Thursday, January 28, 2016

Frozen January 2016

The month of January has gone by so fast. There have been many wonderful and memorable events that happened in the first month of this new year. We are getting more familiar with the people in our area in Joensuu, Finland. The beauty of winter brings exciting new pictures every day. We found ourselves taking pictures with our cameras almost every time we step out of our home. We are also getting more sunlight every day which makes the blizzards not so dreary and cold. With the sunlight comes the crystal blue sky, cold and freezing, but beautiful.
When the sun is shining it shines through our bedroom window and into our living room. One day Sister Hunt gave a sunlight shadow demonstration. She made hearts, alligators, the first vision and other story designs with her hands with the sun shining on her back. It was fun for her because she loves the sunshine so much. When she was a child not yet in school she used to cry at sunset because she did not want the day to end. When evening came it met she would have to stop playing and go to bed because there was no electricity to give light inside her Navajo home. So all she could do was cry and look toward the setting sun. We are enjoying the short five hours of sunlight a day. We are sad when it's daytime and there is no sun light shining through a window.

People still ride their bikes and walk everywhere in the freezing cold and snow. The coldest temperature we've gone out in so far is -29 degrees F.  It is fun to watch families walk together on Saturdays. The Finns look forward to winter because they participate in many outdoor winter sports; ice hockey, cross country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing and more. When the snow does not come the people get worried and when it does come they are so happy.
They say that the children can have fun in the snow and that it is healthy for them. They love the snow and we are enjoying it with them. They know how to bundle up and keep warm no matter how cold the temperature gets. The trick it to layer your clothes. They serve as insulation and keep you warm.

We experienced our first missionary transfer on January 6th. Our wonderful Elder Bekmezian got transferred to Kuopio. It's a two hour drive from us. It is also the place where we go for our missionary District Meeting once a week. We were sad to see him go. But we also know that there are people waiting for him to be taught the gospel. Joensuu was his first area after arriving from MTC in Provo, Utah, USA. He was here before his companion, Elder Kontinen, who is a native of Finland. They were the ones who met us and welcomed us to Joensuu the evening that we arrived on a rainy night in November. We remember how happy, sweet, and polite they were. Even though we had arrived in Joensuu, it was dark and we were tired from driving all day from Helsinki. They were really a welcome site. We have come to know them both well. They are very smart and diligent. It has been an honor to work with them. Elder Bekmezian loves the people and speaks the Finnish language well. He was Elder Hunt's special tutor in Finnish grammar and language. We miss him but we get to see him every week at the missionary District Meeting.

We have a brand new missionary from MTC. His name is Elder Scott. We get the best missionaries in Finland. They are taught well at the MTC. They already know the language and the missionary lessons when they arrive in Finland. We love them. They come ready to work hard and dive right into what they have been sent here to do.

We had our first train ride. It was a good experience. We left very early in the morning to attend our first zone Conference in Mikkeli. We met other missionaries there and were joined by our Mission President and his wife. It was a very cold freezing day. We walked from the train station to the church which is about eight blocks. Sister Hunt had frozen eyelashes and eyebrows by the time we got to the church. We met for four hours with positive interaction. Our Zone Leaders ran the meeting very well. We had missionary reports, did role play, had language and gospel discussions, and President and Sister Watson each spoke to us. The main theme of the conference was be wise in your decision in working in these very cold weather months. The Lord is with you in all the good that you do for Him. We reviewed some things and learned some new things. It is always good to meet with other missionaries. They have re-energized and rejuvenated our spirits. Zone Conference is held every month in the four different zones of the mission.

Sister Hunt baked some cookies in Finland for the first time. She was successful in making peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies and lemon sugar cookies. They were all made from scratch. She made them for Family Home Evening and Institute class. She hopes to make other baked goods for treats and desserts.

A few weeks ago at the beginning of January she made her delicious fresh apple cake. That was her first time using the oven to bake something homemade. It was delicious as usual but this time it was made in Finland. Baking was Sister Hunt's hobby in America but now she does it to serve something homemade for our gatherings.

