Monday, July 29, 2013
Ed. note: we received a very kind email from a member of the branch in Jakobstad - she told us that they had a surprise "goodbye party" for McKay.
Here's his last email:
This was my last week. Can't wait to tell you all about it.
To all of you who will read this, I want you to know how much I have appreciated and relied on your love and support these past two years. The life of a missionary is demanding, but there is nothing more fulfilling. There have been so many moments of sheer frustration in which I have wanted to shout, "why me? What have I done to deserve this?" and also countless moments of sheer joy in which I have been driven to my knees asking the very same questions, only this time, in gratitude. If there were any doubts in my mind as to whether or not my service has been of value or whether I have made a difference, any such thought has been banished out of existence by the events of these last few days. I will never be able to say thank you enough to those who have touched my life.
My father wrote me a letter during a rather difficult time in my mission. In it, he included a poem that has become one of my favorites. The last few stanzas read:
"Lives of great men all remind us, We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.
Footprints that perhaps another, sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwreck'd brother, seeing, may take heart again.
Let us then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate,
still acheiving, still pursuing, learn to labor, and to wait."
As I depart, I am stunned with awe as I recall the greats in whose footprints I have walked, and I sincerely hope that I have left footprints worthy to follow.
And yes, those of you who know me know that I am currently bawling my eyes out. Two years as a missionary hasn't helped with that at all.
I love you all. See you in four days.
Elder Christen McKay Hansen
Finland Helsinki Mission
July 2011 - August 2013
McKay sent this picture with his email, which seems to
sum it all up - glädje (Swedish for "joy")
Monday, July 22, 2013
It's going to be really nice to not have to come up with a subject line every week. Those things have plagued me for two years now.
We were on the road nearly the entire week this week, completing a series of language schools in each zone of the mission. It was an experience I will never forget, for sure, but I'm very tired on the back end of it. Got to see a lot of people that I likely will never see again except on Facebook, which was sad for me. This mission is full of great elders and sisters. I'm going to miss all of them.
But, that's enough of that kind of talk. I still have a week to go! At church on Sunday, I mentioned to a few of the members that this is my last full week in the city. One of them looked back at me when I said that and just said, "jobba hort!" (Work hard!). I'm sure that by the end of this week I'm going to be absolutely drained.
Monday of this week, we were on a train. Again. How many times in a row have I said that about Monday now? I feel like every P-day is spent on a train now. But, upon arrival in Helsinki, I dragged Elder Heki around to see a few of the nicer parts of the city on our way home. He told me he just wants to get back to his quaint, little city in Jakobstad. I don't think he's one for cities much, but I was having a blast being back. I think we got him convinced by the end of the trip there, though.
The language school on Tuesday went great! Elder Anderton and I were worried about the missionaries' ability to stay focused and awake since we were doing it in the evening after a zone training meeting, but they really shocked us with how much they had prepared for it. I don't think I would have been quite as excited for another long meeting after that zone training meeting (which evidently went a little longer than it usually does), but they were great. See, it's always hard for me to impress on you how much fun I've been having with these langauge schools, because most of the fun I have in them relates to Finnish, which I've become more than a geek about. But you guys don't speak it at all...difficult. Learn Finnish ok? Anyway, most of the highlights for me involved just how many questions they all had, and how the answers to those questions always led to more questions. We could have kept talking about Finnish all night! (We didn't, we all got home on time). But, there was one of the elders there for whom this meeting was a mind-blowing experience. About every three seconds he would pop halfway out of his seat and should "oh man! That totally makes sense now!" Made me feel good about my teaching at least. We had a little photo party afterwards, because I won't be seeing any of them again for a long time. One of them told me before he left, "You're a good one, Hansen. You'll be successful in whatever you do in life." Now, I'm not sure how prophetic those words can be taken given my track record, but it was still nice to hear.
Wednesday morning Elder Anderton and I worked on some top secret projects for President. He was having a blast with it. His excitement for it kept me going, but there's a ton of things President wants done by August 2. Kind of a rough deadline, President. Elder Heki and I got on the train that afternoon, which picked up the Seinäjoki elders as it passed through their city, and we rode the rest of the trip home with them.
Thursday morning was district meeting, and then we drove out to the dedication site in Larsmo, a place that, sadly, I never made it to in nine months last time I served here. It was a great experience up there! There's a small memorial on the site where Ezra Taft Benson dedicated Finland for the preaching of the restored gospel.
"On this sacred spot Finland was dedicated for the preaching of the restored gospel. Dedicated by Apostle Ezra Taft Benson 16 July 1946. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."
