Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

He Took My Place

    Hyvää Päivää! How are you doing this fine, winter morning? Isn't winter beautiful? If it was more sunny here, I could live in this frozen paradise forever! I hope you had a great birthday Anne. I loved your pictures, especially in front of the DMV. Man, I remember that day like it was yesterday! Best day of my life. I distinctly remember driving into Layton High parking lot, thinking I was the coolest thing to grace the planet as I pulled up in the good old Camry. Man...good memories! :) I hope it was a great day!

    Well, another miracle week has come and gone. I just can't even believe how much I learn each week from my companion, investigators, members, life experiences, people we contact, just all the things. It's amazing how much we learn as missionaries. I love it so much. Being a missionary has inspired me to always be learning. Most importantly about the gospel, but also other things. I want to take voice lessons, piano lessons...again...sorry mom and dad....I want to learn Spanish and Chinese, tennis lessons, bowling, drawing, just all the things. I always want to be learning. Knowledge is something I can take with me when I go, and I love the feeling of learning new things. Anyways, sorry about my learning new things tangent, I just made a list of all the things I want to learn this week and am pretty excited about it.

    So we have had a couple AMAZING lessons this week with the J family, our less actives we are working with. In the past, the mom has been much more receptive, but we really wanted to focus on getting the dad to open up. Well, we were talking about the importance of church attendance when the spirits totally stopped me, mid-sentence and I just looked at the dad and said, "Is this actually something that you even want for your family? Do you want this gospel to be a part of their lives?" Geez...I am so rude. But it definitely got his attention. As he sat thinking there, the spirit settled in nice and thick all around us. The mom's eyes totally teared up and the dad as well. He looked back at Sister Nyman and I and said, "Ya, I've needed to make that decision for a long time, but yes, this is something I want for my family." He opened up and told us how as a child, he felt forced to go to church and he didn't want his kids to feel like that. We both testified of how the example of our parents is what inspired us to gain our own testimonies. The spirit was so strong in that lesson. My goodness, there have been so many times on my mission when I want you all to just be here with me to feel the spirit. This was one of those times. We committed them, again, to start saying daily family prayers. They accepted and we left.

    They weren't able to go to church. Their older daughter had the flu, but we had a lesson with them last night. The dad had kind of gone back into his shell again, but as we talked about the Book of Mormon and how that is the keystone of our religion...if it fails, the whole church falls....he opened up again and told us how he never has really cared to know if the Book of Mormon is true. He explained to us that he has a really good life. Things have always worked out for him without "keeping the commandments" or "living by the gospel." He asked us pretty directly, "Why should I change something that is good?" That question really hit me. That is what Finns, in general, think. They have a pretty comfortable life. There really isn't poverty here. No natural disasters. Everyone lives in relatively nice homes and has money and food and clothes and phones and all the things you could ever want. Why would they change? Interesting question. 

    As the lesson went on, I realized, again, that's why the Book of Mormon is so crucial. If it's true, we have to change our lives. If that book is true, it requires each of us to have enough faith in that to abandon our old ways, to turn away from sin and to turn toward God. That is way scary. That is really hard to do. That's why people run away from the spirit. The spirit always tells them to change and become better. Heavenly Father's love pushes us forward. It doesn't let us get complacent. But in reality, the things that we "give up" to keep the commandments are nothing compared to the joy we receive. That's what faith means to me. Anyways, it was just a really good lesson. We committed them both to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. Heavenly Father loves that family so much. We have really good relationships with them, and I am excited to see where it all goes...hopefully straight into the temple! :)

    So J and L, the 12 and 11 year old are doing pretty well. They are so eager to learn and progress, but their mom is kind of holding them back right now. She just wants them to learn. Anytime we invite them to do something, she gets really defensive and says, "Too soon, too soon." We are a little confused as to what to do right now. If they were both 20 years old, they would already be baptized. But we are working with the mom and dad as well. We want them all to accept the gospel! Eternal family in the making! :)

    So guess who I went on splits with this week? That's right...Sister Thayne! My best friend in the world. She is so amazing and it was so good to see her. It's amazing how close we have grown after only 9 weeks together and then a year in the same mission. I love her so much and we will be best friends forever. We had a lot of really cool experiences during our day of splits, and had a lot of really good talks. I love talking to her. She just gets me, you know? :) She asked me what the biggest lesson I have learned on my mission is and I said, "Honestly, the biggest lesson I have learned is how happy we are when we turn our lives over to Heavenly Father and when we keep the commandments." That really is it. Apart from everything else...there are literally thousands of lessons I could have said, but from my mission, I know that gospel=happy. It's as simple as that. As I was talking to her, I got so emotional...again. I always get emotional when I talk about what I have learned as a missionary, but I am literally so happy. I am not always bubbles and sunshine, but I am at peace. I am content. I am at peace in this crazy world. How is that possible? The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sister Thayne said to me after, "Sister Bitner, I really am so happy for you. You have changed so much. I am so proud of you. I have seen you change." Man, she probably doesn't know how much that meant to me, but it meant the world. I love my mission more than anything in the world. I love the gospel more than anything in the world. Heavenly Father has helped me raise my vision for my life. Like what? All I did was move to Finland and talk to people about the church. False. It was much more than that. Much, much more! :) 

    So this week we have really focused all of our teaching opportunities on the Restoration. We talked about how we want to get back to the basics and turn everything back to The Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the gospel. That is what is different about our church. We have seen some pretty amazing miracles with that this week especially with A, our recent convert. She has such a powerful testimony of Christ, but admitted this week that she doesn't have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. We had a really good lesson with her about the Restoration, but the thing that I think sealed the deal was our lesson in Relief Society on Sunday. The teacher is this AWESOME member who served a mission. She taught about Elder Anderson's talk from last conference about Joseph Smith. The spirit was so strong in that lesson. We had committed A to pray about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith and after Relief Society, I turned to her and she had tears in her eyes. We have another lesson with her tonight and I am so excited to hear her thoughts. She is so great. Her kids are so cute. I will take a picture with them and send it to you next week!

    So I think I talked about our boy K last week. He is from Vietnam, is catholic, and has lived in Finland for about 6 months. We have had a couple good lessons with him this week. We invited him to be baptized, but he was a little hesitant. He said it is a tradition in his family to be baptized as babies, so we are working this week with him on that. Infant baptism...man...don't even get me started on that! Moroni 8 folks...Moroni 8 :) K is really cool though. He didn't believe in God really his whole life, but he said when he came to Finland, he felt like he was forced to rely on God and that's when his testimony started growing. This kid is so prepared. I am really excited to continue teaching him!

    On Tuesday we got a call from a member in Helsinki. She told us about a friend that she has who lives in our area and is really really sick. She has been sick for a long time, is a single mom, lives in a tiny house, and apparently the place was just a mess. She asked if we could go over and help her clean and also try and talk to her about the gospel. We went over there on Saturday and this lady is awesome!! Her name is K, she has a 6 year old daughter, and she has basically had every profession you could have. She is a photographer, a chef, a professional bungee jumper, you name it...she's done it. The house was a MESS but my love of cleaning certainly came in handy...she told me she admired my organizational skills :) hahaha thanks for teaching me mom, I learned from the best! :) Anyways, she has also had really cool spiritual experiences spiritually over the past few years, and as we were cleaning, we had a really good conversation with her about God and His plans for our lives. We are going back again on Wednesday so pray for that! She is really cool and will be the best member ever!

    We have had a lot of really cool experiences this week with finding. Our first new investigator is named M. She is from Ethiopia. Sister Nyman and I had to go to Helsinki to get her bus pass, and on the way back, we started talking to M. We had the best conversation ever. It felt like we three had been best friends forever. We have a temple tour with her next Monday, so hopefully that goes well. 

