Monday, July 29, 2013

En gång till.... (one more time)

Ed. note: we received a very kind email from a member of the branch in Jakobstad - she told us that they had a surprise "goodbye party" for McKay.

Here's his last email:

This was my last week. Can't wait to tell you all about it.

To all of you who will read this, I want you to know how much I have appreciated and relied on your love and support these past two years. The life of a missionary is demanding, but there is nothing more fulfilling. There have been so many moments of sheer frustration in which I have wanted to shout, "why me? What have I done to deserve this?" and also countless moments of sheer joy in which I have been driven to my knees asking the very same questions, only this time, in gratitude. If there were any doubts in my mind as to whether or not my service has been of value or whether I have made a difference, any such thought has been banished out of existence by the events of these last few days. I will never be able to say thank you enough to those who have touched my life.

My father wrote me a letter during a rather difficult time in my mission. In it, he included a poem that has become one of my favorites. The last few stanzas read:

"Lives of great men all remind us, We can make our lives sublime, 
And departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.

Footprints that perhaps another, sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwreck'd brother, seeing, may take heart again.

Let us then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate,
still acheiving, still pursuing, learn to labor, and to wait."

As I depart, I am stunned with awe as I recall the greats in whose footprints I have walked, and I sincerely hope that I have left footprints worthy to follow.

And yes, those of you who know me know that I am currently bawling my eyes out. Two years as a missionary hasn't helped with that at all.

I love you all. See you in four days.


Elder Christen McKay Hansen
Finland Helsinki Mission
July 2011 - August 2013

McKay sent this picture with his email, which seems to 
sum it all up -  glädje (Swedish for "joy")

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mission Tour

It's going to be really nice to not have to come up with a subject line every week. Those things have plagued me for two years now.


We were on the road nearly the entire week this week, completing a series of language schools in each zone of the mission. It was an experience I will never forget, for sure, but I'm very tired on the back end of it. Got to see a lot of people that I likely will never see again except on Facebook, which was sad for me. This mission is full of great elders and sisters. I'm going to miss all of them.

But, that's enough of that kind of talk. I still have a week to go! At church on Sunday, I mentioned to a few of the members that this is my last full week in the city. One of them looked back at me when I said that and just said, "jobba hort!" (Work hard!). I'm sure that by the end of this week I'm going to be absolutely drained.

Monday of this week, we were on a train. Again. How many times in a row have I said that about Monday now? I feel like every P-day is spent on a train now. But, upon arrival in Helsinki, I dragged Elder Heki around to see a few of the nicer parts of the city on our way home. He told me he just wants to get back to his quaint, little city in Jakobstad. I don't think he's one for cities much, but I was having a blast being back. I think we got him convinced by the end of the trip there, though. 

The language school on Tuesday went great! Elder Anderton and I were worried about the missionaries' ability to stay focused and awake since we were doing it in the evening after a zone training meeting, but they really shocked us with how much they had prepared for it. I don't think I would have been quite as excited for another long meeting after that zone training meeting (which evidently went a little longer than it usually does), but they were great. See, it's always hard for me to impress on you how much fun I've been having with these langauge schools, because most of the fun I have in them relates to Finnish, which I've become more than a geek about. But you guys don't speak it at all...difficult. Learn Finnish ok? Anyway, most of the highlights for me involved just how many questions they all had, and how the answers to those questions always led to more questions. We could have kept talking about Finnish all night! (We didn't, we all got home on time). But, there was one of the elders there for whom this meeting was a mind-blowing experience. About every three seconds he would pop halfway out of his seat and should "oh man! That totally makes sense now!" Made me feel good about my teaching at least. We had a little photo party afterwards, because I won't be seeing any of them again for a long time. One of them told me before he left, "You're a good one, Hansen. You'll be successful in whatever you do in life." Now, I'm not sure how prophetic those words can be taken given my track record, but it was still nice to hear.

Wednesday morning Elder Anderton and I worked on some top secret projects for President. He was having a blast with it. His excitement for it kept me going, but there's a ton of things President wants done by August 2. Kind of a rough deadline, President. Elder Heki and I got on the train that afternoon, which picked up the Seinäjoki elders as it passed through their city, and we rode the rest of the trip home with them.

Thursday morning was district meeting, and then we drove out to the dedication site in Larsmo, a place that, sadly, I never made it to in nine months last time I served here. It was a great experience up there! There's a small memorial on the site where Ezra Taft Benson dedicated Finland for the preaching of the restored gospel. 

 [Ed. note: I found a picture of the memorial online - The sign is written in Finnish, Swedish, and English, and reads:

"On this sacred spot Finland was dedicated for the preaching of the restored gospel. Dedicated by Apostle Ezra Taft Benson 16 July 1946. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."

So, they were at the site two days after the 67th anniversary of the dedication of Finland for the preaching of the gospel.]

After we had some lunch up there by the monument, one of the local members comes traipsing right out of the woods right next to us! What added to the surprise was that she had just been out berry picking and brought us, not just blueberries, but cloud berries! Cool, Hansen, little orange berries....right? Wrong. Major Finnish tradition. People take vacations to Lapland just to pick these berries. They're about 80 euros a kilo. So obviously we got back down to where she had been picking them and started looking for more. She eventually had to just show us because we were hopeless at it, but we found a ton! At one point while she was leading us to them, I discovered why she was wearing large rubber boots. I think it happened right as I sunk my foot about ankle deep into a swamp that looked like solid ground. Sock completely soaked. Bummer. But hey, the experience was worth it. And we got back just in time to visit one of the great member families here before we had to go get on a train to Tampere. We talked with them about the District's recently issued challenge to each member of the district to bring one person into the church this year, whether through baptism or reactivation. They, like the wonderful members they are, had already prayed and selected the ones they wanted to focus on. All except the mom, that is. She had too many friends she had been thinking of sharing the gospel with, so she wasn't sure which two or three or seven she was going to invite to church first.

