Monday, November 26, 2012

Post Thanksgiving crash

Yep, the crash even happens to missionaries.

Hey again, shouts a familiar voice all the way from across the water,

How was everyone's Thanksgiving? When asked to describe a traditional American Thanksgiving this week, I summed it up as a day when we sleep too much, eat too much, and lay on the couch too much. It got a laugh like a quarter of the time. My Thanksgiving ended up being anything but traditional, but I still ended up eating so much food that I wish I could've had all the time to sleep it off. We got fed by members almost every day last week, and on top of that the Haaga sisters gave us some of their Thanksgiving leftovers (the real American stuff), so after a huge meal of meatballs and mashed potatoes provided by the bishop and his family last night, Elder Clegg and I collapsed on our beds and had to exert the very last of our strength to get back up and plan for today. That planning meeting was....less than successful. I will never, ever complain about not being treated well by the members in Finland.

Our actual Thanksgiving dinner was actually on Friday, with an awesome American family from Arizona. They have two really young kids that were pretty wild, while the two big sisters tried to help Mom calm them down. Very fun. They had also invited a couple of other families from the ward that we haven't gotten to know very well so far, so that was really nice. The food was the most American I've had, and while I've developed a taste for Finnish food, that taste of home was very much appreciated. They actually told us that one of their friends was super excited when she found a big, whole turkey to cook on Thanksgiving, until she was a chicken...thank you, Finnish language, for messing with Americans. (Anyway, man this guy talks a lot about food....on to other things).

So on a missionary work-ish note....

This week we had a few errors in following up with investigators, which is the main reason no one was in church. One investigator in particular may not have come anyway, but I'm sure our failing to find them a ride didn't help. We got caught off guard a bit, and procrastinated. Major repentance is already underway. We feel like she's very nervous about coming to a new place, so we're planning on having a church tour with her, and having a couple members along (in addition to her member husband) to help her feel more confident in coming to church.

Our other miracle investigator from last week, the one who just popped out of no where, was taught, and made progress this week, but without a member present for his lessons, things moved much more slowly. It wasn't quite as deep of a lesson, nor was his commitment as strong as to push him towards the Lord. He's very excited about meeting with us, but unitl a member is there and is the one to do the inviting, I feel like he won't progress into deep conversion or commitment. It will stay surface level and revolve around gaining knowledge and facts about the church.

That being said, I'll stop verbally berating myself and focus on the positives. We had some wonderful experiences following up on potentials and preparing for them to explode into powerful new investigators. We have one potential that was found by the Nietsytpolku elders and they've made the hand-off incredibly smooth. The potential actually ended up contacting them to reschedule (not just cancel) the appointment. He is a young father. We've been praying for someone like him.

We also have a less-active man in the same ward as the potential above, who has started the long road back to full activity. He has been inactive for a very long time. He told us that most of his friends don't know he's a member, and mostly that's just to protect the reputation of the church. But he's trying. When we started talking, we made no attempts to hide why we were there. We boldly asked him where he thought he was, and what he was willing to do to again regain the faith to follow the Savior. He actually thanked us, saying "guys, a lot of missionaries have just come in and been shy. I've wanted to shout at them, 'Challenge me! Be Bold! I like that,' so I appreciate that we're having this conversation." He definitely has a long way to go, and has doubts about whether it is even possible, but as we lovingly invited him to think about small things he could change, he actually ended up saying, without us even inviting, "Well, I guess I could start by reading the Book of Mormon every day, and see how that goes." I asked him to say the closing prayer, and he really hesitated, but when he finally began to speak, he uttered one of the most sincere prayers I've heard in a while. I could literally hear the distance between him and Heavenly Father as he prayed, a combination of estrangement and nervousness, but I could also hear, faintly, a real desire to return and to be close to him again. His mother will be coming to visit in the beginning of next year, and he's promised to come to church with her.

