He Took My Place
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!
|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 :)|