So yesterday we were at a dinner appointment in the mall with some members. There was a man dressed in a soccer warm up outfit and he kept staring at us, Sister Rochette and I, as we were sitting there eating. Well, about halfway through our meal he came over and asked, "Where are you two from?" in perfect english. Well, turns out, this guy is here going to school in Oulu, coaching soccer. He is from Michigan originally, lived a majority of his life in Wyoming, coached soccer there and had tons of players that served missions. He talked and talked and talked to us and ended up giving us his address and told us if we are ever in Michigan to come stay with he and his wife....haha pretty crazy. But the funniest thing was I couldn't get over how loud he was talking. He was practically yelling. He talked SO much and kept hitting our shoulders...in an appropriate, we are friends kind of way, but I realized that I am so Finnish. I am used to quiet, reserved people that rarely talk to anyone, let alone complete strangers in a restaurant. I realized I may have a bit of a culture shock when I come home. I love America and Americans but man, we are so loud. I never realized it until yesterday! Anyways, if I tell you all to talk quieter when I come home, don't worry. I will adjust back, but I really do love the peace and quiet of Finland. I have come to appreciate it so much! 

    So a few weeks ago, the second counselor in our ward bishopric came up and asked me if I would give my "farewell to Finland" talk on the 26 of April in sacrament meeting. I had thought a lot about what I wanted to say, but we have been so busy and I didn't have a lot of time to really write a talk. I was really stressed. I don't usually give talks without notes. I kept trying and trying to write talks, but it just felt wrong. I didn't know why and it was driving me crazy. Well, as I was praying one morning before personal study, what Elder Bednar said shot to my mind. He said, "All you should do before you give a talk is study, maybe write a list of what you want to address and then get up and talk as the Spirit directs." I know that applies in English, but I will admit, I was a bit nervous to speak Finnish with absolutely no notes. Well, my brain was just dead until about 12:30 on Sunday. I scribbled down some notes and a few scriptures and then got up to talk. I was so nervous and prayed so hard that the Spirit would guide me and that I would have the gift of tongues.

    I was the first speaker and as I stood up there and looked at all the beautiful Finnish members who I love with all of my heart, I just started talking. Ideas and words and grammar principles were just coming to my head and I didn't have to think once about what I was saying or how I wanted to say something. There were no awkward pauses or anything. I testified of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and shared a lot of experiences and stories from my mission. I even threw a few jokes in there and got some laughs from the Finns. I can die happy now! Now I am sure you are all thinking, "Wow, end of your mission and Finnish is still stressing you out." Well, maybe all of you besides my fellow Finnish missionaries. :) It was a really humbling experience for me. When I had been in Finland for 3 weeks, I got a blessing from the zone leaders and in it they said, "As you continue to study Finnish, the time will come when you will be able to effectively communicate the thoughts and the feelings of your heart and the Savior's heart." I have felt that promise fulfilled time and time again throughout my mission, but it was so incredible to feel the Gift of Tongues working in me. It's a miracle I can speak this language. Seriously, it blows my mind every day, but I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for his help. He really is always with us.

    So yesterday we were able to do service at the temple. I was so grateful to be able to serve there. We planted flowers and it reminded me of the good old days as a youth going down to temple square at 6 in the morning, eating doughnuts and apple juice and singing girls camp songs. Man, those were the days. :) I love the Finnish temple. I have the chance to go two more times before I leave and that truly is the greatest blessing in the world. I have been so blessed to serve this close to a temple and this temple will always have a special place in my heart. Herralle Pyhitetty. Herran Huone! :)

    I am doing really well guys. I am really happy. I kind of feel numb, only because my brain is malfunctioning with the amount of random emotions. I have never felt like this before in my life. I know that my brain is preparing itself for a big change, but I am still so grateful that Heavenly Father is helping me stay focused on the work. He is helping me be in Finland emotionally and mentally while I am here physically. I have prayed a lot more these past 2 weeks than I ever have in my life. I have been excited to go home, but still scared. I have wondered what kind of a future, life, and plans are in store for me. Elder Nielsen told us about a talk called, "Remember Lot's Wife" and I printed it out last week but didn't have a chance to read it until a few days ago. I was so grateful that he suggested it because it answered so many of my questions. I wanted to share a couple of parts of the talk with you. I hope it helps someone as much as it helped me. A little background, Lot's wife was the one that looked back as she and her family were fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah after God had commandmed them not to and she turned into a pillar of salt. Anyways, here is the talk:

    " I want to talk to you about the past and the future, not so much in terms of New Year's commitments per se, but more with an eye toward any time of transition and change in your lives- and those moments come virtually every day of our lives...I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned form but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead, we remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and event sthat will yet be efficacious in our lives. So a more theological way to talk about Lot's wife is to say that she did not have faith. She doubted the Lord's ability to give her something better than she already had. Apparently she thought- fatally, as it turned out - that nothing that lay ahead could be as good as those moments she was leaving behind...Some of you were having thoughts such as these: Is there any future for me? What does a new year or a new semester or a new major or a new romance hold for me? Will I be safe? Will life be sound? Can I trust in the Lord and in the future? Or would it be better to look back, to go back, to go home? To all such of every generation, I call out, "Remember Lot's Wife." Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us and that Christ truly is the "high priest of good things to come." My young brothers and sisters, I pray you will have a wonderful semester, a wonderful new year, and a wonderful life all filled with faith and hope and charity. Keep your eyes on your dreams, however distant and far away. Live to see the miracles of repentance and forgiveness, of trust and divine love that will transform your life today, tomorrow and forever. That is a New Year's Resolution I ask you all to keep, and I leave a blessing on you - every one of you - to be able to do so and to be happy, in the name of Him who makes it all possible, even the Lord Jesus Christ, amen."

