For starters, you should all feel bad for my poor little trainee for being stuck with such a crazy companion. We had a District Meeting in Savonlinna this week (a cute little city about 2+ hours drive away). There is a city between Savonlinna and Kuopio called Varkaus. There used to be a branch there but it closed about 10 years ago because most of the members either moved or passed away. Currently there are 3 active members in Varkaus and they drive over an hour every Sunday to church (we have many members who drive that far or farther, some have to take ferries to get here, others can only come 2 times a month because they live sooo far away. These members are truly incredible). Sisar Woods and I made plans to stop by and visit people in Varkaus (the members and the less actives there) on our way home from our District Meeting. Well, it turns out that the Elders had scheduled an appointment back in Kuopio so we wouldn't have time in Varkaus. I felt really strongly that we needed to visit the active members there and help the less actives. So I thought up a slightly crazy plan and pulled my companion into it. We loaded up our tiny car and drove up Tuesday (our meeting was Wednesday) and spent the day in Varkaus. Oh these sweet members were so grateful! It was the most heartwarming thing ever. One couple fed us dinner and the husband is from Germany. We had authentic German food (including bratwurst) - the dinner was ridiculously good. Tuesday night we then continued our drive to Savonlinna and stayed the night in the church building there. I think it's safe to say that we are probably the first people to ever sleep in that churchl (it's so tiny! just a tiny chapel, a room, and a kitchen. That's the whole church). We brought bedding and mattresses so it was actually pretty comfy. And way fun. When we told the Zone Leaders our plan they had just started laughing. They were like "we'll I've never heard of anyone doing that.... but I guess why not. Sure just go for it." Oh we went for it. And it was so worth it (even though I had to tie a scarf over my eyes to fall asleep because the exit signs were so bright).
The next day we had District Meeting and then we went to OLAVINLINNA! the CASTLE in Savonlinna! (linna means "castle"). It was soooo cool! I took tons of pictures so I'll try to send some. It was my first time taking a tour of a Finnish castle and it was so interesting! This castle was built back in like the 1400's and was used to fight the Russians. It's dedicated to Saint Olaf, a Norwegian viking (hollllllla at my Norwegian Viking ancestors!) We got to see original wood from back then, the smallest organ in Finland, and a medieval toilet that was at the top of a tower (aka just a hole that they sat on. It was so high up that we looked down the hole and it made my legs turn to jello because there was literally nothing underneath it but the frozen water down below). The castle was beautiful and it was a BEAUTIFUL day because THE SUN CAME OUT. Oh my gosh I about cried! I haven't seen the sun in so long! It was such an adventure and I loved every minute of it! I love learning everything I possibly can about the wonderful history and culture of this great land of Finland.
An adventure we had this week that was less than desirable was getting lost on our way to a member's house and being an hour late. What made matters worse is that it was about -15 degrees Celsius, it was snowing, and we were on bikes for over 2 hours trying to find this member's home. By the time we got there, I literally could not feel my toes at all. And my fingers hurt for hours. Yeah talk about ei hyvää (no good). But we made it there and we ate yummy blueberry soup. These Finns like eating fruit type soups, usually for dessert. They'll add milk and sugar on top and eat it cold, but in this case we ate it warm and as part of the meal. I love trying different foods! And the food here is so good.
Okay so miracle time! After a less than successful lesson, my comp and I were just praying really hard for direction as to where we should go next. It was late, dark, and we were on bikes in the snow (in our sketchy area where there are drug deals like every 5 seconds). We've pretty much exhausted our Area Book a while ago (a record of all the people that have been taught or have asked that missionaries come back some time) and we're trying so hard to find people who the Lord has prepared to hear His gospel. We had found a really old potential sheet (a sheet of people who told the missionaries they could come back sometime) and so we've been contacting some of those names lately. Many have moved since the sheet was made but as we were praying, we felt we should pull it out and contact one of the names. We pulled out the sheet and we both got the feeling we should visit a certain name. So we said okay, let's go find him. We hopped on our bikes and took off. We got to the apartment building, said a prayer, and rang their doorbell. A man opened the door followed by two of the most adorable children I've ever met! The little girl was 2, the boy was 4. The little girl had the cutest, highest little voice ever. What could possibly be cuter than an adorable blue-eyed, blonde-haired little girl with a cute little voice speaking Finnish? nothing. We had a great conversation about families with him. About how we can be with those we love after this life. How we can strengthen our families and help make them strong through the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was way open to our message and said of course we can come back and discuss these things. We're going back this week! We left on cloud nine. Earlier this week, President Rawlings had come to Kuopio to interview all of us missionaries. It was my first interview with him and he's such an inspired man. When my interview closed, he offered the closing prayer. He was praying and then stopped and blessed me that we would find a family! That we would know what to do to find this family! I have wanted to find a family sooo badly! And Presdient Rawlings gave me the motivation I needed to jump back into trying to find one. We've been praying so hard that we will, and maybe this is our family! We don't know if it is, but we're gonna treat them like it! Please pray for us to be able to find families. Families that can learn and grow, go to baptism together, and go to the temple as a family and be sealed forever. This is what the gospel is all about. Changing lives and strengthening families.
I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to have "real intent." In Moroni 10:4 it talks about how we can know the Book of Mormon is true "if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ." What does it mean to have "real intent?" It means that when you receive your answer, you will act on it, no matter the consequences. It means that you are willing to submit your will to the Lord's and do as He directs. This week we had to let two of our investigators go. One I was really sad about because I have come to love this investigator so much. But she wasn't progressing. She wasn't reading, coming to church, or keeping her commitments. I felt like we were trying to drag her to eternal life, when we should just be trying to lead her there. Real intent means you really want it. Your heart wants it. You're willing to put all else aside, your pride, what others think, even what you want, and put what the Lord wants first. We must have real intent if we want answers to our prayers. If we ask the Lord "is the Book of Mormon true?" or "help me to have an opportunity today to tell somebody about the gospel" but we aren't willing to follow through with what that answered prayer entails, then why would Heavenly Father want to give us an answer? Why would He want to hold us accountable for going against what He has led us to do? He is too loving to do that to us. And He is also our Father and won't just give us an answer for us to discard it. Faith is an action word. And "real intent" leads us to act on our faith. Take a moment and think about what it means to you to have "real intent." And then every time you pray, make sure you're praying with real intent, always. Heavenly Father deserves real intent every time we open our mouths and our hearts to Him. Real intent to act on whatever little feelings, thoughts, or impressions we receive. He hears you. He loves you. YOU mean everything to Him. Let Him heal, help, and sanctify you. Open your heart to Him. You are His.
I love you!
Sisar Nielsen - ps. when we were on exchanges, sisar nyman and i were riding bikes and we had stopped to talk to a woman. well as she walked away, this man was walking towards us. i got a feeling that we needed to leave. we hurried and started putting our stuff back in our bags and putting our helmets back on. well, all of a sudden this man started running towards us and yelling stuff at us and he was totally drunk and we literally had to just jump on our bikes and go and he almost made it to us before we took off and he was yelling "no! no! get back here!" i may or may not have let out an audible scream... missionary work is cray cray sometimes.