Erik is 19 years old today! Here’s a post worth reading all the way through, so read it for Erik, and you will be taken to Sweden and Erik’s life and incredible experiences. without leaving your screen, as every gifted writer is able to do.
So, first off a big thank you for all of the birthday wishes and to everyone who took a picture for the banner. That is by far one of the best presents I have ever received. I have people that love me! It is a blessing I have taken for granted for the majority of my life. Thank you, all. I opened it this morning but have not had a chance to hang it because it has been a bit of a rushed Pday. I had to help Osaro (Jerry) get on a train back to his camp this morning and I have to catch a train to Stockholm in an hour to go to a mission conference and will not be back in Karlstad until Tuesday night. (saving my birthday dinner for some fine capital city cuisine).
I always say my letters will be brief and they always end up being longer than anyone has interest to read but this time it will have to be brief because I cannot miss the train. It was probably the craziest week I’ve had yet. Every day but Sunday, I was several hours from Karlstad.
Tuesday was the standard weekly day at the Lidins. It is honestly one of the greatest feelings in the world, spending a day working on a farm and eating delicious food straight from the farm. The Lidins are one of the most amazing, kindest and spiritual families I have met. I love their farm. Every time I return to Sweden I will have to visit it. We had lamb chops that I butchered myself. I’m still not a lover of butchering in the slightest, but still, very tasty chops.
The following day was entirely spent at Osaro’s refugee camp. I wish there was a way everyone could visit a refugee camp. It will change the outcome of this world if all of us who live comfortable, privileged, safe lives see, meet, and befriend those who are running from war, violence, disease, persecution, terrorism and are simply wanting the right of life and a future for their children. Sweden, which is one of the bigger refugee countries is having a bit of difficulty with anti-immigration/racist sentiment. A large portion of the Swedish people are of the opinion that Sweden should stop letting refugees have citizenship for they don’t want Sweden to be flooded with Africans and middle easterners. We have met quite a few Swedish people with very anti-Muslim, anti-African, just all around anti-anyone that isn’t white and speaks perfect Swedish beliefs….always awkward to not offend them and at the same time not agree with them.
So this year Sweden is making large cuts to immigration and many of our investigators are afraid. It is really easy to just say no immigration when you are tucked away in your suburb….but when you are in the camps, hearing each refugee’s story you could not possibly have the heart to send them back to their certain death. We unfortunately have some who even feel we should be focusing only on Swedish people to baptize…..Well, it is high time we liven up the branch with some more color. There are 12 tribes of Israel, not just Ephraim.
So anyways, back to Wednesday. We spent the day teaching a group of Syrians and Bosnians and several Africans. This time, we were in the family quarters so we got to be with all of the refugee children. I felt like a National Geographic photographer except I did not bring my camera and I did not take photos. It was a day too special to take photos. My heart broke quite a bit. Syrian children are some of the most adorable children in the world. There was about a dozen little Syrian children from ages 3-9 that we got to play with. Alaa, who we met before, took the lesson very well. He is a very hard worker so is very busy most of the week. He is hopefully going to be able to attend Karlstad University in engineering. He was one in Syria. He is very focused on doing all he can possible as fast as possible for his wife and two daughters are still in Syria and he is praying everyday for their safety until he can get the money to bring them here.
Another Syrian, Mohammed is also very open. The difficulty is he has post traumatic stress disorder and one of the symptoms is bad memory. He is a 21 year old economics major, so very smart, but he has difficulty even learning Swedish now because his condition. Many of the refugees I am positive have PTSD but are not diagnosed or properly treated so they have to live with nightmares of what they have run from in bare bedrooms not knowing if they will be here or on a plane the next day. Every refugee I meet is a combination of gratitude and fear. They are so happy by the simplest things but they all hide a fear I could not even imagine having. They also are the most charitable people. They have almost absolutely nothing yet they want to give all they can to us. They insist we take their apples and bread, sit in the best chair, and would give the clothes off their backs if you asked. Because they have nothing, they are willing to give everything.
On Thursday we had to go to Stockholm for zone training which took up the day and we spent the evening watching The Testaments at the church with members and some investigators.
On Friday, we went to another refugee camp, in Ekshärad, to meet Jonas. We had been out of contact with Jonas for several days because some man was running from the police and he happened to be walking by when the police cuffed him and took him to the station without letting him explain that he was completely innocent. The police did not actually have a description of the criminal, but a black refugee around the scene of the crime they concluded was clearly guilty. So, he was detained and found to be completely innocent and released until several days later. The good news is Jonas has read most of the Book of Mormon, believes it is the word of God and wants to be baptized. First we need to help him quit smoking though which will be hard because as a escapee solider from Eritrea he has very bad post traumatic stress disorder. He has difficulty being alone. The forest outside of his window gives him irrational fear. He has a lot of guilt for his past and bad memories. It is a blessing he found the gospel to help. Only the atonement of Jesus Christ can fully heal such wounds, far more than cigarettes.
At his camp we met Mohammed who has a very amazing story. He is from Iraq and there he served as a journalist for the Washington Post, giving information from places they could not reach. By doing this he was putting his life in jeopardy, literally willing to face death for the United States. Now ISIS wants him dead. The USA promised to give him US citizenship but when he was sitting on the plane to fly to America, he and his family were forced off the plane. He was not able to pay for his family to escape so he put them in hiding and ran to Sweden. Now the Washington Post has been silent and ignoring his calls and emails. He was promised safety but is more likely to get citizenship in Sweden before he gets a response from America. He is in constant fear everyday for the survival of his family in Iraq. I wish I could do something for him, and for every refugee but I am powerless in helping them. There needs to be something done. As a missionary I cannot do anything for their physical safety.
Saturday was the craziest day ever!!!!!!!!!!! Osaro was on the train here, planned to stay the night at an inactive members apartment (Desmond, an awesome Nigerian 25 year old who plays wing for the Karlstad soccer team) but Desmond called saying he was called into work all night so couldn’t have him stay over. Osaro was going to have no way to return back to his camp until Monday morning so we called everyone, and after the nativity-like struggle, we got permission to use fast offerings to pay for a hostel for him. It was simply the best Sunday service. Jenny, the Indian PHD student, came and she loved it. She says she prays to God every day that he will guide her and she believes us finding her was a miracle of God and that she was supposed to find this church. She loved the service and will read the Book of Mormon. She will be in India for the next two weeks but she will come back with her husband and she wants the two of them to receive the lessons together. Osaro was absolutely in 7th heaven. After church we spent the evening with him teaching him everything, plus more, watched several conference talks and Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. He is so excited that he wants to move his baptism date up a week. So next Sunday after church, I’ll have my first baptism in Sweden!!!!!
Got to go, but thank you everyone. I love you all.