Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Enabling Power of the Atonement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Sisar Bitner 

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

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

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

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

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

Splits with sisar Harris in Oulu

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

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

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

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