So, after six months in far out beautiful Värmland, I am off to the big city! I’ll will be moving to Västerhaninge on Wednesday. Västerhaninge is a suburb of southern Stockholm where our church’s temple is. I’ll be going from a branch of 15-20 active members to one of the biggest wards in Scandinavia (around 200 active members) so that will be a huge shock. I have grown used to missionary work being long walks down country roads to get to appointments, travelling for three to four hours to teach in tiny remote villages where everyone speaks Norwegian. I’ve been doing farm work weekly, having to knock on doors to get contacts because not enough people are outside in the majority of the towns. Now, I will be in a much smaller, much more compact, much more densely populated, urban area where the membership is huge and everyone will laugh at my accidentally acquired Värmlandska dialect which I am trying to get rid of. (the people of Stockholm sound like posh Stitch so that will be a big adjustment from the gentle half Norwegian sing-song of Värmland) .
My new companion will be Elder Burton from Cardston, Canada. I slept the night with him last transfer when I was in Västerhaninge a few weeks ago and I certainly got lucky.
This past week was really really hard at times. The mission is the one place where you have never been so depressed and at other times you have never been so happy. You have your all time ups and your all time downs. Fortunately, light always prevails and God is always there to love and comfort and we can always push through any obstacle. The knowledge that I am not alone, that God loves me and will help me, brings more comfort to my soul through the hard times than any solution created by man. If you face a ravine in your path, with no bottom in sight and no visible way to cross, do not lose hope. Our Heavenly Father will give us no trial that we cannot overcome. If we trust in him, follow him, and have hope, he will help us overcome all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and give us blessings to follow. Jesus promises to give us peace, not as the world gives but far more than that. Eternally. (John 14:2) So if I am to be perfectly honest, this week I had reached the lowest point in my life, a level of depression I did not even know existed, and if I had written this letter earlier in the week it would have been very dreary, if I even bothered to write at all. but I am making it through that darkness and do not need to write about the dreariness anymore. I am so thankful for Jesus Christ, who has been through all of this for me. I know nothing can overtake me if I hold fast to Him.
On a positive note, this week was Midsummers, which means the sun is still up and shining before we go to bed and is high in the sky well before we wake up. It also meant that we were able to go to Göteborg for Midsummers (celebrated on Friday) to participate in some classic old Swedish Midsummer dancing around the Maypole. America is so boring with it’s holidays. Göteborg is a very gorgeous, untainted city. The perfect sized city. It feels like the Portland or the Glasgow of Sweden. I hope I can serve there someday.
The rest of the week was the hard say goodbyes to all the investigators and members that have become my friends over the last 6 months. It will be hard to leave them. Ghazanfar is still saying I am staying. On Sunday, we had a very good turn up at church. One of our Albanian investigators Gezim came and loved it. This week, when we visited him, the lesson started out not so well. It very much felt like he was just having us over to be polite. He kept on talking about how tired he was and he did not show much sign of being interested. Then, we had him read the testimony of Joseph Smith in Albanian. He started read fast and with a rather annoyed tone but the spirit in the room gradually changed…. He read more quieter, more slowly. His face changed from tired and apathetic to excited and beyond the description of words. When he finished reading there was a long silence and then in Swedish he thanked us for making his day and then asked if he can come to church on Sunday. That is one wonderful man I had the privileged of meeting at the end of my service here in Karlstad and hope to see progress in the gospel.
One really cool opportunity I also had this Sunday was being able to conduct a sacrament meeting!!! One of our members, and one of the greatest people in the world, Elizabeth, had missed her train to get to church but really wanted to see me before I left so she came an hour after church and the branch president gave us permission to hold sacrament meeting again just for her. So with her, her two daughters, my very good friend Mehdi and Elder Brinkworth we held a sacrament meeting with hymns, talks and everything. It was one of the most spiritually strong sacrament services I’ve been a part of ever. Elizabeth bought me new shoes (I had worn holes through the bottom of my old boots and she said she gave them to me because a missionary’s feet are blessed. She is just quite simply amazing.)
I am going to miss Karlstad, but need to get moving on. I will miss the branch, the friends I have made and the people of Värmland. I will very much miss Ghazanfar and Mesomeh. They are the kindest, strongest, bravest, greatest couple in the world. They are willing to sacrifice everything for their religion. They are willing to do anything to help another. They are the perfect example of a loving family that follows God and I wish to be a little more like them. Mesomeh’s baby will be due any day now and we are trying to get church documents as fast as possible so they can show Migration documented proof that they are Christian and therefore cannot be sent back to Afghanistan and hopefully can be able to be moved from their current, entirely muslim camp. Mesomeh has stopped covering her head and has received a lot of persecution for it. Ghazanfar is shouted at everyday and their son, Amir has been beaten up by the other kids. They are true pioneers in the Gospel. I hope and pray with my whole heart that Migration will show some mercy on them. Unfortunately migration is run by the Javiers of the world, not the Jean Valjeans… but I have hope for humanity.
Saturday was World Refugee day. I know the refugees of war torn countries feel like a world away for most people reading this, that it is much easier to ignore it and their seeking refuge in developed nations will bring an inconvenience to the easy way of living life, but these are actual people, with actual lives, with actual souls. It has been a blessing to be able to know many of them personally. Many I have taught, played with, called my friends and embraced I do not know if they are still alive. Sweden no longer wants to bother with them along with a majority of Europe, and they’re being forced back into the countries they were escaping for their lives. Many not to survive. If you went to a refugee camp and sat down in the Syrian’s sleeping quarters and listened to their haunting stories of their houses being blown to rubble, their parents, their brothers, their sisters, their own children being slaughtered, seeing the absolute fear in their eyes, their entire bodies uncontrollably shaking, children huddled in the bare hallways having tears every time you visit. Then, if you hear an Iraqi man or Afghanistani women tell you about how they sacrificed everything to oppose the evil in their country, and show you the scars where they have been burned, stabbed, or shot, and how they just want to live long enough to give their children a better life, and then you tell me they do not deserve refuge from their countries, we clearly see morals very differently. My heart is pained by seeing these poor, war torn people, who are saints in my eyes, who are kicked out of the country every week. I wish I had a solution. I wish I could save them. but I can’t. All I can do is pray for them, love them and serve them. If everyone had the opportunity to serve a mission where they get to be among the wonderful souls of the refugees, to become their friend, the world would have a much kinder and much more Christlike opinion towards them and hopefully be in turn a much better place where we all can have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..