    So cool "potential investigator" story of the week. So there was this name in our area book that I have been thinking about for the past 2 months. This guy is from London, but he is married to a Finnish woman and they have 3 little daughters. Well, as often happens, we have always intended to get out there, but just haven't. Well, on Sunday, we decided to set aside some time to go. So we get to the house and this really buff, tattooed Finnish man opens the door. Funniest thing...he had a little girl all dressed in pink sitting on his shoulders. We asked if his name was M (The British guy), clearly he wasn't, but hey...we asked anyways. He said no, and was just about to close the door when his daughter, probably about 2 shouted, "Hey you are nice girls." We all started laughing and then we said, "Hey, we are actually here as church representatives and we have a message to share about Jesus Christ and how he can help our families. Would it be alright if we came back and shared it with you sometime?" I'm not going to lie...I thought he would say no, but both of their eyes (his and his daughter's) lit up and he said, "Absolutely, we are home on weeknights after 7. Come anytime." WHAT? I am so excited about this family. I have been praying for a Finnish family to teach...it's always been my goal to teach a whole family. I don't know if it's them, but I have a really good feeling about them. We are going over tonight! Katsotaan!!

    Man, I just love doing missionary work. It's such a blast. I literally have so much fun everyday. Sister Nyman and I keep each other laughing. Hopefully this doesn't sound weird, but she really brings out the best in me as a person and as a missionary. I really want to be better because she is my companion and she has just pushed me forward. She is so great! I love her a lot!

    This week, I have reflected a lot about all the miracles I have seen over the course of my mission. I am absolutely not saying this in a trunky way, but a little bird informed me this week that I have 100 days left on my mission. EW. Guys, that really scares me. I am not lying. I am not going to think about that number again, but I really was thinking about it during personal study one morning.

    First off, I just have to say I love the Book of Mormon. I have learned so much this week as I have been reading 5 pages a day and writing down all the things I learn. One of the biggest things I have learned this week has to do with Laman and Lemuel. I am sure everyone can agree, or has agreed at some point that when they read the Book of Mormon, especially 1 Nephi, Laman and Lemuel just are the biggest knuckleheads in the world. They are so hard-hearted. Each time I read the Book of Mormon, I think, "Oh my word...Laman and Lemuel still rebel after they have seen all these miracles? What the heck are they doing?" Well this time was no exception but as I was thinking and reading this week, and reflecting over my mission, I realized how Laman and Lemuel-like I am. I am swift to do iniquity and slow to remember the Lord, my God. We all are. That has always frustrated me so much, especially as a missionary. I have the most amazing spiritual experiences, and then I wake up the next day, and I forget them. I forget all the time. It's too easy to forget.

    But then I realized that on my mission, I have remembered Heavenly Father and my Savior more every day than I ever have before in my life. They are always on my mind, just by virtue of what I am doing. There is no coincidence that as I have done that, I have been the most happy I have ever been in my life. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, prayer and church remind us of God's love. Heavenly Father wants to talk to us. He wants us to feel His love. He wants to teach us. He doesn't want to have to compel us to be humble. I know He had to compel me to be humble to get on a mission, but I am working my hardest so that never is the situation again. I want to be sensitive to the spirit always. I want to listen to the quiet whisperings of the spirit so that he doesn't have to raise His voice ever again.

    I had a question this week during personal study: "How can I keep my heart softer, longer? How can I always listen to the still, small voice?" I realized that it comes down to a scripture I found in Ecclesiastes 12:13 this morning: 

 13 ¶Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 

    That's the key. I love how it's said, "Let's hear the conclusion of the whole matter" haha way funny. But that really is the bottom line. I love the simplicity of the gospel.

    I was also thinking, as I said before during personal study of all the changes I have seen in your lives. You may not think I pay attention...but I totally do. :) You have all changed. Our family has changed. At the beginning of my mission, that made me kind of sad. I thought, "Man, my family is doing so well with me not there....dang it." haha it made me way sad. But there is a scripture in D&C 31 that has been a comfort to me over these past 15 months. So, a little background, in this section, Joseph Smith received this revelation for Thomas B. Marsh, a brand new convert to the church just before he went on his mission. He was worried about leaving his family, and this is what Heavenly Father said: 

 6 Behold, verily I say unto you, go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them.

    That scripture is true. Our lives have all changed for the better over these past 15 months. I have always wanted to "take care" of our family. I always felt like the ring leader with my siblings. I wanted to be there for them more than anything. I wanted to be the best oldest child I could be. But I realized this morning that things are so good because as I left you to do the Lord's work, He took my place in our family and He made miracles happen. He is the reason we are stronger. He is the reason we are so much closer as a family. He is the reason that I feel as though my relationships with each of you are so much stronger than they were before. How is that possible? I haven't even been with you? It's possible because as we put the Lord first, all other things fall into place. He doesn't ever leave us to fend for ourselves. He hasn't called us to fight this battle alone. I am so grateful for that. I couldn't do any of this alone. I wouldn't have made it out of the MTC alone. There is a quote from the Ensign this month from President Benson that says:

    “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.”

    Man...isn't that the greatest comfort? How are we going to survive the world? How are we going to endure to the end? How am I going to transition from being a full-time missionary? I am going to put God first and everything else will work out. I know that is true. Sorry that I have been all over the place today in this letter...so many lessons are learned each day here. I hope I communicate some of what I am learning and that it sort of makes sense. I love you all so much. Thank you for your prayers and support. It means the world to me. I have the best family in the world. It's a fact. :) I love you!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Bitner  

Me and Sister Thayne on splits!!

Our companionship...in a picture :) way too much fun!

I make Sister Nyman go running...I think she secretly loves it :)

The temple :)

The guest house...isn't it cute?

Heralle pyhitetty....Herran huone :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"The truth will always be opposed..."

    Hello! Good morning! Huomenta! How are you all doing? My goodness, thank you all so much for your letters and pictures. I get so excited every Tuesday to come and see what's going on back in good old 'Merica. I hope Luke and Caroline had the best birthday ever. Speaking of birthdays, who said my little sister could turn 16 this week? EW. Anne, you are 16. You are almost legal to drive. You still driving the Camry? What's it's name again? :) Do you have any dates lined up? Oh my goodness, I just can't get over the fact that you are almost 16. It's killing me. If you have a date, I expect a letter next week...and your date needs to email me too....ok that's stretching it a bit far, but I really hope you have the best 16th birthday ever! I love you so much!

    So this week in the mail I got the saddest letter I have ever read in my life. The first line said:

    "Sister Olivia Bitner

    Since your release date is rapidly approaching....."

    Ya....that's all I am going to share from it. That's the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. Why would anyone even bring that up? That isn't even funny. Ok, I'm not mad, but President sends out a letter during the last few months of your mission. It talks about a lot of good things and a lot of sad things, but I was just floored this week that my letter actually showed up at my door. I just got here. I still have so much time left. I don't know, there is nothing really miraculous to report from that letter, but it hit me for the first time that I am not going to live in Finland forever. Like literally, it just hit me this week. I did live before this, and I have to go back. It's not a good feeling, but I am so excited that I have so much time still in Finland. I am so grateful for all I have learned up to this point, and all I will continue to learn. One of the things President mentions in the letter is that he wants us to read the entire Book of Mormon again before we go home. I figured out that I have to read 5 pages/day in order to finish, so I have been working on that. I love the Book of Mormon and am so grateful for this challenge from President. It's going to be great.

    This has been a really interesting, but amazing week. We have seen so many miracles and have had some pretty interesting experiences as a companionship. We have definitely both learned a lot, and I know because of this week, we are both more dedicated, converted missionaries. I am so grateful for that.

    Did the title of my letter give you a scare? Good, I wanted to build the suspense :) No, just kidding, but we have just run into so many haters this week. On Tuesday night, we were contacting a potential investigator, and as we got on the train to go home, this Indian man comes up to us and starts basically chewing our heads off about how wrong we are, how there is no God, how we are wasting our time, how we need to leave people alone, how there is no way we could know that any of this was true...blah blah blah. Now, people say things like that all the time, but for some reason, I just got really frustrated with this guy. I didn't really say anything as he was yelling. Every part of me wanted to yell at him and tell him he was wrong, but I felt at the same time an overwhelming feeling of peace. I knew the Savior wouldn't have argued with him or yelled at him. So Sister Nyman and I just stood there and listened. And then when he was done, we testified of the truthfulness of our message and got off the train. Dad, remember when you told me that you can find out a lot about people when you look them straight in the eyes? Well as I was looking at that guy straight in the eyes while he was yelling at me, I really could feel the darkness and confusion from his heart. Ether 12:4 

 4 Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, whichhope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

   This man didn't have hope. He didn't have hope or love because he didn't have God. It's really as simple as that. I was really frustrated and wondered why people don't just leave us alone. Are we hurting anyone? No. Do we do bad things? No. Why won't people leave us alone? Why won't people leave the truth alone? That thought has been rolling around in my head a lot this week, but I will get back to that later.

