Monday, December 29, 2014

Ahh Finland!

Last District Picture

Sisar Nielsen and Sisar Bitner - I love the joy they find in matching their outfits :)

Singing Finnish Christmas Carols

The Temple Missionary couples - "we love them"

Sisar Nielsen

Sisar Nielsen


"Sister Smith made us these! Ahh"

The Helsinki Temple

The Young Women

12/29/14- I Bid Thee Farewell

Oh my word. Is this real life?? As I sit here pondering what to say, I am overwhelmed by emotion. I can't believe that this is the last letter I will write as a missionary from the fine land of Finland. Words can't adequately express my love for this land, this people, my mission, fellow missionaries, and the wonderful experiences I've had. The Sisar Nielsen that left my family over 18 months ago is not the Sisar Nielsen that is sitting at this computer right now. What an amazing journey.

This week was a great week! I had a fantastic Christmas, which included getting letters from many of you. THANK YOU SO MUCH. You have no idea how much that meant to me. Sooo Christmas Eve (when Finns celebrate Christmas), we were at a member's house and had a blast! They are seriously sooo great! They invited over all of the recent converts that didn't have places to go. It was so fun! They even bought all of us presents. I was so touched. We also had a brunch on Christmas day with some of the temple couples. They have become my family here and they too gave us gifts. Also we went to a family's house for Christmas dinner and had traditional Finnish Christmas food and they gave us homemade Finnish socks! We're soo spoiled. And we finally got snow and have been walking in a BEAUTIFUL WINTER WONDERLAND! And the SUN SHINED on Christmas! It was a Christmas miracle. We also had an AMAZING lesson with this less active family. We asked the mom how long ago she was baptized and she said 3 years ago (her husband has been a member his whole life). It turns out that RIGHT after she was baptized they went on a study abroad to Austria and there was no church there. So basically she was forced into being a less active. They came back, had 2 cute little girls, and her understanding of the gospel is paper thin. I had the thought come into my head and I asked her "were you ever taught the new member lessons?" she responded "no..." the Spirit became way strong and I asked her "can we go through and teach you all of them again?" she said "yes please!" The Spirit was incredible. They are going to become an eternal family! I'm sooo excited. They came to church yesterday to hear my farewell talk and she texted us to set up her first lesson with us. YAY! Church is true. I gave my farewell yesterday and bawled my eyes out. Voi että... The members were soo kind to me and friends from other places came to support me. So cool. Gosh I love being a missionary :). I have learned so much on my mission! I wanna quickly make a list of some of the lessons I've learned:

1. I can do [hard] things through Christ which strengtheneth me- Philippians 4:13. Learning Finnish: hard. Being away from loved ones: hard. Following a rigorous schedule everyday including holidays: hard. Talking with strangers everyday: hard. Experiencing trials daily (sometimes hourly): hard. Being with somebody 24/7 that you just met: hard. And yet, I've learned that with Christ, not only can I do hard things, I can ENJOY doing hard things. I can LOVE doing hard things. I can take what comes and love it. He gives me the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strength that I need. He strengthens me. 

2. It's okay to be awkward. Being a missionary is sooo AWKWARD.  I've learned that it's okay to do awkward things and say awkward things. And to just laugh at yourself the whole time. It makes things so much better. 

3. Family is the most important. It has really hit me while I've been here how important my family is to me. How much I love and appreciate them. How much I just want to spend time with them. And how I will settle for nothing less than a temple marriage for my future family. 

4. The big 3 are CRUCIAL for our eternal salvation: DAILY PRAYER (individually and as a family), DAILY SCRIPTURE STUDY (individually and as a family), and WEEKLY CHURCH ATTENDANCE are ESSENTIAL. These will be 3 of the things I will constantly evaluate myself on when I go home. If one of these slips, I know I need to make a change because that means I'm slipping away from God. They may seem like small things, but they're not. They're so important. As my mission president reminded me in my final interview this week, I need to make a list of "red flags" that will signal to me that I need to make a change in my life (like am I still studying my scriptures daily?) and I can evaluate those things as I take the sacrament. That's what the sacrament is for. To help us evaluate how we're doing. If we set out specific things, then we have something to measure ourselves with. It's a lot easier to ask yourself "did I pray morning and night everyday this week, read the Book of Mormon daily for at least 30 minutes, and did we have Family Home Evening this week?" then "am I being a good person?" Evaluate your life and ask yourself how you are doing with these three things. If one of them is weaker, then make a change and evaluate yourself next time you take the sacrament. This is CRITICAL. 