We established a regular shopping day. Sometimes it's sunny and very cold and at other times it is snowing, windy and cold. We have learned somewhat at which places to shop for our groceries and household items. But we are still learning and discovering new places to shop. Our first grocery shopping was very scary. Sister Hunt could not read the names of the food in packages to know what they were. Even Elder Hunt, who know a lot of Finnish, could not tell what many of the items were.  We bought food by their pictures or by their Swedish names (which are also written on the container since nearly 6% of the citizens speak Swedish) and it's close to English spelling. We did not know we were supposed to quickly bag our own groceries at the check out. We also did not know we had to bring our own bags or pay for new grocery bags at checkout. So we held up the line in learning these things. We learned to weigh our produce in the produce department and print out the price from the scales according to their numbers in their produce stands.  Now we've learned to bring back our own grocery bags that we bought earlier.

The river in front of our apartment building is completely frozen over. It was very interesting to watch as piece by piece turned to ice. When it snowed it was even more beautiful and white. It looks like land now. Many years ago when there were no foot bridges for crossing the river, parents put their school children on sleds and pulled them across the frozen river to school this time of the year.

Our boots freeze to the concrete floor as we step out of the car in our apartment's underground parking area. It is enclosed but not heated. It has large vents for fresh air. The first time our feet froze to the cement floor we were startled. Just for a second we couldn't move in any direction. It is a weird feeling. Then your shoes makes a crunching noise as you lift your feet off the floor. Now it is fun to experience that every time.

We are loving our mission. We love the people. We love our area where our home is. We are here to serve the people but they always seem to be serving us. We have made many friends. Elder Hunt is not so afraid to speak Finnish as he was at the beginning.  He has been studying the language diligently every day. Sister Hunt is slowly learning at a beginner level. Thank you for your love, prayers and support in every way. We love you very mush. Be of good cheer and may the Lord bless you.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  Our new year has started out very happy and freezing. We watched the city fireworks on New Year's Eve from our apartment complex area.  Many people watched in the freezing temperature all bundled up. That is the only way to keep warm for a few more months. Around here the fireworks are permitted from 6 pm onNew Year's Eve to
2 am.  We saw many other fireworks, both near and far, all around us.  It was fun to watch.

This year we are teaching institute.  The class will start on Wednesday evening.  We will be studying the Restoration.  We are starting out with a few students.  Some of our students have graduated in December so our numbers are few right now.

In our Branch we are studying the Book of Mormon for Sunday School.  We have about 58 members in this small branch. Attendance varies because of the freezing cold.  We drive across the bridge over the frozen river from our home to get to church.  It takes about 10 minutes.  We have two young Elder missionaries that we work with.  They are very hard working and dedicated to their work.  They are very brilliant and know and speak the language well.  One of our Elders is a Fin.  We truly admire them and are very proud of them.  We travel to Kuopio, a city about 100 miles to the west, every Wednesday for district meeting.  We drive our mission car.  It is very helpful to have a car. We have to hook it up every night so it will start the next day.  Soon we will have a zone conference. We will be headed for Mikkeli, a city about 200 miles to the west and south, for that meeting.  We are getting to know other missionaries and we look forward to getting to know more. There are new missionaries coming into the mission regularly from the Missionary Training Center in Provo and we are very happy for them.  They are very smart and already know Finnish level I from their MTC training.

Our schedule for now is to continue to work with the Elders and assist with teaching families, teach institute, hold Family Home Evening, visit members and work on Family Search.  Because it is so cold outdoors we try to do fun things indoors with our Branch members, investigators, missionaries, or just the two of us.  When it's just the two of us we usually watch church videos on and pop popcorn.

Sister Hunt has been learning how to cook familiar foods at sea level using Finnish ingredients.  Our cooking stove is also new technology (digital, temp sensors, & computerized) and she has been cooking on it successfully.  She has not tried making new recipes.  She does not want to be disappointed if one fails.  She is still learning the names of the ingredients in Finnish.  Also measurements are not what she is used to.  So for now we will continue to make grilled cheese, beef stew, and scrambled eggs. The breads are so good that we buy from the bakery and have no need to bake bread like we used to in America.  Cheeses are also a favorite.  The butter is so rich and fresh.  There is a very wide variety of cheeses.  We love the whole fruit juices--real juices, year round, NOT from concentrate.