    Anyways, zone meeting was a huge success!! It was an amazing meeting and was led by the spirit. The comments the missionaries made and the discussions and role plays we had were so inspiring. We were able to sit up at the front with President and Sister Watson and the Zone Leaders, and as I was looking at the missionaries and listening to their comments, I was, once again, floored and humbled to be serving with these people. They are amazing. All of them. The spirit in that room was so strong and I know it's because we were all prepared to be taught. We were all willing to change. Sister Nyman and I taught about teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly and why that's important and also how Faith in Jesus Christ raises our vision. When my time to testify came, Man, I was just so happy and excited. You could feel an excitement in that room. It's a feeling and a sight I will always remember. It made such a huge impression on my heart that these teenage kids...or 20+ year olds, leave their homes and families and friends and everything they know to come to a foreign country and teach the gospel. Like, what? It is so amazing so be here and to feel the mission changing. I am so grateful to be a Finland Helsinki missionary!

    So on Thursday, I was able to go on splits with Sisar Pace....my greenie! It was so much fun to be with her. She has changed so much. I have changed so much. We have both grown up a lot. We had a lot of really cool experiences that day. One of them involved both of us crying on the street and being so grateful for our Savior, Jesus Christ, and how much He has changed both of us. I just felt so blessed to have been able to watch another missionary's "first few months" experience and then to see her later on in her mission and how much she has changed. It just strengthened my testimony of the Atonement and missions so much. We had such a bomb awesome day! We talked to ALL the people and found 4 new investigators. It was amazing!! She is such a powerful teacher and a good friend. I will always cherish my relationship with her!

    So on Friday, the APs gave us a call and gave us a referral. It was a family from Syria. We set up an appointment for Friday night and got over there around 20:00. hahaha #armytime Anyways, they have a son who is 11 and a daughter who is 12 and then the mom are the ones who are interested to learn. So we sit down and the mom says, "Ok girls, listen...I met with missionaries from your church 10 years ago." (they have live in Finland for 13 years) she continued, "I love your church. I may join myself one day, but what I really want is for you to teach my children. They need to know about these things." YESSSSS!!! I was so happy! Turns out, they come from a minority religion in Syria called the Drews....I had never heard of it before, but they are a group of people from Syria that live in the mountains. Pretty sweet :) But anyways, the kids are SO EXCITED to learn. The mom is a little more "stand-offish" but she will come around. They are just so golden and ready. We invited them to church and their eyes got really big and they both said, "We can come to church?" Man, I just love questions like that. :) So all 3 of them came to church and they LOVED it and made so many good friends. We have a lesson with them tonight and are planning on setting baptismal dates with them, so katsotaan! We'll see! I know they will get baptized! I am just so grateful I have had the opportunity on my mission to teach so many families with kids. I think Heavenly Father knew that I would miss my siblings and cousins so much. It definitely is a tender mercy.

    Cool little sidenote: In Sunday School we had people from America, Norway, Finland, Syria, Venezuela, Pakistan, India, and Ghana all represented. The gospel is sweeping the world!!! :) It's so sweet!!!

    We once again have had SO MUCH SUCCESS this week with finding people. It's funny because I have never found so many people on my mission before. We are seriously running from appointment to appointment. It is every missionary's dream :) We met this way cool finnish guy named A on what we call "The Hill of Death" on Tuesday. "The Hill of Death" is this huge hill next to our house. It definitely gets the heart rate up. It's way steep. Now imagine that covered with ice...it's WAY sketchy, but good thing I know that, just as in skiing, if it's too steep, go down sideways. Works every time...except of course that one time this week I totally wiped out. Oh my goodness it was so funny. It was at the end of the evening and I was really tired and not really paying attention to where I was walking. Well Sister Nyman asked me a question and I didn't hear her so I turned around to ask, "What?" and my feet flew out from under me and I ate it so hard. Oh my goodness guys, my whole body was aching. I could tell Sister Nyman was trying not to laugh...she is such a good companion, but as I was laying there, on my back, in a skirt, in the snow, I just busted up laughing. I was like uncontrollably laughing. Then Sister Nyman started and we just about died...it was so hilarious! As I was laying there I said, "Sisar, this is what it's all about." And then a car came around the corner and almost hit me, but I got up and only have a few bruises. All's well that ends well. It was just super funny!

    Anyways, we were coming down the "Hill of Death" on Tuesday and we met A. He is way cool and really open to learn more. It was funny because as we were exchanging information, he started to slip down the hill so I lost focus and started to slip and then Sister Nyman started to slip and we were all laughing and sliding all over the place...it definitely broke the ice...hahahaha man I crack myself up! Anyways, A is super cool and we have a lesson with him this week. He actually asked us if he could bring his friend, also a finn, who is really interested in religion. MIRACLES! I am way excited for him!

    Anyways, all in all, we have had an amazing week. We have found so many people. Not all of them are very interested after 1 or 2 lessons, but the ones that are interested are super solid and we are so excited to be working with them. It's funny because all of the people that "aren't interested" are interested until we ask them to pray about the Book of Mormon. Seriously, it happens every time. Sister Nyman and I were talking about why they wouldn't pray about it. Here is our theory: They meet us. They feel the spirit telling them to listen. They invite us over. They feel the spirit. We pray with them. They feel the spirit. Then a little voice in their head, The Spirit, tells them that they should change some things in their lives in order to come more in line with the gospel. Then we tell them that the Book of Mormon and the message of the Restoration will change their lives. Then, for lack of a better term, their shoulder devil tells them that change is bad. Change is hard. They don't want to change. They don't want to leave their comfortable little sphere. So they don't. It takes a lot of courage to accept this gospel. It takes a lot of courage to confront the dark parts of yourself and to realize that you need to change. But it's so worth it. And it's all possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It's pretty amazing when they decide to change. I am so grateful I have a front row seat to see it!

    Well I told you at the beginning how we have run into a lot of haters this week. We have had a couple people yelling at us this week and making fun of us. It doesn't feel too great, but it's ok. We had a lesson last night with a potential. The lesson was going really well at the beginning, but at the end, he whipped out this book and said he wanted to read us a little bit about our church. This book that he had was written by two Lutheran priests. They were comparing Christian religions. He said that throughout this whole book, they had said nothing but positive things about the churches they talked about. And the last church they decided to talk about was the Mormons.

    I had the thought to get up and leave the table as soon as he brought the book around, but I didn't listen. I came to find out later that Sister Nyman had the same thought. This man proceeded to read to us all of the most horrible lies about our church that I have ever heard in my life. These priests, these "Christian" men were mocking everything that I love and care about and the reason I am here in Finland. I wish I could explain the feeling that came into the house. The spirit left us. Completely. I was so dark and alone. I felt the spirit leave my heart. I hadn't listened when he prompted me to leave and he couldn't be with me any longer. After he read us the book, I testified as well as I could that I know the church is true, and then we left.

    On the way home I cried and cried and cried. It was horrible. I was so upset. I knew that I had offended the Spirit of my Heavenly Father and that I had basically invited the spirit to leave. We were on our way home to eat dinner, and I went into our bedroom and prayed my heart out that Heavenly Father would forgive me for not standing up and saying something. For not following the spirit and leaving that house. I learned a valuable lesson though. I couldn't decide whether to share this experience in my email or not, but I felt like I should so here ya go. First lesson, we can't even flirt with anti-mormon material. It is so evil and is not from our Heavenly Father. People say we need to see both sides...well one side is Heavenly Father's side and the other is Satan's side. I don't need to see Satan's side. I have seen enough of that. I am staying on Heavenly Father's side and I will never ever allow that kind of material to be read or shared in my presence again. 

