Monday, October 29, 2012

Never been happier

Moikka! [Hi!]

Well, it's felt like a bit of a short week for me this week - I was in Pietarsaari until Thursday, when I got to make that wonderful trip once again, all the way from Pännäinen to Helsinki. I wish I could actually tell you all how strangely attached I am to that route. A nice (very Finnish) chat with the young man next to me, and one of the train conductors, usually a very boring, dull type, actually had the entire car laughing just in the short time it took for him to come through and check tickets. At one point one of the other passengers called out, "isn't it nice when work is a pleasure?" To which he responded, "I know right, I feel the same way."

We are having problems this week trying to just set up consistent appointments with our investigators and set up teaching schedules. In my last area, our investigators had regular schedules that allowed us to essentially set standing appointments. This made planning very simple and easy. Unfortunately, we do not have that luxury here. But, in our weekly planning session, we have adjusted by planning a rough time when we know they have been historically free, in place of a specific one hour block, thus allowing ourselves to be more flexible to conform to their constantly changing schedules. This takes a lot more work in terms of following up and keeping track of everyone, but when have missionaries been afraid of hard work?

Investigators in church is critical to their conversion. We had three investigators in church this week. They all loved it. One came, even though she was incredibly tired, just because she knew it was right. That, and our Ward Mission Leader has become something of a miracle. This week, prior to our appointment with this woman, the Spirit told him to go a little bit ahead of time. He did, and found her waiting outside her apartment. He had never met her before, but again following the Spirit, he walked up and introduced himself. He found out that she was in a bit of a panic trying to figure out how she was going to be able to pick up her children from daycare, and immediately offered his help. We were shocked to see him show up with her and her daughters to her apartment just a little late for the appointment. We honestly couldn't believe it. This is what can happen when the members do missionary work by the Spirit, with love.

Our star investigator in the other ward has also found great friends. When she explained that it might be too expensive to drive all the way to church this week, our member couple along with us piped up and said, "oh, just drive to our home and we'll give you a ride the rest of the way!" This investigator made it to church and had a wonderful experience. She even felt comfortable enough sharing some of her own experiences in our gospel principles class! I am convinced it is simply because she felt that the members around her were motivated by sincerity and love, the way we all want our friends to be.

We had a nice dinner with that one family this week, this time as actual members. They were still just as crazy, though. They bicker like you wouldn't believe, but it's all just in good fun. That's just their humor.
"You made it, huh? I chopped it all up!"
"Yeah, you chopped it up with all the right spices and I just through it in a bowl, right?"
"I'm not talking to you anymore"

Or the slightly more extreme:
"Eat your vegetables"
"I don't want to, they give me gas"
"How would you know, you never eat them."
"Ok, fine I'll eat them, but you'll be paying for it tonight."

I've never been happier in my life. I won't lie, living with two missionaries who are getting ready to go home isn't easy. Nor is having an area the size of ours, nor so many members that I wonder how I will ever get to know them all or be able to work with them effectively. But, I'm going for it. There's work to do, and it's not my job to think about how hard it is. It's my job to keep going until He tells me to stop.


Elder Hansen

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Best Family I've Ever Taught

Hey everybody,

It's been a wonderful week. Elder Linden had one of the greatest moments of his mission. Let me tell you about it:

When I arrived in Espoo, Elder Linden and Elder Esplin were talking up the most incredible family they had met and were so exited to meet again. In fact, this family wanted to invite us over to eat with them and talk more about the Book of Mormon, but they were having trouble getting a hold of them. Finally, we managed to stop by their home and set up an appointment. We were stoked! They warned me this couple might be a little bit crazy, maybe partiers, but hey, I've seen people change before. We show up for the appointment, and all my suspicions were confirmed. He answered the door in just his underwear (actually a fairly common thing in Finland, at least while we're tracting and people aren't expecting us). We walk in, and on the fridge I see a magnet that says, "The first fifty years of marriage are the hardest." Great.

