Monday, April 28, 2014

Another 6 Weeks...Gone!

It's transfers time again, and I can't believe that yet another 6 weeks has gone by. It feels like it was only yesterday that I left my home town of Oslo to come up here to the remote north, not having a clue what to expect. I have discovered a lot about myself, grown a lot, and learned the truth of the old saying, "It was the north wind that made the vikings." The north wind is everything you imagine it to be, and let me tell you, I am going to be one real viking when I am through with this. They say that the north of Norway is the only place in the world where you can walk all the way around the block and still have the wind blowing in your face the whole way. I don't know how, but it is just another thing that makes my experience here in Narvik unique.

I am sad to say that Elder Crook is going to be leaving Narvik and going down to Sandvika (which is really close to Oslo). I have enjoyed serving with him, but I am also excited that I am going to be training this transfer! It will be a cool opportunity to shape an elder's mission, and what is even better, is that he is Norwegian! For at least the next 6 weeks, I will be with a Norwegian 24/7- speaking Norwegian, learning to live like a Norwegian, yep, basically just becoming a Norwegian. Life is good, and I am grateful for the opportunities the Lord has given me.

This week we found out that our miracle from last week, Krystyna, has to sort out her personal life before she can think about baptism. Talk about crushed dreams. The man she is living with banned her from talking to the Mormons ever again, so that kind of threw a wrench in our relationship. But it's okay, I only let my feelings be crushed for a few minutes, and then it was back to the drawing board. No, it wasn't that bad, but I was disappointed that Satan works so hard against us. Just one more witness for the truthfulness of the work, am I right?

As far as Stanley and Paulina go, we met with Stanley this week and literally the only thing standing in the way right now is he is attached to the Catholic church for the social aspect. So we are focusing really hard on helping him to gain a testimony that ours is the only true church, and after that it will be a breeze. His date is still on for the 31st of March, though. Paulina is also doing really well and says she will be baptized, but I think she is a little bit scared and is holding back a bit. She says she wants to really feel ready first, so we have to help her with that. Also, she goes back home to visit her family every weekend and it has proved extremely difficult to get her out to church as well. Church! It is the main problem right now. I just wish I could find a way to help people feel it the way I feel it, you know? I talk about the truth of the gospel and it burns inside me until I think I won't be able to bear it any longer. It is one of the saddest and most frustrating things I have experienced to be on the street or someone's porch and to pour my soul out to them, completely every drop I can muster. To feel like the Spirit is just hitting them in the face, and then to have them look at you and say, yeah, but I don't really care. I'm just like, what?? Did you not just feel that? It is the weirdest thing to me, but everyone has their agency, of course.

This week on Thursday, we woke up at 3:45 to get on a bus to Tromsø for ZLT, and it was light outside! The sun wasn't up but it was light. So weird. I wasn't even tired because it felt like a regular morning (don't worry, the tiredness came on strong later). So we were on a bus for 8 hours that day travelling, and that took a lot out of me. We had a good week, though, and it was good to see everyone again before transfers mixed it up. We ate dinner with the branch president last week, and he made us salmon and I think it is really tough to be branch president up here. I just want to help him somehow! We are trying.

At the beginning of the transfer we knocked on the door of some people named Inge and Gro, I don't remember if I told you about them, but they let us in. We talked for a while, and Gro has MS and breast cancer, but has had some cool experiences with being healed and things, which have led to them both developing a faith in God and Christ. At the end of the lesson, I got the strongest impression that we should offer to give her a priesthood blessing, so I did, which she did not accept, but she let us pray for her there. We hadn't heard from them again, but we went to their house again last night, and she said that not too long after that first visit, they went back to the hospital to get her cancer checked, and the doctors couldn't find anything at all. It was completely gone, and she attributed it to our prayer. She even told that to the doctors. She has read in the Book of Mormon and thinks it is an easy read, so hopefully we will be able to continue to help them to progress toward the truth. The Lord works miracles for those who believe.

I wish that I had some profound piece of spiritual knowledge, but I really don't. What I do have, however, is a challenge. I challenge everybody out there to actually read the story of the prophet Joseph Smith's life and the Book of Mormon, and try to tell me that he was not called of God. I talk about him and the testimony burns inside me- I know that Joseph Smith was called of God to usher in the dispensation of the fulness of times. I spend my days talking about him, and there is no doubt in my mind that he was called to do the work he said he was called to do. His name will be had for good and evil throughout the world, but the truth remains that he was a prophet of God. I know it.