    Second lesson, Mosiah 2:36-37

 36 And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—

 37 I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholytemples.

    I withdrew myself from the Spirit of the Lord. These scriptures are pretty dramatic, but that is the feeling I felt last night as I left that house. I invited the Spirit to leave by the fact that I didn't follow a warning. We invite the Spirit to leave when we sin. We withdraw ourselves from the light of our Heavenly Father's love. How horrible is that? It's amazing how the amount of the Spirit we have in our lives is totally dependent on us. Think about the apostasy. The apostasy was a natural result of people withdrawing themselves from the Spirit of the Lord. How scary is that? I know there are songs I need to throw away and movies I will never watch again when I go home because they offend the Spirit of the Lord. We can't afford to have Him leave. We need Him now more than ever.

    Third lesson I learned, the truth will always be opposed. Out of all the religions those priests could have bashed, ours was the one they focused on. Why? Because it's the truth. And the truth will always be opposed. Remember that talk from two conferences ago about Joseph Smith by Elder Corbridge? I wanted to share a couple of parts from that:

    "Joseph said that when he was 17, an angel told him that his “name [would] be had for good and evil among all nations, … among all people.”4 This amazing prophecy is continuing to be fulfilled today as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spread throughout the world.

    Opposition, criticism, and antagonism are companions to the truth. Whenever the truth with regard to the purpose and destiny of man is revealed, there will always be a force to oppose it. Beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, down to the ministry of Christ, and on down to our day, there has always been and will ever be an effort to deceive, derail, oppose, and frustrate the plan of life.

    Look for the biggest dust cloud billowing above the most dirt that is kicked at One who was most opposed, challenged, and rejected, beaten, abandoned, and crucified, One who descended below all things, and there you will find the truth, the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind. Why did they not leave Him alone?

    Why? Because He is the truth, and the truth will always be opposed.

    And then look for one who brought forth another testament of Jesus Christ and other scripture, look for one who was the instrument by which the fulness of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ were restored to the earth, look for him and expect to find the dirt flying. Why not leave him alone?

    Why? Because he taught the truth, and the truth will always be opposed."

    Later in the talk he said:

    "And this is only a part of the flood of revelation poured out upon Joseph Smith. Where did it all come from, these revelations which give light to darkness, clarity to doubt, and which have inspired, blessed, and improved millions of people? Which is more likely, that he dreamed it all up on his own or that he had the help of heaven? Do the scriptures he produced sound like the words of man or the words of God?

    There is no dispute about what Joseph Smith accomplished, only how he did what he did and why. And there are not many options. He was either pretender or prophet. Either he did what he did alone, or he had the help of heaven. Look at the evidence, but look at all of the evidence, the entire mosaic of his life, not any single piece. Most importantly, do as young Joseph and “ask … God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given [you].”17 This is not only how you may learn the truth about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith; it is also the pattern to know the truth of all things.18"

    The gospel is true. This church is true. The truth will always be opposed. I had such a strong impression this week that Heavenly Father is going to call on us as we head closer and closer to the second coming of the Savior to stand up for what we believe in. Persecution is going to be greater. People will attack our beliefs and try to make us believe otherwise. If we aren't doing what is right, we won't be able to stand up to it. It's as simple as that. We have to make the decision now to boldly represent our Savior, Jesus Christ at all times, and in all things, and in all places. It's not an option anymore. It's part of being a member of the church. Thankfully I know this is all true. I know it and nothing can make me think otherwise. I have received a witness from the Holy Ghost that God lives and loves me. Jesus Christ is my Savior. Joseph Smith was a prophet. The church has been restored through him. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Thomas S. Monson is a living prophet today. In the end, what else really matters? Nothing. I love you all so much. I love the gospel and love that I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve a mission. Nothing has brought me more joy in my life and my life has been changed forever because of this decision. I love being a missionary. My heart is so full. I love you all and hope you have an incredible week! Stand strong! #embark :) Choose the Right. You will be blessed!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Bitner

    P.S. "Something Finnish" The closest related language to Finnish is Estonian and Hungarian. Finnish stands on it's own...there is really nothing like it!

Filipino party on splits :)

Splits with my greenie! She's grown up so much

The happy light....I am so happy :) 


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I Believe in Christ

    Hey guys! What's up? How are you all doing? First off, I about died when I saw the picture of you and Sister Nielsen....that is the coolest/weirdest thing I have ever seen. Every time I see pictures of you with former companions, my brain doesn't quite register what is going on. I feel like I have 2 different worlds! :) But I am so glad you got to meet my trainer, Sister Egan and Sister Lund as well! Aren't they just the greatest? Man, I have been blessed to meet the most wonderful missionaries here in good old Suomi. I love them all! Second off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY LUKE AND CAROLINE! My goodness, you two are so old. I cannot believe it! I remember the day you two came home like it was yesterday...my only brother and my baby sister! :) I love you both so much and hope you have the best 11th birthday ever! I will be thinking of you on Saturday!!

    Well, where to even begin this week...there are just way too many miracles to even start. This is why I make lists. :) Can I just say, I have such a strong testimony of lists. I did before my mission, but man, I will have a planner for the rest of my life! So you know how last week I told you we found like a zillion investigators? Ya, it was true...guess what? All of them live outside of our area :( That is the hardest thing about living in Helsinki area. We talk to so many people on trains and buses and it's great...but we gave 15 referrals last week of potentials and investigators to missionaries that live around here as well. It's great though, cause we are building the kingdom everywhere!

    We have been teaching a lot of first lessons lately. First lessons have always stressed me out. There is so much to get into those lessons. But Sister Nyman and I set a goal at the beginning of the change to follow the spirit. ALWAYS. No matter how crazy the prompting or what, we have prayed so much together and really feel as though the Lord is guiding our work. That's why we are seeing so many miracles. Anyways, our first lessons this past week have all gone extremely well. We taught 6 and they all accepted to be taught 3 times a week for 20-25 minutes...but we gave them all away. But it's fine! :) I am just so grateful that we have met so many prepared people. The work is changing here. There is such a buzz in the air!

    One of the people we gave over to the sisters in Haaga is B. B is from Ethiopia. We met him on the train a couple of weeks ago. I may have already told this story...I'm sorry if I have. I'm getting old guys, I don't remember things...oh wait, I remember, I told this last week. Ok so B is the one that said, "Religion is just something people do to make themselves feel better." Well, we had a lesson with him at the temple guest house with a temple missionary couple and the spirit was so strong. We really focues on God's love and how much God loves B. We all felt the spirit so strongly and he really opened up about how he doesn't like religion because he feels that everyone is just arguing with each other and they have totally forgotten about God. He told us that is what surprised him most about meeting with us-when he met with us, no one argued with anyone. In his words, "It was very peaceful and calm and I felt the holy spirit of God." There is nothing better than hearing that. I have a lot of faith in B. I know he will get baptized.

    So our less actives are doing pretty well. The J family is great. They are just young parents trying to make things work. I think they get stressed pretty easily, so any commitment we give is hard for them to keep, but we really want to set a "temple date" with them, sort of like a baptismal date. Both of the parents are baptized, they would just have to be worthy and then they could go to the temple. We are hoping to do that this week. A, our recent convert hasn't been coming to church lately. We are really worried about her. It has snowed so much recently, so it takes a long time to get anywhere with buses and traffic and everything. She says that's why she doesn't come to church, but just pray for her. She is so great and has a calling and everything. We are really focusing with her on the Book of Mormon right now. Man, I love the Book of Mormon so much. You get a testimony of the Book of Mormon...a real, burning testimony, and you won't ever fall away. Every single less active I have talked to throughout my whole mission has stopped reading the Book of Mormon and praying. Those are the first things to go and lead to inactivity. I am so grateful that my testimony of daily prayer and scripture study has increased so much on my mission. It really is incredible!

