As is the Oregon tradition, we cut ourselves our own tree. As is the Oregon tradition, we cut ourselves our own tree.
Christmas time is finally here, and no one celebrates Christmas like the swedes. Probably that is on account to the fact that it is so dark here in the winter that they need something to hold onto. The sun is setting at 3:30 here and I’m only in the southern half of Sweden. The missionaries in Luleå have the sun rise after 10:00and set before 1:00…. And it’s just the end of November. I’m very excited for my first, and only, unfortunately, Christmas in Sweden. But more on that when Christmas is closer….
So Michael got baptised! It was a very spiritually packed service. We had a lot of YSA (18-30 year olds) help teach him and they were all there to support and he loved that. It certainly wasn’t your typical standard baptismal service with brownies, milk and doilies. I believe we had about 25 people there (typ) and the senior missionary couple, the bishop and the ward mission leader where the only adults over the age of 30 present. What was really special was we were able to have David, whose papers are in to serve a mission himself, baptise Michael. At the end of the service Michael bore his testimony and it all was just wonderful.
. Michael’s Baptism. All those in the photo helped teach Michael with us. It was a team. As it should always be. Michael’s Baptism. All those in the photo helped teach Michael with us. It was a team. As it should always be.
Also, this week was Thanksgiving and we had two Thanksgiving dinners. First the Hawleys, the senior couple here, made a wonderful feast for the missionaries of Göteborg and then on Saturday all the American members in the Göteborg area, and all their American non-member friends, which actually totaled out to 50 people, had a huge Thanksgiving dinner with every Thanksgiving dish you could imagine. Needless to say my goal to lose the weight I gained from all the member meals in Västerhaninge was stalled for a week….which is all fine because Thanksgiving is for stuffing your face. And for being Thankful. This year I was particularly thankful for my family. My Mum and Dad and sisters and brother, for their love and examples for me.
Now that Michael is baptised, we are pretty short on investigators to teach. We must therefore embark on a serious finding phase of our work. We have a metropolis city with thousands of people in our area, so statistically we ought to have loads of people to teach. This upcoming week is the last of the transfer and Äldste Adams is most likely transferring. (though then again, I spent six months in my first area myself) In way of other news, my son (that is elder Jensen, the missionary I trained) is having a son. (will be training a new missionary)
Some weeks I have a lot to say but I suppose this isn’t that sort of week.
The church released the new Christmas video yesterday, so you all should watch it! I love the African boy’s delivery. I would love to see him in a Shakespeare play.
Have a lovely Christmas time! makes sure to add some colour into the gray landscape with the gospel of Jesus Christ!
So this letter I apologize for it’s length….but this has been a week I can never forget and want to keep documented.
The entire mood of this city has transformed. It is like Diagon Alley in the 7th book of Harry Potter. It had reached the public’s attention that there have been terrorists threats to Göteborg. The whole week the city has been quiet. Vans full of 8 to 10 police are parked throughout the city. Central station is constantly patrolled by officers. Friday night, which always is a wild party throughout the entire city, was silent. It was the eeriest thing, walking to central station on Friday night to catch our tåg home. Normally the street we walked down, full of clubs and restaurants and malls and theatres, is jammed packed with playgoers and intoxicated Swedes. Only a few lonely figures were on the streets.
The restaurants were sparsely filled and you could feel an uncomfortable anxiety radiating from everyone. It was not at all pleasant. Everyone chose to be inside. Syrians and Afghanis were gathered around candles in the square in mourning of what has become of their countries. It is a very unforgettable time to be in Göteborg. The city has not had any wave of fear shared by all in it quite like this before.
