Monday, August 27, 2012

A different kind of SONshine

Hey everybody,

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I have some mixed feelings about this week. There were miracles and lessons learned, and the numbers we are able to report remain at the high level I have been hoping to acheive, but I feel as though it is time to stoke the embers a bit, so to speak. I am hopeful that our meetings tomorrow will help to do just that.

What meetings? Oh yeah, Zone Conference. What does that mean? ROAD TRIP WITH VAASA! Super stoked. Already called shotgun. (I don't care if that's not allowed). But really, Elder Richards from our new area presidency is coming to speak to us tomorrow, and we're all super excited for it. I'm planning on having a small district meeting right when we all get to Oulu tonight to set a big district vision of what we can accomplish through the end of the year and hopefully pump everyone up for the big meeting on Tuesday. Wish me luck.

This week started off on a very sad, sour note. Monday night, while we met with Kevin, we decided he really just wasn't ready for baptism and decided to cancel it. We're still meeting with him, but he's been very forgetful lately, and it seems difficult for him to overcome the negative pressure he gets from his friends in other churches. He could really use a lot of prayers. It's always a sad experience to cancel a baptism, especially for someone we've grown to love so much. But it's also helped me remember how important the baptismal covenant is and how essential it is to be able to live it. I wonder how much more I could do to fulfill my own covenant made at baptism.

But besides that, and a little clouds and rain, and the chill coming back to the air telling me that Fall is coming and Summer is over just as it was really starting, and that we're dropping back into the dark abyss of winter, when the darkness lasts forever and feels thick all around you.....(am I making anyone depressed yet).

I'm just kidding. I'm not that bitter about winter. And there was tons of sun this week! For example:

While on companion exchanges with the Oulu Elders, we visited a part-member family in which the non-member husband has been silent during every spiritual thought I have ever shared in their home for the past seven months. But this time, we decided to let them dictate the topic of discussion. We simply handed each of them a copy of the Book of Mormon and asked them to read over the questions of the soul and talk about which ones they found personally meaningful. This man had one! We talked in-depth for the next half-hour about what happens after death and how we can know more about it through the Book of Mormon. After a small discussion and a closing prayer, Elder P. asked an inspired question about this man's life. He lit up brighter than the sun shining through the window! It was a miracle. I'd never seen this man so happy to talk about anything. The next time we go over to eat with them, I'm going to just ask him to tell me all about his life. For example, he loves running and has a ton of medals from all the races he's won. It would be dang cool to see those.

The other great lesson was in a second lesson on the same day. When M. asked one of the "questions of the soul" - specifically, "Why does God allow evil and suffering to occur?" - we simply pulled out the Questions of the Soul page in the front of his Book of Mormon and pointed to it. Then, like the genius he is, Elder P. said, "We could just answer this for you right now, or we could let you read about it, pray about it, and find an answer from Heavenly Father. Then, we would like to come back next time and hear your thoughts. Will you read....?" It was perfect and he was excited to read about it by the time we left. This is something President has really asked us to do all the time in our teaching and it really does work.

We also got to meet a new recent convert who lives in our area! She was studying in Russia when she was baptized, and knows the woman who just got married to a man in the Vaasa branch. The newlyweds were visiting his parents who live in our branch, so this friend decided to come along. Apparently, she had some wonderful experiences with prayer while once in the hospital in Russia, and afterwards sought out the missionaries to get closer to Heavenly Father. I guess there are major restrictions on the ways missionaries are allowed to proselyte in Russia, so she had to be the one to contact them before they could teach her. Never thought I'd be grateful for the freedom to tract, but her story also just strengthened my testimony that there are people out there who have questions that the gospel can answer, and that the Lord will lead us to them or He will lead them to us if we cannot make it to them for some reason or another.