    That's what I want to do. I want to live to see the miracles. I want to look forward with an eye of faith on this upcoming week and next week and just the rest of my life in general. I think more than anything from my mission, I have learned that God knows better than we do. He has a plan for each and every one of us because He loves us and wants us to come home. We just have to trust Him. I know He is as close as we want and allow Him to be. I know that I will need His help over this next coming week. To say goodbye, to end an era, but also to begin again. I know that Christ lives. I know that God lives. I know this church is true and I am so grateful to be a missionary. I love you all more than I can say and can't wait to see you. As my main man Michael Buble says, "It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me, and I'm feeling good." I love you all so much. I am Finnishing strong. You all inspire me. I love you and can't wait to see you! Have a wonderful week!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Bitner

    P.S. "Something Finnish" Each city in Finland has it's own individual crest. The whole country of Finland has a crest and it looks just like dad's company's logo. Sterling Financial is Finnish and they didn't even know it! haha I love you!!!

Our hostesses for the evening....yikes :)

Me and Sisar Seegmiller

Me and Brother Sohkanen....he is a YSA in our ward and has helped us a lot with lessons

Service at the temple

Us at RAX with the Aho family

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Enabling Power of the Atonement

    No moi! Miten mene? How are you all doing on this beautiful Wednesday? I hope this week has just been glorious. I think every day should be glorious. That's a good thing to strive for. I am going to work on that. At the end of the day I am going to write in my journal about what made today glorious. Sometimes it may only be that piece of chocolate I just ate, but hey, that's pretty glorious if you ask me! :) Thank you all so much for the letters and pictures and prayers and everything. Mom and Dad, I hope you are having a blast in good old Europe. It's a wonderful place to be. It's so beautiful and historic. I love it! Really, though, you all are wonderful. You are always here with me and I think about you often. Your goodness inspires me to be better. Thank you for that.

    Well let's just start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. :) This week, last P-day actually, we had the opportunity to go to Interim again and do our Companionship Inventory role play. President invited us to come back. It's always nice to be asked to do something again...at least you know you didn't mess it up too much! :) It went really well.  I love Companionship Inventory. I love telling people that you love them. I love love. It's the best. There is a part in companionship Inventory where you tell your companion what you think his or her strengths are. It's always the best part. :) But after we did that part, one elder raised his hand and said, "Sisters are SO good at that, but Elders just aren't." We all had a good laugh over that. I realized that no one is really necessarily "good" at sharing their feelings or telling people "I love you" but hey, that's why we practice. It's just like any other skill. I think that's why I love companionship inventory so much. Not only is it necessary in order to be a successful companionship, but it really is teaching us, all of us, Elders included, how to communicate and how to tell people you love them. It's great. 

    Funny sidenote: after we had done the role play, I was talking to the missionaries about how important it is to tell people that you love them when one of the new Elders raised his hand and said, "You are the one that does 'one for the days', you love doing this." haha Dang right I love doing this. I love "One for the days." I think they are wonderful and they really bring the spirit into any situation. Some people say it's awkward to express love but come on guys, seriously, we aren't 5 years old. It's only awkward if you make it awkward, you know? :) Anyways, I am grateful that Sister Thayne and I started sort of doing "One for the days" in the MTC. Now it has evolved and a lot of companionships in the mission do it. I have noticed in the mission that we are creating a "Culture of Love". We love each other as missionaries and are striving to be unified as companionships and districts, President and Sister Watson love us and we love them, and we love the Finns and all the other people we teach. Elder Holland said that Christlike love flowing from pure righteousness can change the world. We really can't have too much love, so why not tell people you love them. Tell them that God loves them. I think it's a great thing to do. Anyways, sorry to ramble. Love is good. We should express love. Thanks mom and dad for teaching me that. I will hop of the soapbox....but only for a second! :) I'll be right back! :)

    Well on Wednesday we had a lesson with our investigator P from America. It went pretty well. It's a difficult situation only because she tells us over and over again how much she wants to be baptized and she even set a date for her own baptism...granted it's a little far out seeing that it's September 18, but she has that goal. We really feel like she wants this. She has a problem with church, however. She hasn't been to church once in Finland and she has lived here for a long time. She hasn't come once, but for some reason, we keep feeling the need to go back and to continue teaching her. I know she will get baptized one day, we are just doing EVERYTHING we can to get her to church. She didn't come last week because the member who was going to give her a ride got sick at the last minute. We are hoping that she will come this week. Church is such an amazing place and it is so crucial that these people come to church. In our mission we have this thing we call "CPR". Well, I don't know if everyone in the mission says it, but we do as a companionship. It stands for Church, Prayer, and Reading. If our investigators are willing to do those things and do them regularly, they will save their spiritual selves from suffocating. haha it's kind of a funny analogy, but it really is true. This is life saving stuff, not to be trifled with, or as Michael Scott would say, "Not to be truffled with." haha :) Anyways, P is great. We just need to figure out what is hindering her from coming to church. Katsotaan! 