The days are short, wet, and mostly dark, the borders were temporarily shut. The whole of Sweden is in a panic, war is waging and yet, I had the most wonderful ice cream flavour while on splits this week: Salt liquorice and orange. It was surprisingly perfect in every degree. It was very much like Salt and Straw ice cream from Portland BUT without the unbearable wannabe hipsters from the Midwest suburbs snapping Instagram selfies to show off how “indie” they pretend to be because they shaved the side of their head and started listening to some Seattle indie folk playlist on Spotify which they classify as “hipster music” in their sophomore year of colleg. This ice cream business was not trying too hard to make odd flavours so they could acquire social media fame…. They just wanted to make good ice cream- and salt liquorice and orange does collaborate well on the tongue.
I mentioned the ice cream because it is key to not let this current situation dispel all light in life. (And sorry if I offended any one regarding Salt and Straw. I just can’t get over how hilarious the whole concept of that place is. It is purely an Instagram checkpoint).
The world is crazy, but still liveable. We have the most wonderful two investigators that run the coolest and most delicious vegetarian cafe, who are the most amazing couple. They work, just the two of them, every day. They seriously spend more time together than missionary companions, and they are the best of friends. Michael has passed his interview and is getting baptised on Saturday. He has a nice suit and everything. We went to watch him teach special needs people how to play basketball, and it was the most adorable thing.
Every day, we find another wonderful soul on the street. There is so much goodness in the world. We still are entitled to happiness. We cannot let fear take over our entire being as “the greatest thing to fear is fear itself,” so let’s “keep calm and carry on.” That’s some WWII wisdom for us to apply.
Here is the troublesome thing with fear; it can make monsters of ourselves. The world is at the cusp of potentially going into a reenactment of the red scare all over again if we aren’t careful. Remember when Russia was the enemy and America became so paranoid some were falsely accusing everyone left and right for being a communist spy? Russia was still the enemy, but we ourselves in fear of the enemy, became a little less innocent. We did our share of bad. We destroyed lives and were corrupted in our mad search for the spies among the innocent. If you haven’t, read The Crucible by Arthur Miller, see the fate of John Proctor. I fear in the crisis we are facing, the McCarthy era will come back again. The good people of Syria, both the Christian Syrians and Muslim Syrians alike, and the good, harmless Muslims of this world, are going to be forced into the modern Salem witch trials;that is what this can become.
I can’t stop this world going into it’s inevitable dark patch, where in trying to fight evil we lose our goodness by oppressing with heartless bigotry. I can’t really do much for the big picture. But, I do have the most powerful tool to combat this; spreading the gospel. It really is the greatest thing I can do. President Ezra Taft Benson once said:
“It is my conviction that the world needs, as it needs no other thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the people of the world want what the gospel will give, but they do not realize it. They want the anchor which the gospel provides, which gives them the answers to the problems that face them; that brings them a feeling of security and a feeling of inner peace. The gospel is the only answer to the problems of the world, my brethren and sisters.
Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.”
Some people on the street argue that religion is the reason why we are in this crisis. Religion is the cause of more death and destruction than any other thing ever on earth. Yes, that is true. But we must recognise the difference between religion and the Gospel. The gospel is the message of God, of love, peace, and salvation. Religion is mankind’s organisation to acquire whatever salvation they believe they can receive. In other words; The gospel is God’s word. Religion is our various differing interpretations of His word. This separation of the gospel and the religion is essential for us to understand. A religion is subject to imperfection and wars and abominations of all kinds, not because God does not exist but simply because the religion is not God, it is man. The gospel is God. God does exist. He is heart broken with what is happening to this earth. It is mankind’s corrupted warped blaspheme of his word that is causing the destruction; not his word itself.
When Jesus was on the earth he literally gave his life preaching about love and peace and forgiveness and kindness. Our Church is the church of Jesus Christ. The members of our church will not be perfect. Yes, religion is imperfect. But we are trying the best we can, through the church, to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is perfect. We can only fully do this through our church. If we were all trying our best to follow the gospel there would be world peace. So, missionary work is my way of making world peace, one soul at a time.
