Monday, March 25, 2013

The Rock Church

Hei the family,

Week one in a new area is always a little different. This week, that was an understatement.

Picking up right where I left off last week, after the Fazer Factory Field Trip, we went back to the office for email, spent a little more time with the other missionaries, and then took most of my stuff to the Nietsytpolku apartment to make the actual move on Tuesday a lot easier. After that, we had a dinner appointment with a part-member family who had lived in the states for about half of their marriage. They speak half-English, half-Finnish with us, including when she was talking to us about all the spicy Mexican food in the states, saying “Yeah, mina en voi syödä hot stuff.” (I can’t eat hot stuff). It was pretty fun. Unfortunately, I think they’ve had too many experiences with missionaries coming over and asking her husband (not religious at all) probing questions that make him uncomfortable, because every question, no matter how simple, she answered for him. What can you do?

Saying goodbye to Elder Manwaring Tuesday night was a bummer. He was a great companion. But I’m having a great time serving with Elder Edwards. We have a great office staff that’s about as geeky for computers as Edwards is (he fixed computers with his dad for a living before his mission). I mean, they all got stoked over getting a new printer with duplex ink for the office or something like that. Anyway, that’s not that important. The important thing is that the office takes more time than I thought it would, and we ended up spending almost all of Wednesday in the office.

Thursday I finally got to meet R, our investigator from Iraq. He’s a refugee here, seeking a long-term residence permit. He has a friend who was recently baptized in Oulu who told him all about the church and so he just wants to learn everything he can about it. He’s been reading the Book of Mormon for about a week and is already almost all the way through 2 Nephi! Every time we tell him anything or read a scripture with him, he just looks up and smiles through slightly crooked teeth and says, with a bit of a lisp, “Yeah, it’s great. It’s really great.”

R. started smoking about a month ago, but ever since his friend told him we don’t smoke, he’s realized how bad it is for him and been trying to quit. But…it’s not easy. As we explained how our bodies are a temple and that’s why we don’t intake harmful substances, he immediately started committing on his own to get rid of alcohol and tobacco right away. At the end of the lesson, he asked if we could give him a blessing to help him stop smoking, which Edwards did. The simplicity and sincerity in Elder Edwards’ words and the purity in R’s faith helped call down a spirit to that room, the likes of which I haven’t felt for a long time. After the blessing, the intensity of the spirit in the room enveloped each of us. None of us dared move or speak for a solid few minutes. Just stood there in silence, waiting for some unseen signal to break the spell. A few moments later R obliged by raising his hand to his heart and whispering, “Something happened.” He stood up and slowly put on his jackets and Miami hat. Then, he gave both of us a hug and walked out the door. Elder Edwards and I had to talk for a long time about that experience, but even after a long discussion, no words can accurately describe the feeling we had after that meeting. Right now, we’re a little worried because R didn’t make it to church this week and he isn’t answering his phone, so he may have already been deported or moved to a new location. No matter what happens, though, the Spirit wrought a change on all of us in that room that day. Elder Edwards and I are both very grateful to have been there for that experience.

The only thing more shocking from this week than that lesson was, ironically, the one that directly followed it. From R to a Pentecostal missionary. Unfortunately, it turned almost instantly into a fight. I tried three different times to figure out why he was meeting with us, and finally figured out that his whole goal was to get as many Mormons as possible to join his “brotherhood,” so no matter what I said, he was just looking for a way to prove it wrong. I started by reading from Peter, where he says that “no scripture is of any private interpretation” and then explained why the Book of Mormon taught the same truths as the Bible, while filling in some gaps in Christ’s doctrine, and most important, showing to the world that God has indeed called a living prophet. To which he responded by asking about Kolob, plural marriage, how the gift of tongues works in our church, and why the pictures in the Book of Abraham are actually heathen images and he can see them himself if he wants to. I did everything I could to answer using the Book of Mormon and show how, no matter what, it all really came back to whether or not the Book of Mormon was true, but he really just wasn’t listening. He didn’t want a copy of the Book of Mormon to read on his own. He asked us after the meeting when we could meet again, but I wasn’t exactly inclined to meet again.

Anyway, I love being in the office so far. We're in here about twice a week for a few hours. Most of our time is still spent doing missionary work, and in another few weeks when the new missionaries come (FOURTEEN OF THEM ON APRIL 16), we'll basically be out of the office altogether, I think. We have a great office staff here, and Elder Edwards and I have been friends for a while, so I'm loving life.