Friday in Tampere was another great langauge school. We tried to do a "sandwich swap" lunch, where everyone brought a sack lunch to trade with someone else, but when two of the elders forgot lunch altogether, the rest just brought frozen pizzas, and the sisters brought gourmet lunches they had spent real time didn't really work out. In the end, though, everyone had food, I think. After the language school I filmed myself teaching a couple of the missionaries as an application video for the MTC. During the video, I had a hard time focusing on teaching, because I was sitting there just thinking about what the reviewers would think about every comment I made or question I asked. It was hard not to cringe when I knew I had made a mistake. However, by the end of it, I felt like I had done an OK job teaching, and the Spirit had really been in the room. I learned things, the three elders I taught learned things, and so at the end of the day, I think it accomplished its purpose.

Church was great again on Sunday. We had priesthood this week, which usually turns into a stereotypical High Priests Group debate....but there was a great moment of wisdom when we talked about the difference between Peter and the apostles and the young man who was asked to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The teacher explained that, "We don't know what happened to this young man, we never hear of him again. But we know what became of those who left their nets and all they had and followed the Savior." Another member piped up, "yeah, they all got killed." Great.

One week to go. Let's see if I can make it count.


Elder Hansen

Monday, July 15, 2013

On the Road Again

Terve perheeni,

The weeks have started to go by just a little bit faster each time, which gets more than a little disconcerting when you realize there are only two of them left.

We had a pretty typical P-Day for my companionship with Elder Heki - we were on a train. We left in the early evening for Oulu and wouldn't be back until Wednesday evening. I'm sure he's excited for me to leave and for him to be able to not have to travel so much.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we made history today!! In that, as far as I am aware, this was the first ever language school in Oulu, and probably the first one not held in the mission office. I made those participating in the Language School acutely aware of that fact as well. These are historic times. We haven't had this many missionaries in forever, and not in such large numbers coming all at once! Not to mention that these are all younger than they have been. These missionaries I was speaking to are the ones that will be asked to train and lead all of these that are coming in, and they should be excited about it!

The language school overall went well, only a couple of them dropped off about halfway through and needed to take a break. Not everyone is as excited about the intricacies of Finnish grammar like I am. I'm kind of a nerd.

The real treat of conferences in the north is the sleep over in the chapel the night before. It was really fun to get to catch up with Elder Helistö, who is now serving both as a full-time missionary and the second counselor in the branch presidency in Savonlinna (crazy), and Elder Oberhansley, who I haven't seen in too long. Gotta be proud of my boy, he's training for the second time in a row now, and doing a great job. Oberhansley told some funny stories about them tracting into some drunk people. Let's just say, that a lot of people don't realize they're swearing when they speak English. Oops.

Wednesday: Zone Conference
My very last zone conference. It was a bit of a surreal feeling, especially when I looked around the room and saw just how much younger everyone in the room was. No one else from my MTC group is in the north, only one from the group right below me and the next was from two or three more groups down. The conference was a really good one to close with. The zone leaders essentially just wanted to inspire us all to do a little more, so they invited a bunch of different companionships to share some stories of days they've done their best and times when they've felt successful, etc. I felt a great sense of joy when I listened to all those stories, just knowing that these are the types of missionaries I'm leaving this country to when I go. They asked me to bear my testimony at the end of the meeting, and I told them about those feelings that I'd had. These are some really impressive missionaries, even the really new ones. No fear, just faith.

Our trip home from conference was a bit of a wild one. See, there's construction on the tracks between Ylivieska and Oulu, so they have bus connections running between those cities to replace the trains. When we were planning the trip, though, there were some discrepancies between what the printed schedule and the online schedule said, so we just booked our tickets and hoped for the best. By the time we got to Oulu, we weren't actually sure if we would be on a train, on a bus, or on foot home. Not to mention, Elder Heki and I decided to try to go out to eat after the meeting with some other missionaries, so we ended up with a bit of a race to get back to the bus station, print our tickets, and get on the bus just as the bus driver himself was getting on. Yeah, uh, oops. But it all worked out. Then, on arriving in Ylivieska, we see a train that must be ours, only the train says it's going to Rovaniemi, completely the other direction. Two of us walk down to the other end of the train to find that that end is going the direction we want to go. Man, the thought honestly crossed my mind that we might not make it home that night. And, there are no members or missionaries in Ylivieska, so we likely would've spent the night under an bridge. I'm glad at least half the train was going the right way.

We had a lesson with a less-active, but by the time we showed up, there was a bit of chaos going on in their house. It turned into a bit more of us just hanging out with them. After a while, we got it around to some kind of gospel topic, but the wife (who isn't a member) wasn't interested in talking, she just hopes we can help her husband get himself straightened out. He's had a very hard life and he really needs the gospel right now, but he's so skeptical that he doesn't want to change. It's hard to watch. But, the greatest thing about visiting them is watching Elder Heki. He treats that family with so much love, especially the two young kids, and they seem to really love him back.

Elder Heki is doing a  great job at trying to learn Swedish, but unfortunately, the words for "to reveal" and "to prepare" are giving him some trouble. He was practicing Swedish by just telling me a story from his time in Turku, and ended up telling me that a woman once revealed fish for him and his companion. I guess it kinda works if you stretch it.

I've also had fun teaching him some sports vocabulary. He was in marching band for four years, but still never bothered to follow the games he was playing at very much. This week's word was "punt." I figured out he didn't know that word when he described it as a "fourth down, get it down the field kinda thing."