    We had a few Dinner Appointments this week with the wonderful members of the second ward. The first was with Sisar B. She is the cutest lady in the world. One of our first Sundays in the 2nd ward, we went up to her and asked if we could sit by her, as she was sitting alone. We sat by her, got to know her, and I found my Finnish best friend. She is HILARIOUS and we laughed and laughed as we talked about her life and my life and Sister Rochette's life. It was great. Well, she asked when I was going home and I told her and she said, "Oh dear, k..you're coming over to eat, no questions asked." So we went to her house on Wednesday and has a wonderful dinner. She told us the story of her conversion. She was on train heading to Turku from Helsinki and there were no seats available for she and her friend. As they walked up and down the aisle, looking for seats, they couldn't find any and eventually gave up and decided just to stand awkwardly in the aisle. Well, a little background to the story, she was around 30 years old, had 2 kids, was divorced, and felt as though her church wasn't true. She has prayed to God to help her find the right church for a few  years. She had visited many churches, but still didn't feel as though she had found the right one. Anyways, as she is standing awkardly in the aisle, she heard a voice in her mind say, "Turn around and try the first car again." She said she thought her friend had said it, the voice was so clear. So they headed back to the first car and what do you know? Two seats were available. Guess who was sitting across from them? Two Mormon missionaries! :) haha they taught her the entire 1st discussion on the train, set a baptismal date, forgot to get her phone number. hahaha #facepalm Anyways she said the Elders got off the train, she got off the train, and she went to her friends house not knowing how to get back in contact with the church.

    Well, as time passed, she realized that she probably wasn't going to find those missionaries again, but she wondered about the message they had shared and the feeling she had felt in her heart. She said, "I felt like something inside of me came to life. Like I was dormant and then someone activated my heart." Well about 6 months after she initially met the elders, she was home alone and someone knocked on her door. She went and opened the door and there were the missionaries. The same ones that had taught her on the train. They were all shocked. They elders had absolutely no idea where she lived. In fact, they had been tracting and picked one door from the building to knock and it was her door. The rest is history. Now she is active, her children are both active and she has 5 grandchildren serving or soon returning from missions. Wow. We never know what kind of difference we make. Anyways, she is great! I love Sisar B!

     So our investigator E from Burundi is doing SO WELL. Holy cow, I will admit, last week I was a little frustrated. Not with her, just with the situation. She only speaks Swahili and French. I mean come on, how is that supposed to work. Well, we had a lesson planned for Thursday with her. We called our recent convert who speaks Swahili and asked him to come with us. He said he could and so we set off for her house. As we got there, the member called and cancelled. Man, I feel like a greenie again. Not being able to communicate fully with my investigators :) I didn't know I would need to pick up Swahili here in Finland. Anyways, as we were sitting in front of her door, trying to figure out what to do. The APs texted us and said, "Hey, we just had the thought to tell you that our former investigator M is E's friend and she is fluent in English and Swahili. You should call her. They had not idea what predicament we were in, so that was pretty amazing. But we called this former and asked is she was busy. She said no and she came over and translated our whole lesson into Swahili. It was such an amazing lesson. We taught completely about the Book of Mormon using the pictures at the front. I had never done that before, but the Spirit really lead us during that lesson. E listened so intently and when she talked to M, she was much more animated and excited than she had been in French. Anyways, she told us that she wants to come to church every week. She said, "It is my duty to read this book." and that she was sick of the other church she has been attending. We were so excited. The member we took with us invited her to go with them to church, which was awesome, but we still had the language problem. Well we asked M if she would be willing to come to church and translate every other week for E. M agreed and our recent convert D agreed to translate on the off weeks. So now, we have translators for E, one of the members that speaks French is teaching her Finnish, and she is progressing very quickly. Wow. I can't believe how the Lord has provided a way for E to hear about the gospel. Literally, He has pulled out all the stops and things have just been falling into our laps. The Lord loves each of His children, one by one. He doesn't ever generalize or do things en masse. He loves us all yksitellen as we say in Finnish. One by one. It's pretty amazing!

    We had a great lesson this week with the F family. We taught about the Restoration. As we recited the Joseph Smith story (probably on my list of Top 5 favorite things to do as a missionary) the spirit flooded their whole house. It was amazing. After the story, we asked them what it would mean to them if Joseph Smith was a prophet. They responded, "Then this would be God's true church." It was amazing. I was literally up to my neck in Spirit over here. :) We then invited them to be baptized. Baptism really is their only problem. They told us how being Catholic is a tradition in their family and to be baptized again would, in their minds, be going against their family. I thought it was really interesting because as they said that, the Spirit really helped me to feel what it must feel like ot them. I thought about my family and what I would do and how I would feel if I had to go "against" them on a big decision. I don't know if I could do it. I would have to know 100% that the thing I was doing was right and good. We really feel that as we continue to teach them and help them gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, they will know that this is true and the decision to be baptized will be easy. Always banking on the Book of Mormon, you know? It's the best! :)

    Well, these past 5 days have seriously been a blur. I think I can count on 1 hand the hours of quality sleep I have had over these past few days, but it was worth it. Elder and Sister Nieslen came to our zone conferences and holy cow. I want to be them. They are incredible and touched all of our hearts in so many ways. I haven't cried that hard in a long time. But let me explain a little of our journey. So on Friday night, we went to Marjaniemi with the sisters from Kerava and all 6 of us slept over at the sister's apartment there. We had to wake up at 2 in the morning, but Sister Rochette and I had this brilliant idea to make "Puffed French Toast" a recipe from the book that Janiece Jones sent me. Thanks Janiece :) So we took all the stuff to their apartment and had Puffed French Toast at 2 in the morning. Holy cow, it was so good and gave us all that sugar boost we needed to last through the day. Anyways, we took a bus to Helsinki Center and got on a charter bus with all the missionaries from the Helsinki Zone at 4:45. We arrived in Tampere, my beautiful hometown at around 7:00 and had about an hour before the Nielsens and the Watsons arrived. It was quite the adventure, but it was so good to see all of the missionaries, especially the sisters, I was able to see all of my companions that are still serving in the mission and I got to go back to Tampere. It is such a sacred place to me and let me tell you, I got a little emotional standing in the chapel. I remember so clearly my first Sunday there, not understanding a word anyone was saying, feeling inadequate and wondering what the heck I was doing there. To be there brought back so many memories. It really was such a tender mercy from the Lord. I loved it!

