Monday, May 28, 2012

Training in Jakobstad

We got an unexpected call from President Saturday morning. Usually when he calls on Saturday, in means you're staying, and if anything it's just the business of adjusting leadership/other assignments. Not in this case, though. Elder D is being made senior companion in Mikkeli (near the Russian border) and I will be staying in Jakobstad for at least three more months training a new missionary. I'm so excited!!!!!!

I figured I probably ought to get that out first, but the best part is, that wasn't even the best part of our week. Not by a lot.

We've done a lot of service this week. It feels really good to spend that kind of time with the members. Working side-by-side with someone helps you love and appreciate them so much more than you already do. Plus it helps make up for my pretty pathetic exercise in the morning. (stretching is still important, right?). With all the members we've served, we've shared a spiritual thought about service and tried to get them to start praying for their friends, neighbors, and family members to accept service from us as another way to open doors and hearts to the Restored gospel. Finns are really stubborn about accepting help, though. They have this complex built into their culture that if someone does something to help you, you have to give something in return. So, we'll see if anything actually comes from it, but the spirit of service is helping us gain members trust, if nothing else.

In addition to that, we helped an old man clean up his apartment this week. One day, we started to feel like we weren't where we needed to be. We had just been let in to teach a man while tracting, and had planned to continue the street afterwards, but it simply didn't feel right. We prayed and decided to head off to another area close by (well, everything's close, really, in Jakobstad). While we were riding, we past by some apartment buildings and felt really good about them. Locked. Bummer. We talked to one man who had just come out of the building. He was in a hurry, so he took a card and not much else. I was really disappointed. I felt like I had really misread the influence of the Spirit and brought us to a place in vain. So, we began to ride off again. A man began walking the other direction, slowly, as though in pain. His clothes were dirty, as were his face and hair. His countenance had virtually no light or joy in it. A bag full of beer cans dangled limply from his hand as he walked. We stopped and talked to him. He told us his life just wasn't happy at all right now and that he just wanted to go home. We walked with him home, just trying to talk to him about his family, the gospel, anything, and we got nothing. When we got to his door, we went in for just a minute. His place was a mess. I cannot explain how sorry I felt for this poor man. His life was not where he wanted it to be, and from what he told us, there was no way out. We told him we would come the next day and help him clean his apartment and his eyes got huge. He was amazed that we would come of our own free will.

The next day, we spent about an hour cleaning his apartment, continuing to try to talk to him as we worked. We saw actual happiness in his eyes as he looked around his newly cleaned place. He thanked us so many times. He even promised to give up drinking! We'll see how it goes. We told him we would also like to come back and teach him in order to help him spiritually. He told us we were welcome anytime. He's a bit of a longshot right now, but I've seen people change before. The gospel has that kind of power.

Our Chinese investigator, B, and his girlfriend A left for China this week, so we won't see them again for a month, but we saw a lot of progress in him in this last week. He definitely won't be ready for baptism right after he gets back like we hoped, but he's very happy with the church. He promised to read and pray every day on his trip to China. I'm excited that I will still be here when they return.

Probably the biggest news of the week is that our investigator who had a baptismal date last week now no longer has a baptismal date....because he's already a member!!! When we introduced the Book of Mormon he said it all seemed familiar, especially the picture of Moroni burying the plates. Then we started talking more about the church organization and when we said we had a prophet and twelve apostles his jaw about hit the floor. He started jumping up and down and yammering away to his wife in Romanian about how he had finally found "his religion" again. Apparently he was baptized in Romania in 2008, but he didn't understand everything and now needs to be re-taught and reactivated, but he's very excited about it. His wife (well technically girlfriend because they still aren't married officially in Finland) speaks a little Swedish, but not enough, so he'll be translating for her while we teach. She loosely set a baptismal date for the 30th of June.

Thanks for all your emails. I love you all very much. I can't wait to tell you about all the miracles we will see here over the course of the next two changes, training in Jakobstad. Have a great week.

Elder Hansen

Monday, May 21, 2012

Zone Conference

Hei taas!