So, they were at the site two days after the 67th anniversary of the dedication of Finland for the preaching of the gospel.]
After we had some lunch up there by the monument, one of the local members comes traipsing right out of the woods right next to us! What added to the surprise was that she had just been out berry picking and brought us, not just blueberries, but cloud berries! Cool, Hansen, little orange berries....right? Wrong. Major Finnish tradition. People take vacations to Lapland just to pick these berries. They're about 80 euros a kilo. So obviously we got back down to where she had been picking them and started looking for more. She eventually had to just show us because we were hopeless at it, but we found a ton! At one point while she was leading us to them, I discovered why she was wearing large rubber boots. I think it happened right as I sunk my foot about ankle deep into a swamp that looked like solid ground. Sock completely soaked. Bummer. But hey, the experience was worth it. And we got back just in time to visit one of the great member families here before we had to go get on a train to Tampere. We talked with them about the District's recently issued challenge to each member of the district to bring one person into the church this year, whether through baptism or reactivation. They, like the wonderful members they are, had already prayed and selected the ones they wanted to focus on. All except the mom, that is. She had too many friends she had been thinking of sharing the gospel with, so she wasn't sure which two or three or seven she was going to invite to church first.
Friday in Tampere was another great langauge school. We tried to do a "sandwich swap" lunch, where everyone brought a sack lunch to trade with someone else, but when two of the elders forgot lunch altogether, the rest just brought frozen pizzas, and the sisters brought gourmet lunches they had spent real time preparing...it didn't really work out. In the end, though, everyone had food, I think. After the language school I filmed myself teaching a couple of the missionaries as an application video for the MTC. During the video, I had a hard time focusing on teaching, because I was sitting there just thinking about what the reviewers would think about every comment I made or question I asked. It was hard not to cringe when I knew I had made a mistake. However, by the end of it, I felt like I had done an OK job teaching, and the Spirit had really been in the room. I learned things, the three elders I taught learned things, and so at the end of the day, I think it accomplished its purpose.
Church was great again on Sunday. We had priesthood this week, which usually turns into a stereotypical High Priests Group debate....but there was a great moment of wisdom when we talked about the difference between Peter and the apostles and the young man who was asked to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The teacher explained that, "We don't know what happened to this young man, we never hear of him again. But we know what became of those who left their nets and all they had and followed the Savior." Another member piped up, "yeah, they all got killed." Great.
One week to go. Let's see if I can make it count.
Monday, July 15, 2013
The weeks have started to go by just a little bit faster each time, which gets more than a little disconcerting when you realize there are only two of them left.
We had a pretty typical P-Day for my companionship with Elder Heki - we were on a train. We left in the early evening for Oulu and wouldn't be back until Wednesday evening. I'm sure he's excited for me to leave and for him to be able to not have to travel so much.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we made history today!! In that, as far as I am aware, this was the first ever language school in Oulu, and probably the first one not held in the mission office. I made those participating in the Language School acutely aware of that fact as well. These are historic times. We haven't had this many missionaries in forever, and not in such large numbers coming all at once! Not to mention that these are all younger than they have been. These missionaries I was speaking to are the ones that will be asked to train and lead all of these that are coming in, and they should be excited about it!
The language school overall went well, only a couple of them dropped off about halfway through and needed to take a break. Not everyone is as excited about the intricacies of Finnish grammar like I am. I'm kind of a nerd.
The real treat of conferences in the north is the sleep over in the chapel the night before. It was really fun to get to catch up with Elder Helistö, who is now serving both as a full-time missionary and the second counselor in the branch presidency in Savonlinna (crazy), and Elder Oberhansley, who I haven't seen in too long. Gotta be proud of my boy, he's training for the second time in a row now, and doing a great job. Oberhansley told some funny stories about them tracting into some drunk people. Let's just say, that a lot of people don't realize they're swearing when they speak English. Oops.
Wednesday: Zone Conference
My very last zone conference. It was a bit of a surreal feeling, especially when I looked around the room and saw just how much younger everyone in the room was. No one else from my MTC group is in the north, only one from the group right below me and the next was from two or three more groups down. The conference was a really good one to close with. The zone leaders essentially just wanted to inspire us all to do a little more, so they invited a bunch of different companionships to share some stories of days they've done their best and times when they've felt successful, etc. I felt a great sense of joy when I listened to all those stories, just knowing that these are the types of missionaries I'm leaving this country to when I go. They asked me to bear my testimony at the end of the meeting, and I told them about those feelings that I'd had. These are some really impressive missionaries, even the really new ones. No fear, just faith.