    On Thursday last week, we had a leadership training meeting at President's house and it was so great. I learned so much and always feel uplifted during those meetings. They wanted all the missionaries to stay at the mission home, meaning all district leaders, zone leaders, and sister training leaders. Well Sister Nyman and I live like 20 minutes away by bus, so we got to work all day and then we had scheduled to catch the 20:55 bus to their house. I know I have lived here for 2 months, but I still am pretty new with the bus schedules. Overall, I haven't gotten us too lost. So we had plenty of time to get to the bus. Anyways, long story short....I thought I had packed all the things I would need, but I guess I got a little distracted during packing so as we were walking down the road, I screamed "Sister Nyman...I forgot everything!!!!" And then I turned around and started sprinting back to the house...Sister Nyman is a champ, but she HATES running. I felt so bad. It was so cold and windy and I just ran into the house like a tornado and grabbed all these random things and shoved them in my pockets and hood of my coat and my side bag and all the places and we literally sprinted back to the bus. We barely made it and we were just the biggest, sweatiest messes in the world! It was so hilarious! Anyways, I thought that was funny...if no one else does, that's ok! Just don't tell me you didn't laugh and then I won't feel bad :) haha

    But for real, leadership meeting was great. We focused a lot on exact obedience, commitments to sisters and elders after we do exchanges, and preparing really well for meetings. I know I said this last week, but I just feel that this group is so unified and so ready to move forward. I am so excited to be here right now and to still have so much time left on my mission to see how far we can go! 

    So one exciting thing that is going on this week is that we have zone training meeting tomorrow. Sister Nyman and I and the Zone Leaders, Elder Keddington and Elder McKnight (yes mom, I know Elder Keddington...he is a great missionary) :) are in charge of this meeting. We have had a couple of meetings over this past week and have decided to focus on The Gospel of Jesus Christ and specifically how faith in Christ raises our vision of missionary work and especially the new Standards of Excellence. We are using 2 Nephi 31, Ether 12, and Hebrews 11 as our scriptures and I am just really excited for the meeting. It's going to be great!

    Man, Sister Nyman and I are just doing great. She is so solid. She is so nice. She is teaching me so much. We have seen so many miracles this week. I just can't even write about them all...I don't know where to start. But I have realized this week that President Hinckley's quote from PMG is so true. It says: 

    In answer to the question, “How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit?” President Gordon B. Hinckley read Moroni 7:13, 16–17 and then said: “That’s the test, when all is said and done. Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. …

    “If it invites to do good, it is of God. If it inviteth to do evil, it is of the devil. … And if you are doing the right thing and if you are living the right way, you will know in your heart what the Spirit is saying to you.

    “You recognize the promptings of the Spirit by the fruits of the Spirit—that which enlighteneth, that which buildeth up, that which is positive and affirmative and uplifting and leads us to better thoughts and better words and better deeds is of the Spirit of God” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley,260–61).

    I love that quote so much. I have noticed this week that every thought I have that is good is from the spirit. I used to wonder a lot, earlier in my mission, "How will I know if something is a prompting?" Now, I just act on every good thought I get and it always works out. We have found so many investigators and cool potentials this week as Sister Nyman and I have followed the spirit. Two examples:

    So on Sunday we had a little bit of time before we had to leave for church, so we decided to go contact a potential that lived close to us. It was really cold and snowy and we saw this lady brushing snow off her car. We both looked over and smiled and kept walking past. Then, at the exact same time, we both stopped. The thought had come into my mind, "Hey, go ask her if she needs help." I made a goal for myself that I will say out loud every prompting I get." So I said, "We should go see if she needs help." Sister Nyman said, I was thinking the exact same thing." So we turned around and asked this lady if she needed help. Well, we helped her brush snow off her car and then she proceeded to tell us that she lived in America for 3 years and met and loved a Mormon family there. She told us that we could come over sometime next week and that it would be "lovely to talk more with us." Her name is P :) It was really cool and definitely inspired us to do it again...

    So, later that night, we were about ready to go home, like literally outside our building, and there was this kid smoking about 20 yards away. I was cold and tired and wanted to go inside, but the thought came to my head, "Go talk to that kid." I awkwardly hesitated as my natural man and The spirit battled it out, but Sister Nyman stopped me and said, "We should go talk to that kid." Boom. I knew we had to. So we went and asked him about his religious beliefs. He said he didn't believe in anything. We then asked, "Have you ever thought about how religion could help you?" He said, "No I haven't. Can it help me?" Oh boy...golden question! Anyways, he is our new investigator. His name is J and we have an appointment with him on Friday! The Lord is in this work. Getting out of the way of the spirit really means following the spirit! It's just been a week full of miracles like this! I love being a missionary!

    For zone meeting, I have been studying a lot about how faith will raise our vision. I was reading in Preach My Gospel under "Faith in Jesus Christ." This paragraph really stuck out to me:

    "The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Having faith in Christ includes having a firm belief that He is the Only Begotten Son of God and the Savior and Redeemer of the world. We recognize that we can return to live with our Heavenly Father only by relying on His Son’s grace and mercy. When we have faith in Christ, we accept and apply His Atonement and His teachings. We trust Him and what He says. We know that He has the power to keep His promises. Heavenly Father blesses those who have faith to obey His Son."

    As I was reading and rereading that paragraph, the 6 words that I bolded really stuck out to me. I sort of stopped studying and just sat their pondering those words. I didn't realize it but 30 minutes later, I realized those words make up the pattern of how we turn belief into knowledge. In Ether 3, Moroni is talking about the Brother of Jared's faith and he says:

 19 And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.

    That line has always stuck out to me. I have always thought, "How can I get that kind of faith?" I realized this week that it all starts with belief. Belief that Christ is the son of God. Then we recognize what we are doing may not be exactly in line with His gospel. Then, we acknowledge and recognize and pray to know in what areas we need to improve...aka...we repent. Then we accept and apply the gospel in all aspects of our lives. Then we trust that as we do these things, something good will come of it and anything we are "giving up" or "letting go" in order to be obedient is nothing compared to the joy and blessings we will receive. Then, after time, we have faith no longer, for we know, nothing doubting. It works. This pattern is true. It can and will work for anybody that really tries it.

    I felt so blessed this week as I realized this and found an answer to a question I have had, basically my whole life. This applies so well to our standards of excellence. All the missionaries here are so ready to change. We all believe in the standards. We have all started, and will continue to look inward and figure out what we are doing that is not in line with Preach My Gospel, the Missionary Handbook, or counsel from leaders. Then as we accept, apply, and trust in the counsel and direction, we will see miracles. It's so simple. So many people want something for nothing. One of my favorite lines in Preach My Gospel is where it says that Christ didn't eliminate our personal responsibility when He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. It's SO true. We can't expect to get blessings unless we are doing everything in our power to be obedient. It really is kind of an arrogant way of thinking. We feel entitled to blessings...I know I am so guilty of this. I was frustrated that we didn't have investigators. Was I talking with EVERYBODY as it says in Preach My Gospel? No. Was I asking for referrals from everyone like it says in Preach My Gospel? No. There were so many things that I was doing that were stopping blessings from coming. In D&C 130: 20-21 it says:

 20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

 21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

    The blessings are already there. They have always been there and will always be there. God doesn't change. We do. God doesn't withhold things from us. We put up barriers. We put on blinders. We get in the way. Honestly...I have felt that so many times on my mission. Things haven't worked out and I have been frustrated and mad and then I pray and think about it and I realize, every single time, that I wasn't being exactly obedient. I wasn't doing everything I could. I know that God loves us. He wants to bless us. He knows what we need to learn, do and become in order to be where He is. I want nothing more than to feel comfortable in the presence of Heavenly Father and my Savior and I know that living the gospel as perfectly as I can is what will get me there. I am so grateful for the gospel. I am so grateful for repentance. It really is a joy to repent. Not because it's easy, but because of how it feels when you finally acknowledge, "Ok Father, I am not perfect. I don't know everything. In fact I don't know anything. Take me and make me what you will." 

    I am really just done fighting my life. I am doing fighting the process of refinement. There is so much joy to be had as we turn our lives to the Lord and really seek His will. Life has purpose when we do that. Life has meaning and it's SO HAPPY! I have never been so happy in my life! I love being a missionary. Yes, we have hard days. Yes, It's cold. :) But I am happy. Our happiness is not dependent on our circumstances. In fact, we can make our lives whatever we want. I know that true happiness comes from living the gospel of Jesus Christ and I feel so blessed to know that. I just want to shout it from the rooftops, but I'll just settle with buses and trains and the frozen streets of Finland...for now! :) I love you all so much. Thanks for your prayers. Seriously, all of you are amazing. You have blessed my life so much and I am so grateful for each and every one of you. I hope you have a great week! You are the best. I love you!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Olivia Bitner


    P.S. Something Finnish...They bag and tag their produce...let me 'splain...they put their own produce on scales and then push a button and the sticker comes out so the checkers just have to scan the bar code. It makes me feel totally insignificant as an ex-checker! :) Hyvää vikkoa teille!!!