As always, though, the brightest ray of light in my week was visiting A and the kids. She has moved into Pietarsaari, so it's a much shorter trip, which means it's now very easy for us to go visit her, and her life just seems a bit easier right now, which is great. The kids were even more restless than normal this time, which was great. Her two year old boy would climb up on the arm of the couch, then just jump off onto me and hope I caught him. We're not allowed to hold children as missionaries, but what am I supposed to do when a kid just jumps into the air in front of me? I settled for catching him and making some cool airplane noises as I gently shifted him to the floor. The only problem was...he liked that, so I had to find something to distract him or he would have kept doing it for hours. Unfortunately, we chose cars to distract him and he decided my face would be a good race track. I made it out mostly unscratched, just one front bumper to the eyeball. The kids are just so adorable it makes it worth it. They loved our spritual thought, too. Elder K had a really good object lesson. You have to cut a hole in a normal 8.5 x 11" piece of paper large enough to fit your whole body through. There's a special way to do it, and unfortunately an email can't quite do it justice, but I'm sure it's on YouTube somewhere.
[Ed. note: he was right - click here for the YouTube video]. We compared it to when Heavenly Father asks us to do things that seem impossible, but when we do all the small things He asks (like each individual cut in the paper) we work a miracle. The kids loved tearing up the paper afterwards. Gosh it's always so hard to leave that house.

Well, gotta sign off for now. Love you all very much.

Rakkain terveisin,

Vanhin Hansen

Monday, August 20, 2012

Transfer surprise

Good morning everyone,

Transfer calls came this week, with a little surprise for both me and Elder Oberhansley. We had run through a lot of possible scenarios, ending up with the only two likely options being me leaving or both of us staying. Unfortunately, President has a way of doing things no one expects him to do. I think he does it to make sure no one ever thinks they know too much. Anyway, I will be staying in P-Town for at least six more weeks, Elder Oberhansley will be heading off to downtown Helsinki (from the smallest city in the mission to the largest), and Vanhin Kääriä, Oberhansley's MTC companion, will be coming from Turku to spend the next change with me. Really looking forward to having a Swedish companion again, although it will be sad to see Elder Oberhansley leave. I feel like a Master watching his Padawan run off to face the trials and become a Jedi Knight. He'll do great.

This week was another great one, although we did still face some opposition, mostly from my bike. I had to buy yet another new tube for it this week. If this one doesn't work out for some reason, I'll walk. The saddest moment of this week was getting dropped by one of our new investigators. He's a rather old Finnish man who spends a lot of his time working. He's faced a lot of hardship in his life and never saw any help from God, so he doesn't believe in Him at all. He has everything that the Gospel can and will help him to overcome through the power of the Atonement, and yet he decided to turn away from it because he doesn't really care if it's true or not anymore. I can remember just feeling so sad as we walked away from that appointment.

Other than that, this week was packed with miracles and teaching again. We taught Kevin a lot and we've seen so much growth in him as he prepares for his baptism. This week when we showed up at his door to walk with him to church, he had ditched his typical blue jeans and plaid blue shirt (pretty much the only clothes he owns) and instead had on a nice pair of slacks and a white shirt. Turns out Mormon missionaries aren't the only ones who take advantage of blow out sales at men's stores. I wish I could describe to you all the joy I feel. The light of the gospel just shines from his face. He seemed so happy! And when we had our meeting with our Branch Mission Leader before church, the branch just took care of him. Before we knew what had happened, they had whisked him away into Priesthood meeting. They even found someone else to translate for him. They've just accepted him as one of their own. I really hope all goes well and we can help a lot of them to attend his baptism on Saturday.

We taught M and his wife N again this week, covering the whole Plan of Salvation. They had a lot of questions that tipped me off to the fact that they've done research about the church before, and when I asked M about it he said missionaries had been there before, but it was many years ago. N asked a lot of questions that seemed a bit too deep. I can tell they really think about the things we're telling them. She asked about things like at what point of the human development the Spirit enters the body and if the Book of Mormon reveals the time of the second coming. Her questions at least really helped us bring up attending sacrament meeting more effectively. We talked about church as a place where we all go to receive revelation and guidance and promised her that if she came, she would receive the answers God wanted her to receive. The Spirit was strong and it ended up being a great bonding experience that built our relationship with this couple. They gave a weak commitment right then, but lo and behold, on Sunday there they were! They came a little late, and were a little embarrassed, but we brought them in and found them a seat. After the meeting they didn't make it out of their seats before this branch engulfed them. It took them about half an hour to leave the chapel because so many people wanted to say hi to them. Quite a few members of our branch knew them as well. One the best and worst parts of a small town. Everyone knows everyone.