We got to do some service painting doors for some of our favorite members up here. I felt pretty proud of my husband material after looking at the finished product, especially since I'd spent most of the time painting also on the phone juggling preparation for language school and answering missionaries' language questions. Not to sound homesick, but it will be nice to not have to spend half my life on the phone every day.

Church was a blast. "A" gave a short talk/testimony about the YSA conference Fest i Nord that she attended last week, which was really good for me to hear. She told us that she wasn't sure why she was going at all because she's "so old." It sounds like she had some experiences that she really needed though, so I was happy for her. While she was speaking, her little three year old boy ran up onto the stand next to her, started tugging at her dress and then turned and pointed at me, as if to say, "look Hansen's still here." Made me feel pretty happy:) I love that kid.

That night we visited another part member family, he's been coming to church actively for years, he just doesn't want to set a baptismal date. We shared with them a lot of the ways baptism has helped us and helped people in the Book of Mormon, and then out of the blue he goes, " I feel bad when I read the Book of Mormon, because I know I'll never be like one of those men." We then turned to 1 Corinthians 2:9. 

"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."

It is so wonderful to me that God doesn't ask me to lead armies. He doesn't ask me to leave all I have and know and walk out into the wilderness. I haven't been called to start an entirely new civilization or to try to save one from destroying itself. At the end of the day, if we love our Heavenly Father and that love motivates all we do, that's all he asks for, and we will work miracles.


Elder Hansen 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Two Years!!


Well, two years as a missionary has come and gone. It was fairly surreal. Elder Bishop and Elder Hoggard were on exchanges together to celebrate the occasion, and they called me in the morning to wish me a happy two year day. They're great. It unfortunately prompted a long, leisurely stroll down memory lane that distracted me for most of the morning. But it was interesting to think about everything that's happened. I'm glad that all the memories, even as far back as the MTC, have stayed pretty fresh in my mind. Now I'm just hoping to have some good stories to share when I make it back.

Saturday didn't end up being a terribly eventful day. I bought some Ben&Jerry's Ice Cream to celebrate. (Ben&Jerry's has somehow become a mission tradition for things like this). The Londons (my favorite mission office couple) came through on their trip around the country to deliver some furniture and supplies to all the apartments and dropped off a new mattress for Elder Heki because the springs in his had begun to poke up through the top. It was nice to chat with them a little bit, I've missed them. 

This morning, I got another note from the missionaries in Helsinki that will brighten the memories of my two year mark as a missionary. When Elder Clegg and I left Helsinki, we had set a baptismal date for "P" - the Finnish man we found who was progressing so well. The missionaries in Haaga took over teaching him when we left. Well, I am happy to report that on 6 July 2013, exactly two years after I entered the MTC, this man that I grew to love was baptized. Such a great feeling. The Helsinki missionaries sent me a picture.

Sorry this one is a bit shorter, but we have to get ready to go to Oulu tonight. Love you all!

See you in a few weeks!


Elder Hansen

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

One More Month

Passing the language coordinator baton to Elder Anderton


We've officially reached one month to go. It's a good feeling, especially considering the fact that I get to spend my last month in Pietarsaari. There's only one catch, and that's that I might not be spending as much time actually in this city as I thought.

This past weekend I spent about two hours on the phone with President Rawlings concerning language coordinator business. With all the new missionaries coming in in such large numbers, we're concerned about the level of training they're receiving, and as a result, we're reengineering the way we train missionaries in the Finnish language entirely. We're going to go all the way back to the drawing board, start entirely from scratch, and build from that with the current needs of the mission. Elder Anderton, the one taking over as language coordinator after I'm gone, is also in on it, and he's got a ton of good ideas. He's also just as pumped about the idea as I am, so it's fun to work with him. But, the really crazy thing is the solution until we get a new system up and running. We'll be holding a series of special language schools, one in each zone, to retrain the basics of the language as well as train missionaries how to teach the language to the younger companions they'll have sooner than they think. Next week, we have zone training meeting in Oulu, so we'll be doing one there, then the week after that we head to Helsinki for Monday-Wednesday, then Thursday-Friday in Tampere. It's going to make this month just whiz by. Hoping to be able to have time to lay a foundation for something great here, so that everything can expand in the next couple of months/years.

That's my life in a nutshell right about now. If any of those rumors about cell phones giving you cancer are true, then I'm surprised I don't already have a tumor in my right ear, because I feel like I spend all my time on the phone. I wonder if I could make a career out of something like this?

This past Tuesday, I had a great opportunity to look at this time as a completely new take on this city, like I'm starting fresh. Last year, when I was here, Elder Oberhansley and I went to visit a man who has had missionaries over a lot, but they were more there to hang out, he didn't want to talk about the gospel. He was the same way when Elder Oberhansley and I went. He told us he'd already heard it all, but if we ever wanted a place to chill and hang out and not be missionaries for a couple hours, this was the place we could be. Then I get back here, almost a year later, and I find out Elder Heki and Elder Kääriä have been meeting with this man. I was pretty skeptical, but Elder Heki set up a time and we went to visit him. Except for the time he got on Facebook and showed us some interesting stuff that pokes fun at religion, the whole lesson was night and day from the one a year prior. He had sincere questions. He listened when we spoke and honestly tried to see if he could believe what we were saying. We talked practically about his role as a father and, in the future, as a priesthood holder. He feels some difficulties with his marriage right now, so we talked about how he can pray specifically for help with that. Not only, "please help my marriage," but also, "How can I show more love for my wife?" and "What can I do today/tomorrow/next week to strengthen our relationship?" Teaching that brought new perspective to my prayers. The whole experience reminded me that "God is in control," like Mom always says, especially when we walk into the mission office on Wednesday morning for language school and I find the July Liahona with the cover article "Nine Ways to Strengthen Your Family." Isn't that just too good?