Our trip home from conference was a bit of a wild one. See, there's construction on the tracks between Ylivieska and Oulu, so they have bus connections running between those cities to replace the trains. When we were planning the trip, though, there were some discrepancies between what the printed schedule and the online schedule said, so we just booked our tickets and hoped for the best. By the time we got to Oulu, we weren't actually sure if we would be on a train, on a bus, or on foot home. Not to mention, Elder Heki and I decided to try to go out to eat after the meeting with some other missionaries, so we ended up with a bit of a race to get back to the bus station, print our tickets, and get on the bus just as the bus driver himself was getting on. Yeah, uh, oops. But it all worked out. Then, on arriving in Ylivieska, we see a train that must be ours, only the train says it's going to Rovaniemi, completely the other direction. Two of us walk down to the other end of the train to find that that end is going the direction we want to go. Man, the thought honestly crossed my mind that we might not make it home that night. And, there are no members or missionaries in Ylivieska, so we likely would've spent the night under an bridge. I'm glad at least half the train was going the right way.
We had a lesson with a less-active, but by the time we showed up, there was a bit of chaos going on in their house. It turned into a bit more of us just hanging out with them. After a while, we got it around to some kind of gospel topic, but the wife (who isn't a member) wasn't interested in talking, she just hopes we can help her husband get himself straightened out. He's had a very hard life and he really needs the gospel right now, but he's so skeptical that he doesn't want to change. It's hard to watch. But, the greatest thing about visiting them is watching Elder Heki. He treats that family with so much love, especially the two young kids, and they seem to really love him back.
Elder Heki is doing a great job at trying to learn Swedish, but unfortunately, the words for "to reveal" and "to prepare" are giving him some trouble. He was practicing Swedish by just telling me a story from his time in Turku, and ended up telling me that a woman once revealed fish for him and his companion. I guess it kinda works if you stretch it.
I've also had fun teaching him some sports vocabulary. He was in marching band for four years, but still never bothered to follow the games he was playing at very much. This week's word was "punt." I figured out he didn't know that word when he described it as a "fourth down, get it down the field kinda thing."
We got to do some service painting doors for some of our favorite members up here. I felt pretty proud of my husband material after looking at the finished product, especially since I'd spent most of the time painting also on the phone juggling preparation for language school and answering missionaries' language questions. Not to sound homesick, but it will be nice to not have to spend half my life on the phone every day.
Church was a blast. "A" gave a short talk/testimony about the YSA conference Fest i Nord that she attended last week, which was really good for me to hear. She told us that she wasn't sure why she was going at all because she's "so old." It sounds like she had some experiences that she really needed though, so I was happy for her. While she was speaking, her little three year old boy ran up onto the stand next to her, started tugging at her dress and then turned and pointed at me, as if to say, "look Hansen's still here." Made me feel pretty happy:) I love that kid.
That night we visited another part member family, he's been coming to church actively for years, he just doesn't want to set a baptismal date. We shared with them a lot of the ways baptism has helped us and helped people in the Book of Mormon, and then out of the blue he goes, " I feel bad when I read the Book of Mormon, because I know I'll never be like one of those men." We then turned to 1 Corinthians 2:9.
"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."
It is so wonderful to me that God doesn't ask me to lead armies. He doesn't ask me to leave all I have and know and walk out into the wilderness. I haven't been called to start an entirely new civilization or to try to save one from destroying itself. At the end of the day, if we love our Heavenly Father and that love motivates all we do, that's all he asks for, and we will work miracles.
Monday, July 8, 2013
Well, two years as a missionary has come and gone. It was fairly surreal. Elder Bishop and Elder Hoggard were on exchanges together to celebrate the occasion, and they called me in the morning to wish me a happy two year day. They're great. It unfortunately prompted a long, leisurely stroll down memory lane that distracted me for most of the morning. But it was interesting to think about everything that's happened. I'm glad that all the memories, even as far back as the MTC, have stayed pretty fresh in my mind. Now I'm just hoping to have some good stories to share when I make it back.
Saturday didn't end up being a terribly eventful day. I bought some Ben&Jerry's Ice Cream to celebrate. (Ben&Jerry's has somehow become a mission tradition for things like this). The Londons (my favorite mission office couple) came through on their trip around the country to deliver some furniture and supplies to all the apartments and dropped off a new mattress for Elder Heki because the springs in his had begun to poke up through the top. It was nice to chat with them a little bit, I've missed them.