Sitting down, she offers to say the opening prayer. She was a member of another faith, one that I know prays VERY differently from the way we do, but we love it when they volunteer to pray with us so we said sure. She starts of by shouting, "Kiitos, KIITOS, KIITOS!" and, as she takes a breath to continue, he shouts, just as loud, "AMEN!" ending the prayer completely, as he, Linden, and Esplin erupt into a fit of laughter. Great. I was shocked. I mean, yeah it was kinda funny, but still. Not respectful. But it gets better. We then proceed through him telling us his dream of how three famous athletes came to his door, and so when he found out we were now three instead of two, he took it as a sign that he had to call us back. He asked us questions about Mitt Romney, to which we tried tactfully to respond that we don't really know much about it anyway, and it's not our place to talk about that kind of thing. When Elder Esplin started to cough, he offered him whiskey to help his throat. Explain Word of Wisdom. He asked about the church's stance on homosexuality, abortion, the gift of tongues, Rustafarians, etc. This entire time, as we try in vain to bring the lesson back to the Restoration and the Book of Mormon, Esplin and Linden cannot stop laughing. In fact, at one point, he was laughing so hard that he ended up on the floor! Finally, as we tried to invite them just to read the Book of Mormon and come back another time, Esplin is fighting back another fit of laughter. He says, "I can't do this anymore!!" The man stands up and says, "Hi, I'm Brother (Smith) and, uh, you just got punk'd."

Fake. The whole thing. These were two very active members, and two very good actors. She works in the temple, he's studying business. Elder Linden had been planning this for weeks. I was actually so impressed by the amount of preparation it took to set that up that I had to just sit back and take it in for a few moments. Easily the best prank that's ever been pulled on me. And it ended up being very good practice in dealing with difficult to answer questions.

As for the rest of the week, I'm really becoming a fan of Family Home Evening. We held one with one of our recent converts just a few nights ago, to which she invited her parents and a friend. We had a wonderful evening together playing games and eating and talking about the Book of Mormon. This was the first time her parents found out she was a member of the church, and she was so nervous! But in an environment like that, where the Spirit can reside, especially so focused around families, it was one of the most fun evenings I've had as a missionary. It set our recent convert at ease, her mother accepted the Book of Mormon, and her friend promised to come to church!

Saturday I got back on the train to Pietarsaari to come back and wrap up some unfinished business. It felt great to be back, even though I haven't really been gone very long.

So, I know this one is a little short, again, and I'm sorry, but more details to come in next week's email, I promise. 

Love you all.

Elder Hansen

Monday, October 15, 2012

Second week in Espoo


I love libraries. I also love Finns. So it's really easy to just laugh and smile when I find out that the reason my new library card was impossible to work with last week was because the librarian accidentally entered the current date instead of my birthdate in the slot intended for my birthday. Something about a one week old kid setting up time to use the internet just didn't sit well with the library system, and I think I can understand that. On the bright side, the time-space continuum has been rectified, and I'm now twenty years old again.

This week was an absolute blur. Easily the fastest week of my mission so far, and Elder Linden was absolutely no consolation as he reminded me, "It only gets faster." Great.

My journal tells a very interesting story about this week. I began every day complaining over this and that, some random problem that arose, and how frustrated I was about it. However, the mood always changes as I get to the end of the story for that day, as I realize that nothing was as serious as it appeared in the beginning. In fact, the opening lines of all my journals this week actually appear rather ridiculous considering the ending.

Take Monday for example. The story above about my library card had me upset. I was pretty ticked off about how it hadn't worked and no one had been able to address the problem. It had wasted my time and my companions'. However, it forced me to use Elder Esplin's computer and his leftover time, while he just had to stand around awkwardly, placing him in exactly the right position to talk to a couple of people who were sitting across from us, had seen our nametags, and were looking up information about the church because of it. He had a wonderful discussion with them and cleared up a lot of the "facts" they had found on these "credible internet encyclopedias." ("Everyone can write whatever they want, so you know that you're getting the best information possible" -- Michael Scott). We also had a Family Night out in a place called Lohja, and had such an incredible evening. We watched a couple of the "Mormon Messages" clips, and just had a small discussion about each. My favorite one right now is one called Reclaimed. Go watch it. The Spirit in those short discussions, and in the chatter of fellowship that followed as we ate, was enough to make me forget all the frustration of earlier. Plus there was a little four year old with absolutely no fear. Just said whatever was on his mind to whomever he wanted. Yeah, it was pretty great.