Also what I can do is ask of everyone within my reach to please, please, before you decide to embark on this Isis witch hunt yourself, remember history. Remember when McCarthy convicted 100s of innocent lives in a trumped up justice system. Remember when we ruthlessly threw the Japanese citizens of our country into our own prisoner camps in the midst of World War Two based off nothing more than their former nationality. Remember every scapegoat and body of people we hated and abused and killed for the few wicked hidden amongst them. It is what humanity has done since the dawn of time. Jesus Christ was strongly opposed to such bigotry as we see from his telling of the Good Samaritan. Today the word Samaritan makes many think of someone who is generous and charitable. In the days of Christ, it was a filthy word for the people of Samaria who the Jews bitterly spat upon. Jesus very purposefully used a Samaritan as the good, Christlike protagonist when he was asked “and who is my neighbour?” Why? He was not just teaching us that we should do good for others, but also that everyone, from all nations, religions, races, and walks of life have the capacity to be good Christlike people. He was teaching the key lesson of not stereotyping. So, to answer the question the lawyer posed to Jesus “who is my neighbour?” Syrians are your neighbours. Muslims are your neighbours. Everyone is your neighbour. Loving them is the way to eternal life.
I am not denying that Isis is among us, because they are. But Isis is an idea, not a nationality. The people running from Isis are certainly not Isis and I hardly think Christ would approve of treating them with any level of hatred or violence.
I have really come to see what happens when you put stories to faces. It is no longer just Syrian refugees. It is Alla, Mohammed, Samir, Omar, Sadik, and all of my other dear dear Syrian friends. They would give everything they have to me. You can’t compliment a Syrian on their coat or else they will insist you take it, even if it is their only coat. If they have a big loaf and a small loaf of bread….. They’d give you both.. It is so much harder when they are people that are a part of you. Disconnection leads to apathy and apathy allows Machiavellian actions to rule over moral values. We put the label of enemy on the forehead of everyone coming from the same country as the enemy. It is easier that way. We feel less guilt in bombing them, in killing their sons and husbands and fathers. In discriminating against them in our countries.
I do not want Isis in America or Britain or Sweden,but they already are here, and it’s terrifying. Please, don’t let that excuse us to hate and mistreat all those who are running from Isis. Please, love thy neighbour. They’ve gone through more than your worst nightmares. They just need love. Love is the way to combat hate. We can’t fight hate by hating…. then we are just making more hate.
Now, I’m not on the stage of Carnegie hall defiantly singing “With God on our Side” like Bob Dylan did in protest. In fact, my message is in no way political. I’m a missionary. I’m not a politician. For the two years I’m serving on my mission I do not wish to have anything to do with politics. My message is, for you personally, do not let fear deny you from living the great commandment from Jesus Christ “thou shall love thy neighbour”. Love all within your reach…..Whether you have refugees near you or not.
Love you all,
And For A Friend I’ve met here in Goteborg:
Before I close, I was last week accused of never including a Connor in my letters, who deserves some recognition. So, to calm Connor’s sass I will dedicate some time to praise the fine lad.
Here is my Ode to Connor:
What can be said of you in all your fine Cymru majesty? Shall I compare thee to a summers day? Thou art more lovely and temperate. You truly are a diamond of the Welsh coal mines. Only Doctor Who and John Rhys-Davies are equal gems of Wales. Yes, that means you beat Charlotte Church, Richard Burton and Welsh cakes. O, Connor, I can praise thee for pages. You, the legend that teaches more missionary lessons in the week than the full time missionaries. You, the pillar of charity. You, who is not one bit English, thank you very much. (please don’t call Connor English if you don’t want to be impaled…. He is Welsh…) You, fine maker of curries. You, the member missionary of dreams. May the children forever sing praises of thee, from the green mighty mountains of Wales to the frozen fields of Sweden. From fair Cardiff by-the-sea to Gothenburg the gött mos.