This morning, I got another note from the missionaries in Helsinki that will brighten the memories of my two year mark as a missionary. When Elder Clegg and I left Helsinki, we had set a baptismal date for "P" - the Finnish man we found who was progressing so well. The missionaries in Haaga took over teaching him when we left. Well, I am happy to report that on 6 July 2013, exactly two years after I entered the MTC, this man that I grew to love was baptized. Such a great feeling. The Helsinki missionaries sent me a picture.
Sorry this one is a bit shorter, but we have to get ready to go to Oulu tonight. Love you all!
See you in a few weeks!
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Passing the language coordinator baton to Elder Anderton
We've officially reached one month to go. It's a good feeling, especially considering the fact that I get to spend my last month in Pietarsaari. There's only one catch, and that's that I might not be spending as much time actually in this city as I thought.
This past weekend I spent about two hours on the phone with President Rawlings concerning language coordinator business. With all the new missionaries coming in in such large numbers, we're concerned about the level of training they're receiving, and as a result, we're reengineering the way we train missionaries in the Finnish language entirely. We're going to go all the way back to the drawing board, start entirely from scratch, and build from that with the current needs of the mission. Elder Anderton, the one taking over as language coordinator after I'm gone, is also in on it, and he's got a ton of good ideas. He's also just as pumped about the idea as I am, so it's fun to work with him. But, the really crazy thing is the solution until we get a new system up and running. We'll be holding a series of special language schools, one in each zone, to retrain the basics of the language as well as train missionaries how to teach the language to the younger companions they'll have sooner than they think. Next week, we have zone training meeting in Oulu, so we'll be doing one there, then the week after that we head to Helsinki for Monday-Wednesday, then Thursday-Friday in Tampere. It's going to make this month just whiz by. Hoping to be able to have time to lay a foundation for something great here, so that everything can expand in the next couple of months/years.
That's my life in a nutshell right about now. If any of those rumors about cell phones giving you cancer are true, then I'm surprised I don't already have a tumor in my right ear, because I feel like I spend all my time on the phone. I wonder if I could make a career out of something like this?
This past Tuesday, I had a great opportunity to look at this time as a completely new take on this city, like I'm starting fresh. Last year, when I was here, Elder Oberhansley and I went to visit a man who has had missionaries over a lot, but they were more there to hang out, he didn't want to talk about the gospel. He was the same way when Elder Oberhansley and I went. He told us he'd already heard it all, but if we ever wanted a place to chill and hang out and not be missionaries for a couple hours, this was the place we could be. Then I get back here, almost a year later, and I find out Elder Heki and Elder Kääriä have been meeting with this man. I was pretty skeptical, but Elder Heki set up a time and we went to visit him. Except for the time he got on Facebook and showed us some interesting stuff that pokes fun at religion, the whole lesson was night and day from the one a year prior. He had sincere questions. He listened when we spoke and honestly tried to see if he could believe what we were saying. We talked practically about his role as a father and, in the future, as a priesthood holder. He feels some difficulties with his marriage right now, so we talked about how he can pray specifically for help with that. Not only, "please help my marriage," but also, "How can I show more love for my wife?" and "What can I do today/tomorrow/next week to strengthen our relationship?" Teaching that brought new perspective to my prayers. The whole experience reminded me that "God is in control," like Mom always says, especially when we walk into the mission office on Wednesday morning for language school and I find the July Liahona with the cover article "Nine Ways to Strengthen Your Family." Isn't that just too good?
Saturday night we got to go visit a couple that I got to know very well last time. He's Chinese and she's Vietnamese, and now they have a small, six-month old baby that loves to just make noise. She's adorable. When I was here last year, we were just waiting for them to get married so he could be baptized. They finally got married before I left, but some problems with his family made it impossible for him to get baptized. He's since been baptized and received the priesthood. There is still a wonderful spirit in their home, but it just seems more complete somehow, now. More lasting. It was great to be with them again. He told Elder Heki to get married before 2015. A little tricky since he goes home late in 2014, but he'll be at BYU, so I guess it's possible. Hahaha the jokes that keep us going at dinner appointments with funny members.
Anyway, time to get going, sorry this is late, but we had district meeting in Vaasa with President all day, so we didn't have time to email. We're also going to visit "A" and the kids tonight, so we have to get something special ready for that.
