We hope this letter finds you well and happy in all that you are doing. We love hearing from you and send our love and best wishes for success in your busy lives.
We just returned last night from an extended trip to northern Sweden, and the old adage, "there is no place like home" applies, even if this is only our temporary home. We have spent the past 8 days on the road---and especially after being stopped coming home for over two hours on the main highway going south (or, the only highway going south) and, wondering what the problem was and how long we might be there, ---it felt so good to be back in our own place to relax and sleep. That gratitude expressed, we have to say, however, that we felt really blessed through the week with where we stayed each night.
We have now been in Sweden and the Nordics for 3 months, and have enjoyed the opportunity to see so much of this region. As you know, our responsibility to encourage the growth of Self Reliance in all this area has had us on the road almost as much as we have been at our "home" ---and the cost of doing this has been pretty high. We have consistently tried to find less expensive hotels that were still clean, safe, and in good repair---because we don't sleep well if they are bad, and we know we can't do the work if we are too tired. But the distance has required that we have a lot of hotel stays, a lot of fuel expense, and the cost of restaurant food is high as well. So this trip we decided to try another approach for housing and food. We tried using Airbnb and similar sites to find places where we might have good accommodations and be able to fix our own food.
We might have had more success with this approach if we had not been trying to do this all on late notice, but we have often had to keep a flexible schedule when we travel for several days, because the people we need to see don't always respond much ahead of time to let us know when we might meet with them. We get a good "skeleton" of things to do in an area before we go, but, for example, we had Sunday presentations in two branches of the north District, a week apart. We also had Youth nights scheduled for mid-week and Friday nights, but the rest was open and needing to be filled in---hopefully with other branches in the district. We didn't know where exactly we would be on which nights. This trip, we were traveling to distances a full 10 hours away from Stockholm, and coming home in between was not practical for our bodies or the pocketbook. The three hours we spent one night on a 2-lane road in a pretty good snowstorm made us especially glad we weren't driving all the way home to Stockholm.
Getting off the "beaten path" always has its risks and we were not immediately lucky--thus we were able to see the blessing that came later, when we made it a matter of sincere prayer. It is remarkable how far the words "clean and private" can be stretched on a hotel website!---and when we were trying to find a replacement for our mistake in a far northern city at the last hour, we didn't really wonder if we could survive staying in the car rather than paying the very high hotel prices that were the only ones available. We did have some frustration for awhile.
All that being said, we did see some very tender mercies come through for us during the week. The first blessing was finding a promotional price on a hotel that usually was twice the price. It was super small, but great, and we were able to stay two nights at that price even though the booking rate went up. The second blessing was booking the last room available online and then not getting the confirmation to come through on our phone---and when we arrived the office was closed! Fortunately the nicest young woman who was a guest let us in the office, used her code to call the management, and arranged that the un-named waiting key could be ours. The room was old-ish, but clean and adequate.
The other hotels we stayed in weren't always the greatest, but they were ok. However, the last place for the 2 nights of the weekend was the real adventure. We didn't know why all the reasonable priced hotels were fully booked, but learned later there was a big hockey tournament in town. We almost booked a place that seemed ok, but then at the last got the feeling to change our mind and keep looking. What we found, and felt much better about, was a fair distance from the Church and we knew we would have to drive back and forth a few times--but we did have some time unscheduled and they said the place was scenic and peaceful. Those are two words that also can be stretched, but we really got a slug in the stomach when the GPS led us onto a forest road. It said at first it was 3 miles, but at an "intersection" that turned into 12 miles! The road was dirt--no, ice!--and narrow, and we just had to turn around for sanity's sake. We tried to call the listing service, but of course no luck---but finally found a number for the property---and after trying a few different ways of dialing it, they DID answer.
The man who answered kept asking "where are you?", and that seemed like the dumbest question. We told him the road was not safe for us and he agreed it might not be. Finally with as many clues as we could grab, he determined that we had been led on the "shortcut" logging road by our GPS, and he told us how to get there on a highway! At this point we thought "what do we have to lose?" and tried it. It was a pretty long drive, but a decent road.
When we finally got there we were greeted by a young, rather disheveled, woman at the door of an older house! Oh boy, we are going to stay in an older house with somebody else! Since we were there, we decided to see how bad it really would be ---and discovered the opposite! This whole house was fixed up so cute and so clean, and the woman and her husband and baby didn't live there at all, but next door. They were far enough out and their rental venture was new enough that it was practically all new. We had been eating out of our food box all week, heating things up at the Church kitchens where possible, and just getting by to avoid eating out. So now we could use the fridge, stove, sinks, and table,---and of course the nice couches, and cozy chairs with lovely throws. They even offered a washing machine and sauna, but we didn't use them. (Side note here: we need to also recognize the blessing of being invited to leader's homes for delicious dinners a few times. The main course for dinner was usually moose meat. In a country where they harvest 100,000 moose a year, there is plenty of that to go around. Tastes like chicken -- just kidding.)