5. Laugh. When things are hard, laugh. When you're not happy, make yourself laugh (at least force yourself to smile). Laughter makes everything better. It relieves stress and makes you feel happier. 

6. The Atonement is so much more powerful than we can even imagine. We must come to KNOW Christ and His Atonement in order to apply it to our lives. We must put in the effort to know Him. Daily sincere prayer, deep scripture studies, and learning of His life are the best ways. As we experience trials and turn to Him during those times of despair, that's really when we come to know Him in a very real and personal way. 

7. Be a true friend. There is a difference between being friendly and being a friend. A friendly person says hi to investigators, recent converts, and less actives at church or when they see them. They might even say that it's great to see them and they're glad they're in church. A true friend sits by this person, tells them how grateful they are that they're there, gets their number and invites them to dinner, an activity, or texts them before church the next week and says they're saving a seat for them. They give them a ride to church or an event, involve them in what is going on, and introduces them to more people. They are there for this person when this person has questions, concerns, or misunderstandings with the gospel or life. Especially with recent converts. They know so much LESS than we expect them to know.This is a whole new world for them. So take their hand and walk with them along this path back to our Heavenly Father. We're all just walking each other home. 

8. I've learned what it means to be truly converted to the gospel. When Elder Bednar came to our mission he said, "you can't trick yourself into the gospel and you can't fake yourself out." If we are truly converted to the GOSPEL, not to our spouse, family, young woman leader, bishop, neighbor, young men's program, temple marriage, or the other organizations of the church, then we will NEVER fall away. And not only that, but we will strengthen our brethren. "when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren". We will do the little things: the big 3 always, be full tithe payers, fast monthly, dress modestly, be 100% in our home and visiting teaching, keep the Sabbath day holy (the whole day), always be willing to serve, live the gospel 150%, and share the gospel with all those around us. We will not be ashamed, embarrassed, or hesitant. How could we be? We're true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are converted to Him. We understand what discipleship means. Elder Bednar said something that hit all of us really hard. He said "there are many more members that would die for the gospel than live for it." What kind of member will you be? Will you live it in all that you do?

9. How do to missionary work as a member. So many members think of missionary work in the wrong way. They think it's something scary, something that will overwhelm their lives, or something they "just don't have time for right now." That's not what it is at all. It doesn't mean that you call up your friends out of the blue and say "hey you want the missionaries to teach you?" (unless of course the Spirit tells you to do that, then by all means do it!) It means you invite people into your gospel centered lives. You don't edit the gospel out of your speech. When somebody asks you how you're doing, you say "I'm doing really good. I've been preparing all morning to teach the Sunday School lesson in my church on Sunday." When you have a talk in church, you ask your friend to come support you. When there's an activity at the church, you invite your nonmember neighbors along. You talk with your friends so they know you're a member. You ask them "do you know why we're called Mormons? It's actually a nickname because we have this book. Have you ever heard of the Book of Mormon before?... I'd love to give you a copy as a gift...." You pray everyday for missionary opportunities and TAKE them. So many members have told us that "well yeah I'll talk with people about the gospel when the opportunity arises." Here's the big secret friends.... YOU CREATE THOSE OPPORTUNITIES. It's something that you make! So make that decision today. Make a mission plan with your family. Call up the missionaries and ask for ideas for your mission plan. Don't make excuses. Just do it. The Lord needs us on His side. And not to just sit there, but to go out and bring more. Every member really is a missionary!

10. How to trust God. I think this is one of the biggest lessons I've learned. How to just take a deep breath and turn my will over to Him. To let Him take control of my life. To trust that He knows better than I do. To be willing to follow the promptings I receive, especially when they are different from what I want to do. I feel like I've had a weight lifted off my shoulders as I've done this. Put your trust in Him. He won't let you fall. 

