Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Getting Back to Basics

Elders Hansen, Edwards, and Ingersoll at the Kolme Seppää" statue in downtown Helsinki.

Hey Family!

Life is still good here in downtown Helsinki. The winter is still hanging around, I'm still stressed and very busy, the work still needs to be going better, but the sun is still shining, my companions are still great, and we keep on working hard. So, all in all, I can't really complain.

Most of this week really flew by and got caught up in a lot of things that really aren't that important or interesting...which is why I can't remember what they were. Poor Elder Clegg has been stuck in the office with me late a couple evenings while I type up reports, send emails, etc. And he either writes progress reports for meetings that...never happen. But, at least we're getting to know the office staff very well.

Thursday we got to go meet one of the older high priests in the ward. He's one of our favorite members though, because he almost always makes the effort to come on lessons with us. We wanted to do something nice for him, so we went to visit to just try to bring the Spirit to his home, one of the few things missionaries can really offer. We were the ones who ended up getting the treat! He fed us some pulla and chocolate, told us stories about the "bald institute" (what they call the old man club that gets together every Friday night to have apparently very eccentric and intense doctrinal discussions), and about all his opportunities to preach the gospel to the Jehovah's Witnesses that come over every Tuesday and try to convert him.

Thursday we also had a great meeting with the bishop to talk about the ward and how everything's going to change now that we have three companionships in the same ward. This is something that doesn't exist anywhere else in the country yet, so we seem to just be running around with no idea what we're doing, but there really is some method to the madness. I just hope we get something more settled before June when Ingersoll, the real powerhouse of the ward, goes home and two sisters come in to make it eight in the ward!

Sunday was by far my favorite day of the week, again. We had some great talks from Elder Dastrup (my old companion, now serving in this ward) and his new companion, fresh from the MTC, Elder Lym. Did a great job, even though Lym's only been in the country for a week or so now. After that, Elder Ingersoll and I got to visit PRIMARY again. This time our topic was the Gold Plates. I was really impressed by how well all the kids knew the story. They kept pointing out all the details that we thought we could just skip over because they wouldn't care anyway. Not so fast my friend. What added to the general chaos was that a few of them showed up in superhero costumes (Superman slightly over represented), and none of them could sit still for two seconds. The singing time leader had to keep doing "head, shoulders. knees, and toes" over and over to see if it would help them just get all the excess energy out, but it still didn't work. I will have it known though, that Elder Ingersoll and I know "head, shoulders, knees, and toes" really well in Finnish now.

After church we didn't have much going on, so we went tracting. The first door we knock on is a young girl around twelve who runs to get her dad. We started off just talking to him about family and how much our message has blessed our family. We talked about prayer and having a gospel centered home. I kept waiting for us to say something that would turn him off so he would close the door, but he just kept listening! It was weird! Eventually, we had the Book of Mormon out and we asked him to read Moroni 10:3-5. And when we asked if he would have some time to meet, he said he'd be open almost the whole week to hear more about this. I love talking about how the gospel has blessed my family. It's the thing I feel the most confident about when I talk to people, and I really feel like it's been something that's worked. I'm grateful for the home I was raised in, and in the chance I have to say that I know how much having this kind of gospel in the home has brought me something I can always rely on. Something that brings lasting joy and happiness in my life.

On the other hand, the next man, who actually let us in, was a completely different story. His wife had died about a year previous, and he had spent most of the past year dealing with paperwork, police, and lawyers because he felt there was something wrong done or that his wife had somehow been neglected during her time in the hospital and that that had resulted in her death. My heart truly went out to this man. I couldn't comprehend the bitterness and anger that was inside him. He and his wife had looked forward to a long, happy retirement together, but all of a sudden, that was taken away from him. But, when we told him that we knew of a way that he could release all that bitterness and just let it go, he couldn't accept it. The thought of just leaving it all behind, regardless of what happened or didn't happen in the hospital, was just not something he could comprehend. It was so sad. That is exactly why Christ did what he did for us. I can't blame this man, I don't know what he's going through by any stretch of the imagination. But Christ does. Christ has already felt it. And even when people tortured him and slew him, he forgave them. That is the power of the Atonement. And I'm grateful for it.