Another miracle moment from this week happened on Saturday. We had planned to go visit a part-member, inactive family that our Ward Council had referred us to just prior to a lesson. As I prayed Friday night, though, I felt that it would be much better to go after the lesson. I mentioned the feeling to Elder Clegg in the morning, and he mentioned another use of that time before the lesson, that was also something we desperately needed to do. It all clicked. When we arrived at the family's home following the lesson, no one seemed to be home. I was a bit confused, because we had been sure we should be there at that time. As we started to leave, the son rode up on his bike and let us in. His father came to the door, and in the brief chat we learned that no one would have been home had we come at the earlier time. We have an appointment set up for next Saturday (unfortunately with the busy week we have that was actually the very earliest we could even make it), and we are very excited to meet with them. They know a few other Filipino members that Elder Clegg met in downtown Helsinki.

Finally, while meeting with a member family this week, we really wanted to help them work with their neighbor that they had mentioned to Linden and Esplin before they left, but that I had never heard of from them personally. Unfortunately, the spirit was just not right during the thought we shared after eating. They all looked exhausted. To have asked them there would have been overkill. But, as the mother of the home was seeing us of, my companion plucked up the courage to give it a chance. He asked if there was anyone we could pray for, and her mind immediately went to that family. We agreed to pray together about them and see a few days later what ideas had come. I've already had a couple ideas come to mind and I can't wait to tell this member about them. I think she'll be really excited.

That's just a taste of a host of miracles I could go on and on about. This area can and will explode before Christmas if only we can keep our minds focused and the pedal to the floor (not literally, Mom, don't worry).

Yesterday was our Primary Program in the second ward. Tons of wonderful kids with great testimonies and really well put together. The greatest moment of all came directly following a rousing rendition of "Nefin Rohkeus" (Nephi's Courage). As the kids got done belting out the final chorus and the last notes from the piano faded into the air, a four year boy on the front row raised his arms high in the air and shouted, "YES!" The place went nuts. I tried really hard to stop laughing, but I'm pretty sure I kept laughing about that the rest of the day. Evidently, their music director had developed a habit of giving them all a hidden thumbs-up when she felt like they had really nailed it, and that was what prompted the little boy's eruption. I love Primary.

I love you all. Thanks for the pictures, Dad. Wishing everyone the best this week as we now (officially) get to start looking forward to Christmas.

Elder Hansen

P.S. I got a nickname from the Bishop's son at dinner last night: "Hanski" Basically my last name put into Finnish youth slang. I think I'll keep it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving


Wishing you all an early Thanksgiving all the way from Espoo! Don't worry about me by the way, one of the blessings of being in a big city is there are a few American or part-American families here, so I'll be having a nice Thanksgiving right along with you all!

I can't believe this week. Not every moment was the best, but looking back on my feelings at the beginning of the week, I didn't think my attitude in this moment would be quite as positive as it is. Monday was a prime example. Just as Linden and Esplin are in the full swing of packing and getting ready to go home, we get a call from some members asking us to come help them paint the apartment they were moving from. I was nervous that it might put some pressure on us, but it ended up taking just the right about of time, and was a lot of fun. They had nice big rollers, which of course meant that Linden ended up rolling Esplin instead of the wall, and getting white paint all over his black slacks in the process. Who wears dress slacks to a paint project? Only a missionary on his way out.

Tuesday we had another one of those "farewell appointments" with one of my favorite families in Espoo. They have three boys, one who just returned from a mission in Sweden, one about to leave for a mission to Japan, and a 17 year old, who just laughs all the time. Their parents weren't home, so it was just the three of them there, and we had a great time. At the end, we practiced teaching the Restoration to them and had the son about to leave on his mission teach with us. But four missionaries is too many, so Linden decided to become one of the investigators and had a ball with it. Kept going off about how he "knew we were prophets" and how his "nieghbor back in his home country used to be a prophet." The funny thing is, that's actually happened to all of us.

Tuesday night we drove down to Helsinki to drop off the two homebound ones and pick up Elder Clegg. Ended up shuttling a lot of changing missionaries to and from the train station, which we weren't prepared for, but it didn't end up being to much of a problem. A bunch of twenty year olds in the biggest city in Finland, none of whom have ever done much more logistics than who's bringing the root beer to the sleepover, could have been a disaster, but I guess two years as a missionary actually does teach us something. Elder Clegg and I ended up staying the night to play sähly with the assisstants and a few others in the morning, which meant I had to sit out...again. Very painful, but, Mom, just want you to know I was responsible.