I could go on forever about the lessons I've learned, the miracles I've witnessed, and the people I've come to love. I could go on and on about the food I've eaten, the weather I've experienced, and the beauty I've seen. I could talk for days about the tears I've shed, the laughs I've had, and the moments when I've been still and known that He is God. But even that wouldn't be enough to express my love, appreciation, and gratitude for my Savior and my Heavenly Father. At the beginning of my mission, I kinda had the mindset that I had to give this mission my ALL or it would be held against me at the last day. That I would stand before Heavenly Father at the last day and He would say, "Well Sisar Nielsen. You did well, but when you were on your mission, you didn't do all you could have to bring people the gospel. You didn't talk to that one person, and you really messed up that one day, and you totally missed the point of that trial on that other day." I had this thought that "I MUST do everything in my power because this is not my mission or my time, it's the Lord's and I will be held responsible." But as my mission progressed, I realized I thought about it completely wrong. When we are baptized and make covenants with God, we take His yoke upon us meaning that we become a pair, a team. It means that Christ will help us in all we do. So at the last day when I stand before God, Christ will stand next to me and pointing to me say "Heavenly Father, we served a mission in Finland together. It was really hard. It was cold, dark, and lots of people didn't want to listen to us. We got doors slammed in our faces, foul language towards us, and many people rejected and mocked us. But WE tried our best to take the gospel to them. We didn't baptize everybody. But Sister Nielsen sure gave it her all and we did it together." 

Christ lives. I love Him. This is His work. Miracles happen all around us, if we will just look for them. CHURCH IS TRUE! Thank you for all of the love, encouragement, and support over these past 18 months. You have no idea the help you've been to me. See you on the other side! Over and out. The name tag never comes off. We're in this for a LIFETIME. 

With sooooooo much love! 

Sisar Nielsen

ps I'll probably post one more post next week so you can see more pictures of this beautiful land.. love you all! 

pps IS THIS REAL LIFE?!?!?!?! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

All the Sisters in Sisar Nielsen's zone

Sisar Nielsen and Sisar Bitner trudging through a field - "Yeh, we are basically in the dark all the time now"

Yummy Mango Smoothie at the Nepalese Restaurant

Waiting for the train....

12/22/14 - Hyvaa Joulua! Merry Christmas!

HYVÄÄ JOULUA! MERRY CHRISTMAS! Can you believe that Christmas is THIS WEEK?! Where has the time gone?!? Oh my word, almost all the candy is gone from my advent calendar. That's how you know things are getting serious. 

It's weird to think that this is my last full week of being a missionary. It doesn't feel real, but we'll get to that later. Let's start by recapping this week. We kicked off the week by grabbing lunch at a famous Bagel/doughnut place. I got a REINDEER bagel. Yep, sure sign you're living in Finland. It's normal. On Tuesday we went on splits FOR THE LAST TIME. weird. Because there are so many companionships of sisters in our zone, we have gone on exchanges once a week every week this transfer. Tomorrow will be the first Tuesday that we're staying in our own area. I have loved getting to know the sisters and working with them one on one. I have learned so much from them and made so many great friends. 

Friday we had my last Zone Conference ever. It was surreal. I remember our Christmas zone conference last year and I felt like I still had all the time in the world. That basically I would be a missionary forever. And now I just had my last one. Is this real life? It was a really great meeting. And President is implementing tons of new things that go into effect at the beginning of the year. Finland is about to be taken to the next level! And it was so cool because I had the thought "Man, I wish I were here for all of these new changes" and I had the feeling come into my heart "that wasn't your calling. You had to lay a strong foundation first so others can build on what you've done." Finland is such a blessed land and the Lord has staked it out as a place of gathering and refuge. The church is about to explode here. I'm so grateful that I got to do my little, tiny part in laying a foundation for it to take off. I love this land! It was hard to say goodbye to other missionaries that I've come to love so much as we've served together in the work of our Lord. Some I will probably see again after the mission, others I will probably only see again in the next life. But the comradery and the love we have for each other is something that has come as we've given our blood, sweat, and tears to this work. How grateful I am for the amazing people I've served with over the course of my mission! I have made some wonderful friends that will last through the eternitites.   