Sunday after church, we also had the opporutnity to go and dedicate A's new home. She and her husband are splitting up and they've moved away from Munsala. As sad as this whole story has been, she seems very happy with the new place and is adjusting well. Her kids are, as always, my favorite part of the week. Her little one year old ran up to me at church and half hugged, half tackled my legs. Left a nice little drool bomb all over my pants too, but that's ok. Dedicating the house was a very special experience for me. Felt a lot of inspiration for what to say. I've had so many sacred experiences with that family.

Other highlights from this week include a wedding party, splits with Elder Hunt, Elder Oberhansley dueling invisible foes with a bike pump, and reorganizing all the furniture in the apartment. But those are stories for another day.

I love you all. Have a wonderful week.


Elder Hansen

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Seeing miracles

No hei,

This week started with a district meeting in Kokkola. The Zone Leaders were there, and their message centered on the relationship between our desires and our faith. When we really desire something, we will sacrifice to receive it. And when our desires align with our faith, which must, by definition, be trusting in the Lord, His will and timing, then miracles occur. That was what we saw this week.

District meeting in Kokkola, which also meant a road trip with Vaasa there and back. Being around other missionaries is just way too much fun. Unfortunately, the meeting resulted in a little bit of stress, so we had to speed a little bit on the way back to Pietarsaari and alter the time of our appointment. Also, after all that stress, it turned out that they had some service we had previously agreed to do as part of the appointment that took longer than it was supposed to, but they were so grateful for all our help that they gave us ice cream while we shared a spiritual thought and invited us over for dinner later in the week. I stress too much over nothing sometimes. You'd think once in a while I'd learn that Heavenly Father has things under control.

P-Day, since the meeting took over most of our time on Monday. In the evening we taught Kevin again, and it went great. He's really doing well on progressing towards baptism, although we're still trying to make sure he's really understanding everything we're saying. We have to learn to be really patient. But really, it's just that the world he comes from is so radically different from ours. We showed him a picture of Christ with the twelve in this lesson, and his only comment was about the donkey in the corner of the page, "I used to have one of those." Really eye-opening experience for me.

That night, we had a lesson scheduled with a family we were very excited about, but when we showed up, the wife told us that she didn't think it was a good idea for us to meet, and that if she would have been here when her husband had set the appointment, she most likely would have said no. We were so disappointed. We had had all these dreams about how great it was going to be with this family, but that's life sometimes (and with missionaries A LOT of the time). So we just picked up and moved on to the next area we had felt right about. Lo and behold, a man lets us in. He tells us all about his struggles with life and how he really just wants to find some answers. His name is M, and he's one of our new best friends here.

We met with an older man named O, who has dealt with a lot of hardship and suffering in his life, and has really hardened his heart to God. He has a lot of bitterness towards God, but at least he's friendly to us. When I asked him what kinds of thinks he was hoping to gain out if us teaching him, he responded by saying that he really just likes to listen, plus he has a few Pentecostal neighbors who don't like that he's been talking to us, so he's partially doing it just to upset them. Hahaha. I love grumpy old Finnish men.

Back to back dinner appointments left Elder Oberhansley feeling like he was going to explode. Poor guy. The food was really good though. I even got him to eat salad (he hates vegetables). Taught Kevin again in the evening and it was great as always. Out of nowhere in the middle of the lesson, a cat jumped out of his sheets and made a dash for the window, causing Kevin to have to grab it by the tail and haul it back inside. We didn't even know he had a cat! Definitely one of the strangest things to have happened to me in a lesson.