We stayed Friday and Saturday nights and had plenty of time to catch up on computer work, and take a really great run to the coast and two long walks through the forest to the other coast. We were on a long narrow peninsula and the whole area was so quaint and picturesque, with hardly any people around. The owners were fairly young, and the man owned a huge trucking business, so he could afford the 45 acres of prime forest and several buildings. They were really ambitious and had done so much to improve their investment. We hoped/hoped not, to see moose--- and didn't, and didn't see the northern lights either, but we really enjoyed the stay, for half the cost of anything else. We knew we were blessed---especially since we almost gave up trying to get there!
As for our work in the District (ah, yes -- the work), we felt it went quite well. We were able to meet with two of the District Counselors, and the District YW President, and they seemed very enthused about doing Self Reliance now. We had two youth groups of 12 plus each time and, although they are not the most communicative at that age, they seemed to appreciate the encouragement to set goals and make the most of their future careers. We also helped a refugee lady with job search skills. She was so appreciative and wanted to take notes (in Arabic) of everything we taught so she could teach it to her husband. We are always impressed by the character strength of the immigrant people and know that the Lord is blessing them for their courage to join the church and make such dramatic changes in their lives. Best of all, we had two successful devotionals and feel like those branches are prepared to have a good start.
We have found that the Stake or District Self Reliance Specialist is indispensable in making Self Reliance take hold in the units. If the Specialist is well-informed and enthused, the work really moves forward. For that reason, we have made it a special point to get close to these specialists and build a strong relationship with them. On Sunday, we were invited to come to dinner at the home of one of the Specialists, and it was a wonderful experience. They are the epitome of devoted, committed saints. His work as a manufacturing engineer has taken them all over the world, but wherever they go, they become a mainstay in the church unit. For instance, besides being the SR Specialist in the district and branch here in Sweden, he is the branch Young Men's president, and she is the Young Women's president. They spend time taking refugee families back and forth to church each Sunday (a long way), and they drive great distances to do home teaching and visiting teaching. They are just happy to serve in any way that they can, and don't complain. We have met so many just like them: firm in their testimony, doing what the Lord asks of them, becoming the "backbone" of the ward or branch. How we are grateful to know them and learn from their example!
Another sweet blessing was that yesterday following our Sacrament Meeting talks a nice man approached us to thank us for the important messages. He introduced himself as the President of the Pietarsaari Finland District, which has seemed to be lacking commitment to Self Reliance enough that the Specialist there is quite discouraged. We have been worrying about what to do for them. We had even contacted them and wondered if they would like us to catch a ferry to Finland last week while we were so far north Sweden, but they declined. The President said their presidency had discussed SR in their meeting the past week, and he now hoped we could come and help them soon. We actually did have an appointment with them, so he was very pleased, but we think that his feeling the Spirit of the meeting made, and will make, a big difference ---and he as much as said so himself. On another occasion here in Stockholm, we had a YSA leader catch the real spirit of SR doctrine by hearing us speak when he was visiting another ward Sacrament Meeting, and he now wants to move SR ahead for his own YSA group. Things don't always feel perfectly led by the Spirit ---because obviously we are merely human instruments -- but it is exciting when we feel things are orchestrated beyond anything we could arrange.
Back at home in Stockholm, we are experiencing reality! We were lucky to be gone for one week of our 3-week elevator repair, but being here for the rest of the time is going to either kill us or strengthen us. Last night hauling in all the luggage and supplies from our trip was purely exhausting! Because we were not sure of bed arrangements on our trip, we had taken bedding, a food basket, all our books for presentations, and of course enough clothes to last without washing for 8 days. We can't look half put-together when we have to present, so it was a lot---to haul up the 7 flights of circular stairs! We each made 3 trips! Then this morning we had to do laundry ---on the bottom floor! That was about 5 trips up and down, but at least the loads were much easier. It helps us remember we might be getting a bit older!
We are extremely grateful that when we talked to Chelise this week she seemed to be doing much better. We hope she will try to take it slow!... but being a mother of such an active fun family doesn't make her feel like much serious recovery time is fully realistic. We appreciate the nice things done for their family while she does try to recuperate---and wish we could have been a part of that. We are happy that we can still look forward to having her and Ben come in a few weeks and with the sun staying up longer every day, we think things are looking quite bright, literally and figuratively. Yeah!
All of the things that have happened this week have made us reflect, again, on how much the Lord loves us all and is truly involved in our lives. We are trying to be especially mindful of all the miracles -- big and small -- that happen to all of us, all of the time. The Lord certainly is directing the huge missionary work in these latter days and He is revealing things to His prophet (like Self-Reliance), but He is also involved in such small things as getting someone to a sacrament meeting so they can learn something they needed to know, or helping a missionary couple find a place to stay, or even helping Grandma glance backward to notice the jewelry that had fallen out of her suitcase in the hotel lobby. Some may call such things a coincidence, but we prefer to call them miracles, evidences of the Lord's tender compassion and love for His children. Everyone - us, each of you -- are being blessed in countless ways each day, even in times of great difficulty. We need only to recognize the miracles around us to be extremely grateful.
We think about, and pray for, all of you each day. We send our love.
P.S.: We are sending quite a few pictures on the blog this week. Surprise!
Grandma and Grandpa
Mom and Dad
Lynne and Lanette
Aldste and Syster Pettit (a.k.a. the "Moose Meat Eaters")
Below: walking across the frozen river. Our hotel was the white building on the left.