Or how about Friday. First driving lesson. It did not go well. Tried to reverse. Stalled. Tried again. Stalled. Get halfway out of the spot. Stalled. Finally got out of the spot, around the corner, switched gears, pulled up to an intersection, got cocky. Stalled. Ripped the E-brake and yelled to Elder Linden that he was driving. Yeah, it was pretty bad. It could have ruined my whole day. But, instead we went off to do service for an investigator. It was way fun, chatted it up with her nine year old son while we pulled ivy down off the fence and got to tear apart an old deck. I was still apprehensive, though, because our very intense, slightly impulsive ward mission leader had scheduled Member Exchanges with us so that we could have a member go along to a lesson, but not have all three plus a member there. That left me to go tracting with another member, something I've never done before, and didn't like the idea of doing. But against all odds, it worked. And I felt way happier the rest of the day. Frustrating moments will always be a part of life - that's just the way it is. Like how I accidentally left my jacket in H&M in the middle of writing this email, causing my companions to have to go back and get it with me (There's a reason I get called "junior" in this companionship). But the next time I feel all that stress start to build, I'm going to try something I've never done before and just see where it takes me. I bet I'll wind up happier. That said, I'm working on a list of crazy new things to try -- any and all suggestions welcome.

Speaking conveniently of brand new things, I had the chance to perform a baptismal interview on Wednesday. I thought at first it might be a little bit awkward or strange, but it wasn't. It was new, exciting, and the candidate was incredibly prepared for baptism, which made it really fun. After the interview was over she turned to the missionary who had taught her and said. "now go find some more young people." There was just a good spirit throughout the whole visit.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I walked into church on Sunday. Nine months in a small branch got me very accustomed to seeing forty to fifty in sacrament meeting and having a small, cozy atmosphere. In Pietarsaari, the missionaries are nearly integral. In Espoo, the missionaries might actually get lost in their own chapel. The first ward was great, lots of good people and some pretty impressive youth speakers, but when the second ward showed up, my companions kept laughing at the look on my face. I felt like I'd stepped back into the United States. The Espoo second ward is one of the largest wards in Finland. The whole chapel was packed all the way to the back row, and all of it was families.

Other random notes about our new area: We have a lot of American families living here for work. One of them had us over for dinner last night. Homemade pumpkin pie for dessert. Yeah. I could get used to Espoo.
Also, the first night I arrived, we were sitting around when all of a sudden a siren starts blaring. Esplin and Linden got all excited and Linden told me it was a bomb. I laughed and asked what it really was and he just smiled back until I heard a small clap and then a rumble in the distance. Turns out it was a bomb. They're doing some blasting not too far away from us, so we get to hear it.

Any questions? Man, I love you all so much. Thanks for all your support and encouragement. Have a great week!

Elder Hansen

Monday, October 8, 2012

First week in Espoo

The only problem with Espoo right now? Going south didn't get rid of the rain.

Hei everybody,

Unfortunately going to have to keep this one a little shorter than usual, because missionary rules are causing a slight inconvenience in the form of a library card that declares me still under fifteen years old, and my slightly less than convenient inability to leave my companions to go take care of it....

That's the way my day started this morning. Fitting with the type of week it's been. Left Pietarsaari after a couple of last goodbyes. Once I got on the train it was hard to look back, because I was looking forward so much to being in Espoo with Elder Linden and Elder Esplin. The train ride went suprisingly fast this time, and left me wondering how many times I'd be making that same trip the rest of my mission. When I got on the platform, the elders grabbed my stuff, threw it in the back of the car, and took me straight to dinner with a member family. Pretty great welcome to the area.