Is that an adequate enough appraisal? You can give me your rating at family home evening tonight. In all seriousness, you are sincerely one of the greatest human beings I know. You’ll never accept that compliment but you should. You do so much for everyone without expecting or excepting recognition and now it is time for you to get some. To all of yourself you have given to others, you deserve the biggest thank you. I know you won’t want me to make public just all the acts of service you do, so I won’t, but everyone, you ought to know this man is an example to me. You are one of the best missionaries in this world.
First, before I dive into the thoughts of my mind I should inform you all of Michael. I’ve had the wonderful gift of be able to teach Michael since the first lesson, the Restoration. (though I cannot and do not wish to take credit for finding him….that was before my time here) Michael’s parent’s are from Uganda and he has grown up on the streets of Göteborg. He is a seriously talented hip hop dancer and is obsessed with the NBA (ha! a Swedish first) and wears the baggiest pants in Sweden. (baggy pants in Sweden? another Swedish first) He has truly come to fall in love with the gospel, sometimes coming to the YSA centre during the day just to sit and read from the Book of Mormon. If all falls into place we should be baptized this upcoming Saturday.
And now for the thoughts of my mind:
Every week, there are more and more refugees with all they own in the world in just a few Ikea blue bags sitting at cold bus stops in the pouring rain, lost in this strange new land with no money and absolutely no Swedish. The other day, a family of five young Syrian children lead by one very tired but very strong mother and no father hauled their mere four bags off the train as I boarded. The rain was more of a tempest than anything, and this destitute family of young children and a single mother, coming from terrors I couldn’t dream of certainly in Syria, were standing utterly lost on the platform for an small empty Swedish town in a bitter rain storm. They clearly had no idea where they were supposed to go, and they only had thin donated sweaters not sufficient for the weather. My heart sank seeing this from my warm, comfortable train seat as I sped off to downtown Göteborg. The giant gaudy Christmas decked out malls I walked past once I reached inner city Göteborg, looked a little less attractive with the thought of those freezing young war torn children out in the rain. I see refugees and work with refugees every day. I see sights far more devastating than this one all the time but for whatever reason, this small snatch of memory was plastered across my eyes for the rest of the day. It made me feel so very very powerless. Nothing I could do would adequately help the millions of suffering refugees.
That night, as this hopeless guilt was weighing upon me as I prayed, I received the overwhelming comfort that only comes at such an amplitude a few times in life; the warmth you cannot define as anything but the Spirit. I knew from that invisible hug that, obviously no, I could not save every refugee in this world and fairly give out to their needs, but I’m not expected to. No one is. I’m just expected to do all I can for those within my reach. To go after the one. There is aid that can only be done, and must be done, through governmental and humanitarian organisations…. And just as important as taking care of the large scale needs is also us, the individual, taking care of their individual needs that the much needed governmental programs cannot give. You see, we need both. Cutting the organisations that attend to the masses is stupid. The individual helping the individual alone will not sufficiently attend to even a fraction of the problem. But likewise, only the big organisations will not be enough. These people need a personal helping hand, tailored to them as their unique self. Each one is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven. My responsibility right here and now is to take care of the one. The individual soul. God loves each one of us personally. Jesus suffered the pains and afflictions for each one of us personally. If missionary work is the Lord’s work, shouldn’t it therefore be for each soul at a personal level? Instead of fussing over how to effectively and efficiently get x amount of numbers out of x amount of numbers to produce the highest amount of product x, we should stop and think, “if God wanted the entire population to be humbled to conversion he could do that himself… That is not what I’m here to do. I’m here for the individual. I’m here for each soul personally. I am not here to smartly run a business. Missionary work is not a corporate business. It is a personal relationship.”
But how to attend to each individual? Well that is the tricky part. For it is unique to each case obviously and requires no small amount of spiritual direction. It is something I cannot pretend I have down. It is something I’m learning.
