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