Saturday night we got to go visit a couple that I got to know very well last time. He's Chinese and she's Vietnamese, and now they have a small, six-month old baby that loves to just make noise. She's adorable. When I was here last year, we were just waiting for them to get married so he could be baptized. They finally got married before I left, but some problems with his family made it impossible for him to get baptized. He's since been baptized and received the priesthood. There is still a wonderful spirit in their home, but it just seems more complete somehow, now. More lasting. It was great to be with them again. He told Elder Heki to get married before 2015. A little tricky since he goes home late in 2014, but he'll be at BYU, so I guess it's possible. Hahaha the jokes that keep us going at dinner appointments with funny members.

Anyway, time to get going, sorry this is late, but we had district meeting in Vaasa with President all day, so we didn't have time to email. We're also going to visit "A" and the kids tonight, so we have to get something special ready for that.

Love you all,


Monday, June 24, 2013

First Week Back

Dear Family,

It was harder than I thought to say goodbye to Helsinki. I never thought I'd like a big city, but that one was incredible. Maybe it's just the mission brain. You get attached to places because of the people there. Like "P". That final lesson with him on Monday night was unbelievable. It was hard to tell him that I would be leaving, but I trust the Haaga elders to do a good job. I checked in with them last night about "P" and everything seems to be going well in preparation for his baptism, except for the date. Turns out there's another baptism in Marjaniemi and three different people moving that day, so they're worried that the turn out at the baptismal service would be pretty low. Anyway, after this lesson we had on Monday, that's nothing to be worried about. We talked about everything that would change as a result of both me and Clegg getting sent away, and then we taught tithing. I've had people take tithing pretty easily before, but never quite like "P". I wanted to be really sure that he understood what tithing was, so we explained that. He said, "fine, so what do I pay?" I thought he simply misunderstood, so I went back over the fact that it's ten percent of all our income annu...."No, no, no" P interrupts me mid-sentence, "I meant how do I pay it? Do I give the money to someone, or what?" I chuckled a little bit at that. Then, I figured, well, he's gotta know what's it's used for too, otherwise, he won't pay. So, I asked Elder Adams (one of the Haaga elders) to explain what tithing is used for. Then, it was P's turn to have a laugh. He just looks at us and says, "guys, obviously, when I come to the church next winter and it's 25 degrees below zero out there, I'm going to want the church to be warm! I told you already that I'm in all the way, you don't have to convince me to pay tithing." I think we almost died laughing the whole way home about that line. He's such a great man. I got a picture with him before I left and he made me promise to come visit when I'm back in Helsinki before I go home. Then he said simply, "You're very important to me." The humble way he said it made me want to just give him a hug.

Wednesday morning Elder Clegg and I got up early to get to the train station. It was kind of nice to be able to go just the two of us. Luckily I only bothered bringing one of my suitcases to Pietarsaari, I just left the other one in the mission office to pick up when I get back, so the only problem with us getting there without any help was one of Clegg's bags that no longer has working wheels. I'm really going to miss Elder Clegg, and that whole apartment. We had a pretty good thing going between the four of us.

My first week back in Jakobstad was nothing like I expected it to be. Well, actually it was and it wasn't. Let me explain. 

I show up to the train station in Bennäs (small train stop village), the same small train stop I've come to so many times from Helsinki. Only this time they've done some construction on it and there's some large covered areas making it look a bit larger and more official. Elder Kääriä and Elder Heki were there to pick me up. Elder Kääriä has been serving there ever since he came to be my companion over eight months ago, so he just seemed to fit the scene. He's almost inseparable from that city now. He was also very quick to point out that he will have spent a grand total of one week there longer than me by the time all is said and done. I then pointed out that I was back for five days when I had surgery, so really he only wins by about two days. But he still wins. Phooey.

This weekend was Juhannus (Mid-Summer), which means that everyone left to the country for vacation and the city was virtually empty. We did manage to find a few things to do, though, which is great because except for scheduled appointments, Juhannus is a day we have to stay inside all day. That would have been awful. Unfortunately, that one appointment didn't go as well as we'd hoped. We scheduled a church tour with a Swedish-speaking girl who just moved here to study film. It was there that I realized how poor my Swedish has become. It was a little frustrating. And, despite our best efforts to invite the Spirit, she decided at the end of the tour that perhaps she'd seen and learned enough and wasn't really interested in learning anymore about the church. I felt a little bit disappointed in myself, and I wondered for a while after that lesson if I had somehow let the Lord down by not doing a better job of studying Swedish in the time I'd been away. I wondered why he had sent me back here when he knew how bad my Swedish really is now. "God doesn't send anyone to fail," was a sentiment expressed often by my bishop at BYU, and I chose to take that approach. Sure, maybe it didn't work out in that church tour, but I'm very grateful for the blessing and opportunity to be back in this city, and to speak what Swedish I still know. I'll trust that it will come back.

If I needed any encouragement, I sure got it on Sunday at church. Leif, the branch president, came and gave me a big hug as soon as he saw me. "A" and her kids were there, too, and I just about melted for those two kids. The BML's wife was happy to present their new baby, born right after I left, she is now eight months old! I couldn't believe it. "K", the Somalian man that Elder Oberhansley and I met together, who got baptized after both of us had departed, was the next to enter the front doors of that chapel. Overall, a couple of the older mummos I visited once in a while have passed away, and one is in the early stages of dementia, so she didn't remember me at all, but other than that, the branch is pretty much exactly the same as it was when I left it so many months ago. The same wonderful people, the same great spirit, the same strange phenomenon of singing in both Swedish and Finnish at the same time in sacrament meeting. I love this city.

Looking forward to the next few weeks.