We have been invited to dinner to several homes.  We have been served some traditional foods such as riisii purro (it translates to rice porridge but to me its rice puding), karelian piirakka (small open-faced pies that originated in the region of Karelia), pannukakku (made from a runny batter poured into a large pan and baked--about 1/2 inch think when done), and other delicious foods and drink.  We really enjoy the meals and truly appreciate the love and generosity of the kindhearted and loving Finns who serve us.

We want to share some memorable photos of events from Christmas up to the present. The two by the train are our mission president and his wife, President and Sister Watson.  They had been to visit Joensuu and we were just taking them back to the train for their return trip to Helsinki.

We hope your Christmas and New Year has been a blessing.  We are being blessed daily with good health and positive learning experiences.  We wish you a wonderful year of success and happiness. Thank you very much for your love, prayers and support.  We love you all.  Happy New Year!


Friday, January 1, 2016

December and Christmas

December 1st we went out in front of our building with some of our church friends who invited us to watch the fireworks in ushering in the Christmas season.  It was fun to watch the fireworks because it reminded us of the fourth of July in America.  The next day the stores opened with Christmas sales. The Christmas trees were lit.  It was fun to see Christmas spirit come to our city, Joensuu (Yo-en-sue). Christmas is a unique and wonderful experience here.  We got to open our gifts on Christmas eve because that is when you open your Christmas gifts.  Elder Hunt and Sister Hunt received among other gifts each a pair of a lovely hand-knitted wool socks made by a dear friend.  One day she asked us what our favorite colors are.  Sister Hunt's favorite color is red and Elder Hunt's is yellow.  So our socks are those colors.  All the stores and businesses close on Christmas eve.  At midnight there is midnight mass when we saw many of the people walking home from the church that is across the river from us. There were cars coming out of the parking lot as if after a basketball game or some other sports event.  People walk or ride their bikes everywhere.  But on Christmas Day there was not a soul to be seen walking or riding a bike. With this type of lifestyle the people get a lot of fresh air every day. Our mission president and his wife, President & Sister Watson, stopped in one Sunday for a visit, pictured below.

We traveled to Oulu for our mission conference where a  general authority spoke to us.  Elder Dyches spoke on several topics. That, "...difficult and hard times in your life are building you", he said. He added that the forests in Finland are many and the trees with their deep roots are tall and straight reaching towards heaven. That spreading our roots deeper into the soil will help us grow tall above the forest.  We will grow by following the Lord's teachings of repentance and enduring to the end, becoming pure and clean.  He quoted many of the Book of Mormon stories on repentance and conversion.  Elder Dyches is a former medical surgeon.  He told of a difficult surgical and intense surgical procedure on a cancer patient that lasted 24 hours.  Because he was the lead surgeon he slept only 1.5 hours through the night.  When his nurse came back the next morning and saw that he was still there she commented how hard it must have been for him.  He answered that it was hard but that there was one other time it was harder.  He was asked when that was.  He answered, "When I 20 years old and served as a Mormon missionary in Germany."  By this time the other members of the O.R. team had returned and they all listened to his story.  He had a captive audience and told them of his mission experiences and how difficult it was.  After sharing that story with us he admonished all the missionaries to stay focus even after calling home on Christmas day.


The mission conference was a good learning experience. We heard many good talks and fun workshops where we were taught how to interact with the people in different ways. After a day of conference we had a dinner with all the young elders and sisters then drove 6 hours back to Joensuu on slick roads, in the dark and in the falling show.

We were invited to many Christmas dinners.  We saw many decorated Christmas trees and decorated windows with white lights.  There are hardly any colored lights.  The most common decoration is the seven candles (now electric) in the windows.  Next year we will have one in our window.  This year we are only learning.  Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve.  We hope everyone has had a wonderful and memorable Christmas.

We are learning a lot of things.  In a month we have learned many wonderful things about our mission in Joensuu, Finland. The members of the LDS Church are very caring and they love us. They are always willing to help us in any way possible to make our stay here a pleasant one.  We are here to serve them but they are serving us more than us serving them.  It is a wonderful place to serve our mission.  We love it here.  We love the people.  We love the Lord.  Thank you all for your love, prayers and support in every way.  We love you very much.  Have a Bright and Happy New Year!