I love you all so much, and thanks for all of the support! It means the world to me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bleeding Hope

Well, Easter is finished, and it was exactly what I was expecting it to be. Narvik was a ghost town. Not a soul on the streets, vacant houses, and a lot of wind and rain. And the people we did talk to tended to question our IQ for being on the streets trying to do missionary work this week. My only response was, I know, but what other choice do we have? There aren't a lot of choices up here. Even the birds, the few creatures that actually enjoy true freedom to soar to heaven's heights, had a rough week. In my free time I would look out the window and watch as they struggled to fly against the blasting north wind. It reminded me a lot of what I probably look like when running on a treadmill, struggling as hard as they could but¸despite their best efforts, continuing to creep slowly backward until they were so exhausted that the only choice was to give up and go with the current. If I didn't feel so sorry for them, it probably would have been highly comical. So yep, it was one of those weeks. Except it wasn't.

I think it was about Friday that I looked through my planner and realized that we were on course to have the best week, as far as numbers that I have had my entire mission. That was a bit of a shock, because it felt like any other week. We did all the same things, but somehow we taught a lot more lessons and found a lot more new investigators than normal. The Lord poured out His blessings on us this week, and I don't know what we did to deserve it, but I sure am grateful.

President Evans called to congratulate us today, which felt good, but the exciting part was that he also told me that this transfer I am going to be training in Narvik as district leader, and I am going to be getting a Norwegian companion! The language has become a bit of a hobby for me, and I have become obsessed with my pronunciation, so I am really excited to be able to be with a native Norwegian all the time. And what is better is that he is from Moss, which is near to Oslo (which means I have probably seen him before at some kind of stake function), so he doesn't have some weird dialect either. I feel really lucky.

The highlight of the week came on Saturday, when we had an appointment with a Polish woman named Krystyna. She has been around for a while now, but I have never thought that she was all that positive. Boy was I wrong. I was really stressed out about it, because all the members were out of town, and we can't meet with women and just the two of us in private, so I wasn't sure what we were going to do. The time came for the appointment and we still didn't have a solution, so we met her in the town square and went into a local grill that I saw- it just happened to be the only thing open in all of Narvik. We had a really great conversation, and then she almost knocked me out of my chair by asking, "So how soon can I be baptized?" I was so surprised that it took me several seconds to realize what she was asking and come up with a coherent response, but we told her that if she wanted to, she could be baptized this Saturday. She said that is what she wanted, so we set the date. I can promise you that when I woke up on Saturday morning, that is not what I prayed for. I guess I need to have more faith!

Another good thing that happened this week is that we got a baptismal date for the end of may with a man named Stanley. He is from Nigeria and is in Norway seeking asylum. He plays for the local soccer team and is really busy with that, but he doesn't have a job or anything, so it is easy enough to meet with him because of that. He attends the Catholic church at the moment, and he knows that he needs to be baptized, but the biggest challenge is just going to be helping him to understand that our church is the only true church on the earth. But we are working on him, and we have good time before the baptism. Also, Paulina got back this week and we are going to meet with her on Wednesday, so hopefully we will be able to get a baptismal date with her as well. The Lord is really blessing us at the moment. He is the best!

For Easter we didn't really do much, we just knocked on a lot of doors. The stores are all closed today so we can't buy groceries, and I just mentioned something about it in passing to a member at church yesterday, so they showed up later at our apartment with a bunch of food for us. They are so kind. But one thing they gave us was oranges and Kvikk Lunsj, which is the traditional Norwegian Easter food. So we did eat that as a celebration. I don't remember if I sent you guys that chocolate, but if I didn't, I should, because it is great. It reminds me a lot of Kit-Kat.

We met with a Muslim family this week and they gave us packets of Tang that are written in Arabic! Cool, right? I guess the world is a little smaller than we think sometimes.

I am so grateful for the way that the Lord is taking care of us. It would be really easy for anyone else to forget about the two 19- year old kids serving in the tiny city of Narvik, nearly 300 kilometers away from any other missionaries, but not the Lord. Not He who is aware of even the fall of the sparrow. I know that He is always with us, and I am a first-hand witness of the way He will shape those who choose to be malleable in His hands.

I look back to the person I was 10 months ago, and I don't even recognize him. The journey hasn't been easy, and I've got a lot of scars. Sometimes it really hurts when the Lord decides to rip off the band-aid of my pride, but it's okay, because I am bleeding hope. I am full of faith, love, and confidence in the way and will of the Lord, and I know that miracles are real today. If we have the faith to let go of our fears and doubts and jump into the darkness, it will be to discover that the Master's whispered words of comfort really were true. We will land in the safety and and warmth of His arms.