Except walking is definitely different than being in a car. See, we walk a lot. Which I have no problem with, until of course there are long sheets of metal just left on the side of the road and I happen to brush past them just as the wind carries my pant leg right onto the corner of the sheets of metal and cuts an eight inch tear in the front of my pants. Sister London (the senior office sister) said she might be able to fix it so that it'll last at least until I go home, so we'll see what happens.

So, the subject line. Sunday was great. I love this ward. But everyone was making a fuss about how there were so many people there yesterday! I had no clue why, it was all new to me, but it seems like there was a surprisingly large amount of people there. Turns out a bunch of American kids from California are here with their choir! Cool right? About ten of them, two of whom weren't members, showed up to church! Later, we went to their concert. They were pretty spectacular in this old, stone church that was nearly a perfect circle and the acoustics were incredible. They sang a bunch of old American southern spirituals, which I'm sure were a bit strange to these predominantly Lutheran Finns, but they were my favorite. There were some other more reverent songs, too, though. But anyway, about ten of these kids were members, and one has already put in his papers!!! He's in HIGH SCHOOL! We also found out that one of those ten who came to church with us was totally inactive, something no one in her own choir even knew. So, one of the missionaries who was there with me is going home in a few days, and he fully plans on stalking her on facebook and reactivating her! Too bad he lives all the way in Sweden...bummer.

Hey, life is great. I love you all. Keep smiling!



Monday, March 18, 2013

Fazer Factory!

Hei kaikille,

Just got back from a trip to Vantaa and the legendary Fazer Chocolate Factory. Think Wille Wonka, now drop a little of the fantasy and add Finnish. Brilliant! Combined district activity with the Espoo and Helsinki Districts, which was a genius idea right before transfers. Got to spend some time with people I probably won't see again for a long time. The tour itself wasn't spectacular, I was really hoping for a chance to go into the inner workings of the place and watch all the machines moving, but apparently they've had too many accidents with that so they've shut it down and just have a video instead. They video/presentation was still pretty interesting, lots of stuff about branding and marketing, buying other companies and how they're planning to expand into the Asian market....ok Dad is the only one even slightly interested right now...moving on. TO THE PART WHERE WE GOT TO EAT AS MUCH CHOCOLATE AS WE WANTED!!!! I feel pretty sick right now. But it was so worth it.

This week overall was a blast. The week of change calls has always been a stressful one for me, especially when I'm pretty sure something is going to change. Every time I try to avoid thinking about it, and every time I seem to fail. Manwaring and I were pretty sure that we would just be staying and that one of us would split off and open the other area when the two wards split, but President and the Lord had other ideas. Manwaring is staying in Espoo, Elder Green is coming from beautiful Pieatarsaari to be his companion, and I'm going to Neitsytpolku (Downtown Helsinki center), part-time office elder! That part time is going to be really small, though. We just got a new senior couple and a senior sister, so we're almost back to fully staffed in the office. We're going to get to actually do missionary work. It'll be sad to lose the car...but I'll get by.

But, the week:


Not much. slowish P-day. We got our new bank cards, which means that we have to withdraw all the cash on our old cards or else it would just be directed back to the general mission fund. So, I'm currently walking around with 300+ euros in my wallet....yeah. Good thing this is Finland, crime rate=0, otherwise I'd probably already be robbed blind. We had dinner with a member family later, where the father loved trying to practice his English with us. I think he used to speak a lot better, and he's still pretty good, just a little rusty. The word for cereal is murot, which is plural, so when he tried to tell us about his companions from his mission who didn't know how to cook, he talked about how all they ate was "the cereals." Close enough. On that note, with all the travel on public transport in Neitsytpolku, it's really inefficient to come back to the apartment in the middle of the day for lunch and dinner, so...evidently we don't really eat. We'll see how that goes.

We went to visit an old couple (part-member family) in the morning. We played two truths and a lie to try to get to know the non-member husband better, and it was really hard to explain in Finnish! They had fun with it, though. She was like, "well, it's going to be impossible, he (pointing to her husband) already knows everything about me, I can't lie to him!" I love old cute couples like that. After that we stopped by an old potential we had met a long time ago and he let us come in and talk about the Book of Mormon. Turns out he's a Swedish speaker too (who also speaks German and a little English), so I got to practice with him. My Swedish is dying pretty fast. It's a good thing there will be a Swede living with me in Neitsytpolku (in the other companionship) so we can speak together.