Friday was Zone Leader Council, which meant a trip to the temple in the morning! Decided to try a session in Swedish, and it went really well. It's really interesting to notice the things that stick out more when heard in a different language. Sometimes it changes my understanding of things just slightly. The funny part about this whole trip to the temple was actually that it almost didn't happen for us...Elder Linden and Esplin had to get their recommends renewed, because the thought had slipped their minds to request an interview with the President. Oops. So Thursday night we drove to the mission home. President Rawlings was in skype meeting with his mission presidency, so we spent some time helping Sister Rawlings in the kitchen, getting lunch ready for the next day. We had a great time, Elder Linden had some funny questions to ask that had been on his mind for a while, including everything from how can I improve my relationship to my Heavenly Father to are engagement and wedding rings both essential to what should we call our tri-panionship? Sister Rawlings gave some pretty profound answers - our favorite being her suggestion for our tri-panionship nickname: The Troica (or Troika not sure how to spell it, it's Russian).

We spent the night at the mission home and got up early to go play sähly with the assistants, the Tampere elders (who had stayed with the assistants when their car overheated outside Hyvinkää), and the Marjaniemi sisters. Not gonna lie, I felt a little sore afterwards. Probably need to take it easy in the future, but it was a lot of fun.

General Conference was amazing of course, made all the better by being surrounded by so many wonderful Finnish members. (Plus one member from Stockholm that knew Elder Linden! Fun surprise.) We had one man, not a member, just sort of wander in off the street and no one knew where he was from, so we got him a seat with some members and eventually got his information. He lives in Neitsytpolku's area, and he was interested in having missionaries come to visit, so we'll be excited to hear about what the Elders down there can do to help him.

Gotta go for now, time for grocery shopping and then Elder Linden is going to teach us to drive stick. Wish me luck. Pray I don't break the car.


Elder Hansen

Monday, October 1, 2012

Transfer to Espoo

Good Morning everyone,
We helped a man in our branch move a few things from to his new home early this morning, and while we were doing it, he showed us what he called his "Holy of Holies" - the room where he keeps all his fishing nets. He's a fisherman, and he loves it, and after hearing they way he talked about it, I thought about being a fisherman when I grow up. Maybe it's just because I've been living with so many fishermen for the past eight months, but there just seems to be something pleasant about it. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a fisherman..."

So the big news this week is that change calls have come and gone once more. This time, I will be leaving. Eight and a half months ago, I arrived late on a dark winter night with a wonderful Swede as my companion. I had no idea then, nor can I fully comprehend even now, how significant my time in this beautiful city would be, and certainly will be for the remainder of my life. I cannot express how much I love this city and its people, this chapel and its branch. President Rawlings has many times called Pietarsaari his "Garden of Eden." I disagree. While Eden was something of paradise, this place has been for me more like a small piece of heaven on earth. It's been strange. Due to some recent circumstances, President actually had to spill on my change call a week ago, so I've known this entire week that I would be leaving. It's made me appreciate so much more everything that has happened here, and I tried so hard to soak everything in over the past week. But no amount of pictures or journal entries (which I realized last night have been seriously lacking - oops) or stories will really ever capture the experience I have had here in Pietarsaari (Jakobstad).

Monday of this past week was fairly normal. We've had a regular schedule with M and N on that night, which has been a real blessing. This past week, I began the lesson by simply asking, "So, what questions do you have about the church?" They've developed a habit of throwing tons of random questions on us at the end, and since N has to rush off to work, it's hard to answer them effectively, so I thought we'd just start with that and see where it went. It went quickly to them baring their souls to us. I couldn't believe how quickly the conversation transitioned from them talking about the differences between our church and the Lutheran church to them telling us story after story of why their life has been so difficult. Just a simple question and some loving responses, and their trust in us seemed to blossom like never before. I could not believe how powerful the Spirit was as we bore testimony to them of how their lives can and will be changed through the power of th Atonement. I'm so grateful that I know how wonderful the Atonement is, so that I can share that beauty with others.

