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,