In the very moment all of this was going through my head as I was preparing for bed on Friday night, a member texted informing us there had been a massacre in Paris. A few minutes later it had become several massacres. Six massacres. All of Europe went into a panic. The next day on the streets everything felt and looked different. The newspapers front pages and train tv screens showed the terrors of the night before and the already very quiet Swedes seemed extra quiet. The whole day seemed to have a dark foreboding blanket over it. By that evening, another member informed us the prime minister was wishing to seal the borders from refugees. Several EU countries already had in reaction to the terrorist attack. And thus we see the greatest weapon Isis has; fear. More lives will be lost from us denying refuge for the thousands of asylum seekers than will ever be lost in all the bombs and shootings Isis will ever inflict on European soil.
But what can I do? I can do what I can for those here and pray safety is soon found for all those Europe will now deny. I don’t have a solution for how to resolve this, but I do know what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t let this fear send us down into the pit of bigotry to all immigrants. Then what are we? We will be becoming just like our enemy. How can we combat the bigotry of Isis if we become bigoted ourselves? We cannot waste this time fighting amongst ourselves. We need to love one another. We need to be united! Yes even with the Slytherins. I’m sounding like the sorting hat in the fifth book. But hey, the world is looking rather Harry Potter these days. I could expound on the Ministry of Magic and mud blood treatment metaphor but that would probably get too political for a missionary blog. All I have to say on it is, as a representative of Jesus Chris,t I must deliver his message. And his message to all, whether the disheartened street beggar or the politically charged anti-immigrant member is “as I have loved you, love one another.” The church has released a request to it’s members to do their part for these refugees. Read it. I highly recommend it.
This is a week I will never forget. I’m sure the terrorist attacks in Paris was devastating back home in the USA…. But it was quite a unique experience to live it while in Europe, where the problems are here, the people that ran from Isis are on these streets, and the Paranoia is rich. It was a week that left me with a very very heavy heart. I had a great deal of fun experiences that I wanted to share from this week but I can’t really get myself to type them out. I’m just aching for the world right now. For the people of Paris. For the people of Syria. For the asylum seekers who now only see closed gates.
My mission has definitely changed me. I’m very different from the Erik Scott that left PDX airport almost exactly a year ago. (My year mark is on Thursday!) I have left my comfortable life to be right in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since World War Two. Right in the heart of it. It isn’t just something I’m listening about on NPR news on the drive to Trader Joe’s anymore. This is history I’m a part of, and it has changed me. I distinctly remember as the plane took off from Portland and flew over the then snow covered city, past my house hidden among the white topped fur trees on the edge of the long string of the Columbia river, we swung around Mt. Hood (the first photo on this memory card!) and I thought to myself, “how different will I be the next time I fly over this mountain?” Well, a year later I can say I’ll be very different the next time I see Mt. Hood. The mission has changed me and is changing me. All for the better. Thank you mum and dad for raising me in this gospel. I would have nothing without it and without you.
From the rainy land of Oregon to the rainy land of Sweden I have grown so very much. In my testimony, in the capacity of my heart, in everything.
Wish you all were here and I was there with you all and yet my mission can last forever. It’s just a jumble of feelings.
Working in a city is a very different experience than my last two areas I served. I am very blessed that the city I have been given is Göteborg, where nature and civilization are married together beautifully giving me always green forest to see…. Otherwise, I’d go insane.
How does one describe city work as a missionary? In contrast to the sheep shearing, tractor driving, long bus riding Karlstad rural work, you could say I am serving an entirely different mission. On the city streets, your life becomes the people. Everything is people. This city is built out of people. There are always people streaming past you, running to work, living lives, curled up in the rain. It can be overwhelming just thinking of how many people there are stuffed in this lovely city. How many of those people are lonely, are heartbroken, are shattered, are lost, hidden among the millions that I pass every day. How can I sufficiently reach them? I can’t reach all of them….but I need to reach as many as I can.
Because Brother Ray Summers wondered about my area size, as he served here several years ago…we have the whole metro area. Utby elders have the northern part, which is more suburbs and projects. We get the inner city. It is like if we were in Portland, we would have all of downtown and the other elders would start in Parkrose and go eastward.