    Anyways, the conference was amazing. The Watsons spoke and then Sister Nielsen got up. Let me tell you, she is a firecracker. Wow. I loved listening to her speak so much. She is incredibly animated and energetic and had a great time speaking to us all. She told us at the beginning of her talk, "Ok, today I want to talk to you about your companion." I knew it was going to be good. She talked about all of the lessons her kids learned from their missions and told some hilarious stories that I will have to tell you all when I see you, but she did such a good job. She talked about the difference between tolerating someone and really embracing someone for who they are. She told us that we should refuse to criticize our companion, we should refuse to be offended. Ok, I actually want to tell you one of the stories she shared. She said one of their sons was a major homebody before his mission. In her words, "Out of all of our children, he has the smallest comfort zone." Well, this son got sent on a mission to St. Petersburg, Russia. She about died when she heard he was going there. Well, his first companion on his mission was a Utah boy just like D, her son was. They liked the same things and got along really well. Well, a few days before Christmas, transfers came and her son was moved to be with a 27 year old man from Ukraine who had worked in a steel factory, joined the church 2 years before, and didn't speak a lick of English. Well the first thing D's companion said to him when they met each other was, "I don't like America. I don't like Americans" and that was basically the Spirit of their companionship. In fact, Sister Nielsen sent D a Christmas package that year with some Oreos. When D opened up his package, he offered an Oreo to his companion and his companion said, "Elder, Americans don't eat real food" and he lit the Oreo on fire. hahaha can you believe that? I would have died!

    Anyways, she proceeded to talk about how her son had a decision to make. He could either suffer through the transfer, or he could take a step back and think, "What does Heavenly Father want me to learn from all of this?" The reality of it is, everything that comes to us in our lives is so that we can learn and grow. We hear all the time that Heavenly Father loves us so much, but do we always believe that? When hard times come or when heaven forbid, a companionship is hard, there is such a tendency to think, "Wow, God must hate me. Why has he abandoned me?" As she talked and taught us, I realized that the decision really is up to us, in all aspects of life. We can choose to be upset and angry and sad or we can oppositely choose to be happy. We can choose. How amazing is that? I was truly humbled by her talk and loved the messages and stories she shared. I think the overall theme of her talk was unity. Unity is the most important component of a companionship. Scratch that, love is most important, but unity is a natural result of love. She read John 7:17 and talked about how Christ and The Father are 2 seperate beings, but they love one another and have a healthy respect for who the other one is. She talked about the "in-laws" in their family and how it was difficult at first to accept these in-laws for who they were, but once they did, their world changed and became better. I learned that it's ok for me to be me and it is ok for others to be themselves. That is such a valuable lesson, one that I have learned over and over and over again on my mission, but I love it. I am so grateful for it and I know that companionships and just relationships in general can be our greatest source of happiness. Companions are sustaining friends. I am so grateful for my companions.

    Well after Sister Nielsen, Elder Nielsen got up and taught us about the Atonement. He wrote on the board the word "you" and said, "Ok, Elders and Sisters, how does the Atonement apply to you?" He served his mission in Finland so we talked a lot about what it's like to be a missionary in the Finland Helsinki mission. I don't know if I can even explain what it's like, but it was fun to have him there because he knows. He knows exactly what it's like and he knows exactly what kind of people we are as missionaries in Finland. We are all so similar, it's insane. Seriously, our personalities and the way we all think about things is the same in so many aspects. We had a wonderful discussion about the Atonement. He made a chart and on one said it said, "Redeeming Power" and on the other said it said "Enabling Power." Under the Redeeming Power side he wrote, Forgiveness, Repentance, Covenants, Baptism, Saved by Grace, Going from bad to good, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Most of us are familiar with that side of the chart, but then on the Enabling power side he wrote, Trials really are blessings, Weaknesses can be turned into strengths, Cheerfully Patient, Submissiveness, Agent to Act, Willing to Change, From Good to better to best to Saint, Childlike. That's the side that I have learned most about these past few days. I had such an amazing confirmation of the Spirit during that conference that I have been exactly where I am supposed to be over this past year and a half of my life. I am a Finnish missionary. I have always been a Finnish missionary and Heavenly Father called me here because He needed me here. I was so grateful for that confirmation.

    Elder Nielsen asked us, "What have you learned about the Atonement over your mission?" One of the Elders from my MTC group, Elder Stimpson stood up and said, "I have realized that over the course of my whole life I have been praying for forgiveness for every bad thing I do. Whether that's a sin, a mistake, a thought, or anything, I pray for forgiveness." As he was talking I was thinking, "Yep, that's what we should all be doing. You are so right." But then he followed up with, "But I have realized over these past few days that I have been praying for forgiveness when I should have been praying for grace for a lot of those things." Wow. When he said that, the Spirit shot a lightning bolt through my heart and said, "Did you hear what he just said? That applies to you." I realized that I have been apologizing for my weaknesses. Elder Nielsen followed up after Elder Stimpson's comment by saying, "God gave us our weaknesses. When He made us, He made us exactly as we are. We don't need to seek forgiveness for a weakness, we just need to pray that the grace or the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ will help us overcome our weaknesses and turn them into strengths." I don't know perfectly well how the Holy Ghost works, but I know that he speaks to us individually and tells us what we need to know. I know that Elder Stimpson was inspired to make that comment and Elder Nielsen was inspired to give the answer he gave. I am so grateful for other people's faith and questions. That comment really changed my life and I hope that you all can apply something of what I shared into your own life. 

