Thankfully for his mom, Erik was able to get on a computer to finish
his letter the next day. The photos are all his this time. Here it is:
So I am finally here!!!!! In Sweden, in Karlstad to be precise. My area is huge. It would take us nearly five hours to reach the top of our area by train and we do not have a car or even bikes. We actually have a referral that is 4 hours away that we need to find a day where we can afford in our schedule to spend 8 hours total travelling.
My area is called the Värmlands, which literally means warmlands, because in the summer I guess it is quite nice…Though, this morning it was in the teens and snowing hard, so the name just seems rather ironic at the moment. This is a very rural farming area. (we actually are going to work on a recent convert’s farm tomorrow feeding the animals) The bulk of the nation’s ligonberries come from here… Ligonberry juice is cheaper than orange juice. (fyi, the Ligonberry drink at Ikea back at home isn’t actually ligonberry juice. It is this stuff called saft, which the swedes drink like crazy….just fruit concrete with tons of sugar that you put in your water…actually ligonberry juice is much more tart but delicious) Also, there is a very strong Värmlandska accent which is the most singy songy of all Swedish accents) One of our less actives we visit, Christer, said that if he goes anywhere else in Sweden they think he is from Norway. (which we will actually be able to physically touch for two seconds this week when we visit a less active that lives right on the border)
Karlstad itself, where we do most of our work, feels pretty much exactly like Portland, if not more Portland than Portland. It is a cleaner, more put together and even more hipster then Portland. Old men on the buses are more hipster than me…
Our branch is very small. There was 12 people yesterday at church, but that will change very soon. Our Branch president is from Nigeria, and he is a very nice helpful man who prefers to speak English around us, and had two little girls, who are the entirety of the primary program in the branch. The branch counsler is, Brother Gout. He is also really nice and also prefers to speak English with us, because he comes from Netherlands. The rest of the branch consists of their wives, Brother Gout’s son, Lillemor, a super nice little lady (ironic because her name means little mother) who feeds us on Saturdays when we shovel out the snow in the church parking lot for church the next morning, the Larsons, an adorable old couple who own an antique shop, and tow single older women. We also have the Lidens who come every week but I did not get to see them yesterday because it was a pretty big snowstorm and they live on a farm over an hour away. The branch has quite a few inactives, many who just live several hours away and actually are closer to the Norwegian branch. (30 minutes to the Norwegian branch, 4 hours to ours) We are visiting with quite a few, and several I am certain we can get back to church. One is very religious, has pictures of Christ all over his house and reads the Book of Mormon every day….but his ex-wife is in our branch….which is awkward with the attendance of 12-16 people as of now. But we shall work on that!!!
We will certainly increase the numbers soon, for I have one investigator who I asked if he would be baptized and he said yes!!!!!! It was my first lesson ever with an investigator and I was super nervous beforehand. His name is Samir. He is a Syrian Christian who was a dentist back in Damascus before he came here. He is currently taking 3 classes of Swedish and speaks super good Swedish already, so he can become a dentist here. He has a wife who speaks very little Swedish but is also learning, and daughter who speaks baby because she is a baby. They have a very nice loving home, where you can feel peace just walking into their apartment. They already are very good, genuinely prepared people. Samir had met with the missionaries a few times before a few months ago, but they hadn’t made a teaching record for him, so we started with the first lesson. He agreed with everything we said, he has already read almost the entire Book of Mormon (in Arabic which looks super cool) and he has a very strong relationship with God. The whole event was rather unbelievable looking back. Beforehand, and indeed afterhand, I was understanding a small percentage of what Swedes were saying to me and I was struggling to put words in Swedish to say, but during that lesson I understood nearly everything and found that I could say everything that I needed to say. Immediately after that unfortunately, wasn’t the case but it was good for the moment. Värmlandska is very hard to understand…but give me 12 weeks and I’ll be fine. We plan on holding a baptism service at the end of the month and in the mean time need to teach him all the lessons and hopefully find an effective way to also teach his wife. Needless to say Samir gave us quite a high for the rest of the week.
I’ve been lucky not really getting an negative reception so far in Karlstad. There are many who are disinterested, but they are very nice about it. One inactive that we meet who is actually from California (and lived in Roseburg, Oregon for a while) who came on vacation to Sweden nine years ago and liked it so much that he hasn’t returned back to the U.S. since, told us that Karlstad is a particularly friendly city of Sweden. He actually decided to move here because he was living in another city in the north where no one ever talked to him and he went to visit a friend in Karlstad and from getting off the bus to reaching his friend’s house he had more people say hello to him than he had in his entire four years in the other city. Of course, the people here are still very Swedish, so sitting next to someone on the bus is viewed as a rude gesture, but on the scale of publicly friendly in Sweden, Karlstad ranks pretty high.
I got a lot of people (mainly Utah and Idaho kids in the MTC that have never left the country
hahaha) tell me that the Swedes are a very proud, materialistic, godless people…. I think that must just be a capitalistic brainwashing philosophy to keep young American children away from the dangers of socialism or something….because from my one week in Sweden, though most people are initially shy, these are the kindest, most humble and genuinely selfless people I’ve met in my life. Yes, many are not interested in our message, but they apologize about that….really they apologize about everything….(you start speaking Swedish and they hear your American accent so they start speaking English and when you say you are trying to learn Swedish they apologize for speaking English…) They are never rude, and there are campaigns for charities and environmental protection programs and all sorts of good causes all over the place, so their hearts are in the right place. They are nice good people. They kind of had a bad history with a corrupted church ruled state in the past, and so many may feel that God wouldn’t have condoned a church to do the things it did…. Which is exactly why they need our message!!!!
Sorry I’m droning on about the people and not actually saying anything about how I got here….. It was noteworthy and mentionable at the time, but now after a week full of missionary work it is kind of forgettable. Essentially, I made it here fine and safe. I went contacting the day I got here on the streets of Stockholm, which is a very beautiful city but much faster paced than Karlstad so contacting was much more colorful than it is here. Then, I slept like a rock, woke up, got my visa photo and was given my new companion, Elder Dahle.
Our apartment is apparently considered one of the worst in the mission, which means it is really nice by other standards because apartments are posh and Ikead out here. We have a kitchen stocked with ligonberry juice, legit milk, (the sort of creamy stuff one does not simply get at a Safeway) Swedish meatballs (may sound tacky but they are super cheap) salmon, muesli, lamb (from branch members) pasta, all the needs to make curry, and always fresh heavenly bakery bread. So, we live very comfortably on our budget. That is pretty much it for this week. I’ll need to write some handwritten letters when I can. I’m taking a two hour train ride today to the village of Torsby (Thor’s village) right on the border of Norway (maybe touch good old Norge) to go work on a sheep farm for a recent convert and teach her the after baptism lessons, so I can probably write a few then.
I love you all very much and I hope all is well back home.