Friday probably ended up being the craziest day. In connection with companion exchanges, we had been asked to participate in a young men's activity all about missionary work. While my companion took another missionary and two priests along to a lesson and some finding, I stayed back with the other missionary's companion at the chapel and worked with the deacons and teachers on talking to their friends about the church, and especially about the Book of Mormon. It was so much fun! I would like to think I was that much fun to be around when I was twelve, but I'm not totally sure. They all came up with their own ways of talking to their friends about the Book of Mormon, ranging from a long explanation and testimony about why this book has been so important to them personally and how it will bless their lives to one who just threw it at the one pretending to be his friend and said, "Take it. Read it." I think I'm friends with the youth here now, but they might just be pitying me.

This week we also saw a lot of breakthroughs with our investigators, both before and after Elder Clegg got here. There was no secret, just hard work. Or rather, perhaps it was that the secret was different for each individual investigator. For example, with one with whom we have met for quite some time now, we set up a baptismal calendar, talked more seriously about baptism and redefined our expectations. It was wonderful! This is a part-member African family that is now on their way towards becoming a complete, active member family. With another, she is already set on being baptized "in the future," but wants to stabilize her life prior to her baptism. We talked about her with our ward council. Because she had been in church, these members knew her and cared about her. One of them suggested a fairly recent convert in a nearby ward who had gone through similar circumstances. We brought this member along to a lesson the following day, and she was perfect!! Our investigator needed a lot of emotional support, which the member supplied both in the lesson, as well as after, when she stayed and ended up setting a baptismal date for us with our investigator! I really learned how to trust member's inspiration this week.

Sometimes, though, the Lord still shows us that this is his work. We fasted on Sunday for M, our Estonian investigator, whose progression to baptism has been interrupted due to pressure and talk from co-workers and others. That whole day I felt very peaceful. We won't be able to talk to M until Wednesday, when she returns to Finland, but the Lord blessed our efforts with other, unforseen miracles. In the Espoo 1 ward, a man I didn't recognize walked into sacrament meeting and sat down. After the meeting, a member ushered him into the gospel principles class, where we had a chance to teach him. Turns out he visited the church six years ago, and out of nowhere decided that day that he would like to come again! We asked if we could come visit him, and he said of course! We have an appointment with him tomorrow. Although he came to the first ward, he technically belongs to the second ward, which makes him an even greater blessing and answer to prayer, because with all the work we've been doing in the first ward's area, finding in the second ward has suffered quite a lot.

Sunday night, Elder Clegg and I just looked at each other. We had been through a long week, fasted that whole day through six hours of church, and finally finished long call-in reports. It was nice to go to sleep, and definitely not easy to get up this morning, especially when it's so dark. But, I've never felt so satisfied with the work I've done.

Thank you all for your letters and support and love. I love you all and miss you very much.


Elder Hansen

P.S. Looking for concrete examples of how you know that this is the only true and living church and/or how the church structure has been a blessing to you. A lot of investigators keep bringing up the idea that they like that there are more churches to choose from so they can pick "their own way" etc. thanks!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How far away is that plane? Oh, you're already on it....

Hyvää huomenta,

Elder Linden and Elder Esplin have been making that joke about the airplane flying overhead being "two weeks away" forever now, but that week has actually arrived. Tuesday night I drive down to Helsinki, drop them off, stay the night, and drive back to Espoo with my new companion, Elder Clegg, the next morning. Thursday morning, Elder Esplin begins the twenty-four hour journey home, and Thursday afternoon Elder Linden gets tossed into the ocean and swims home. Just kidding. His flight is an hour from Helsinki direct to his hometown. Because of the time switch, he'll actually land only twenty-five MINUTES after he takes off. Lucky dog.

But that doesn't really affect me, right? So why am I talking about it? Well, because I'm going to be dealing with it again before too long. This next transfer is also Elder Clegg's last in the mission. I'm trying to figure out why President sends missionaries to me just before they go home. What does that say about me? I'll let you all use your imagination.