My mission has been a huge refining process. I must've had a lot of impurities in me cuz the fire has gotten pretty hot at times! haha. This past week was a week of refinement, but I was filled with so much peace and hope through it all. So basically we've been talking with everyone, trying to implement all of the council we've received, and be the best possible missionaries we can be, but we've lost almost every single one of our investigators. Some because they've gone out of town for the whole Christmas season and will resume learning in January, and others because we've let them go or they dropped us. I was pondering and thinking about why the Lord allowed this to happen when I'm trying my best to do my best. I got the feeling that He's testing me to see if I will finish strong to the end even if I don't see the results I want and I feel like everything around me is slowing down. Well you better believe I'm doing my very best to "finnish" strong! Sunday was a great day! First off, D (who was baptized a couple months ago) came to visit! He came to church and sat with us. R got his first calling last week (to organize/facilitate translators/translation devices for church) and was running around doing that, and A sat calmly next to me as the meeting began. It really hit me how much the gospel changes lives! And how much I love these people! They truly have changed my life forever. Also a less active family that we've been working with came to church! I was so happy. After church, we went home to eat and then set out. All of our plans had cancelled so we had a blank evening. As we were leaving, I prayed that we would see miracles. And we did :) We got on the bus and this guy in the back of the bus stuck out to me and I got the feeling, "go sit by him" so even though there were tons of empty seats in the front, I went all the way to the back and sat down. I struck up a conversation with him and it turns out he's from the Philipinnes and his cousins are members there! And one of his cousins is on a mission right now! He said that his cousins are really good people- they don't smoke, or drink, or do drugs. I explained that that's because we view our bodies as gifts from God and we want to take care of them. I asked if he had ever heard of the Book of Mormon before. He said that his cousins had given him one but he hadn't ever really read it. I pulled one out of my bag and gave it to him. He was so grateful! He just kept saying "really? are you sure?? thank you so much!" We had a great conversation and I felt the Spirit many times through it. He said he would love to meet sometime in the near future to discuss it. MIRACLE. Then we went and tried a less active guy that has a nonmember wife and two little girls. We have tried them SO many times while I've been here. They have always ignored our calls and texts, never invite us in, and always refuse to set up a return appointment. Well we tried them again, got invited in, and they set up a return appointment for next week. They have 2 adorable little girls (ages 4 and 2). It was definitely a huge MIRACLE. Then after that, we went and contacted a lady we had met last week on the street. We had a great convo with her and asked if we could stop by sometime. She was hesitant but finally said "yeah I guess, it's the blue house, number three byeee!" as she pointed down the street. Well she probably didn't think we would ever find her, but she underestimated us :) We knocked on her door last night and she opened it with a laugh and invited us in. (MIRACLE! I think I've been invited in by a Finn maybe twice my whole mission). We had a great conversation with her and ended up giving her a Book of Mormon. She also said she might actually come to church next Sunday to hear me speak. So that was super cool. It was a miracle day and was a great reminder to me that the Lord really is in this work and He will never abandon us. He will never give up on us, we just can't ever give up on Him or what He's asked us to do. 

Saturday we went to the baptism of a recently reactivated woman and recently baptized man's, 18 year old son. I love serving in places for a long time (I've been here in Espoo now 6 months) because you get to see the progression of the work. I was here when this man was baptized, when the son decided he might want to start learning, when he used to come play soccer with us outside in the bright sun, when he wasn't sure if he actually wanted to learn anymore, and then when he entered the waters of baptism. It's been so cool to see how this area has grown! And to see how lives have changed. Saturday evening was a blast! It was A's daughter S's 7th birthday so they invited us to go to dinner with them. We didn't really know what to expect and were blown away as we dove into another culture! We went and partied with like 15 Indians (from India folks) and ate traditional Nepalese food at a restaurant. It was so much fun! And the food was so different, but way good. We ate the cake first. They cut the first piece and everyone in their family had a bite of it. Then the cake was cut and we all got to eat it. Then we ordered our food and they brought it out to us. I took some pics so you can see. It was super fun hanging out with all of them. And S MADE SURE that we were sitting by her! hahah I love kids! She says she's so excited to get baptized next year :) Ahhhh the gospel changes families! I'm going to miss all of these people so much. 