Love you everybody! Hope you have a great week!

Elder Hansen

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Aaronic Priesthood Ordination

Hey everybody!

Sorry for the late email, we had zone conference yesterday! It was great, I had a lot of questions going into it, but I came out with even more answers, and not even just things that apply right now to my area and missionary work, which means it was a good meeting.

But as for last week:

We set up a DA with R - Iraqi food. We've all had the Turkish Kebab that Erik knows from his mission and which we will desperately need when I come home, and is sliced very thin and served with fries or rolled up like a burrito. This was Iraqi kebab, though. Ground beef laid out flat, stuffed with veggies, then rolled up like a cinnamon roll and baked in the oven with oil. Yeah, sorry you had to read that, Mom. Don't worry, my heart is still moving - it only clogged half the artery. But it was so worth it. He also got to go to family home evening at the institute afterwards, which he loves. We love that he goes - keeps him around such good people.

Had a pretty busy day running to the train station to help shuttle missionaries here and there and pick up Elder Clegg, my new companion, and Elder Murray, Elder Ingersoll's new companion. Elder Clegg was trained by Elder Manwaring in Hyvinkaa, so I actually already know him pretty well. He's from Hyde Park, Utah, but he tells everyone that he's actually more from Idaho than Utah. Really hard worker, even when we aren't having success. Good guy. Murray is from Scotland! He was baptized by his uncle all of about two years ago. Pretty crazy guy. Tells a lot of stories about crazy times he used to have as a "sparky" (electrician) working on cars, and about bar fights, and about soccer games. Actually, I think the stories about bar fights and soccer games typically blend together. Europeans....

I spent the entire day in the office. Poor Elder Clegg. At least he got to go outside with Ingersoll and Murray for a while in the morning while I was in my meetings. President had me sit in on the trainers' meeting and the meeting for the new missionaries and their trainers to debut the new grammar books the MTC just published, which, at least so far, seem to be a good improvement on the last ones we've been using, and to talk about the new language study guide that I wrote. I'm actually pretty proud of all the work that's gone into it, until I looked to the back page and immediately found...a typo. Bummer. But it's ok. We still got to teach R later that evening, so it all worked out and I was happy.

Today got shot because all of our appointments fell through, but my day was made up by walking through the metro station below the central train station. There are typically two to three men dressed up in funny costumes or pretending to be statues there, trying to earn money. One of them that day was dressed up as none other than Darth Vader. If I had had any cash on me, I might have dropped a few coins in.

Spent a lot of the day trying to get the area under control and everything organized. With Elder Edwards and I being in the office so much, we didn't really get a whole lot of time to do any paperwork in the apartment or anything like that, so we were way behind. We got a whole map book made for our area (which has now been shrunk again to accommodate for a THIRD companionship in this ward now) and tried to make a good plan for how we're going to work with our ward. Terribly enthralling, I know, but definitely something that needed to get done.

Since the Tampere Zone took their language test on Friday, I decided to get started early on the spoken portions. Bascially, it means I call every missionary in the mission and test their ability to speak, and that score gets added to the written portion taken in zone conference. It's great because I get to call and talk to some of my friends in the mission that I haven't seen for a long time, but at the same time, it's a lot of work. That alone would take a lot of my time, but on top of that there's preparing for the three language schools we'll have next month, and then there's you know, like, missionary work to do when I have free time. No, not really, I don't let it get that crazy, but after seeing two previous companions conduct these spoken tests, I'm not looking forward to it terribly much. We'll see how it goes. Wish me luck.

