Sunday, January 24, 2021

Three Sweet Experiences

Yesterday we introduced a new senior couple to the cobblestone streets and quaint shops in Gamla Stan, the Old Town in Stockholm.  It's much like many old towns in Europe, but still delightful.  On the way home on the Tunnelbana (the metro or underground), as we were talking away in English, I could see a young man trying to discretely listen.  He finally looked directly at me, and I smiled, and then he jumped up and came over to talk with us.  He wasn't at all put off by the fact that we were missionaries.  This is very unusual here in Sweden.  Generally, people are not interested in religion.  We had only a few minutes to visit because we had to get off at the next stop, but we were able to give him a card with our names and contact information.  

It was a sweet experience that reminded me of a couple of other sweet experiences.  The next one had actually just happened in Gamla Stan.  We have become acquainted with several really great shopkeepers, and we introduced the new senior couple to them.  In one store, as we were leaving, the shopkeeper said that he was giving our friends a discount, and not, he emphasized, because we had bought things from him, but because he appreciated how we treated him with kindness.  He was so sincere.  It really touched me and made me realize how important it is to treat others as we want to be treated.

The other experience it reminded me of happened when we were here in the first two months of 2020.  We were at the airport with the mission president and his wife and other young missionaries, waiting to welcome several new missionaries.  We enjoyed being together, laughing and visiting as we awaited their arrival.  The plane came in and . . . no missionaries.  We were worried.  Even Missionary Travel in Salt Lake City didn't know where the missionaries were.  As the last passenger came through, he said that he had seen seven young people who looked like us, with name badges and missionary attire.  He said that they hadn't been allowed to board the plane in Amsterdam.  Now we were really worried.  Why weren't they allowed on the flight?  What would they do?  How can you tell parents that you've lost their sons and daughters?  Thankfully, they were on the next flight.

But that's not the part that was the sweet experience.  There was a young woman working in the cafe close to where we were waiting.  Being good missionaries, the junior missionaries slipped over to visit with her, and she eventually started learning about the church.  But the cool part is that as we were worrying and wondering what was happening with the missionaries, she noticed a light around all of us, and she wondered what it was.  We hadn't felt anything special; we had just been worried.  But in spite of it, somehow, she saw the light that comes as people try to be what Jesus would have them be.

These experiences reminded me of another one . . . so I guess it is actually four sweet experiences.  We were in Jerusalem, wandering through the maze of streets in the Old City.  We were nobody special, just  a mom and a dad and several grown children.  We heard a voice call out, "Hey, I have a deal for Mormons!"  I swung around to see a shopkeeper waving at us to come into his shop.  "How did you know we are Mormons?" I asked.  ("Mormon" is a nickname people sometimes call members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  "I can tell by your faces," he said.  We were stunned.  But we were also grateful that our love of Jesus Christ and His teachings sometimes shows in our faces.

Four very special experiences!  I know we're not perfect, but I hope that we will always live so that the Light of Christ can shine through us.  "This little light of mine . . . I'm going to let it shine. la la la"

Showing Aldste & Syster Wilhite the main square in Gamla Stan.  This is the iconic scene of Stockholm, just like is on the background to this blog, thanks to our daughter Michelle.  Tall picturesque buildings in lovely colors.

We love the Sankta Gertruds Kyrka in Gamla Stan.  The stained glass windows are very Catholic; the Church of Sweden broke away from the Catholic Church and became an Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Love the baroque interior!  So light and bright, and this church is amazingly warm in the winter.  It's very unlike most churches in Europe, which are unheated; you have to dress in toques and gloves.  Here in Sweden, all the churches we've seen so far have been heated.  So nice!

We missed this stained glass from the early 1900's the first time we came.  Love the detail of the family going to church.

Last time we were here, the church was decorated for Christmas.  LeRon has the contact information of the organist, who apparently allows people to come and practice on this gorgeous organ during the week.  That's the goal.

More lovely stained glass windows.  Today it was actually sunny out and the light coming into the church made the windows glow with color and light.