    Before, when I looked at my weaknesses, I was so frustrated because I felt like I was failing Heavenly Father for being weak. I felt like I was sinning by being weak. Well, now, I know that it isn't a sin to be weak. I am full of such an incredible love and gratitude for my Savior, more than I ever have been before. I feel like He has become more real and important to me. Not only because He forgives me of my sins but that literally, through him, I can change. My very nature can change, and one day, I can become a saint. Our potential really is amazing. I love my Savior. He lives. He is my Rock. It is only through him that any of this is possible. It was an amazing meeting.

    Well after the meeting, I was just crying my eyes out. I was so full of love and gratitude for my mission and for the amazing people I have met. We took pictures with everyone, said a lot of really hard goodbyes, and then hopped back on the bus to Helsinki. The next day we went to church and that night the sisters from Lappeenranta and the Tampere Sister Training Leaders stayed with us. At 4 the next morning, we got up, went to the airport and flew to Oulu for our second zone conference. It went really well again and I was so grateful to be there. After the conference, we went to the sisters apartment and then on Tuesday, I was able to go on splits with Sister Harris. She is a brand new missionary but she is on fire. This new group of missionaries are all just amazing. I have been so impressed with them. We focused on throwing fear out the window. That was our motto for the day. We had an incredible day. I love Sisar Harris!

    Well this morning we woke up around 5 and headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Helsinki. At the airport, we rode a bus to Espoo, jumped on a train and went to district meeting and now we are here emailing. Wow. It's been quite the week. I am pretty tired, not going to lie. Ok I'm just going to be straight up, I am exhausted. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially, mentally, just everything. I am tired. But it's so good. It's so good to be here. I know that the Lord is carrying me and that He is with me. He is always with me, as long as I want Him here. That is an answer to a prayer that I keep receiving over and over again. When I think about coming home, which doesn't happen often ;) but when I think about it, it's easy to get overwhelmed, but I know that faith and fear cannot be in the same heart. So, I throw fear out the window. I have learned to rely on the Enabling power of the Atonement in a way that I didn't even know was possible. I have come to know, love, and rely upon my Savior in a way that has changed my life forever. It's amazing that I've known about Him my whole life, but I had to come all the way to Finland to truly find Him. But I have found Him. I love Him. I don't know Him perfectly, but He has brought more light and love into my life than I could ever imagine. I am truly humbled to be His representative and his disciple. I love Jesus Christ. I know He lives and He loves each and every one of us. That's all that really matters at the end of the day. I love you all so much. I am grateful for prayer. I am grateful for the power of righteous people. I am grateful for your goodness. I could not have lasted one day on my mission without all of you, so thank you. Thank you for allowing me to be here and for giving me this opportunity to serve the Lord. I haven't been perfect, but I hope you know I have tried my best every day. I know that Heavenly Father loves all of His missionaries and He is so proud of all of us, members included. We are the children of Zion. We are His sheep and that is the most joyful truth I know. I love the gospel. I love you all. I am Finnishing strong :) No regrets! Have the most wonderful week and know that I love and pray for you always! See you soon!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Bitner 

    P.S. "Something Finnish" 6% of the population in Finland has Swedish as their mother tongue...crazy huh? They all live in Vaasa...haha I love you!



Me and my besties :) Sisar Pack and Sisar Thayne...get ready to meet them! 

TAMPERE CHURCH!! It's so beautiful! This was the first church building I ever went to in Finland! 

Me with my bike Sävel for the last time...it was a rough goodbye :)

The new owner....she definitely deserves the bike so it's cool 

Splits with sisar Harris in Oulu

Sisar Nyman's friends from Vietnam that joined the church in Oulu, Chu and Hang. They are AWESOME!

My MTC group...well the members from the Helsinki and Tampere zones 

Our slumber party group at a bus stop at 4 in the morning

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rakkaus ei koskaan Katoa

    Heyyyyyyy. What's up everyone? How are you doing this beautiful morning? The sun is shining over here, and I have nothing but good things to say about that! I think I actually got sunburnt this week...hahahaha psych. Totally kidding. Let's not get carried away now. The sun shines and the warmth almost makes it to ground level. :) I am so grateful for the sun. It is something I will never take for granted again! I hope you have all had the best week. Shout out to Anne, McKenna and Sophie. Holy cow you three, you looked so beautiful. 2 prom queens in the family. That's pretty legit! :) I love you all and hope you had a great time!

    So I have neglected to tell you over the past few weeks that we have another mission tour in Finland. Elder Brent Nieslen of the seventy is coming to visit us. Wow. Way cool. He actually spoke in this last General Conference. I don't know if you remember his talk, but he talked about his sister who went less active, but eventually came back to the church. It was such a powerful talk, very emotional. Anyways, he is on assignment here in Finland at the Tampere stake conference this Sunday, and he is also going to meet with the missionaries. We have been anticipating this for a long time. In preparation for his coming, he asked us all to read a couple of talks by Elder Bednar. One of them is a speech he gave at BYU in 2001 about the Atonement and the other is the talk he gave last April conference about the load and his friend and the truck. It's such a wonderful talk and we have all been studying those faithfully in preparation for him. Want to know a cool fact? Elder Nielsen served his mission in Finland the same time that President Watson was here. Woah. Small world. Anyways, we were proud to have a Finnish missionary represented in conference. haha it was great. 