Zone conference in Oulu this week meant a lot more travel (I'm really starting to like traveling on trains), but the Lord really blessed our time while we were actually here this week.

We started off the week right with a lot of finding and teaching, even in only the few hours of work time on P-Day. As we were on our way back home for the night, a stern impression came to find just one more person that night. So I called back to my companion to look left as we came to an intersection. I would look right, and between us, I knew we could probably see someone to talk to. As it turns out, to the left, standing outside her apartment building was a young woman about twenty. So we rode over and talked to her. She was waiting for a friend to come pick her up, so in that short time we pulled out the Book of Mormon and quickly explained our message. Her friend pulled up on her scooter just as we finished testifying of the Book of Mormon's impact in our lives. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

We had a couple of appointments with people we've had a tough time getting a hold of. The first was a Vietnamese man, who has consistently forgotten about our appointments despite our best efforts to remind him. This time, we waited at the church for five minutes and when he didn't come, we gave up and left. Just as we arrived home (five minute bike ride from the church) he called and told us he was on his way, but that he was having trouble finding the church. So we hustled back over, helped him to find it, and had a wonderful discussion with him. He's Christian, but somehow just doesn't have a great grasp on how the Atonement truly applies at a personal level. He's dealt with a lot of discouragement in his life, and made a lot of decisions that he's not happy about. We set aside our plans for teaching the Restoration and focused in on his needs. He completely changed. He started asking questions and trying to find truth. He left with the Book of Mormon, promising to read it. He speaks Swedish, and we really believe he could be a great strength to this branch.

The second was with an African lady who's really funny. When we showed up, she was like, "oh hey, yeah I'm just giving the baby a bath." So we sat in her house for fifteen minutes while we waited for her to finish giving him a bath, then lotion, oil, powder, and clothe him. Our member was a champ, though. Just sat there patiently the whole time, and even made a joke with the investigator about how he has six kids and completely understands. Gotta love members. the actual teaching part went really well, except that we had run out of English Book of Mormons, and thus had none to give her. Yeah, E missionaries. (baseball reference anyone?). But she still somehow agreed to let us come back.

Kinda turned into a hectic day, just dashing all over the city trying to visit potentials before we left for zone conference. We ended up finding a good chance to serve some members in the evening though, so it ended on a high note.

More service for the members, then train to Oulu.

Ultimate frisbee for exercise in the morning. So great. It's been forever since I've gotten to play. BOOM! I did take a pretty good knock to the head, though, which gave me a bad headache the rest of the day, but stuff happens. Plus I got a surprise package from the Fishers, so it sorta all evens out :)
Zone conferences with President Rawlings are great. I always leave with so many things I can do better. Honestly, it hurts a little bit, because I always know I have to repent and do so much better, and that involves a lot of personal change. This gospel truly was meant to "afflict the comfortable." But as long as I actually follow through and do it, I know things will work out for the better and I'll be happier in the long run.

6:30 am train back to Jakobstad. Yaaaayyyyyy......not. I actually slept better on the train than I did in the Oulu chapel though. Saturday was packed with appointments, one of them being the African lady we had promised to give a Book of Mormon to. The problem was, we still didn't have a Book of Mormon in English! So, we started to just search everywhere. Every closet, drawer, and shelf, under the beds, in the bathroom, whatever. No dice. We called our BML to see if he might have one, but he didn't answer. So, a bit upset with myself, I sat down to just wait it out, and opened up my package. Inside was a note, signed by all the Laurels at home. They had thrown in some candy too, which is great because my candy drawer has just run out (yes, Mom, I'm sorry but I do have a candy drawer...). Then, at the bottom of the box, I saw something that made my heart stop. Still partially concealed by packing peanuts lay a small, familiar-looking blue book. The Book of Mormon. In English. Ladies and Gentleman, no magician or work of man can rival the mysteries and miracles of our loving Father in Heaven. I no longer believe in coincidence. Unfortunately, the African lady bailed on us, but I took the miracle for what it was and gave thanks to God.