Always my favorite day of the week. After church, we helped Bishop ordain R to the office of a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. Such a great spirit in that moment, especially in light of R's situation. Apparently a few of his friends aren't happy with his decision, and they've been giving him a hard time. On top of that, his economic situation might make it so that he can't stay in Finland much longer. But regardless, he's trying his best to live the gospel. Such a great example to us.

Well, family, that's my week. Hope you all have a great one!

Elder Hansen

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bangs, bruises and baptisms

So...despite our best efforts this week, R was indeed baptized on his scheduled day, without any issues. I'm still not sure how Elder Edwards got him all the way under the water (he's about a foot and a half taller than Edwards), but it all worked out.

Monday: Five days till baptism

Lesson with R in the evening after a pretty typical P-Day involving us going to the store at seven in the morning, after Edwards and Ingersoll dragged me out to run. I actually got all of like 200 meters into it before I hit a wall and my body started screaming "you moron, you haven't run for months, why are we running now?" but at least I finished. Went to the office and I played a few games of pool against myself while Elder Ingersoll emailed and Elder Edwards tried to email, but ended up getting sucked into the other office to help with the never-ending stream of computer-related problems only he can fix. I swear, without him, this mission wouldn't function. Pretty proud of my companion. The lesson went really well, too. R loved general conference, so trying to teach him why it's important to follow the prophet right after it was about the easiest thing I've ever done on my mission.

Tuesday: Four days until baptism
Spent most of the morning moving the Londons (our beloved office couple) into their new apartment right around the corner from the office. Lots of headaches getting language school arranged for Wednesday, trying to figure out what things to do with them, etc. But we got to meet with R again and go over the last details of the lessons before his interview on Wednesday. Seeing him always makes my day.

Wednesday: Three Days until baptism
I was actually pretty proud of this day. We used a lot of the companions of missionaries attending language school to go out in our area, so we as a companionship were in three places at once: me running language school, Edwards in the office (as always), and Ingersoll out teaching lessons. In fact, even after language school was over and the other missionaries had returned to their areas, we still kept it going by getting members to stay with Elder Ingersoll in the chapel while he taught lessons, and Edwards and I stayed upstairs in the office working on our own things. Ingersoll did R's baptismal interview, and everything went smooth. R came out with a big smile on his face. I couldn't help but match it.

This language school was also one of my favorites thus far. Really good group with a lot of talent for the language, which, ironically, means they ask better questions about things they don't understand. A lot of younger missionaries just get overwhelmed and are too afraid to even try. But this group had some gems. We talked about how/why they make plans for studying the language and I went over my usual presentation on how the same principles of vision, goals, planning, and accountability that occur everywhere in missionary work also apply to studying a language. So the question I always ask when a missionary wants help studying the language more is, "well, what do you want to learn about?" I made them a promise that as long as their desires were pure and in harmony with God's will, they would make better choices on what to study and their language would improve. Then one of them asked the greatest question, "So, how do we change our desires?" We spent the next half-hour studying the Atonement. There's a phrase I never used before my mission that has now become commonplace: "Use the Atonement." Before becoming a missionary, I didn't know what that meant, nor do I think I had ever heard anyone say it. But the Atonement is a gift, one meant to be used. And it was amazing to see how much I've changed based on that one simple realization. 

Thursday: Two days until baptism
MOVE DAY....and the day we nearly died. We have fourteen new missionaries coming tomorrow. That meant that Thursday we had to move furniture and supplies into and out of five different apartments to try to have everything ready. We started by moving the Haaga sisters into their new apartment, then taking the junk they didn't want/need to Pasila, and the rest to a self-storage place until we find a home for it in all the apartments that will be opened this spring/summer. Also, Elder Edwards was on this day deathly ill, but too stubborn to stay home.
While moving the sisters' ENORMOUS desks (seriously these things were beasts), we realized that to get them into the van we would have to take them apart and put them back together in the new apartment. Being the great handyman I am, I took them down in no time, assuring the others that I could put them back together without directions on the other end. Uh...yeah. Long story short, I lost half the screws somewhere, mixed up the small drawers that go under the desks, put the top of one desk on the wrong desk, and ended up having to crawl underneath that desk on my hands an knees to hold it on my back and shoulders while the other four missionaries tried to figure out what it had looked like before we took it apart. An altogether relatively humbling experience for yours truly. Not to mention later Elder Ingersoll dropped a couch on his toe and slammed his head into a low-hanging air duct, and I threw out my back lifting a washing machine. We walked into the office to teach R and just laughed about the idea that none of us would actually live long enough to see R baptized on Saturday. This lesson went well, as usual. Taught him about the priesthood and how it was both power and authority from God and the duty to serve other people. Bishop wants him to get the priesthood next Sunday, so we definitely need to make sure he is ready by that day.