One thing I failed to mention last week; I am a YSA (young single adult) missionary, which means I’m over all the YSA in the Göteborg stake (so technically my area boundaries are even bigger with all the YSA I am supposed to work with….including Karlstad) and this is literally my favorite missionary position ever. I don’t give a rat’s boot about going AP, I just want to be a YSA missionary forever. We help organize YSA events, participate in YSA family home evening, Institute (taught by Louie Herrey from the Eurovision winning Swedish pop band, The Herreys…fun fatc. Here’s their hit song : t) visit YSA members to strengthen them and the best part of all, we use the YSA for our teaching. We have the YSA centre in the heart of hipster Göteborg (Vasagatan, it is where all the university students hang out in cafes and do poetry slams with nose piercings and 2nd hand 1960’s fashion) where we teach 90% of our lesson and have a lovely handful of soon to be missionaries who we take out with us. This is the best responsibility a missionary could have.
We had one of our investigators who will be baptized very soon be snatched away from us (turns out he does not live in our area….whoops) but we can’t sit and mope for there are plenty of more people we are teaching. I wish I could say more but have run out of time. One of the best things from the week though: I got letters from the primary of my home ward and that was the so wonderful. I loved them! Nothing can cheer up a missionary better. Thank you!
So, this letter is going to be a short one; more will come next week. I don’t have much time sadly, but so you all know I am happy and safe in Göteborg! I am in love with this city! It is literally the Portland of Sweden. It is full of hip cafes full of hip University students discussing poetry and obscure off shoot philosophy, nestled between cluttered book stores and vintage shops with bearded vegan part-time baristas with top hats pushing strollers around the leaf littered old city streets beside the cold Nordic ocean, and I have the whole city to myself! They had to close down the other VF elders so the entire metropolis is our responsibility. The work here is good. We have a man named Mike who will be baptized on the 14th (I walked in on this one so I can’t take any credit) and on my first day we got a call from this Iraqi man named Sadek. The story of Sadek is incredible. Members flagged him down when he was driving over a year ago and they asked him to drive them to church. They became good friends and so he has been off and on attending church down south in Helsingborg ever since. He simply called us asking if he can get baptized. Needless to say, it was a very good first day.
It is also scary, I must admit, having a whole city in my hands. In all honesty, I went through quite the emotional meat grinder in Västerhaninge. I loved it so much and miss it so much, but I cannot pretend it did not leave me unscathed. I just want to work hard here and give God’s love to all and I so very much want to rid myself of the weight of past hardships but they seem to still be pressing down on me and effecting my sleep….. I pray that I can recover so I can work harder without physical limitation. I know I’ll be doing better soon. I am in a lovely strong ward in a lovely strong area with a good companion.
I love you all to bits and pieces,
Parts of letter to me (his Mom):
“So, I am emailing later. In Vasterhaninge, the church was a five minute walk and we had our own washer and dryer ´so we could email in the morning, but here we have an assigned laundry time and a far away chapel with only two computers for six missionaries so we don’t get the freedom of choosing when to email.”
Answering my question about his sleep issues: “I’m not very well but improving. I have been having the weirdest neck pains and Sister Beckstrand is making me go in to a specialist about them soon….but don’t worry….it isn’t anything serious.
“We have a pretty ghetto apartment…. It has been trashed. I had to clean out the whole kitchen because all the pots and pans were infested with bugs. They found rats in the bathroom a few weeks ago. The neighborhood is entirely muslim….which is the Sweden I love. “
“Asking about his new area called Gothenburg or Goteborg- “Göteborg is honestly my favourite place in all of Sweden. It honestly is the Portland of Sweden, and the boundries have been changed so we have the whole city. I love the cafes and book stores and university students and architecture and ocean and forests and Portlandness, and all the theatres. It is a really big theatre town. very artsy. “