The list of characters here just keeps getting longer. Tuesday night we visited with a 31 year old less active man from Ecuador who has lived in Finland off and on for over ten years ("off and on" meaning he escapes the cold every winter by traveling back to Ecuador). He speaks great Finnish, but his English is even better, probably from playing video games - he was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 when we walked in. He says he really wants to come back to church, but apparently he has a habit of doing this every Spring, and then dropping off again in the summer, or so the bishop says. We'll see if we can't get him to stick this time.

Exchanges with Kerava, so I got to work with Elder Fourtina, from Quebec. Hilarious man. He got really excited when we knocked on a door and found out the man spoke French! He just went off and I think I picked up four or five words from their conversation (thank you High School French). The man wasn't interested, but at least it was fun for Fourtina to speak his native language. 

We had one of the biggest miracles from the week today. That morning, as I had been praying over our plans, I had the image of an Estonian man we had tracted into a few days before come to mind. We had some time to slot him in in the afternoon, so we planned to drop by him. I knew he was leaving back to Estonia that day, so I wasn't sure if he would even be there, but the feeling was so sure that we decided to go for it. We rang the doorbell the first time, and no one answered. I was so disappointed. This man had been so excited to get the Book of Mormon. We rang it again. nothing. So, we decided to at least try to call him and see if he was anywhere close. Just as I heard the dial tone ringing in my ear, a phone began to ring on the stairs below us. He was walking up to his apartment right that moment! He was in a hurry to get back to the car and get down to the ferry, but we were able to teach him just a little bit more about the Book of Mormon and give him a copy in Estonian which we promised to read. Such a miracle the way Heavenly Father put us right there in literally the last possible moments before he would have been gone.

KIELIKOULU! One of my favorite groups so far. This one also included a surprise visit from a Finn! Her appointment there fell through, so she asked if she could just stay and sit in with us. Talk about pressure!! But she was a great sport and made it a really good experience, helping the young missionaries with their accents. She taught me a few fun things too.

We finally found a new investigator in Espoo II!!! It was incredible! It was a man Elder Manwaring had found a few weeks ago that had actually set (and kept) an appointment four weeks out. How's that for long term planning? We were also able to get the bishop along, which was wonderful. His big question was why we need the Book of Mormon when we already have the Bible, so we taught him about the Restoration and he listened so sincerely. When he asked questions, it was because he was actually curious, not just trying to start a fight. The bishop did a perfect job. He invited him to church instead of us needing to! He even offered to arrange him a ride there since his car was full and he couldn't bring him himself. All we did was show up and teach. I love when members understand how much more powerful it is when local members do the inviting, instead of the missionaries. Something about the badge makes it easier for people to say no to us.

Later that night, we were tracting and when we finished one building, I looked at Manwaring and said, "well, let's just go try that one!" and walked over there. We found a new investigator on the second door! She's very religious, but hasn't found a church she feels comfortable with yet. She was so confused by the fact that she had never heard of the Book of Mormon, since it testifies of Jesus Christ. I told her that was a good question. We explained Joseph Smith and the Restoration and gave her the Book, offering also to arrange a ride to church for her. She ran excitedly back into her apartment to get her phone and exchange numbers, calling to her boyfriend, "hey, these guys brought be true religion!" Well, yes we did.

Unfortunately, neither of these people made it to church. Something came up for both of them, but we're still so grateful to Heavenly Father for these miracles. Such a great day.

Change call this morning. Not a huge surprise, but I'm still excited about the move. Sad to leave Espoo, though. It's been a great area for these last six months, especially the youth here. We got invited to speak to the young men at the youth conference in Haaga, and it was a lot of fun. Got them all pumped to go on missions. Sadly, I had to say goodbyes to a lot of the Espoo kids there. Won't see most of them again for a long time. I was really touched by the things they said to me though. Sounds like they really liked having me around. i really hope the missionaries in this mission do a good job of not only being the "cool" missionaries and their friends, but also showing them a good example of living joy in the gospel and missionary service so they all go on missions.

My last Sunday in two wards. As weird as this sounds, I'm really going to miss having six hours of church every week. Such great wards.

Anyways, that was our week. It's been great. Espoo is awesome and the area is rising. Elder Manwaring has been one of my favorite companions. Life is good.