On Friday I hit my 18 month mark of being a missionary. 18 months ago I left me family, friends, and everything I had ever known. I put my life on hold and took that leap of faith. I had NO idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea the highs and the lows I would face, the joys and the sorrows that I would experience. I had no idea the friends I would make or the adventures I would have, but I knew I had a desire to serve and that Christ lived, and that's all I needed to know. I love my mission! I love putting my name tag on everyday. I still remember the first time I put my name tag on like it was yesterday. I will never forget the way I felt. I'm still as awkward and as I was before the mission (actually probably a lot more awkward.......) but I feel like a happier person now! Church is true. 

Oh yeah, final miracle of the week before I go.....  "He is the Gift" was TRANSLATED INTO FINNISH!!!!! I wish you all could understand HOW BIG OF A DEAL THIS IS!!! This was not supposed to happen. The population of Finnish speakers is so small that things like this never get translated. But the Lord worked a mighty miracle and it was! Even though it wasn't in the plans! How cool is that?!? I attatched it so you can see it in the language of the people I have come to love so much. Remember, Christ lives. He is Christmas! Focus on Him this year and it will be the best Christmas you've ever had. 

I love you! 

Sisar Nielsen

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sisar Nielsen and Sisar Hyde

Sisar Nielsen and Sisar Nyman (from Norway)

Saying good bye to S - "I love her so much!"

The beautiful Helsinki Temple

Enjoying a traditional Finnish dessert - viispi purro

The missionaries serving in Sisar Nielsen's ward (minus one) and their ward mission leader

Sisar Nielsen and Sisar Bitner with the other sisters serving in Espoo

12/15/14 - My Favorite Pastime

Oh my word! Have I mentioned how much I love the Christmas season?! It brings such a special magic to the air. And lots of Christmas miracles! 

We went to a YSA FHE (Young single adult family home evening - wow, we have so many acronyms in the church) in Helsinki on Monday. It was a Christmas party! S and our friend C that we had a lesson with a couple weeks ago came. It was way fun. We were asked to be the ones to give the spiritual thought at the beginning. They had already decided to share the "He is the Gift" video and they just wanted us to testify about Christ to everybody. Uhhhh hello! That's my favorite pastime now! So that was cool :) We had to leave the party early and catch a train to Lapeenranta, a cute little city near the Russian border. We had splits there all day Tuesday which was fun. I went with one of the new missionaries, Sister Hyde. It was so crazy having her ask me for advice and to impart some of my "wisdom." I fully realize that I'm going home soon (so therefore I am one of the oldest missionaries in the mission) but sometimes I still just think I'm a young missionary trying to figure things out. Time flies when you're having fun. We talked to a ton of people and found them 2 new investigators in one day! Which was awesome. We also had a great chat on a bus with this kid from Germany. I love being in Finland because I have met so many people from ALL over the world. It's so cool. 

This week was also hard because I had to start saying some of my goodbyes. A couple weeks ago, we had a great lesson with S and L about baptism. They both know the church is true and want to be baptized, but they were afraid to tell their parents. Well they finally did. S said that her parents said they don't want her to get baptized yet but want her to continue to learn more about it. L got kinda distant. She went to Sweden and other trips and we hadn't really talked to her much. We texted her to come to church last Sunday and she didn't and didn't answer when we called her. On Monday, S gave me an envelope and told me to open it later. When I did, the tears streamed down my face to the point that I couldn't see the words anymore. It was from L. She had drawn me a beautiful picture of the Finland temple and had written me a long letter. She told me how she is so so sorry, but she asked her parents if she could get baptized and they freaked out and forbid her to ever contact us again. She said that she is so grateful that we met and that she knows it was not an accident. She wrote that she knows the church is true and that she's so grateful we've taught her and that she met God (has come to know Him). She talked about how she still prays for me and that she hopes I will continue to be the happy, smiley person that I always was when we were together. She wrote many more things that touched my heart. She included a picture of herself hugging her Book of Mormon. And I simply just sat there and cried. Not out of frustration, but out of love. I love L soo much! She is such a special person and feels the Spirit so strongly. She and S have truly become some of my best friends. I very much believe that S and L will both be baptized in the future. They are such special people and so dear to my heart. It gives me comfort to know that there is a temple in their home town and that one day, they will be there. We also met with S one last time alone. She has officially been taught all the lessons, but the missionaries will continue to teach her and help her progress to baptism. She left on Friday for Madrid and Paris and gets back January 7th. It's so crazy that I won't be here. But our goodbye wasn't one of sadness, but one of hope. She is taking her Book of Mormon with her to read on her trip and she will continue to pray everyday. I know I will see L and S again. This is not the end. 