Love you all,

Elder Hansen

Monday, June 17, 2013

Unfinished Business (again)

[Ed. note - the parents of one of McKay's high school friends (Andie Tillett Robertson) stopped by the mission office in Helsinki. Brother Tillett served a mission to Finland]

Dear family,

There is no way to gracefully get into all the things I need to tell you about this week, so I'll just go for it, start to finish.

Monday, was a good Pday, hung out with Elder Ingersoll on exchanges and went out to lunch with him. His last Monday in the mission. I don't believe it. Time goes by so fast. He was a really good elder, too, we're going to miss him. That night we had two lessons with some star investigators. First, P, the one I told you about last week, to some degree. He actually lives in Haaga's area, so we brought along a member from Haaga who talked more than we planned for, so we didn't get to teach everything we wanted to, but he really bonded with P, who thanked us for bringing him along, so I guess it all works out. Later was A, the one we met last week after we got lost. First lesson, got to know more about her. She is a full-time painter, and has a lot of her own paintings up in the living room. Most of them are really nice landscapes of ocean shores. She has investigated tons of religions and so had all kinds of questions, many of which were tough to understand, but our member along pulled through for us and had some great answers. We talked about her being baptized when she knows the Book of Mormon was true, and she just laughed and said, "That would be way too fast, guys."

Tuesday, we helped an older, less-active couple wash their windows, which Elder Clegg and I have a lot of fun with. Actually did a pretty good job too, if I do say so myself. I love working with Elder Clegg. He just always wants to do his best, do it right, and do it right the first time. So solid. Afterwards we had a lesson in which we pulled out a 50 day Book of Mormon reading challenge for them. We picked the fifty most important (from our point of view) on the basic doctrines from PMG and assigned them to read one per day over the next fifty days. We're excited to see how it goes, and they seemed really happy with it too!

Wednesday, we had a zone training meeting. Elder Clegg and I have mixed feelings on the outcome, but I'll keep that to myself. Our zone leaders are really good guys.

Thursday, we taught P again. We went over both the Sabbath day and word of wisdom, heavy hitters for a man who smokes, drinks coffee, and who loves going out with his wife in their camper for long weekends. I'll admit, I was doubting just a little bit going into it. We started with the Sabbath and talked about why it is so important, especially with the covenants we make, to be in church each Sunday. He pondered the things we had just told him, and we asked him what he thought. He said simply, "well, if it's that important to the covenant, then I guess the important thing to do is arrange my life so that, as long as I'm not sick or on a long trip or something else, I can be in church every Sunday. yeah, I'll do that. Sure." And he looked up at us and smiled. Then, we moved on to word of wisdom. He's been sober for 22 years now, after spending plenty of years as an alcoholic, so alcohol wasn't an issue. Neither was smoking. He just said, "yeah, I should probably quit. I've quit before and I've been meaning to again, so I'll get on it. No problem." He wasn't so sure about tea and coffee, though, because there haven't been any 
proven terrible effects of using them. So, out of ideas, I turned to the missionary's best friend: the member. He gave a great thought about his friends and how some of them can't even function without tea and coffee, something he never knew was possible, and that he was grateful for the fact that he didn't have any substances that seemed to interfere in any way with his agency and freedom. P thought about that for a long time, then looked up and said, "you know, I really like what you just said. I think, if it really is true, then God will give me power to get rid of them, and to understand why." Goodness, I love this man. Every time I talk to him I'm astounded by the way the gospel resonates with him.

The rest of the night, I stayed home with Elder Murray while Elder Clegg and Elder Ingersoll went out to teach a few people. Elder Murray has been really sick for a while, and the doctors aren't exactly sure what is causing it. Will you all please pray for him? We need him to stay in this mission. He's too good of an elder to lose.

Friday was our second lesson with A, the artist. We had a really good time, and she was very excited to come to church on Sunday.

President also called us on Friday night. Change call night. He told Elder Clegg he was going to Joensuu. No surprise there, we all figured he was leaving so that the next language coordinator could be my companion. Then, he surprised us by telling Elder Murray that the new language coordinator would be his companion, not mine. Finally, it was my turn. Now bewildered, I ask who my companion will be. He paused. Then, slowly, he said, "Elder Hansen, you're going to wonder when I tell you about this. I've prayed a lot about it, and, honestly, I still don't really understand, so I want you to pray about it as well.....

You are going back to Pietarsaari."

It seems there is more for me to do there. Feels a bit like going home, to be honest. Six more weeks in Jakobstad.
[ed. note - Pietarsaari and Jakobstad are the same city - Pietarsaari is the Finnish name and Jakobstad is the Swedish name - it's the bilingual area in western Finland where McKay spent nine months earlier in his mission.]

Saturday was a great baptismal service in Marjaniemi. We've basically just been trading weekends with them for a while now, it feels. One week our baptism, the next week, theirs. It's incredible.

Sunday was so much fun in church again. "A" was there, and we sat with her in sacrament meeting. Elder Ingersoll gave his farewell talk and we had a really good high council speaker. The whole time I was cheering because every message seemed, in one way or another, just tailored to A's needs. After the meeting, she leaned over to me and said, "you know how I laughed when you guys talked about baptism earlier this week? Well, I feel like God has been pushing me this direction this whole week and, well, I really feel like I would like to be baptized. How does it work?"

Lucky for her, we get sisters into this ward this week, so they will come to visit and help prepare her for baptism. At the end of the day, I'm sad to leave this area, because things are going so well right now. Things are really building. Elder Clegg and I are leaving behind work we can be proud of, and people who will surely continue to progress with more than capable missionaries. And I am going back to PIETARSAARI.

love you all,

Elder Hansen

Monday, June 10, 2013

Regional Stake Conference

Hey everybody!