Despite two soon-to-depart missionaries living in our apartment, we managed to get some wonderful missionary work done this week, and in perfect timing too, because this weekend was stake conference! We recently had a new temple presidency set apart, so the theme for the whole conference was temples. There were some great messages shared and it made me very grateful for the number of times I've been able to attend the temple as a missionary. I'm still trying to get used to having the temple in our area, though, and seeing it so often. Every city I've been in has their giant Lutheran church, that almost just belongs as much to the culture as it does to the religion, because it's so present in the center of the city. Every time I drive past the huge spire with Moroni on top, I have to stop and remind myself, "oh yeah, that's OUR big church." I love the Finland temple so much. A very good friend of mine, baptized about a year ago is eligible to attend the temple now, and I'm so anxious to hear whether or not she will be able to go soon. I sent her a letter a while ago, but haven't heard back.

Unfortunately, I missed our lesson with M this week, and sadly it seems like some of her friends at work have not been very supportive of her investigating and she's worried about the pressure that would be put on her when she gets baptized. I was on exchanges with Elder Oberhansely. It was so much fun to work with him again and talk so much about the time we had spent together. We ended up teaching C, our african mother investigator, who has been moving pretty slowly, not really wanting to commit to be baptized on a date, but still very excited about the idea in the future. Stake conference was a very different experience for both of them. Here's what I wrote to President:

"Stake conference this weekend was an absolutely miraculous experience. On one hand, I'm very sad that one of our investigators, the one with a baptismal date, missed out. She had a ride scheduled and set up with her friends, but sent a text just a few minutes before and canceled. We are rather worried that pressure from her friends and co-workers has been getting to her, and that she is nervous, so we'll be sure to role play that prior to our lesson on Wednesday. Very timely counsel from you today.

"On the other hand, one of our other investigators finally found the true reason for coming to church. She has been investigating for a long time, but has had marriage and family troubles that have been difficult to handle and have hindered her progression. We've talked with her many times about how we find peace and rest in church when we set aside that time for the Lord, but she always seemed a bit skeptical of that, despite the number of times she's been in church. Sunday night, I gave her a call to see what she had thought during Stake Conference and double check our next appointment. She raved about the spirit she had felt, how peaceful she had felt, the revelation she felt she had received for her family, and even how well she understood the Finnish when the English translation was malfunctioning! She loved church, and the best part is, we had little to do with it. She has a wonderful friend and fellowshipper doing all he can for her - inviting her, giving her a ride, finding someone to sit with her and watch her children so she can concentrate. I felt just pure joy at the thought that she had such a wonderful experience."

This mission has really high goals set for the end of the year. Like REALLY high. It's going to take a lot of faith and hard work if we're even going to come close. But I think the best thing to remember is something Elder Esplin always says, "Look, it's not about people, it's about numbers, and if you're having fun, you're doing something wrong." I hope you all can catch the obvious sarcasm in that. As these two get ready to leave the mission, I've thought a lot about how many people's lives they've touched and the friends they've made, whether, member, investigator, less-active, etc. Life is about people.

Go make somebody smile this week.


Elder Hansen

P.S. The countdown to Christmas is already on. One missionary has an advent calendar counting down to the time the rest of us usually start our advent calendars, and this morning I came running out of the bedroom riding a "Joulupukki" like a horse and Esplin died laughing. Joulupukki is the Finnish name for Santa Claus, but the words Joulu and pukki mean Christmas and goat. So they make these little goats out of hay every Christmas that are really cool. That story wasn't nearly as funny with all the explanation. Use your imagination! And know that I actually am going slightly insane out here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Last Week for the Troika