M invited his wife to join in on this discussion! Unfortunately, she had to leave for work before it was over, but we've arranged it now so that that hoopefully won't have to happen again. She's as cool as he is. They're both just very humble people, and very nice.

Earlier in the day, we met K, the handicapped man. It turned into a really long, not very productive discussion, leaving poor Elder Oberhansley with only two options: try to listen and understand Swedish, or try not to watch the Olympics that were playing (muted) on the TV. He didn't succeed very well at either. But, hey, at least he didn't sleep.

Missionary Work

Kevin missed church, so we went over to see him afterwards. Turns out he just overslept and was too scared to come late to church. I think it really touched him that we came by. We got to have a great discussion with him. Also got to have some great visits with members to cap off one of the busiest weeks of my entire mission.

Love you all,

Elder Hansen

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thirteen months!

Yeah, as of yesterday, I've been a missionary thirteen months. Pretty rainy again today, so I figured I could be bitter about it by raining on your respective parades too. :P Just kidding. But it really did freak me out when I realized how old I am. People keep making jokes about me going home soon, and I don't like it.

While studying the scriptures one morning, my companion and I were led to Moroni 6:4-6, talking about the organization of the church, keeping records, and why we attend sacrament meeting. I thought it was so interesting that Moroni says their names were taken "that they might be remembered" and that we go to church to partake of the sacrament, "in remembrance of the Lord Jesus." The first thought that came to my mind as I read was Christ's teaching in Matthew 22:37-40, in which he states that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord, and the second is to love each other. Isn't it wonderful that on Sunday we have the opportunity to show our love to each other as we "remember" each other and visit with each other each week, while also showing our love for the Lord by remember Him by partaking of the sacrament? This strengthened my testimony on the importance of having uplifting experiences for our investigators at church. Not because we want to "entice them to be baptized," but because that's the way it should be anyway!

I loved that thought especially while I was sitting in church on Sunday. Fast and Testimony Meetings are always wonderful. Kevin was enthralled the whole time. He loved it, and so did I, because the Spirit was so powerful. We had so many simple, beautiful testimonies of the Savior and His gospel. I got to translate again, and was actually pretty pleased with my effort this time around. Testimony meetings are always harder. There was a member sitting in front of me translating into Russian, and after the meeting she told me she had been listening to see which of us was translating faster. I guess a little friendly competition never hurts right? Hmm....haha. Oh well. I'm totally learning Russian next, by the way. I love hearing that language.

We had a fantastic district meeting with President and Sister Rawlings on Thursday. It ended up going too long, and we missed our bus and had to stay an extra night in Vaasa (which meant a 6:00 am bus ride back to Pietarsaari) but the meeting was worth it. We focused on the way we teach people, and what it means to focus on their needs. Mostly, we used the example in 1 Nephi 11 where the Spirit of the Lord teaches Nephi. We also talked about the need to really be excited when we meet people. This needs to be the coolest thing in the world! And it is so it should be easy!

In other news, Kevin is doing great, except that we're probably going to have to move his baptismal date back a week....because there's a wedding party scheduled for the same day in the chapel! hahaha I thought that was a pretty good reason to have to move it. And pretty random.

Running a bit behind today, so I have to wrap up, but I'll close with the goof-ball moment of the week. Elder Oberhansley and I were eating our traditional weekly ice-cream and assorted Finnish pastry (we've been trying a new one every week for a few weeks now) and making our weekly report to our district leader. During the call, a dispute arose about some erroneous detail, and Elder O and I began going on about it back and forth. Elder Hunt told us we sounded like an old married couple, which of course led to the question about which of us had to be the woman. I finally won by telling Elder Hunt that Elder Oberhansley shaved his legs (which he actually did, except he missed a spot so there's one, poor, long stretch that's still long). 
Moral of the story is that eating ice cream makes everybody happy. And the Finns eat more ice cream than anyone else in the world so we're probably going to buy some more today.

Love you all so much.

Elder Hansen