On the upside, we happened upon and old version of Monopoly and Settlers in the old Haaga apartment. You can guess what we played that night. :) You can also guess who won at both of them. :)

Friday: One day until baptism
Missionary work. I know right? Apparently, office elders do that kind of thing once in a while. Spent a lot of the day on the phone as well, getting everything ready for the baptism. 

Saturday: BAPTISM!!!!
Met R at the train station with a bunch of his friends from his hometown. Bunch of classy guys. All of them spoke at least some Finnish, plus a mixture of English, and Arabic and Curdish, of course. Never met a more animated group of guys. And they were all really happy for R, even if some of them didn't understand why he wanted this so bad that he would quit smoking and drinking for it. Oh, and all of them agreed that the missionaries look like the mafia when we walk around in our suits, and that Ingersoll looks like John Cena (the WWE wrestler). Pretty funny.

The whole turnout for the baptism was small, but it just made it all the more special for R, just all of his best friends (which includes us!). I was standing at the top of the stairs as he came walking out of the water, and the look he gave me was priceless. Just stared at me with his eyes wide open, a half-grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. But he was too shocked too actually smile. Reminded me of the look he gave us after we gave him a blessing for the first time.There was just perfect peace in his face. Perfect happiness. Like nothing he'd ever felt before.

Sunday: Confirmation
Everything went perfectly during church. Couldn't have asked for anything better. Things went wrong after church, though, when one of my companions whose name I wont mention but it starts with I and ends with ngersoll, scheduled a lesson at the very top of our area, meaning we couldn't get back until 10.00. After a week like this, I was more than happy to just go straight to bed.

What a great week.

Love you all,

Elder Hansen

Monday, April 8, 2013

General Conference

Hey everybody!

General Conference this weekend was a dream come true. It felt like a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, I loved it so much, that all I really wanted to do was sit there forever and listen to them speak. With as stressful as life becomes as a missionary, those few hours to sit and be instructed and boosted really help. It also helps to have investigators there by the bucketful. (Can I say that? That's not even a Finnish saying, I think I just made it up). Joka tapauksessa [in any case], our star investigator there was R., the young man from Iraq. I don't think I've ever told you all his story. As a ten year old boy, after his father and brothers were killed, he fled from his home country and, after bouncing around Europe for much of his young life, finally settled down in Belgium, where he attended school. He began living a less than tame life, and began having a number of hardships with relationships both inside and outside his family. After wasting a number of years of his life in pursuits that led to only misery, he left Belgium and moved to Sweden to live with his uncle. his mother visited him once or twice, but other than that, he has not seen her in nearly ten years because he has absolutely no desire to return to his country of origin. After living with his uncle for a number of months, he decided to try his luck in Finland, and moved to Helsinki. 

When he arrived in Helsinki, he met up with an old friend, then living in Oulu, also from the same country. This friend announced one day that he had recently been baptized and become a Mormon, and that it had been a decision that had changed his life. He spoke of the peace and joy that had come to him since his decision to follow the Savior. Something inside R's heart began to yearn for a similar experience. This friend got him in contact with the missionaries in Helsinki. They met with him and President Rawlings and began teaching him the things he would need to know to find that peace in his life, beginning at the most basic and fundamental truth of the gospel: God is our loving Heavenly Father. He attended church with them that Sunday, dressed in his typical baggy pants, Miami baseball cap, studs in his ear and eyebrow, and loose, hanging shirt. 

