Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12/30/13 - A Finnish Christmas

I can't believe Christmas has come and gone. What a magical time of the year it truly is... especially as a missionary.

First off, high light of my week was skyping my family! SHOUT OUT TO THE FAM. miss and love you guys so much! that was so cool to be a part of your Christmas morning. afterwards my BML (branch mission leader) was like "wow, that was quite the skype call. all we heard was 'josh!' and then you would start crying. and then we would hear 'ahhh michael!' and then more crying. and basically there was just a lot of crying.. and then you would be like 'guys, i'm gonna start crying!' but the thing is, you were ALREADY crying..." hahaha... yeah. story of my life. 

My week was truly amazing. here in Finland, Christmas Eve is our version of Christmas morning. That's when they open all their presents, that's when they have their big meal, that's when the family all gets together and they do all their traditions. we went over to a really awesome family in the ward and spent the day and evening with them. (Christmas Eve, Day, and the day after were called "Red Days" and we weren't allowed to knock doors or do normal missionary work so we got to spend more time with the families we were with than normal). We spent the day fully experiencing a Finnish Christmas. Their mom taught us how to make riisi purro (rice porridge, a Finnish tradition). She also taught us how to make Finnish tähti torttu (pastries) and she let us make all of them! We got to listen to Christmas music and spend time with their 4 teenage daughters. We played board games and really got to bond with the girls (which was great because they don't come to church very often). Joulu Pukki (santa claus) came! He comes and delivers all of the presents Christmas Eve and then everyone opens them. He even brought us presents! It was really exciting. We ate a HUGE typical Finnish Christmas Eve Dinner, with Christmas Kinkku (ham), bread, potato casserole, carrot casserole, cold smoked salmon, salad, and about a million other things. Later we had dessert and ate the pastries we had made with Glögi (a type of warm drink, kind of like apple cider), gingerbread cookies with different kinds of cheese on them, and chocolate. I felt like somebody needed to roll me out of there, but it was so good. Their mom made us homemade socks that are so cute! We also got a pair from the relief society and I have about 50 pounds of Finnish chocolate at my apartment right now from the ward members. We gave a spiritual thought and shared this video with them: http://www.mormonchannel.org/christmas-videos?v=2919740155001

(Watch it). The Spirit was so strong as we talked about what we can give to the Savior of the World.  Long story short, I ended up crying as I talked about my Savior and my gratitude towards Him and this family for taking such good care of me while I was away from my own. Then they started crying. So basically we were all crying and hugging each other and I just felt so much love in my heart! I just LOVE the spirit of Christmas. The Spirit of Christ.

The next two days were also filled with Christmas festivities... and lots and lots of food. Basically Finns have special Christmas food that they only eat at Christmas time. So they literally eat it straight for those three days then they don't eat it again for the next year. Long story short, I'm gonna have to set some good New Year's resolutions because I think I've gained 90 pounds this week alone. But ohh, everything was so good! But what wasn't good is that we didn't have a white Christmas. yes, you just read that right. In FINLAND, the land of ice and snow and darkness, we didn't have a white Christmas! We all of a sudden had a warm front come in and it's been raining this whole week and all the snow has melted. All of the Finns are in a fury. They all keep telling us that they can't remember the last time this has happened. That they've never had a black Christmas before. Then they launch into stuff about global warming and a bunch of vocab I don't understand. But it seriously is crazy. And there's gravel all over the sidewalks now (here when it snows, they just push the snow aside and put gravel on top. so basically before the snow melted there were layers and layers of snow and gravel that we all just walked on). It's crazy. 

WE SET A BAPTISMAL DATE. We set a baptismal date with our amazing Vietnamese investigator H. She is so great. We've set the date for February 8. When we asked her how she felt as we were talking about baptism, she said she felt that same "magical feeling in her heart that she gets every time we talk to her about these things". It's so amazing. Please please please pray for her. She's going out of town for the next week and a half. Please pray that she will be able to be baptized and that she will resist any temptations that come her way. We love her so much and we want to her to come unto Christ and partake of His goodness so much! I know that the only way for us to truly, seriously, REALLY be happy and find lasting joy in this life and the life to come is through the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

As I stop and reflect upon this past year, I can't help but feel overwhelming gratitude for my life and for my Savior. I wouldn't be where I am today without Him. A year ago I had no idea that I was going to be serving a mission in Finland. I'm so grateful that the Lord writes better stories for our lives than we can even dream of. I love Him. And I'm so grateful for Him. As you all think of your New Year's Resolutions, I encourage you all to add a couple more to your lists. Make a goal to pray EVERY DAY that you will have an opportunity to bring others closer to Christ and share the gospel. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, if you live in Utah ("where there's tons of Mormons") or you live in a place where there's none, just do it! There Lord needs valiant people fighting for Him, everywhere. "At ALL times, and in ALL things, and in ALL places". Also, if you haven't already, grab a Book of Mormon and read it. From the beginning to the end. Read it on your own. Read it with your families. Either way, just read it. The whole thing. I don't care if you've read it a million times or you've never read it. Pick one up and start. I promise you that it will bless your life. You will feel your faith increase. You will come to know your Savior better. You will have questions answered and you will feel greater happiness and peace. I promise you that your life will seem smoother (not easier, but smoother and better) and that you won't regret it. I know it's true. I know it's the word of God. What does that mean? That God, the Supreme Creator and Being of the Universe, has given it to us as a gift to help and guide our lives. So allow it to bless your life. I'm grateful for my Savior. I know He lives. I'm grateful to be His representative. Come unto Him.

I love you!

Sisar Nielsen

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