Love you all,
Monday, June 24, 2013
It was harder than I thought to say goodbye to Helsinki. I never thought I'd like a big city, but that one was incredible. Maybe it's just the mission brain. You get attached to places because of the people there. Like "P". That final lesson with him on Monday night was unbelievable. It was hard to tell him that I would be leaving, but I trust the Haaga elders to do a good job. I checked in with them last night about "P" and everything seems to be going well in preparation for his baptism, except for the date. Turns out there's another baptism in Marjaniemi and three different people moving that day, so they're worried that the turn out at the baptismal service would be pretty low. Anyway, after this lesson we had on Monday, that's nothing to be worried about. We talked about everything that would change as a result of both me and Clegg getting sent away, and then we taught tithing. I've had people take tithing pretty easily before, but never quite like "P". I wanted to be really sure that he understood what tithing was, so we explained that. He said, "fine, so what do I pay?" I thought he simply misunderstood, so I went back over the fact that it's ten percent of all our income annu...."No, no, no" P interrupts me mid-sentence, "I meant how do I pay it? Do I give the money to someone, or what?" I chuckled a little bit at that. Then, I figured, well, he's gotta know what's it's used for too, otherwise, he won't pay. So, I asked Elder Adams (one of the Haaga elders) to explain what tithing is used for. Then, it was P's turn to have a laugh. He just looks at us and says, "guys, obviously, when I come to the church next winter and it's 25 degrees below zero out there, I'm going to want the church to be warm! I told you already that I'm in all the way, you don't have to convince me to pay tithing." I think we almost died laughing the whole way home about that line. He's such a great man. I got a picture with him before I left and he made me promise to come visit when I'm back in Helsinki before I go home. Then he said simply, "You're very important to me." The humble way he said it made me want to just give him a hug.
Wednesday morning Elder Clegg and I got up early to get to the train station. It was kind of nice to be able to go just the two of us. Luckily I only bothered bringing one of my suitcases to Pietarsaari, I just left the other one in the mission office to pick up when I get back, so the only problem with us getting there without any help was one of Clegg's bags that no longer has working wheels. I'm really going to miss Elder Clegg, and that whole apartment. We had a pretty good thing going between the four of us.
My first week back in Jakobstad was nothing like I expected it to be. Well, actually it was and it wasn't. Let me explain.
I show up to the train station in Bennäs (small train stop village), the same small train stop I've come to so many times from Helsinki. Only this time they've done some construction on it and there's some large covered areas making it look a bit larger and more official. Elder Kääriä and Elder Heki were there to pick me up. Elder Kääriä has been serving there ever since he came to be my companion over eight months ago, so he just seemed to fit the scene. He's almost inseparable from that city now. He was also very quick to point out that he will have spent a grand total of one week there longer than me by the time all is said and done. I then pointed out that I was back for five days when I had surgery, so really he only wins by about two days. But he still wins. Phooey.
This weekend was Juhannus (Mid-Summer), which means that everyone left to the country for vacation and the city was virtually empty. We did manage to find a few things to do, though, which is great because except for scheduled appointments, Juhannus is a day we have to stay inside all day. That would have been awful. Unfortunately, that one appointment didn't go as well as we'd hoped. We scheduled a church tour with a Swedish-speaking girl who just moved here to study film. It was there that I realized how poor my Swedish has become. It was a little frustrating. And, despite our best efforts to invite the Spirit, she decided at the end of the tour that perhaps she'd seen and learned enough and wasn't really interested in learning anymore about the church. I felt a little bit disappointed in myself, and I wondered for a while after that lesson if I had somehow let the Lord down by not doing a better job of studying Swedish in the time I'd been away. I wondered why he had sent me back here when he knew how bad my Swedish really is now. "God doesn't send anyone to fail," was a sentiment expressed often by my bishop at BYU, and I chose to take that approach. Sure, maybe it didn't work out in that church tour, but I'm very grateful for the blessing and opportunity to be back in this city, and to speak what Swedish I still know. I'll trust that it will come back.
If I needed any encouragement, I sure got it on Sunday at church. Leif, the branch president, came and gave me a big hug as soon as he saw me. "A" and her kids were there, too, and I just about melted for those two kids. The BML's wife was happy to present their new baby, born right after I left, she is now eight months old! I couldn't believe it. "K", the Somalian man that Elder Oberhansley and I met together, who got baptized after both of us had departed, was the next to enter the front doors of that chapel. Overall, a couple of the older mummos I visited once in a while have passed away, and one is in the early stages of dementia, so she didn't remember me at all, but other than that, the branch is pretty much exactly the same as it was when I left it so many months ago. The same wonderful people, the same great spirit, the same strange phenomenon of singing in both Swedish and Finnish at the same time in sacrament meeting. I love this city.
Looking forward to the next few weeks.
Love you all,