Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rakkaus ei koskaan Katoa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                    " One of the Great Secrets"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Sisar Bitner

My beautiful Temple!!! 

Our district plus the zone leaders

The cute Lappeenranta sisters welcoming us at the train station

The sky was on fire

Sisar Dowd, my wonderful companion for the day!

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

Me and sisar Dowd again before we did service

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

Us doing some manual labor :)

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

Me and their cute daughters, E and S

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

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

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