During this Easter season, I have been so grateful that the Savior and Redeemer of mankind is risen with healing in His wings to lift those who will come unto Him. I know that He will never fail us. So commit today to come a little closer to Him. Try to be who He is, and I can promise that joy will follow. It has for me, and it always will for those who want it.

I love you all a ton, and express my appreciation for all the kind words. They always seem to come just when I need them most. Thank you for listening to the promptings of the Spirit, and have a great week!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy Easter!

This week we spent a lot of time traveling, and I got to go back to Oslo again! I absolutely love that place, and it was wonderful to see my friends again, including the Rasmussen's, the twins from Sweden, and a few of my missionary friends. We took four flights and traveled thousands of kilometers this week, so it is safe to say that we were pretty ready to be back when we finally made it back to our apartment on Friday night. There is nothing like being a missionary in Norway in the whole world, especially being a missionary in the north of Norway. But life is beautiful and I am in love with it, and I am alive after all of the planes this week! All the traveling did make me tired, but I think it was mostly because we had to wake up earlier than normal to get to the airport in time to make our flight, and I didn't sleep all that well on the various floors or couches. But that is okay, because I am always tired as a missionary, so nothing is really new :) There are varying sizes and airport experiences in Norway. For example, in Oslo it is a decent sized airport and it is pretty similar to the states in that you need a lot of time to check in and get through security and everything, but in Narvik, it is a completely different story. I don't remember if I sent a picture of the airport, but it is the size of a very small house, and we just show up, they read our name tag, they give us our boarding pass, and we go over and walk through the metal detector, all in about two minutes. It is bizarre, but I love it. I think the little tiny planes are fun and it is cool to be up here. And we will be flying up to Tromsø again on the 24th for a zone leader training meeting, so let the traveling continue!

All of the meetings went well this week, and I left the leadership meeting inspired to be better, so that was good. Also all of the leaders in the mission were there, so it was great to see all of my friends again. On Friday we had to fly up to Tromsø because it is next to impossible to fly into the Narvik airport on short notice, so we contacted on the streets for a few hours in the rain. Then we took a bus soaking wet for 4 hours back down to Narvik and we had left over wok with sweet chili sauce waiting for us at home. I am not sure that a meal has ever tasted so good to me before :) At least not one that I have made on the mission.

We met with Paulina on Tuesday, and it went really well. She has been continuing to read in the Book of Mormon. We talked about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and talked a lot about baptism. She said yes, and basically committed to the 24th of May, but she said she needed to talk to her family about it during the Easter break. It stresses me out that she is gone right now, but it will all be okay, I am sure. I guess I have just become really protective of my investigators because we don't have a ton of them. I am really excited about her, though :)

As for contacting here, generally, before dinner we contact people on the streets, and after dinner we go and knock on doors when we don't have appointments. When we contact, we just walk up and down this one street...the locals call it "gate 1"... over and over again.  We talk to a lot of people multiple times, but it's all good :)

P-days in Narvik are really low key. There was a lot to do in Oslo, but Narvik is so small that there isn't much here. When the weather gets nice I am going to hike and go fishing up here. And then I will send pictures of the scenery because it is gorgeous up here! The schedule on p-day is study until 11, get groceries, each lunch, email (it takes a lot longer because we only have one computer) and then relax and do whatever. I usually write letters and just take the time to do things I don't have time to do in the week.

We have district meetings via Skype up here, but that is usually on Tuesdays, although it can really be on whatever day works best that week, so this week we are doing it on Wednesday. I really enjoyed teaching district meetings in Oslo because I could involve fun activities and things to really hammer in my point, but district meetings up in the north have proven to be a challenge for me. There is only so much you can do through the computer. But that is okay, because the Lord knows the situation and is accepting my efforts.

Church was interesting this week, because I presided at sacrament meeting, conducted the meeting, played the hymns, bore my testimony, and gave a prayer, and my companion taught the Sunday school lesson, did the sacrament, bore his testimony and gave the other prayer. I might as well be the branch president! We only have church for two hours up here in the north, so it is only priesthood meeting every other week. Weird, right? I haven't spoken yet, but that is only because it has been General Conference and fast Sunday so far. The branch president was born in Finland, married a Swede, and now lives in Norway. So his accent is really funny. He is really smart and is a professor at the local college. He lives alone at the moment, so he is always excited for us to come and visit him. He is a good guy. Most of the members are married to non members or have inactive children, so it is a really interesting feel to the branch. We have institute on Tuesdays but it is weird because everyone there is 60 years old. Not institute like I am used to it.