That afternoon we stopped by a potential that we've felt good about a number of times, but every time we go he's out of the house. So this time, when he wasn't home, we thought to ourselves, "why are we even here?" We had already tracted that entire building, but we decided to just knock on a few in there anyway. The door immediately to our potentials' left was our first door. A man answered, and as soon as he heard we were representatives from a church, he let us in. I'm always a bit skeptical about anything that easy, but once we started talking, his sincerity and faith in Chirst were so apparent. He is here from Romania, trying to make a better life for his wife and one year old son, who also live here. His Swedish was about as good as mine, so I was able to teach him most of the first lesson. He happily agreed to let us come back the next day and teach him more. He said our closing prayer. VERY INTERESTING. He made us all stand up and then essentially shouted his prayer to Jesus. Ok, so there's a little work to do. But hey, I've seen worse.

We went back to the Romanian, B. He was really excited for us. We taught him about the Restoration. He's Pentecostal, which I'm pretty sure is the dominant religion in his country, but when I taught him about Christ establishing his church, he wanted to know so badly why we had so many churches. We explained the apostasy and the role of Jospeh Smith in the Restoration. He finally asked us, "So what's the name of your church anyway?" We said this is the Church of Jesus Christ. He thought about that for a second. Then, he looked right at me and said, in English, "I'm in." He now has a baptismal date for June 30. Please pray for him and his wife to be baptized on that date.

Later, we met with that part member family and our investigator, M. It had been a while since we had met with him. We started by following up on his reading in the Book of Mormon, planning to transition to baptism right away. As we talked, though, it seemed apparent that he wasn't reading the Book of Mormon to gain a testimony, more that he felt that if he gained enough information from it, he would eventually come to know it was true. We disregarded our original plan and zeroed in on that one point. We taught him how vital the Book of Mormon is as a whole, and that we must ask Heavenly Father if the Book itself is true, not only things inside it. I told him that the Book of Mormon gives us only two options: either it is true, or it is not. It cannot be more simple than that. He thought about that for a long time afterwards. We committed him to pray that night and ask directly, if the Book of Mormon was true. we will be going back tonight to follow up. This could be his time. The Lord's hand is at work here.

I love you all so very much. Thank you for all your prayers and support.

Elder Hansen 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Busy P-Day

Just a short email from McKay this morning, since it sounds like they didn't have much time, and we just spoke to him yesterday. For a quick video segment from the call, scroll down to yesterday's post.

Here's today's email:

No hei,

We're in a bit of a hurry today because we have a TON off stuff to get done today. There's so much we need to get back in order in our apartment. Being gone for the better part of a week takes a lot out of us -- I guess you could say today is a spring cleaning day. 

The members here were almost as excited as we were for us to call home, as you noticed from the fact that they kept coming in to listen. I take it as a sign that they really like us and are invested in us. We appreciate so much all the members here do for us. They all asked us afterwards what was going on in our families and what kinds of crazy stories we told about the Finns.

One really funny story from last week that I forgot to mention in the skype call. We knocked a door and a younger looking girl answered, around 17-18 years old. Very typical teenager. Elder D gave her our message in the same wonderful way he always does: very excited and enthusiastic. I thought it went great! But, unfortunately, she wasn't interested. She did say we could come back, though, and that her boyfriend might be interested. As we walked away from the door, we could hear her talking fairly loudly on the phone to a friend about the two weird Mormons who had just knocked her door, and rather sarcastically mocked our "big eyes and big smile." Elder D and I just laughed. That's right, we do smile big. Because we're happy. We have no reason to be ashamed just because our message sounds cheesy or doesn't seem real or isn't popular. It's true. I am not ashamed at all to say that I know it is true. Why should I worry what others think? Lasting joy and happiness are not fairy tale ideas. It is not naivete to believe that God exists and that he loves us. The beauty of the message of the Restoration is that it invites all people to come unto Christ and receive incomprehensible, yet still perfectly tangible, literal, blessings from a loving Father in Heaven. As science continues to prove, almost daily, sometimes what's impossible becomes possible just by shifting our perspective and being willing to try it a different way.