A lot of unfortunate scheduling conflicts prevented investigators from thinking they could meet with us this week, but one man, "P", is doing wonderfully. He grasps gospel concepts faster than almost any investigator I've ever met and he can explain them back to us in his own words. This week, as we prepared to teach him, Elder Clegg and I focused on when to give the baptismal commitment. We studied and practiced together and found a spot that seemed to feel right. In the lesson, everything went smoothly. In fact, because of that preparation, it went smoother than we had planned. As we were teaching about baptism, the Spirit directed us toward Mosiah 18:8-10 instead of the other passage we had planned to share. "P" saw immediately what impact that type of covenant could have in his life, and immediately started talking about "when I am baptized" instead of "if I get baptized. We practically didn't need to invite him at all! We bore testimony that he could prepare for baptism soon and that by that date he would feel ready. He seems to really trust us, which I am truly grateful for.

This lesson was also the first time we visited him in his home, and got to know his wife. She's just a wonderful lady, very optimistic and happy. She politely declined from joining in the discussion, but still, very, very nice. And she said we could come back, so I guess we made a good impression, right?

This man just continues to amaze me, though. After the lesson, we mentioned that we ought to get moving because we had to catch the bus back and it doesn't run very often. He just looked at his watch and was like, "well, I'll just take you home." (literally, in Finnish, what he said was, "I'll throw you home" which I thought was funny). Then he drove us all the way back to our door! It was nice to just have some more time to chat with him and get to know him. I'm really excited for what happens next.

We got lost this week again. That's actually one of my favorite experiences as a missionary, ironically. Getting lost. The point where I don't know exactly where I am is usually the time Heavenly Father has put me somewhere for a reason, I just don't recognize it at the time. After I (boldly going where no missionary has gone before, mostly because the road I was leading us down didn't lead to anything but a small swamp) managed to get us lost, Elder Clegg pulled out the map, we got a route planned back, and started walking. Along the way, we stopped and talked to a woman. She had researched a lot of different religions, but hadn't ever heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (We found out after the conversation that she had heard of Mormons before, though. Go figure). After we explained a little bit about our church she asked, "Well, what are your articles of faith?" So, we listed them off. You never know when memorizing those kinds of things is going to come in handy. Seriously, thank you Primary! After a little while she said, "Hey, it's too hot out here, I'm going to give you my card and you guys can come visit me next week and tell me more. I'm excited about this!" Kinda funny the way He knows what He's doing, right?

This weekend was a regional stake conference for all the Nordic Countries, with Elder M. Russell Ballard visiting. President Monson was scheduled to be present as well, but with the recent passing of his wife, he didn't make it. We had some great messages, which I didn't get to hear too much of, something about the audio was hard to hear, plus it was a little choppy with the English to Swedish/Finnish translation being in real-time. It was all focused on getting members to do better missionary work, and I think it went well. The best part, though, was getting to see all the people from the Espoo Wards that I got to know so well while I was there. A lot of the young adults I knew there have gotten mission calls to Australia, Canada, Salt Lake City-East, Ukraine, and Lyon, France. There you go, Dad. A few more of them are going to finish the army service soon and get their papers in. By the end of the year, the Espoo II ward will have eight missionaries out, and the Helsinki Stake will have 30! The Stake President joked in the general session Saturday night that they had set a goal to have as many missionaries out from the stake as were currently serving from abroad in their stake. Then the First Presidency decided to mock that goal by lowering the age limit and sending tons more missionaries to Finland. I'll be interested to see if any youth in the near future get called to serve here.

Anyway, time to go. Love you all, have a great week!