Missionary work...finland style :) Using the snow to preach the word!!

Me and my norwegian companion!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Doubt not, Fear not
   
    Hey!!!! Did you all think I was dead? I couldn't remember if I told you that P-day is now on TUESDAY or not. If I did, then I am relieved, if not...SURPRISE!! :) Sorry about that. But anyways, all is well. I am alive and well and hope you all are too! Man, I just have to say, your skiing trip looked WAY TOO FUN! Holy cow, I had a little heart twinge when I saw all the pictures, but I am so glad you all went and had a great time together. Save me a seat on the gondola next year! I am going to go crazy up there. It's been way too long. But I hope you all had a Happy New Year! 2015 is going to be a year to remember! I can feel it!

    Well this week has just been crazy, but I don't have too much time today so I am just going to explain...no wait, let me sum up :) This has easily been the most productive, most "New Years Resolution-y" first year of the week I have ever experienced in my life, and also craziest New Year's week of my life. I honestly can't even gather my thoughts, so many things have happened, but I will try my best!

    So we have just had the craziest week of time and all eternity. On Monday it was Sister Nielsen's last P-day and we had like 89087 dinner appointments which was so great and all these wonderful members wanted to say goodbye to her. Then on Tuesday, we had a DA with another member at a sushi buffet for lunch....way too good...and then we were about a 10 minute walk away from our train to go pick up Sister Nyman from Helsinki, but we had only 2 minutes to get there, so we SPRINTED through the mall in Leppävaara and barely made our train. Man...seriously, I need to just stop and take a breath...I am getting tired just writing about this week :) But anyways, we made it to Helsinki and picked up my new and only non-American companion, Sister Nyman! I will write more about her later though. Anyways, after that, we went back home, dropped off Sister Nyman's stuff, then ran to the temple to have a lesson and another DA, then we went to another member's house...they also fed us...and then we went to A's house so Sister Nielsen could say goodbye. Tuesday was insanity. Man...talked about angels round about us bearing us up. There is no way I could have made it through that day alone. I was so tired. But it was so good and I was really glad that Sister Nielsen was able to have a good last few days. I really miss her. She was an awesome companion and we had so much fun together. Sisar, if you are reading this...just keep ROFLing and preaching the word! I love you so much! :) Anyways, she is going to do great things and I am so glad you all get to meet her this week. Tell her I said "MOI!" :)

    So on Tuesday night, I almost forgot, we had to go pick up 2 other sisters from Helsinki that were coming to stay with us for the night because they were picking up their trainees the next day. All of the missionaries that were being transferred and ones that were going home and ones that were training all congregated at the main train station in Helsinki as they waited for trains and rides and someone to come pick them up. It was insanity, but was so good to see everyone. I got to talk to Sister Jones, who went home with Sister Nielsen. Man, I love her so much. She looked so great and definitely took care of Vaasa for me :) She is wonderful! But anyways, we went home on Wednesday night and then woke up at 5 the next morning to go pick up another sister who was going home from the train station at 6:50. So Sister Nielsen, Sister Nyman and I all went down and then we dropped Sister Nielsen off there and Sister Nyman and I went back to do Weekly Planning. It was a crazy couple of days. I felt like a zombie!

    Anyways, later that day, Sister Nyman and I were at the temple, and we were able to see all the going home missionaries as they came out of their temple session. They all looked so great and I was so glad to say goodbye to them all again. I was crying my eyes out as I said goodbye to them, especially Sister Jones and Sister Nielsen. It's amazing. You really are like soldiers on the same side....you fight together...you laugh together...you learn together....you change together....but most importantly, we defend our Savior together and that creates such a special friendship and bond. Anyways, sorry to rant about their group...I just love them and miss them and hope they are all doing well!

    So we had MLC on Friday which was great...as always! This is such a good group of missionaries. There was such a special spirit in that meeting. I really felt like we were all very unified and very willing to do what it's going to take to take our mission to the next level. We were all asking each other for advice, sharing ideas and building each other up. Sister Woods, from my MTC group and I were talking about it and we both commented on how we are just ready. Ready to change the way we think and get some serious work done. We are all so committed to our new Standards of Excellence and it was so great to feel that spirit of unity!

    We have been struggling with finding in our area for the past few weeks. I am not going to lie, I have been really frustrated and it's been hard to believe in these standards when we really have no one to work with. At MLC, a few missionaries who have been having a lot of success shared that you really just have to make the decision before you talk to someone on the street or bus or wherever that this person is going to become an investigator. You have to be persistent, not annoying, but present the message in a way that they wouldn't dare to say no. I was pretty skeptical of that advice. I thought in my head, "Ya, right, like that would ever work." But as the meeting went on, the spirit really spoke to my heart and told me, "You need to have faith in this." So that night, I prayed for a real long time until I felt like I had faith in the standards. I prayed until I believed and I made up my mind that Friday night to literally do everything I could do the next day to find these new investigators and that we would find 4 new investigators as we had planned during nightly planning. Then I went to sleep. :)

    Well, Sister Nyman and I had some pretty good plans. The first appointment we had on Saturday was with a Part member family, the R family. We got there a little early, and instead of taking a longer way around or kind of "stalling" as has been a habit in the past, we decided to knock some doors. Well, nothing happened with the doors...in fact someone yelled at us...which was fine, but we had a lesson with the R family and the wife, who is not a member, became a new investigator....like literally we did absolutely nothing and she just said she would like to learn more and we could come back....Uh.....what? :)

    So then we get on the bus to come back home for lunch....I sat down and felt really strongly that I needed to get up and go sit by this lady. So while Sister Nyman is chatting away with some lady, I moved and talked to this woman S. I asked her if she had ever heard of the church and she said, "Yes, I have. Missionaries used to visit me." She then proceeded to grab my planner out of my hands, wrote down her phone number and address and told me we could come over on Friday (this Friday) night to teach her about the gospel. Uh....what?

    So after S became a new investigator, our bus stop was coming but Sister Nyman was really into a conversation with this lady, so I just decided we could stay on the bus and take the train back. So we stayed and Sister Nyman got the man's information who she was talking to. So we get off the bus and are standing, waiting for the train when we both turn around at the same time and walk over to this man in a bright blue coat. Well, one discussion about prophets later and we have a return appointment for Sunday night. Uh...what? :)

    Then, on the train back home, we start talking to this african guy who, very rudely, states that "He doesn't believe in anything...religion just gives people something to do." Well....5 minutes later, we have a return appointment for a temple tour with him tonight. Uh...ok....like really...what???? This really was a day of miracles.

    Sister Nyman is an amazing missionary. She is so hilarious and she is so kind and good. She radiates the love of Christ and has no fear. She is such an amazing companion and I feel like we have the exact same goals and the exact same vision of how to get there. She is so ready to work and to make some changes so that these standards of excellence become the norm. Man, I am so blessed to be her companion. Seriously, she is so great! We have laughed so hard this week and have just had the best time with each other. She really pushes me to be better and to get out of my comfort zone and I know that is exactly what I needed at this time of my mission.

    So after our miracle day, we decided to do it again, on Sunday and Monday. We didn't find 4 investigators in 1 day again, but we found 2 more and found so many potentials that are really interested. My gosh....I just don't even know what to say. Heavenly Father has blessed us so much this week. I was worried before about knowing how to use our time effectively and what were the most important things we could do to fill our time, and now I am worried we won't have enough time to teach all these people. It's a miracle. I have been thinking these past few days about what in the world is going on around here, and it really comes down to the power of the mind. I have talked to so many people on my mission, but until this week...I never went into a conversation, determined to keep talking to them until they became an investigator. We really can't take no for an answer in this work. We don't want to be obnoxious but heck, we have eternal life in our pocket. We can't back down to a sketchy "No, I'm too busy" answer or some other excuse like that. This is way too important. Anyways, I just feel like I got a reboost this week. I have a new purpose and fire and drive and I am so grateful for the timing of that. I know that Heavenly Father knows us. He knows exactly what I needed, right now, at this time, and He has helped me change and has sent me a companion to continue to help me change and to help our area move forward. Big things are happening! This is so fun!!!