Elder Hansen

Monday, March 11, 2013

Vacation to Kolob

Hey everybody!
First, to the spiritual part of the week: There were a few moments of sheer brilliance this week, including a couple of lessons to some active members last night. As we prayed about these lessons, I had the topic of love come to my mind. My companion felt we should share a specifc scripture about the baptismal covenant. We prepared a special message about love being the greatest motivation to be faithful to our covenants and fulfill them to the utmost. As we taught, we asked some questions that really felt inspired, like they were meant for that moment, and the members taught themselves the lesson in their answers! It was great. I understand the difference between a lesson where the Spirit is present and one where it isn't so much more clearly now.

Right after that lesson, we had another miracle. We had a few minutes in between that appointment and our second one, so we decided to try a former potential and work in her area. At her door, she less than kindly informed us that she was not interested. As we worked in that area, we just didn't feel right about it. So, we left and walked to the area of the next appointment. We only had time to knock on a few doors, but the last door proved to be a miracle (funny how that works, right?) A Russian man opened the door. Upon understanding that we couldn't communicate, he summoned his Estonian roommate. We testified immediately of how our message helps people understand how much our Heavenly Father loves us. We had a great conversation and got an appointment to bring him a Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, he'll be moving back to Estonia soon, but plans on moving to Kerava as soon as he finds work again. As we were parting, though, he simply turns to us and says, in his own, slightly broken Finnish, "kiitos, se oli vahva." [thank you, it was strong] We know he felt the Spirit. He had so many chances where other people probably would have turned away from the conversation, but he felt something different while we spoke.

Earlier in the week, we were also led miraculously to someone prepared, this time in our own area. As we approached the area where we had planned to contact a family missionaries had talked to a long time ago, we saw a man shoveling snow. When we saw him, we waved. He waved back and came over to talk with us. Right when we found out who we were and what we were talking about, he got a phone call, and said something in a language we didn't understand. We thought we had lost him, but he said, "wait, I need to go give some keys to my friend, I'll be right back." So we waited, and sure enough, he came back. He invited us up to his apartment and was excited to receive a copy of the Book of Mormon. He's from Israel, so we technically can't teach him until President comes to interview him, but we're hoping we can get that figured out soon. He seems really interested.
Some more good stuff:

Tuesday we went to Lohja again. Really excited because we had a bunch of lessons set up with some new investigators. But, sadly, they all fell through. One of them we called during the day to confirm, and she hung up on us. Not a good sign. Sure enough, when we rang the doorbell, there was no answer. When we called, we could hear her ringtone through the door, and hear her silence it to make sure we couldn't hear that she as home....bummer. But, the day was saved (or at least my spirits were) by the dinner appointment we had. First off, corn bread and chili. Forgot how much I like that stuff. Then, during the spiritual thought, I got a taste of what I'm sure every family night was like when all four of us were small. The kids wouldn't sit still, they kept complaining about the other one sitting on "their side" of the couch, etc. All topped off by Elder Manwaring almost getting bit as he tried to pick up the dog that he thought was a nice, friendly one. He may or may not have squealed.
Thursday we showed up for a meeting with a less-active and the first thing he asked was, "hey, since I didn't make it to sacrament meeting, could you guys bless the sacrament right here for me?" Well, we weren't that rude. It actually gave us a good chance to explain the authority of the priesthood and the organization of God's church, something he's had difficulty understanding in the past. Later, he told us that he won't be able to meet next week because he was going on vacation. When we asked him where he was going, he said, with a straight face, "Kolob." When we asked how he was getting there, he said simply, "the angels are taking me." Ummm...
Anyway, overall, life is good, things are going slowly in our area, but we're grateful for all the miracles we see every day. I love you all.
Elder Hansen

Monday, March 4, 2013

Waking up to winter again

Hey everybody,

So, I feel like almost every one of these emails starts with a weather report, but when the weather is actually big news here, it's something I think about a lot. This time it's actually a pretty great story instead of me just complaining.