Yesterday for the first time this spring, Elder Crook and I were able to go out and work in only our white shirts and slacks. This was a large and exciting benchmark for us. The sky was blue, the birds were chirping, and the warm sun beat on our faces as we walked the streets of Narvik. That was a nice feeling. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year, and I love to watch as everything comes back to life. The sun comes out and plants begin to grow, flowers bloom, and new animals are born. The symbolism is almost too strong as I think about the day nearly two-thousand years ago when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ stepped out of the tomb, and in so doing, made it possible for us to also overcome the bonds of death and step into a new life with our Heavenly Father.

I am personally a big fan of a lot of things at Easter-time, including Reese's eggs, Starburst jelly beans, and Cadbury eggs, but amid all the Easter egg hunts and Easter bunnies, I also love to stop and take a moment to think about the message that we are really celebrating during this wonderful holiday. Our message to the world is that because of Jesus Christ, the love we have in this life doesn't have to end. We are not separated eternally from our Heavenly Father, nor from those we love when their turn comes to depart from this life.
Let us be careful to ensure that we do not get so caught in all the other parts of this season that we forget to be grateful for the wonderful gift that we have been given- literally the gift of life again. That just as the world is renewed after the close of each winter and becomes beautiful again, we can be born again through Christ and become beautiful again in the eyes of Him whose opinion matters. We can overcome the fall of Adam and be born into a new life- a higher level of living. Let us choose love and service over selfishness and self-gratification as we remember the words of the beloved hymn:

"I know that my Redeemer lives!"

Have a wonderful Easter, everyone.

Homemade Oreos...thanks for the recipe Mom!

The largest cathedral in Norway.

CrossFit in Oslo. Still going strong!

My favorite British family. The kids covered themselves with mud so they could scare us when we got there. I felt bad for the mother, but it sure was funny!

From Elder Rasmussen "Our friend Elder Childs visiting Oslo."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New Beginnings

Sometimes when I sit down to write about my week, I just don't have anything to say because it all seems the same to me. Let's see... we have done a lot of contacting this week, which is alright because I don't mind contacting, but it is tough not to get into a rut where I am just saying the same things and forgetting to speak by the Spirit. So I have been focusing on that lately and we have been praying a lot more while we are out. It helps. I don't remember if I told you this or not, but in the mission we have a kind of slogan that says "Pray all day, save on the way." I have really been able to experience the power that comes when we try to have our hearts "drawn out in prayer all the day long" and try to live in a way so that we always have the influence of the spirit with us. It is great :) Also, the APs were traveling through our area on the way up to Tromsø this week, so they stopped in Saturday night and slept here, which was fun. One of them is Elder Linge who I served around in Oslo, and he is going home on the 14th, so it was good to see him again before that. We have an investigator named Paulina. She is from Lithuania but has great Norwegian and is about 18 years old. We invited her to be baptized on May 3rd, and she almost said yes, but it scares her, so she said she had to think about it. But I think she will be baptized. She read 120 pages of the Book of Mormon between our first and second lessons and loves it. She is so great!

I am going to be traveling to Bodø on Wednesday, Oslo on Thursday, and Harstad on Friday, so pray that everything goes alright. We are having a big leadership meeting in Oslo, so not only do I get to go back to my hometown, but I get to see a lot of people again! It is pretty exciting.

They great thing about this life is that through the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ, we can overcome any trial, fix any mistake, and start again no matter how many times we fail. And the great thing about the church is that every 6 months we have 15 prophets, seers, and revelators who talk to us and give us a chance to turn over a blank, fresh sheet and keep going on the path to Christ. I don't know why I haven't realized it before this point in my life, but general conference is great! We just had a weekend of being encouraged to be better disciples of Christ, love others more, hold to the standards we believe in, and share the wonderful message we have been blessed to know. I feel so inspired and I am so grateful for the things Heavenly Father puts in our lives to help us on our way.

The only problem is that I have felt this way a lot in my life, but a lot of times, that feeling also disappears pretty quickly. 

So how can we hold on to our resolution to be and do better? How can we actually progress along the path? I think some problems I have had in the past are focusing on too many things at once, a lack of a plan, and a false notion that I could do it all on my own. 

I have a testimony of change through the atonement, but I also have a testimony that we also need to do what we can to qualify ourselves for the blessings of heaven. If we do that, the Lord will bless us with the things that we need. 

Narvik is as beautiful as ever, and as the days get longer and a little bit warmer, the people are also gradually becoming happier, more outgoing, and more willing to talk. It is so interesting what a little sunshine will do to a person. I love you all and hope you have a wonderful week!