    The Helsinki and Tampere zones are combining for the tour on Saturday in Tampere. Did you hear that? I GET TO GO BACK TO TAMPERE!!! YIPPPEEEEE!! Oh my word, I can hardly contain my excitement. It's been over a year since I was there last. I am so grateful I have another chance to see it before I leave. So on Saturday morning, all the missionaries in the Helsinki Zone are going up to Tampere by bus then we have the meeting Saturday, come back Saturday night, go to church the next day, then we have the sisters from Lappeenranta staying with us and the Tampere Sister Training Leaders  Sunday night then early Monday morning, we are all flying up to Oulu to have the second conference up there on Monday. Wow. What a weekend. Then the next day on Tuesday, Sister Rochette and I are staying up in Oulu to do splits with the sisters there. Moral of the story, our P-day is getting moved to WEDNESDAY next week only. I just wanted to make sure I told you so that you wouldn't think I was dead. But yes, we are really excited and have a fun week ahead of us. It's going to be great!

    Phew, wow, now onto this week. It's been a very busy, but wonderful week here in good old Espoo. We are just plugging along and having a great time doing it. We had a lesson last week with our investigator that we found through the "Because of Him" video on the street. She is older, about 82, Pentecostal, and she is really nice. She has bright red hair. Not like ginger red, but like Ronald McDonald red. She is really cool! :) We talked about the Restoration with her. She had so many questions about authority and why we think our church is the only true church. We really tried to explain it as best as we could, but it was one of those lessons where she was literally denying the Spirit. The Spirit was there, she just wasn't allowing it to touch her heart. That is always so interesting to me, but I have come to understand more as a missionary that when we teach people truth, all of the evil and bad inside of them screams and tells them that we are crazy, they don't need to listen to us, what do we know. It's darkness being afraid of the light. Sometimes people run from the light and other times they fight through towards the light. It's those fighters that we are looking for. We want the people who are willing and wanting to change. Those that are willing and wanting to accept truth. We want the truth-seekers and they are out there. It's just are job to find them. Anyways, the lesson didn't end very well, but it's ok. We know that she is in Heavenly Father's hands and now she has a Book of Mormon, a Restoration pamphlet, and knows she is always welcome to church. 

    We had a dinner appointment this week with a member who is a convert to the church. Her native tongue is Swedish, but she speaks Finnish really well. She is single, has a dog, and is literally the funniest person I know. I didn't stop laughing from the second I walked into the door until we walked out. It was so much fun. After dinner she told us her conversion story and I wanted to share it with you. She said that she met the missionaries through a friend and the Sisters came over and taught her the gospel. At first she was very hesitant to join and honestly made fun of them. She was about 30 years old at the time. She had a boyfriend, whom she said was the most handsome in all of Finland. They lived together, and she thought she had life all figured out. Anyways, after a period of time, she told the sisters that she wasn't ever going to join the church, but that she still wanted them to come over. The member who was with the sisters at the time said, "Well the role of missionaries is to preach people the gospel. They can't just hang out." But one of the sister missionaries interrupted and said, "We will absolutely come see you." 

    Well the sisters kept coming. Sisar S described it as they would come and try to weasel in gospel topics, but it "never affected her" or so she says :) She said she continued living her life of partying and drinking and living with her boyfriend. One morning, she woke up, felt sick, wondered why, looked at her boyfriend and  heard someone say, "This isn't the life you were born to live." She said, "I don't know what happened, but something clicked in my head at that moment." So, she said to her boyfriend, "Get out of here. You can't live here anymore." Well the boyfriend freaked out, but left. She said she went into the bathroom after her boyfriend had left, looked herself straight in the eyes in the mirror and heard a voice say, "You are valuable to me. I love you. You know what you need to do." Well, long story short, she called the missionaries up and was baptized a month later. What a story. I have to tell you, that story touched my heart. I was crying my eyes out. It gave me so much hope. Everyday I talk to people, especially young, Finnish girls, who live this exact life and they think it is the best thing that could ever happen to them. They live with their boyfriends, they drink all day, every day on the weekends, and they really have no purpose or direction. Sometimes I wonder, "Will this ever change? Will any of them ever realize that there is so much more to be had?" Then I hear stories like Sisar S. The spirit testified to me that there are so many like her out in the world. So many people that are so close to accepting the gospel. They may not accept it now, but no effort of ours is ever wasted. Sisar S went through so many sets of missionaries. I am sure the missionaries left feeling like failures, but each of them were necessary and influential in some way. I think that is so amazing. We really don't know the good that we do. We may not know until Heaven, but a good rule of thumb is to do good anyways. To keep trying anyways. Even when our efforts may seem "useless" or "in vain." Think about Elder Nieslen's sister. Had they not been consistent in fighting for her, she would never have come back. It's worth it to fight for these people. The worth of every soul is great in the sight of God and He has sent us here to fight for them. He is here with us, but we have to do our best. He will magnify every effort. Just don't give up!