    Sorry this email has been really strange. I am just overcome with gratitude and frankly, I am still in awe at what happens when we GET OUT OF THE WAY of the work of the Lord. When we just allow Him to use us to bless  the lives of others, miracles happen. I was reading in D&C 6 this week and a few verses stuck out to me that I wanted to share: 

 8 Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.

 13 If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.

 14 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.

 15 Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;

 16 Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.

 20 Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.

 21 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

 22 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

 23 Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

 33 Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.

 34 Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.

 35 Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.

 36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.

 37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.   

    I love that chapter. This week it made it into the "My go-to scriptures" list. I love the message it contains and as I read it this week, I felt as though the words were exactly for me. Doubt not. Fear not. Look unto Christ in every thought. That is what it means in my mind to be a successful missionary. That is who I want to become. I love the scriptures. I love the ability and opportunity we have to receive personal revelation daily. I think that is one of the greatest lessons I have learned from my mission; how to receive revelation. Anyways, I just love you all so much. I will write a more coherent letter next week, I think, but all is well in Zion! :) I hope you are all doing well. Continue to pray for us. Pray that we will find those that are ready. I know the Lord is ready to give them to us, we just have to be ready to help them! Have the most wonderful week! Anne...if you have any dates planned for your upcoming birthday, cancel them and tell them not until after May 7! Thank you! :) Have a great week!!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Olivia Bitner

    P.S. Something Finnish: Not really something crazy but right by our house is a cross country skiing track...these people work out until the day they die...it's pretty inspiring :) love you!

The trip :)

My greenie and my bestie!! 

Last pic with my comp...and yes my skirt was hiked up into my coat #inappropriate :)

The MTC group kicking butt as Sister Training Leaders and Zone Leaders

When I asked Sister Nyman what pic she wanted me to send to our family...she made this face....hahahaha this is sister nyman :)

Guess who came to visit Espoo? CHAU!!!!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy 2015!!!!

    Waddup? :) Did you get the voice right? haha first off, my goodness....I love you all. That's basically all I can say. It was the most wonderful thing in the world to see all of your beautiful faces. You all look so great and have grown up so much! I am so grateful for the relationships we have and I am grateful for how easy it was to pick back up again. A lot of things have changed, but "Home" is still "a special kind of feeling." I just felt like I belonged when I was talking to all of you! It felt so great. Oh and sorry again about the accent....hahaha I don't think I speak Finnish enough to have an accent, but I will take your word for it! I just love you all and I know we will all be together again soon! Now onto 2015!!! Woohoo!!!

    2014 is the only year where every single day, I have been a missionary. We are 3 days away from 2015!!! WHAT? I distinctly remember being in Tampere last New Year's Eve. I slept on the top bunk and I couldn't sleep that night. I was way homesick and felt like a mountain was right in front of my face and the only direction I could go was up and forward. I remember laying in bed and waiting for midnight to come. I was praying so hard that Heavenly Father would help me feel that He was near and that I wasn't alone. I opened up the blinds in our room and I saw fireworks shooting over the lake. Kind of a unique answer to a prayer, but I knew that Heavenly Father wanted me to be happy and have fun and He really was with me. I have known that ever since. But it's been one heck of a year. Crap, now I'm crying. I wouldn't trade this year for anything and 2014 will always be "The Great Pivot" year for me. I feel like the course of my life completely changed for the better. I am so grateful for 2014 and so excited to bring in 2015...not going to lie, I'll probably sleep through it, but I will eat some guacamole and do the "Cha Cha Slide" before I go to bed...I know that's what you all will be doing! :) But Happy New Year to you all! Let's make this year the best one yet!

    So I told you on skype how it snowed, but man...I just wish you could all be here to see Finland in the snow. It is unreal. This country was created to be in snow. It is SO BEAUTIFUL. And FREEZING cold! It is -20 degrees Celsius today and my hair and eyelashes and cheeks and nose were completely frozen this morning. It was hilarious. I have tried to capture the beauty of Finland in the snow, but my camera doesn't do it justice. It is amazing though and I was SO grateful to have a white Christmas. It was a tender mercy if I've ever seen one :)

    We had our last district meeting on Christmas Eve Day. It was really fun. We all sang and did the actions so "Once there was a Snowman." Man, I wish I had a video of that. Super funny! We had a really good meeting about Christ and everyone bore their testimonies about Him. I feel like, more so this Christmas than any other, I have come to love and appreciate my Savior so much more. I am so grateful for the relationship I have with Him. I am grateful that becoming like Him is a process. I always have something to work on and do better. I will never be perfect, but I know that I can try to be like Him. That really brings more joy than anything else. I will miss this district. It's been a really good district, but guess what, Sister Pace is coming down to Espoo to be with Sister Bruce so we will be in the same district again! haha way funny! I am really excited to see her!

    So I didn't get to really tell you about our Christmas on skype, so I'll do that now! Well, in Finland, their Christmas Eve is the same as our Christmas Morning. In other words, Santa comes on Christmas Eve night and all the kids open their presents then. I think that happens because Santa actually lives in Finland in Rovaniemi by the Arctic Circle so he goes to his homeland people first! :) Anyways, we went to the H family that night. They are the funniest people in the world and I love them both so much. Their house is completely white. Like everything. White. It is really cozy and nice though and it was fun to sit and talk with them. They invited us and all of the recent converts over for dinner which was so fun! We had a way sick dinner. We grilled our own food on these portable grill things they had and we also made like deluxe grilled cheese sandwiches with cheese from France. Honestly, America does food right, but Europe has bread, cheese, and chocolate down. It's a miracle I can still wear my clothes :) Just kidding but the food was SO good. Then after that we sang Christmas carols while Sisar H played the piano. Guess what guys, I have memorized the alto parts to Silent Night and Angels we have Heard on High. I am basically pro! :) then after that, we opened up presents. I didn't expect to get anything, but my gosh, we have the best members in the world. They gave both Sister Nielsen and I and the recent converts so many nice things. It was so sweet. I told Sisar H that she needs to be careful or she is going to be translated pretty soon! :) It was just an amazing night. 

    Sisar H drove us home after the party and I was sitting there, listening to Christmas music, looking at the beautiful snow and then I remembered, "I get to talk to my family tomorrow." I didn't even realize it, but I burst into tears and was so excited to see you all. It's so funny because I talk about you guys all the time, but I don't really let myself feel bad or miss you. Does that make sense? It's like I have you with me always, but I have trained my brain over time not to be homesick. But man, all those feelings just came rushing to me and I was just bawling. Luckily I composed myself enough to say goodbye to Sisar H and then we went inside and went to sleep.

    The next morning we woke up and opened all our wonderful Christmas presents from the best family in the world. Thank you all so much for the sweet letters! I loved ALL of them and had a good cry sesh in the morning! It feels good to cry sometimes, ya know? :) But I love all the gifts! I am using Luke's legit clay pot for my earrings and rings and I have worn my scarf, hat, and socks everyday this week. I look pretty hipster now that I figured out how that hat works...man I am a hopeless hipster! :) Except that I speak Finnish. I am holding on to that! :) But thank you all so much for the gifts. We read the Christmas story in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 1 and of course in Luke 2. It was a really special morning.

    Well at 11 we had a brunch with all the temple missionaries. It was so great to be with them and eat some good, home-cooked food. It tasted just like food from home which was great! We talked with them for awhile, then Sister Nielsen and I decided we wanted to watch all the Bible Videos on lds.org. So we did that...we didn't make it through all of them, but Oh man....it was so great! I loved it so much and the spirit was so strong. What a great way to spend Christmas....hearing the words of Christ. Then around 3:30 the A family came to pick us up for Christmas dinner with their family. We had the traditional Finnish Christmas food which consists of ham, carrot casserole, potato casserole, beet salad (Grandma, you would love it) liver casserole (my favorite...psych) glögi (the delicious Finnish Christmas drink) and gingerbread. It was so good! Their family is great and they gave us some wool socks for a present. That is literally the greatest gift you could get. You can't buy socks like these! :) It was just a great day!