We also had the chance to stop by a former investigator on Monday. She wasn't home, but her husband was. I chatted with him lightly for a little while, thinking to just build a nice friendship with him as we teach his wife, because he hasn't previously shown any interest. As I was wrapping up the conversation and starting to walk away, my companion pipes up and starts to ask this man why he became interested in the church in the first place. After the man answered that it was his wife and not he, who had actually met with the missionaries, my companion again boldly asked, "Oh, well, why not?" The man just looked back at him funny, as if he didn't know what to say. I asked if his wife had ever talked about the Book of Mormon with him. She hadn't. I pulled one out a showed it to him. We talked about the "questions of the soul" and how the Book of Mormon answers them. I showed him the introduction and he immediately began to read, almost as if he had forgotten we were there. I awkwardly tried to slip our card into the page so he wouldn't lose his place when he closed the book, but he just pulled the card out, set it in his pocket and kept reading! As we left, he seemed so excited to read this book. All because my companion was bold enough to open his mouth.

Tueday was my final visit to A and the kids. They were with their dad on Sunday, so it was the last time I will see them, perhaps for a very long time. A had explained to her daughter that I would be moving and her daughter just kept asking her, "but why?" It was almost painful to say goodbye. In their true spirit and fashion, the lesson was as hectic as ever. A's daughter even decided to give me a kiss at one point. uhhh....yeah. A scolded her a little, my companion just laughed, and I tried to flip to the next scripture in the lesson. Kids. Actually turned into a great lesson. We talked about the law of the fast and tied it to the law of consecration and church history. Finally we found something to teach A that she didn't already know and hadn't already researched on her own. She's so great. When she said goodbye to me on Sunday, there weren't really words left. We've been through a lot in these past eight months, and there wasn't a lot left that needed to be said I guess. Just a firm handshake and a "Vi ses." She bore her testimony in sacrament meeting, and I really felt good knowing that she's here to stay. Her faith really exceeds almost anything I've ever seen.

I found it almost as hard to say goodbye to K, my good friend in his wheelchair. We visited him a couple of times this week, and when I told him I would be transferred, he said he wanted the mission president's phone number so he could call him and demand that I stay. Even his wife, who hasn't really shown much interest in participating in our lessons, was surprised and a little disappointed to hear that I would be transferred. I'm not really sure what I did to deserve the kind of respect that they show me every time I'm there, but I've been so grateful for all my visits in that home. He's taught me how to listen, and how to be patient when I need to listen longer than I want to. He taught me how to love despite what's on the outside. He also taught me to speak Swedish, because with only American companions for the first three months of teaching him, I really had to learn fast. He taught me to trust in the Priesthood that I hold. Once when he asked for a blessing, I was worried that it somehow wouldn't work the way he wanted or something, and he would lose interest because of it. That, and the fact that we had no oil to perform a blessing. But, we put our faith in the Lord, went to the store, bought oil, consecrated it, then went and gave him a blessing. Two days later, he felt like a completely new person. He still talks about that blessing (now almost a month ago) every time we see him. I hope and pray that he will let Elder Kääriä continue to come, and that he will trust in him and this message more than he just trusts in me. I haven't done anything special. I've only been the instrument. And what a joy it's been.

This Sunday was a hard one. I actually managed to keep my emotions in check for all the meetings, but walking away from the chapel I took a look back and got choked up. A lot of people had nice things to say to me. I felt so loved and so blessed. One old lady came up and, with tears in her eyes said, "You have meant so much to me." I don't really remember what I would have done to deserve the kind of praise I received. My BML's wife said to me, "Some missionaries you forget, and some you remember. You're one of the ones I'll remember." I never thought I would be one of the missionaries to travel back to the places I'd served in after my mission, mostly for fear that it might not be the same when viewed from a non-missionary perspective. But now, I'm not so sure. I wouldn't be surprised to find myself back here before too long.

I'll be heading to Espoo on Wednesday. From the smallest city in the mission to the largest suburb of Helsinki, covering two wards. Luckily, we have a car! I'll be with my great friend Elder Linden again, and we'll be in a threesome for the next six weeks. The temple is in my new area, and I hope I can see it often. I love the temple. Elder Borcherding, a German, will be coming here to take my place, and I'm so excited to see what he'll do for this area.


love you all,

Elder Hansen