OK, off the soapbox now. Love you all so much. It was so awesome to talk to you yesterday. Have a great week.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Call

We had a great Skype call with McKay this morning - bright and early at 6:00 am. The branch president (who is seen in the video below) was kind enough to invite them over for dinner and to use the computer. We heard him speak in both Finnish and Swedish (which was close enough to Danish that Erik could understand).

He shared the following, from the Mother's Day talk he gave in Church today.

He told us that he loves serving in Pietarsaari - he would stay there his entire mission if he could. Wonderful members, a beautiful area, and the work is going well. He thinks he'll be there at least 2-3 more months.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Happy May Day (late), Mother's Day (early) and Anniversary Mom and Dad (right on time)

no hei,

This week was full of so many miracles I need to be grateful for. Unfortunately, some of them just haven't quite come to full fruition as of right now, but we remain confident that as we rely on the Spirit we will one day see the blessings come to the lives of these people.

Our branch has reached out in love to fellowship a foreign family that lives in the same building as a family in the ward. Their love has led to a desire of a few of the family members to learn more of the gospel. We had the opportunity to teach one couple in the family this week and, although the entire lesson had to be taught through a translator, the Spirit touched us all. This man found answers to many of his questions, all of which relate to the message of the restoration. The Questions of the Soul really are out there in people's hearts and minds. In addition to teaching, the branch has helped this poor family temporally. Friday, we had the opportunity to go put together a bed that members had donated to the family so that the five children who live in the home would have a better place to sleep at night. There was a warmth that filled all our hearts in seeing the wonderful joy of those children as they rolled and jumped on this new bed. Christ-like service and love can and will fill the entire world with this kind of joy. It is the only thing that truly can conquer all barriers.

We also had the opportunity to contact a referral this week that we've been holding on to idly for two months. We've been praying for the wife in this couple to have a successful recovery from her lung transplant surgery, which happened in such a miraculous way as to really strengthen her already strong faith in God. We been praying for them for all this time, but had never felt right about when or how to contact them. Friday night, during our planning meeting, the Spirit told me, "Now is the time." It was a feeling so strong that I could not ignore it. So the next day we biked nearly five kilometers, in the rain, to try to contact these people. Needless to say, during that entire bike ride I was questioning the purpose and validity of that prompting. But eventually, we arrived. We knocked on their door, explained who we were, and explained how we had been praying for them with their friends. We then told them how their friends had suggested we come by and offer to serve them, thinking it must be difficult to continue life as normal with all the stress of major surgery and recovery. They replied that there wasn't much we could do for them right then, so I simply asked if we could come back the next day and share a message about families. They said of course! We met and talked with them about the Book of Mormon (turns out he had actually been meaning to talk to his friend, our Branch Mission Leader, about the Book) and how it blesses families. It was a wonderful discussion, but unfortunately they decided that meeting with us isn't necessary right now and said they would call. It hurt, but I know we followed the promptings of the Spirit, so I have to believe that we acted right and we simply need to wait for the Lord's timing.

Another miracle we saw was with our Chinese investigator, Bobby. He loves the church, but for the first time this Sunday he realized that the Holy Ghost can speak to him in Chinese! I was shocked. He has investigated for over a year now, been taught all the lessons, been with us in church, read the Book of Mormon in Chinese, and still somehow had gone without the knowledge that Heavenly Father understands all the languages his children speak. There was so much joy as that realization hit him.

In other news, I bore my testimony in Swedish in testimony meeting yesterday. I was sitting there feeling like maybe I could, but by the end of the meeting I still hadn't so I decided to just sit back comfortably. Just them I made eye contact with our BML and he motioned with his head for me to go up. So I did. It wasn't perfect Swedish and I didn't say anything too special, just a really simple testimony. But at the same time I had a small amount of only-slightly-justifiable-righteous pride at doing it in a third language. Feel free to judge me on that one.

Can't wait for next Sunday! We've set up time to Skype from a member's computer!! So excited to talk to you!

Love as always,

Elder Hansen