    After that, we skyped....and boy was that fun! I am so happy that you are all doing well. I just love you all so much and can't wait to see you and give you all a big hug! Definitely will be one of the happiest days of my life! :) Minä rakastan teitä!

    So this Christmas was pretty amazing. I am so grateful for all that happened, but,  I am always a little sad when Christmas is over. I just love that spirit in the air. I love thinking about Christ...all the time. But every year on December 26th, I think, "Dang it....365 days left." After we skyped, we came home and I was writing in my journal and I wrote, "Man, why can't everyday be Christmas?" Then I was sitting there, thinking, and the thought came to me, "Psh, everyday totally CAN be Christmas!" After that, I made a list of all the things I love about Christmas. I love being with family. I love thinking about the Savior. I love serving people. I love giving and receiving gifts. I love eating GOOD food. :) I just love the happiness I feel in my heart. That list got me thinking, "Ok, this is totally possible to make everyday Christmas." So the idea came to me that this year, starting on December 26, each day, I am going to consciously give 1 gift back to my Savior. Hopefully I give more than one each day, but at the end of the day, I am going to write down what gift I gave to Him that day. Whether it's writing someone a note that needs it, or being friends with someone who doesn't have a friend, or helping a family member or friend, I'm going to do it. Next Christmas Eve, I will have 365 gifts to give to my Savior and I am going to read back through all of the things I wrote down and then give it to my Him as my Christmas present. I will have all these wonderful memories of things I have done throughout the year and I know that I will become more like Christ and I will have the spirit of Christmas with me everyday this year! :) It has already been amazing. I have noticed how Christ is still very much in my mind as I go throughout the day trying to serve others and do what He would do if He were here. It's pretty amazing how that really is all that it takes. Be like Jesus and Christmas will be everyday! 

    Anyways, it's funny having a companion going home. She is winding down to the end of her mission and I am weekly planning for next week. The thought has occurred to me over and over again this week how funny it is and remarkable it is that the work of the Lord never stops moving forward. We leave from our missions or from callings, but the work doesn't stop there, someone else just picks up the ball and keeps going. It's pretty humbling too, because the work will go forward whether we are on board or not. I don't ever want to be left behind. We got change calls this week and guess what.....SISTER NYMAN IS COMING TO BE MY COMPANION. Oh my goodness....she is incredible. I went on splits with her a couple of weeks ago and I thought in my head, "Man, it's too bad Sister Nyman and I won't ever get to be companions." I thought that because she was training and only had 1 transfer left so I figured that she would just stay there, but nope, she's coming to be with me! I am so excited. She is from Norway and is literally the nicest person I have ever met. We get along really well and have crossed paths a lot on our missions. We are already way good friends and I know this transfer is going to be amazing! I am really excited.

    I am going to miss Sisar Nielsen. We have had so much fun together and hello...we're cousins so that's pretty hilarious. She is such a great missionary and has done so much good in Finland. There is definitely going to be a hole here when she leaves, but I am so grateful for the relationship I have with her. We are best friends and she is awesome! I gave her your email and number mom so they will get in contact with you about going to her homecoming. I would love you all to meet her! :)

    So two cool stories of the week. Ok, wait, hold on...sidenote: so in Finland, a lot of people drink alcohol...did you know that? haha it's disgusting and I hate it, but during holidays, we as missionaries have "Red Days". I think I have told you about those before, but it means that we can't go outside unless we have scheduled appointments because there are so many drunk people around and that's never good, or safe. Anyways, we had 3 full red days this week, so we didn't get a chance to do a lot of "normal missionary work", but we had a great day Saturday. We found 2 new investigators who happen to be people I talked to on the train about a month ago. They are from India and are coming to a temple tour on Saturday so pray for them! :) 

    We went to the J family again this week. We had planned to teach them about church attendance and why it's important. I was sitting there, about to read Moroni 6:4-6 when all of a sudden, the spirit just came whooshing into the room so strongly. It kind of shocked me how fast it came and the feeling it left. Anyways, I said," Ok, so in Moroni 6, it....Sisar J, how long ago did you get baptized?" Uh what? Where did that come from? She responded "about 3 years ago." Then, Sister Nielsen asked, "Have you had the new member lessons before?" (new member lessons are just the PMG lessons again to recent converts after they have been baptized). Sisar J said, "No, but I really want to learn more." Turns out, she was baptized and then a week later, she and her husband moved to Austria and there was no church there so she basically was baptized and immediately turned less active. Anyways, she is so excited to learn more about the church. Sister Nielsen told me how hard missionaries have worked to help this family, but it just never worked out. It wasn't their time. But I really know their time is now. I am really hoping and praying and have this "vision" so to speak that they will be sealed as a family within the next 4 months. I know it is possible and I am so excited to work with them! Their family came to church again yesterday and Sisar J even called and set up an appointment with us...first time that has happened on my mission! YIPPEE! Time to do work! :)

    Well,I have learned so much this week. I told you how I felt during all the conferences we have had over these past few months that I needed to get to know my Savior better. I have come to know Him better and am so excited to continue to do that, but I wanted to know what my next direction should be. I have wanted to read Doctrine and Covenants on my mission, and I figured out if I read one section a day, I will finish on the last day of my mission....gross. Anyways, that is one thing I am doing now and so far it's been great. I was reading in section 3 the other day in verse 4 which says, "For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him." Woah...pretty scary! :) Just kidding. But in this section, Joseph has just given the 116 pages to Martin Harris and now they are lost. I have always kind of winced when I hear that story. Can you imagine how he must have felt? Ugh...pretty awful. But this scripture really hit me that really all we do or have done or will do is because of Heavenly Father. All we have has been given to us and can be taken away. But then I continued to study and came across verses 7-8 which say: "For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise His words- yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended His arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble."

    Another scripture which I have come to love came into my mind as I was reading that. It's Matt 16:24-27

24 ¶Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

 26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

 27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 

    That sentence in bold hits me so hard every time I read it. I know before my mission, I never thought that not reading my scriptures one day or not going to church one day would bring upon me hell fire, but I have realized that any little sin we commit, may not really "kill us." Like not going to church on Sunday....probably won't kill you. Swearing...probably wont' kill you. Drinking coffee...probably won't kill you. But the thing that will kill you is the fact that you are breaking a commandment. What will a man give in exchange for his soul? Nothing is worth more than our souls. Not even the life of God, himself. Think of what Christ did to win our souls back and think of how easily we sell our souls to lame little sins. It really just isn't worth it. Nothing is worth more than being in the presence of our Heavenly Father one day as a family. That scripture and story really has changed me and the way I think about the gospel and commandments. We don't always understand why we have commandments or how on earth that will help us, but the thing is, we have to have faith that whatever we "sacrifice" by keeping a commandment is nothing compared to the joy we will have in the eternities. It's like my favorite scripture says:

 41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.


    Man, if that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will. I know that keeping the commandments brings us happiness. I have seen both sides of the coin so clearly on my mission and I know now, more than ever which side I want to be on and will be on for the rest of my life. I am not going to compromise my standards or sell my soul for stupid little things that bring pleasure and maybe even sometimes happiness, but not eternal joy. Being obedient to commandments and rules really saves us from self-inflicted trials. It doesn't take everything away, but boy, it makes life a lot easier. I am so grateful for that lesson I have learned on my mission. I am so grateful for all of you! You are the most wonderful family in the world. Seriously. It's true. I love you all more than I can say. I am so happy to be in Finland. I am happy that you are happy and I hope you know, even though I am thousands of miles away, if you ever need anything, I am here...on Monday mornings...haha and you are always in my prayers! Have a wonderful week and especially party hard on the New Year...but not too hard! :) I love you!!

    Rakkaudellani,

    Sisar Olivia Bitner

    P.S. "Something Finnish"....they are really into "mood lighting". All the houses of the Finns are dim, dim, dim. They love the natural light. Dad, you would fit right in :) Pretty interesting! Have a great week!!

Last District pic

Matching sweaters for Christmas!

Our Christmas Eve group

Temple couples.

Cute Sister Smith gave us these (temple couple)


The famous White Church

Christmas Eve and the H family's house


Christmas Eve...thanks for the pajamas grandma!!

Christmas Morning!! Thanks for the gifts!!


My beautiful Finland

The nativity in front of the temple