Elder Hansen

Monday, June 3, 2013

Elder Patrick Kearon

Elder Kearon

Dear Family,
The biggest highlight of this week was a visit from Elder Patrick Kearon of the Seventy, now serving in the area presidency in Europe. For those who don't recognize the name, he's the one who spoke about "the sting of the scorpion" a few years ago in general conference. He was incredible! He's quite young to be a general authority, and he's very, very humble. Elder Murray [who is from Scotland] even liked him, even if he was from England, ha. He for a short time had an assignment in the Northwest US, so when I told him I was from Portland he asked, "oh which stake?" And I blanked. Family, I honestly wasn't sure which stake I was from! Sad, right? I think I finally told him the right one, and I blamed it on the fact that my parents had moved a couple times while I had been gone. I got to take a picture with him, which was nice. Elder Ingersoll and I are convinced he'll someday be an apostle, so I'll have one of those pictures people always like to show off. Sweet.
I loved the conference, overall. He was a wonderful teacher. He spoke a lot from his own experience and talked about the missionaries who had taught him when he was baptized at age 26. Mentioned a lot of good things about maintaining the image and matching the message we preach. But more inspiring than that was when he told about three years later, now serving as Branch President, and the missionaries came to his door to meet with him. He said that when he opened the door, he literally almost took a step back because he could feel, tangibly, the power coming from this missionary companionship on the other side of the door. He talked a lot about the miracles this young missionary performed just because he "didn't know how to say no, and he worked with a branch that just didn't know how to say no." They decided to double the size of the branch that year, and they did it, essentially because they were all too young and inexperienced to see the potential obstacles. Kind of ironic isn't it? I liked the way he talked about the power we have when we decide something. He said some things that match what Elder Clegg and I have concluded after a few discussions. That is that, in essence, you can decide to be excited and passionate about anything. Even tracting. I wonder if I really underestimate the power of agency.
Unfortunately, Elder Kearon also quoted Elder Holland saying,"It takes a truly inspired conference to last past Tuesday." (or in our case, since that conference was on Thursday, past Saturday). The real test is finding a way to maintain that inspiration all the way to the end. And really, past the end of my mission, to be honest.
This week was a great one in terms of teaching, as well. "P" a man who really just wants to find happiness in his life, told us he had a long discussion with his wife about it, and he has her full support if he wants to learn more about this church and build his faith. (I really hope that support lasts through the tithing discussion). We met with him three times this week, and all of them were spectacular! We asked him to read 2 Nephi 2 for one lesson to prepare to talk about why we're here on earth, and when we asked him in the lesson what he thought about the chapter, he said, "well, I think what it's saying is that we all have our agency, and it's our choice to decide whether we're going to choose good or bad." Thank you, my friend, that was our lesson for today, we'll see you on Friday. I love this man! In Sunday School, we talked more deeply about the Atonement and how to use it in our lives, and he was sitting there marking up his scriptures and loving it all. Sadly, we've learned that he lives in the Haaga ward boundaries, so we're going to need to transition him there and let those missionaries begin teaching him, but he's such a good man. I really hope he'll be baptized, no matter where it is.
"A", another man that missionaries have been teaching for a long time, also made a great step forward this weekend. Saturday, we talked with him about fasting to have the determination to live the Word of Wisdom. He wasn't quite sure if he could, but he was so close. I'm not sure what more we can do, but he agreed to fast about it with us. He was like, "oh yeah tomorrow is fast sunday." He's not even a member yet! But, he did say that he had a dream once where he got baptized in Neitsytpolku, at the chapel, and it's summer now.....
Life hasn't been all fun and games, we've had some people be pretty rude to us downtown. One guy shouted some nasty things to us out his car window as he drove past, and Elder Clegg had a drunk man follow him for a long way shouting at him for not giving him any money. One time, though, I actually thought I handled it pretty well. The tram was packed to capacity and Elder Clegg and I were standing in front of a chair. A woman with her dog got on and said, in a less than polite way that "hey there's a chair there, so if you guys don't want to use it, I will." He and I hadn't even noticed the chair that folds down out of the wall of the tram. So, we make room and she sits down and I decide to ask her how she's doing that day. She takes one look at the nametag and says, "oh, you guys are a couple of those 'false doctrine' preachers." To which I just smiled back and said nothing, not in the mood to fight today. After a few seconds, we happened to make eye contact again and evidently her first comment wasn't enough for these two boys, so she said something that roughly translates to, "You guys are far away from God." I just looked down, smiled again and said, "Look, Ma'am. I'm really sorry we didn't see the seat there." To which she just laughed, and we got off the tram at our stop without anything more said.
Anyway, I love you all, gotta go. Hope everyone has a great week!
Elder Hansen

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Holy Temple

From a recent mission conference - McKay is in the back row, just left of center

Hey everybody,

The temple never felt more holy than it did for me this past Tuesday. Monday, as we were in the office waiting for turns to email, President walked up to me and whispered, "you know, if you were out working right now, I could give you permission to go to the temple with "A" and the others tomorrow."

The next day, I had to restrain myself from sprinting up the steps of the temple into the main double doors. I scanned my recommend and walked around the corner to find "A" sitting right there on a couch in the waiting area. She ran up and gave me a big hug, which I returned. I just about lost it right there. You can't imagine how incredible that moment was for me, to be standing in the temple with someone we watched accept the gospel. It had been such a long road. The last year or so has not been easy for her. None of the time while I was there was easy for either of us. But, in the end, there we were. I walked from there into the dressing room and also found the branch president from Jakobstad there. It had evidently been he who had called the mission president to let him know they would be coming down to the temple. I owe him a big one. After changing, I saw the branch mission leader come walking in. He also gave me a hug. The session was in Swedish, so poor Elder Clegg had to endure the headphones. I didn't realize two weeks ago, when I did a session in Swedish, that I would be sitting in that session that day. How could I have ever known that was practice for one of the greatest days of my life?

After the session, we had the chance to talk for a while in the celestial room. Things still aren't perfect for her, but they're much better than they were. Apparently her kids still talk about me all the time. Yes, my pride was about through the roof at this point. We went out and took some pictures before they went to go eat and Elder Clegg and I had to run off to an appointment. It was hard to say goodbye again, but they all made me swear to come to Pietarsaari when I come back to visit Finland. As we got back onto the train to leave Espoo, Elder Clegg said, "well, back to the real world." To which I responded, "Maybe for you, friend, but I'm still up in the clouds."

The rest of this week hasn't been easy. A lot of things have fallen through and it's seemed tough to get things going. Coordinating with so many new missionaries is tough. But no matter what happened, I could just pull out my camera and look at the picture of us outside the temple, and just smile. Is there anything that really matters compared to that?

We did have one great miracle this week, though. We said hi to a woman as she passed us and she wheeled around and said, "Are you guys from that church?!" We told her we were and she got very excited. She told us her sister was an active member in another country and that she wanted to come visit our church. Then on Sunday, she came! She had to leave right after sacrament meeting, but she said she would also come next week! Man, if only everyone we said hi to was that great.

Gotta go, sorry this one's a little short. Love you all.

Elder Hansen

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ice Hockey MM-Kisat

McKay just sent this picture from a few months ago

Hey everybody!

"This is our Super Bowl," said one Finn, speaking of the Ice Hockey World Championships that concluded yesterday with Sweden taking gold on their own turf. I'm inclined to agree, trying to do missionary work while the game is on is just laughable. I was shocked when one family invited us over to eat while Finland was playing, then turned the game off until we left! To his credit, he was still pulling a McKay-in-priesthood-session style move by checking the score on his phone the entire time we were there, but still, that meant a lot that they would still invite us over. The US beat Finland in the third place match, and we actually got some comments on the street from people about it. Pretty gracious, the Finns, they try not to be too bitter. I almost feel bad that we beat them. I mean, we just show up for these games because we can, but for them, it's, well, the Super Bowl.