By the time I arrived in Helsinki, R already had a date set to be baptized and a calendar he had made with the elders to help him prepare. We taught him a few truths of the Restoration, and continued to answer his questions about baptism and the Book of Mormon. He ate it all up. Everything he read and everything we spoke rang true in him and he couldn't wait for more. After a few times meeting with him, we realized that his questions were coming in large part from long discussions with his friend in Oulu, to whom he would turn with questions when we were not around. He began asking about things like the Word of Wisdom and Chastity. That was one of my favorite lessons with him. As Elder Edwards illustrated on the whiteboard how our body is a temple and when we put improper substances into it, it will damage it, R immediately turned to his pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He said, "I've been trying to quit for a month, but now, I'm done!" and ground up the whole pack right there in front of us. Later, as we continued talking, he recognized that the studs in his ear and eyebrow were also not appropriate. The next time we saw him, they were gone. He told us just how much shampoo it had taken to finally work the stud out of his eyebrow, and we all had a good laugh about it. 

The next Sunday, he showed up in a suit and an old white shirt that a missionary had left behind. His hair (now showing without the cap) was newly cut. His life was not easy. In order to fully live the word of wisdom and law of chastity, he was being forced to change his choice of activities, his friends, even his living conditions. But he knew this was what he wanted. After watching Finding Faith in Christ with us in gospel principles class, he cried. He gave our closing prayer in front of everyone and did a great job! He gave Elder Edwards a big hug afterwards and said, "Before, I wasn't totally sure, but now I believe 100%!". Yesterday, he met us at the train station and came to Haaga for general conference with us. He stayed for all three sessions we saw that day. He met with the bishop to talk about preparing to receive the priesthood after his baptism. Afterwards, he came and told me that someday he might want to be a missionary, too. (he's only 19, it's totally possible). Last night, we got the confirmation of approval to proceed with the baptism from Salt Lake. We have a baptismal service planned for this Saturday. He will need all of your prayers to make sure he can stay strong for this week. He's been without tobacco for almost four days now! We all love this man, and we're so excited for him. The members are too. They all came to say hi to him at conference. The institute here is great. They have so many of the YSAs come from all over the Helsinki area, so they get a lot of them with so many students. After the lesson, they usually have a dinner prepared for everyone and they socialize for an hour or so. He loves it! Gets to go every week, even though it's in Finnish. He just sits there in the front and beams at everyone. That's one important thing I've realized out here. As much of a fuss as I make about language and learning to speak properly and effectively, there's a lot more to this gospel than words. Indeed, the language of the gospel as a whole is one that is felt more than heard or spoken. Some of my most cherished moments as a missionary have been those where I had no more words left.

We had another lesson with him this week. When we set the appointment, a thought came to invite a particular member along. This member had been with R the day before in gospel principles class, and seemed like a good option, so it was easy to accept that prompting, and we invited him along. As it turns out, this member had once had EXACTLY the same struggles as R was currently having. There would have likely been no better option to bring to that particular lesson. I'm amazed by how Heavenly Father arranges his children to be of support to one another.

Other highlights from this week include: 

First, Star Wars. Elder Ingersoll (our new companion for a week after Elder Nilsson went home for a surgery and transfers are only a week away) and I have been having fun quoting Star Wars the past couple days. As we've been gathering up investigators to go to conference, we typically end up with about six to eight investigators (a mix of Finns, Americans, Africans, and Asians) all congregating at the central train station and hopping on the same train together to somewhere. Unfortunately, with so many people, we end up with some conflicts in schedules and some people are late. So, what we've been able to do is leave one of us with a member there, and have the other two take the main group forward. We "radio" back and forth, "first transport is away. Repeat, the first transport is away." and we cheer. (For those of you who don't get it, go watch The Empire Strikes Back).