So Sunday morning, after six straight days of sunshine and clear skies, we walked out the door of our building to find about a meter of snow on the ground. I took one step into it and sunk all the way down to my knee. As we walked single file, in each other's footsteps to the car, I wondered how many people would be able to make it to church on time. We dug out our car and drove to the church building. Upon arrival, we found the entire parking lot covered with sooo much snow that we couldn't drive our car in. So we drove around the corner, found a place to park, and walked back to the chapel, only to find a veritable army of men and shovels clearing out the parking lot. Those that had been able to get their cars in had grabbed shovels and immediately begun plowing away all the snow from the parking lots to make room for the others who would shortly be arriving. As more arrived, more shovels materialized from trunks, as did hands willing to work. I stopped for a moment and looked around at the snow flying in all directions, the men, in dark suits and dress shoes not willing to let it stop them from clearing the way for others to come and worship their God together. When the main lot was clear, we moved on to one of the smaller adjecent lots. One of the boys ran ahead and turned around to snap a quick picture of all of us marching, shovels in hand with his smart phone. That's what the army of God truly looks like. When there is work to be done, they don't stand and watch. And they have joy doing it.

Later, in sacrament meeting, I realized more fully what a blessing it had been in the lives of so many. We have a less-active man we've been working with, who is just starting to come back to complete activity. He stood up in sacrament meeting and talked about how the previous day he had been trying to complete a challenge to cross country ski 30+ kilometers. As he started, he prayed and promised Heavenly Father that if He would help him finish the challenge, he would remember to pay the Lord back. Half joking, he said that when he showed up to the church that morning and saw all the people shoveling snow, he turned to the Lord again and said, "I didn't think you were going to recall the favor that fast!" But he also was out there shoveling snow with us. He menitoned his mother, his friends in the church, and the missionaries as some of the many who had been instrumental in bringing him back into activity. He's really been a pill in some of the lessons we've had, but it was so great to hear that something we'd said had really impacted him. It also reinforced my resolve to be a better friend and parent in the future, and not let someone's poor choices define my view of them. They need to know that I love them the way the Father loves them, and that I see them the way He does.

The rest of this week went by pretty quickly. We helped with a move last Monday for a few hours, which definitely left my back more than a little sore. I mean, one team of men can only lift so many beds, dressers, and cabinets up a flight of stairs. But it was a family we don't get to see often in church, so we were glad to help.

Tuesday we went to Kouvola for exchanges, which meant early trains both Tuesday and Wednesday morning to try to keep ourselves on schedule. I got to spend the day with Vanhin Helistö, the only native Finn in our mission, and an elder I got to serve with in Turku for a few days right after he reentered the country from the MTC in England. I really like spending time with him. We've developed a pretty good friendship. He was really bold with people all day long, which I really liked. I'm trying to be bolder with people now.

Wednesday was Kielikoulu in Helsinki again. Really fun group this time, lots of energy and very talented already in the language. Also got to do a baptismal interview right afterwards, which went great. One of the most solid candidates I've ever interviewed for baptism. She was so excited for it, but also for the fact that her family was going to be there to see it (her mother is less-active). Later, one of the office elders and I got to go eat dinner with a member and teach her friend. The lesson went okay, nothing too special. The food, though was soooooo good. Chicken wings cooked in....wait for it....Coca-Cola. Dead serious. 

Speaking of food, anyone ever tried unleavened bread? Well, I can now say I have. We have a less-active man we're working with who is really into food science. He's been studying the acid levels in food and trying to keep his diet perfectly balanced and stuff. Anyway, this week when we met with him, he started by feeding us unleavened bread which he had made himself, topping with some kind of oil and veggie salsa. I don't think I'm going to go try to make it myself, but he was pretty proud of it, so we were happy for him. The whole lesson went a little funny when he held up the Koran and declared, "I know this book is true, too." We were worried until I asked him, "So, if you know this is true, why are you still a member of our church?" And he told me something to the effect of, "Because this church gives you the perspective to understand all other churches." I think that's mostly true. I'm grateful for the knowledge of the Restoration, but also the assurance and persective of the Plan of Salvation and the idea that all of God's children will ahve an opportunity to recieve the gospel, whether in this life or the next, regardless of the circumstances they were born into.

The rest of the week we did our best, but things just didn't really work out. We tried to talk to everyone, knock on doors, follow counsel from President, but things just didn't really go our way. We taught a lot of people, but they just weren't interested to actually investigate at this time. Other people set up appointments, but afterwards changed their minds. It's not easy, but at the end of the day, when we remember what the Lord has done for us, we know that when we've done all we can, it's enough for him.

On to bigger and better this week!

I love you all,

Elder Hansen