This week started with President interrupting our P-Day game of Monopoly by suggesting that I get the language tests done and graded by the end of the week. That put a lot of stress on me, but thanks to Elder Murray getting sick and being stuck inside for two full days, I'm making really good progress. I'm also learning more about Microsoft Excel than I ever thought I would as a missionary. But, that's the boring part of my life right now.

Monday night we had a lesson with a woman we were really excited for. She had been found by Elder Ingersoll a few months ago, but after a few tries and no answer at the door, he decided just to hand her off to us. As we sat down, she started off with one of those things investigators say that always make me cringe. "Hey, I just want to say right now, that I'm not necessarily going to want to do anything about this, I'm just kind of interested." That usually means we don't get a return appointment, that they've already decided against it from the beginning. So we talked with her and found out more about her life, her background, her family. Our member along talked a bit about his conversion experience, which was hilarious. Not so much the story as the way he came to tell it. She figured out he had not always been a member and that he had changed religions as a middle-aged man. She tried to find a polite way to ask, but after stumbling over her words a couple times just eventually asked, "Well, why?" By the end of the lesson, she said, almost out of nowhere, "So, guys, I think I really do want to know more about this. Where do you want me to start?" She's such a nice, honest lady, and I'm really excited to work with her. Almost all the questions she asks in lessons are like softball, just open the Book of Mormon and there's the answer. Plus, when we went back to the second lesson, she apologized for only having read nine chapters of the book and said that next time, she'd try to do better. Unbelievable.

Thursday morning we had a lesson at the chapel with a man Elder Clegg had found while on exchanges. He was an older man, about sixty, who met missionaries about ten years ago at work. He worked at a shipping company that did a lot of business with the church and, in particular, with missionary packages. He told us a couple stories of helping missionaries avoid paying huge customs duties on winter clothes and homemade cookies. Yes, mothers, they are worth more than gold, but that doesn't mean you have to write that much as the worth on the customs declaration. Anyway, he always remembered what wonderful young men they were. Always polite, always kind, always ready to help. And now, finally, so many years later he's beaten alcohol, gotten his life in order and is ready for retirement, and is meeting with those same missionaries to find out more about this church.

He had such a powerful experience at the church. He said he felt peace there that he hadn't felt in a very long time. Peace he's been trying to find again. Although he's beaten alcoholism, he told us he's not truly happy, just not unhappy. And he came close to feeling that kind of happiness again in the church. He also came close to feeling it when Elder Clegg had the courage to simply ask him, a complete stranger standing at a tram stop, how he was doing that day. When we talked with him about baptism, he said, "Well, I'd better talk to my wife about it first." I'm really excited for him. He's such a good man.

And, to top it all off, our investigator who lives, breathes, and sleeps ice hockey has elected not to be bitter about the game and is still letting us come over this week despite the fact the the US beat Finland. All is right in the world.

Take luck this week everybody!


Elder Hansen

P.S. Elder Edwards and Elder Bishop are both here to visit and they're staying with us for the whole week. Gonna be a blast.
P.P.S Elder Ingersoll may or may not be teaching me to wrestle. And may or may not have nearly broken my nose last night doing so. I shouldn't have told you that....

Monday, May 13, 2013

Happy Mother's Day again Mom!

Ed. note - We had a video conference call with McKay for Mother's Day, crossing four time zones. Was great to talk to him. A steady dose of various TV show dialogue references among the four siblings, with Mom and Dad exchanging bewildered and bemused looks. Yep, pretty much a microcosm of the past 22 years.

He said that he will be most likely be finishing his mission in the same area in Helsinki, which he has really enjoyed, and that he will soon be training his replacement as language coordinator.Here's the email he sent today:

Not much to say after yesterday. Dad, way to go getting skype set up four ways, you rock. [Ahem, pretty proud of myself]

Here's a copy of the report I sent to president:

Our biggest success this week was found in inviting others to read from the Book of Mormon. One investigator has not read regularly ever even after a long stretch of missionaries teaching him. He always finds excuses (reading the Bible instead, busy with family, watching ice hockey, etc.). This week, as we knelt in prayer, we found a passage of scripture in 1 Nephi 13 that exemplified how the Book of Mormon and Bible supported each other. We read it with him and the Spirit truly entered his home. As we talked, he began to understand just how much he already understands about the Book of Mormon. he agreed, finally, that it was time for him to invest more time in truly finding out if the Book of Mormon was true. The next step for us is to give him specific assignments each day to help him progress towards baptism.

The other example came from a less-active family who has had the same problem as the investigator above. They just won't read! So, this time we prayed and a certain passage came to mind. As we thought about it more and realized just how much it affected families, we realized how perfect it was, because we've been praying for her son who is having a hard time in his life right now. We bore testimony in the lesson about how much reading the Book of Mormon and living according to their covenants would call down the powers of heaven in behalf of her son, and they both agreed eagerly to read every single day this week! 

I love serving with my companion and everyone in our district seems to be doing great.

Another story I forgot to tell you yesterday was a real miracle. Elder Clegg and I were out trying to find a less-active woman that we've never been able to meet. We walked up to her building, but there was a set of buttons that typically requires a code to open the door. I was disappointed, but Elder Clegg, just for fun, goes up and yanks on the door handle, and it flew open! So we went up and had a wonderful conversation with this woman! She was so friendly and she has a friend who's son just got called on a mission here! And he already speaks Finnish...we're all jealous. Then we leave, and after we walk out the door, another man comes up, punches in the code, opens the door, and walks in. Now I'm confused. So, I just have to try. I walked back up to the door, grabbed the handle, and...nothing. locked. Elder Clegg is officially a magician. 

Hey, love you all!

Elder Hansen