Gotta keep things loose every once in a while.

Second, talking to everyone has always been something I've struggled with, but this week every time the spirit told me to talk with someone, I did it. Most of them said no, but every time I left walking a little taller and knowing my Heavenly Father was proud of me. There was a great amount of peace in just doing it. Two of these people left particular impressions on me. The first was amazed that she had always seen us pass by, but had never had the chance to talk to us herself. (She actually was so happy about the short message we shared with her there on the street that she gave us both a hug before she left!) The second actually approached us on the train last night as she had overheard our conversation about general conference and was curious to learn more.

Third, after getting another lesson set up a few days in advance, we had some time to either tract, contact, or make phone calls before an appointment. My initial instinct was to tract, but the Spirit said to make phone calls. I was glad I did. Trying to find a member's home to meet in for these investigators ended up taking much longer than I had originally predicted, but it was worth it. We again found the right member, who ended up being able to help these investigators with more than just being a warm body in the lesson.

Last, I had a little embarrassing moment. This week we had a ton of packages come to the office! We had to try to get them all down the stairs to the office van, to be driven over to the mission home and distributed through the zone leaders, who were visiting for zone leader council. I, being the strong, proud man I am, decided to take all the last three packages on my own. As I bent down, however, it might have been worthwhile to check just how much I was trying to lift because as I started to stand, I heard the POP of the seam of my pants splitting completely! Needless to say, we borrowed the office car and made a quick pit stop at home.

Pretty funny right?

Here's a picture of lunch in the office - pretty healthy, huh?

Love to all,

Elder Hansen

Monday, April 1, 2013

Happy Easter

Hei kaikille,

As I reflect on this week, I'm grateful for how the focus on Easter made it so much easier for me to focus on my purpose here as a missionary. I'm also grateful for the way people responded to invitations - all of them! It seemed like we couldn't miss with invitations this week.

Last week, I mentioned the investigator that we thought was missing, since we hadn't been able to get a hold of him. Turns out it was only for a day because his phone was stolen, he turned up later that afternoon. Funny how I always tend to overreact about things. He's doing wonderfully, though. He's very excited to be baptized. He tells us every time we see him about how he's changed as a result of the gospel, and how he feels so much more joy in his life every day because of the things he has learned. He's quit smoking. He even pulled out a pack of cigarettes and tore them up right in front of us. He's changed visibly, too. His hair is groomed, his clothes have changed, the earring and stud in his eyebrow are both gone. Almost all of this is the result of good member friends. He has one that introduced him to the gospel that he calls every week to ask questions. He has friends at church that he loves to see. Teaching him has helped me learn how to make better plans so that investigators have friends throughout the entire investigation process.

We had six investigators in church between the two companionships here this week! It was great! It took a lot of coordination between the two of us, as well, with arranging schedules and trying to find ways to meet all of these people and bring them to church. The ultimate goal is, of course, to have members bring them, but when we get some help from Heavenly Father and find them and invite them Saturday night, sometimes we don't have time. Two of the investigators that were in church were found the night before and agreed to come. All we have to do is invite! If we don't invite, they don't come. But if we do invite, the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. We have nothing to lose by just inviting everyone.

The same is true for baptismal invitations. I had a great chance to learn more about inviting when I was on exchanges with Elder Ingersoll this week. We had planned a lesson that was pretty generic, but then felt better after we changed it and tried to make it more specific to the investigator. When we read these other scriptures, selected after more prayer and study, the investigator just sat back and said, "Ahh, I get it now." Then, we invited him to be baptized and he said yes. We set a date with him, and he's continuing to meet with the missionaries until God tells him that that is the right day. We did have to tell him that he wouldn't be baptized unless he was ready, but because we had role played just that, it was all very smooth. Role plays rock.

All in all, elämä on ihana [life is wonderful].


Elder Hansen