    So the APs found this investigator a couple of weeks ago named E. She is from Burundi...is that how you spell it? I don't know...she is from Africa. The problem is, she only speaks French and Swahili. Like no English, no Finnish. Well, there is a girl in our ward who recently returned from a mission in France so the Elders asked if we could start teaching E and bring this member with us. We had a lesson with her on Thursday. It went well. I didn't understand anything, but Sister Rochette understands French and speaks a little. We are still trying to figure out how to make this work. We don't really know how well E would be able to understand the gospel. She knows French, but not well enough to be taught the gospel. But, good news, one of our recent converts speaks Swahili. Wow. What a world. So many languages are in use here in Finland. It's amazing. E has so much real intent, so we are really working to make this work. She really wants the gospel. She came to church on Sunday and it was quite the scramble trying to get people to translate for her, but the Lord provided a way. :) She brought her two kids and they had a great experience. All in all, it went well. We are just trying to figure out what the best thing is for her. She is great. Too bad I forgot to take French in high school. That would have come in handy! So many things I wish I would have done, but it's ok...I've got time to learn some new things. My next language to conquer is Spanish. I am hoping Spanish is like a cake walk compared to Finnish. :) Just kidding...learning any language is hard, but Spanish and Mandarin Chinese are still on my list. It's going to happen! :) Have I told you all about my fantasy to serve a mission in China with my husband when I am older? Yep...that's my dream. I hope it comes true! I love Chinese people so much! Anyways, just a side note! Sorry to ramble! Some things never change!

     We were able to go on splits this week with the Sisters in Lappeenranta. They were so cute and made us a sign and picked us up at the train station. I sent you a picture. They are so great! :) I was able to go with Sister Dowd again and it was so amazing to be with her. We did service for this member family. Some good old manual labor. I have to tell you all, I missed yard work so much. Holy cow it felt so good to dig some holes and rake some leave and cut some bushes. I just felt right at home. They lived out on this cute little farm in the middle of the forest. I just have to tell you, there is nothing more beautiful than the forest in Finland. "Something Finnish" for the day. Did you know that Finland is the most forested country in Europe? 69% of it is forest. It is GORGEOUS! I love it. There is nothing I love more than walking down the cute little forest paths of Finland, especially after it has rained and it smells so delicious. Oh my word...you just have to experience it. It's truly magical! One day when we all come we will just sit inside until it rains and then once it stops, we will immediately run to a forest path and hike for hours. It will be glorious!

    At the end of splits we do this thing called "Splits Review" where we talk about the Sister's area, how things are going, what they are donig well, and how they can improve. We also do "one for the days" and tell our "companion" something we appreciate about them. Well during splits review, the time came to tell Sister Dowd her "one for the day." Well, I have to tell you, I love Sister Dowd. She has been my bud since she came into the country. She was in the same group as Sister Pace and Sister Rochette, and I have always loved her. Well, I have been able to be her Sister Training Leader for 6 months. So I started telling her her "one for the day" and I looked at her and she started crying. Then I started crying and we were both just bawling telling each other how much we love each other and how grateful we are for each other. Man, I love telling people you love them. There really is nothing better. Anyways, it made me sad to think that I won't get to do many more "one for the days" with these amazing sisters that I have grown to love so much, but I know we will all be eternal friends. That really is one of the biggest blessings from my mission. The relationships I have made. I am so grateful for all of the friends I have made here! I love you all!

    We had an amazing day on Sunday. 2 investigators in church, The J family came...like WHAT? That was a miracle. They came and stayed all 3 hours of church and yesterday Sisar J's visiting teachers went and visited her....WOW! It's all coming together. The Lord is so mindful of them. A also came to church and stayed for 2 hours. It was amazing to have her there. I think something just clicked in her head a couple of weeks ago and that makes me so happy. It's so amazing to see the people you love change for the better. It truly is the best. Heavenly Father is blessing us so much! We were then able to have a DA with the B family. They are my absolute favorite. There is so much love and happiness in their home. It reminds me a lot of our home and I think that's why I love it so much. I feel good and safe with them. We had a lesson about the "He Lives" video and afterwards, the mom asked me when I was going home. I told them and their cute little daughter E, my bestie looked at me and said, "But why? Why would you leave?" Man, I couldn't take it. I started crying then we all started crying. Gosh dang it, once the tears start, they never stop. But it's good. It just means that we are wonderful friends. I know we don't meet people on accident. We will stay in touch. Plus E, who is 6 and I have promised that we will send each other a birthday gift every year on our birthdays, so it's fine. She is so cute! :) I hope you got the picture!

    Well, I just love being a missionary. I love being here. I love preaching the good word to the people of Finland. It's such a joy and a privilige. I am seriously beyond blessed to serve here. This week, I decided to pick a Christlike attribute to study. I have felt over the past few weeks that there was still something I needed to study "in depth" before I go home. While we were on splits, I got my answer. I had the thought to read John 17 which is the Intercessory Prayer that Christ gave before the Garden of Gethsemane. I wanted to share it with you. While you read, just think of the timing of this prayer. Christ knew what was coming. He was about to atone for the sins of the world and then be crucified. I know I would have been sending a lot of prayers to Heavenly Father, asking Him to strengthen me and to help me endure the pain, but listen to what Christ said:

 1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:

 2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.

 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

 4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

 5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

 6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.

 7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.

 8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believedthat thou didst send me.

 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

 10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

 11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

 13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

 14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

 15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of theworld, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

 17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.

 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be madeperfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

 24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

 25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.

 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.


    He prayed completely for the apostles. He prayed for His disciples. In reality, He prayed for all of us. In His greatest moment of need, he turned outward. He looked to those who He loved and was worried about them. He knew exactly what He was going to have to do. He knew of His impending death, and still He was worried about and loved them. He turned outward when it would have been easy to turn inward.