This week we also had our ward Christmas party! WHOOT WHOOOOOT! I love celebrating Christmas -  Finnish style! We sang traditional Finnish Christmas carols and had a lot of fun. We missionaries had a musical performance as well. We did the cup routine for "O Come All Ye Faithful" and promoted the He is the Gift campaign at the end. It went really well! Which is a miracle cuz the practices were pretty awful... but we pulled it together and the Lord really helped us out! Joulu Pukki (Santa Claus) came - I love him! And there's also a Finnish Christmas song called "Joulu Pukki" that we always sing when he comes which is so great.  It's such a fun song to sing! Last night we went to a stake Christmas Singing night and we all sang lots of Christmas songs and different groups also performed. It's so interesting because most traditional Finnish Christmas songs are pretty somber. They are often in minor keys and are full of emotion. It's also so hard to tell where the next note is gonna go. I'm serious. Like usually in America when we sing songs, you can kinda guess where the next note is to sing it. But it Finland, it will be a high note then a low note than a middle note than a low note then a really high note then a random middle note and you're just like what the heck is going on?! It's kinda hilarious. 

Oh I wanted to follow up real quick on the guy that told us that we glow. Remember him? Well I was sitting at the FHE in Helsinki talking with people and the friend of this guy was like "hey! my friend posted on my facebook wall that he had met some very nice, beautiful, happy mormon missionaries on the train and that it was a way positive experience. He also said that you showed him the "He is the Gift" video and he posted it on his own Facebook and said that everybody needs to watch this video!" How cool is that?! This hard core Catholic posted the "He is the Gift" video for all to see. SHARE it people! We only have a little time left before Christmas is over!

Yesterday in church we had the opportunity to teach the young women. It was great. I love being with the youth! We shared the "Because of Him" video and talked about discovering, embracing, and sharing the gift. It was such a powerful lesson. It was really cool because we showed the "Because of Him" video on an ipad. I was holding it so I couldn't see it, but throughout it I kept getting like surges of feeling the Spirit. It was so cool that even though I couldn't see what was going on, I could just feel the Spirit getting stronger in the room. It really is real. We committed all of the young women to give a Book of Mormon away as a gift for Christmas. And they accepted! We ran into a young woman that night at the singing activity that hadn't been in our ward on Sunday because they had to go visit a different one. I told her we taught and she was so sad she missed it. I told her how we gave everyone the challenge to give a Book of Mormon away for Christmas this year. She paused and looked at me and said "where do I get one?" We quickly gave her one and she gave me a very determined "I can do this" and smiled and walked away with it in hand. This is what it's about people! We all can do this! Let's bring hope, and life, and light to people's lives this Christmas season! The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. What a perfect way to share the gift! 

As Christmas is quickly approaching, remember to take time to pause and reflect about our Savior. He truly died for us, but He also lived for us. Can we do the same for Him? Are we willing to live for Him? This is a personal question that only we can answer. I love Him and I am so grateful for Him. May we all focus on discovering and embracing Him this Christmas season. Because, as my wise Uncle Mark reminded me, one day He will truly embrace us in His arms and we will see Him face to face. What words do we want Him to say at that day? "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou wast not ashamed." I want the whole world to know that He lives. Oh come let us adore Him. 

I love you! 

Sisar Nielsen

ps one of my favorite things about Finland is the ice cream. It's INCREDIBLE. and one of my favorite flavors is licorice. who would've thought? Finland has changed a lot about me :)