Sadly, this week will be the last full week together for Linden, Esplin, and I before they go home. And they won't let me forget it. I've finally given up fighting the trunky comments and just gone along with it. Saves me a lot of stress. This weekend I'll get a call from president about my new companion, and next week we'll start a new chapter. At least I know I don't have to move for at least six weeks. I hate moving....
On that note I'm going to skip the traditional salutation at the opening of a letter, mostly because, of the myriad of Finnish greetings I could throw in just to mix things up, I've already used the ones I know how to spell, and to butcher one would just be embarrassing. Or I might write something more than inappropriate by mistake. One letter off in Finnish can be that way sometimes....
This week has been something of a roller coaster. After Elder Esplin finally recovered from a terrible cold, that actually managed to turn into something of a slight lung infection, Elder Linden decided to get sick. We ended up just leaving the apartment to go to our appointments, then coming back to rest up in between. So with me still hobbling around a little trying to recover, we looked like quite the pathetic trio. The old man and sinking ship jokes were coming in from all sides. Elder Esplin actually decided to make a comic about it, in which he depicts Elder Linden (in non missionary clothing) standing on the back of a sinking ship shouting nothing in particular, me in the middle trying to steer the ship while making phone calls and sitting down, unable to stand, and Esplin on the front checking his watch and thinking about girls. Hey, it's always fun to have a laugh at your own expense.
Aside from that, we did actually get to do some missionary work this week. M, our Estonian investigator, has set a baptismal date for the 17th of November! And that's something to celebrate. It was such a wonderful lesson. She really was nervous about saying yes, but our member (now apparently one of her best friends) was the perfect, most supportive friend ever. If not a missionary, I might have hugged her. I love how natural the gospel is. When we are open and honest, the Spirit can guide us and talk to us so simply about how the gospel can bless our lives. At times, I fear our modern culture leads us to try to organize and catagorize and otherwise -ize up the gospel, because there needs to be structure. There needs to be order. We need to be able to separate ideas and concepts. But in lessons like this one, those borders between the "5 steps of the gospel" sort of slipped away. I liked that. It's really not just steps we take. It's not even really a process that we repeat throughout our lives, although that is a closer analogy. It is our life. When we are truly converted, we live those five priniplces simultaneously. Food for thought. I didn't really think about most of that until I started writing about that lesson and it all hit me at once so I figured I'd write it down. I'll get off the soapbox now.
At last night's lesson, I casually asked M in the beginning how she felt about her baptism. I expected a fairly generic response, the type we usually get to that kind of question, but instead, she pulls out a huge list of questions and says, "So, if I understand correctly, I'm going to have to change some things about the way I live when I get baptized. I have some questions about that." Turns out she's been reading the gospel prinicples manual in her spare time, and is about halfway through it! She's gane all the way from "God is our Heavenly Father" to fasting! She told us she wakes up at around six every morning and just reads until she gets ready to go to work. She used to sleep in, but now she feels like Heavenly Father is waking her up to help her to read more. We would prefer that she would read a little more out of the Book of Mormon, but we give her assignments to read in between appointments, and that should help. Honestly, when my only concern is that she's reading too much church literature, do I really have anything to complain about? She's really grown attached to the sister that has been coming along to her lessons. I think I mentioned this a little last week, too, but last night, when that sister was out of town and only her husband could be there, she actually made a comment about wanting another woman there to be able to support her. I had never really thought about that before. But it really makes sense. It would be really nice if we could have sister missionaries in every city and they could teach the women and we could teach the men. Or if we could just not have to worry about the rule regarding meeting the opposite sex (we are not allowed to unless another adult of our own sex is present), which means that for elders to bring a sister to a female investigator, we have to go as four or five people to the appointment, something Finns just don't like doing. But, that's enough of that. These are the little complexities of missionary work that I deal with every day, but that I haven't written very much about, because I imagine most of you reading this either still don't entirely understand, or really are just bored after that type of detail.
So, how about something more interesting. One of the other things that's helping so much in our lessons with M is her dog. One of the most friendly dogs I've ever met. A bit too friendly. She loves us, and whenever we don't pay enough attention to her, she comes up and, for example, puts her snout all the way up my pant leg, or jumps on Esplin's lap and tries to kiss him. On the upside, I've really been working on being less intense and more relaxed, especially while teaching lessons, because I find the mood around me tends to be more heavy than I want it to be. Last night I actually did a pretty good job and just letting the pure joy of the gospel come out when I spoke, instead of focusing on the words I was going to use, for example. I'm still not perfect at it by any means, but while I practice and try to get better, it really helps to have a friend like Evita (the dog) to lighten the mood when things get a bit too heavy.
Well, we have to go, sorry there's not much more, but next week I'll do better at writing down the other stories I want to tell you about.
Elder Hansen