    As I contemplated that chapter, I realized that He did it because He loves us. He loved the apostles. He loved his disciples. He loved everyone. I want to learn to love more fully as Jesus Christ loves. I want to turn outward when the natural man and the world is telling me to turn inward. I want to love as He loves. I am in the process of doing this "Charity" study and it has been so wonderful. Grandma Parkinson shared a beautiful story with me last week about love and I wanted to share it with all of you. She said:


                                                    " One of the Great Secrets"

       Of all that we could give to others, nothing is so meaningful, even essential, as love.

       A young man began to understand this while doing service at an orphanage far away from home. The young man, along with a corps of volunteers, worked hard to raise money and provide the orphans with a playground, mattresses, shoes, and food. 

       When he arrived at the orphanage to deliver the donations, the children beamed with excitement. They were grateful for the generous gifts, but the young man could see that more that anything, the little orphans wanted to be loved. And they didn't wait for an invitation. They ran to him, sat on his lap, and lifted his arms over their shoulders---they literally put his arms around them, showing him how much they wanted to be hugged. The young man couldn't help but realize that of all the gifts he's been given, of all the gifts he could give away, nothing compares with love. 

        In time and with experience we can discover the truth that the more we love others, the more love we have to share. Learning to love is life's greatest labor and deepest joy. C.S. Lewis advised: "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him."

        In other words, we don't need to measure love as if it were in short supply. We need not reserve our love only for those we're comfortable with or those who have shown love to us. Be generous with your love, and you'll never run out of it. Love regenerates itself----it grows by giving.

        One of the great secrets of life is really no secret at all: Wherever one person is trying to be good and kind----that's where love always is!! 


    Thank you for sharing that with me Grandma. It set up my study this week so well. I have read Moroni 7 and 1 Corinthians 13. I love what Paul says about love in 1 Cor 13:1-3:

 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or atinkling cymbal.

 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understandall mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have allfaith, so that I could remove mountains, and have notcharity, I am nothing.

 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, andthough I give my body to be burned, and have not charity,it profiteth me nothing.

    Charity never faileth. Rakkaus ei koskaan katoa. :) It really is the only way that we will ever be successful. We can never successfully motivate in any other way. Love is the only thing that ever works. I have learned so much on my mission that if we don't love those we serve, our service is in vain. It profiteth us nothing. I remember during my first transfer as a missionary, I was struggling really hard with everything. I know I have shared this with you before, but President Rawlings said to me in an interview, "Sister Bitner, did you ever think that the most important part of your mission was sitting right next to you?" That really has changed my life. For some reason at the beginning of my mission, I felt like I had to take myself out of missionary work. I needed to be a robot. I needed to work hard and work hard and then work hard again. I have realized time and time again, that if you don't love your companion, if you don't love the members, if you don't love your leaders, and your family and everyone else, it doesn't matter how hard you work or how well you speak Finnish or how strong your faith is or how exactly obedient you are, it's all in vain. Charity is the pure love of Christ. It is the only thing that endures forever. It all comes back to love.

    All of the commandments, everything we do as members of the church, we do because we love Heavenly Father. We know He loves us and that love inspires us to be better. We know that Christ loves us and His love enables us to become better. We know that the Holy Ghost loves us and that helps us to follow His promptings and to do what is right. It's all about love. I love love. I love the happiness that comes into our lives as we allow the pure love of Christ to fill our hearts. I know that if we pray for charity, every hour of every day, it will come flowing into our lives and will literally change us. We will feel a physical difference. I have felt that difference in my heart, and it has made my mission joyful. There have been so many hard times, so many hard days, so many lonely days, but every single time I forget myself and go to work, every time I turn outward when it's easy to turn inward, I am changed. I am happy. That's worth fighting for. It's worth it to fight to be happy. It's worth it to work to have charity.

    I know that life isn't supposed to be easy, but one thing I know more than anything is "Men are that they might have joy." We are supposed to be joyful and for me, nothing makes me happier than loving and being loved in return. I don't think you can top that. I love you all so much. My heart is so full. I feel like I am going to burst. I am so grateful to be here. I love in 1 John 17:19 where Christ says, "For their sakes, I sanctify myself." I know that I am not only serving a mission for me. I am not only serving for Olivia Bitner, I am serving for all of you. I am serving for my future husband and children and posterity who I don't even know yet. I am serving for my Heavenly Father and my Savior and that's why I can wake up every day and do this. That's what has made it possible. Thank you all for loving me so much. It is amazing to me how blessed I am to be your daughter, sister, granddaughter, , niece, and friend. You all make my life better and I thank you for that! I can't wait to see you all. I hope you have the most wonderful week. Mom and Dad, be careful on your vacation but WELCOME TO EUROPE! It will be nice to have you for a few weeks! :) I think we will be flying on the same day. That's pretty cool if you think about it! Thank you for everything. I really couldn't ever thank you all enough. I love you! See you soon!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Bitner

My beautiful Temple!!! 


Our district plus the zone leaders

The cute Lappeenranta sisters welcoming us at the train station

The sky was on fire

Sisar Dowd, my wonderful companion for the day!

Rakastetaan...that means "Let's love!"

Me and sisar Dowd again before we did service

Finnish missionaries' varying reactions to the sun....we love it...but it burns our vampire eyes....this isn't normal over here :) 


Us doing some manual labor :)

Me and the cute B family...they are my favorite!!

Me and their cute daughters, E and S

Me and Veli Alhovuori at RAX...the only buffet in Finland :) They love it there

Me and the Alhovuori couple. They are MY FAVORITE!!