Christmas is never far from the mind when one sees this stained glass window!  

I'm always intrigued with the shadows made by the heavily snow-laden power lines.  The day after I took this picture, the snow began to slowly melt.

A week ago Saturday, we drove over to the eastern coast to see what things looked like in the snow in the winter.  So interesting to see boats sailing and snow covering everything else.

These ducks look a little frozen!

But these ducks are very much alive!

Now we've seen camel crossing signs in Israel, baboon crossing signs in Kenya, horse and cart crossing signs in Amish Ohio, and now wild boar crossing signs here in Sweden (along with moose crossing signs).

If this is a Canada Goose, it's a long way from home!

Though I love birds, I have never been taken with ducks, but these ducks were absolutely beautiful.

My Robinson grandchildren have four pet ducks, but these are not theirs.  I like the duck tracks in the snow.  And their bright orange feet.

Frozen waterfalls right near the ocean.  Interesting!

So much bedrock here.  It's no wonder dynamite was invented in Sweden.  They needed a lot of dynamite to blast through the rock to build roads, tunnels, homes.

Look at this fun ship playground right by the sea.  Kids were playing on it on this chilly winter day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

A Winter Wonderland

We've had snow for a week now and it's gorgeous out.  (Check out the pictures at the end of the post.  From the number of winter pictures I've taken, you would think that I've never seen snow before).  Today at home in Alberta, they are having hurricane winds gusting up to 137 kilometers per hour.  Land is blowing.  Shingles flying off roofs.  Trucks tipped over.  Pivots toppled.  Not ours, thankfully.  Quite the contrast to the winter wonderland here in Stockholm.

We have so far been spared Covid, although some of our junior missionaries have had it in varying degrees of seriousness.  They say the worst thing is the loss of taste and smell.  It's no fun to eat if you can't taste it.  Hopefully they will get it back.  My dad, in his last years, lost his sense of smell and he said that he didn't enjoy eating anymore.

We had a very special convert baptism recently.  This young man had determined to become a priest in the Church of Sweden and had studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  As soon as he started reading the Book of Mormon, he recognized it as an ancient text.  He was so excited to be baptized, and as he came up out of the water, his face glowed.  It was very special.  Sweden is a very secular country, so it's wonderful when someone embraces the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many of our converts are immigrants from eastern European countries and other places such as China and Africa.  It's great to be a part of it.

Our missionaries are working hard sharing the gospel via technology and helping people with family history, which is very big here in Sweden.  They are also filming member stories of hope and joy, not with the intent to get converts, but to help people in general find peace in their lives.  

They recently produced a 35-minute video featuring one of our missionaries, Syster Emma Nissen, who has written several songs in a kind of gospel rock style.  The day the video was released on Facebook, there were over 10,000 views.  People are certainly looking for peace in this crazy world.  The video is below.  It starts with an introduction by one of our wonderful junior missionaries who is a native Swede.  There are both English and Swedish subtitles.  Click on the link and hopefully it will work.  (Looks like you will have to drag the bar to the beginning of the video).  The last song is lovely, with pictures of Jesus.  After that, three Swedes share their stories of peace and hope.  But it's in Swedish, so I don't know what they said.  I'LL GET THIS WORKING SOON!

On New Year's Eve, we were delighted to see fireworks throughout the city, just coming from people's yards.  These weren't just small things; they were stadium quality.  They were all around us, and we had a front-row seat at our living room window.  The colors were gorgeous.  It was better than the Taber and Raymond fireworks on Canada Day (July 1st).  The fireworks started in the early evening and continued past midnight and even the next night.  I didn't think to take a picture.  This is one taken by another senior couple.

We've had snow for about a week now. I finally figured out why the snow stays on all the trees.  It's because there's very little wind here.  At home in Alberta, as soon as it snows, the wind whoops through and blows all the snow away.  Here it stays.  LeRon and I still go for our daily walks, and it's good to get the fresh air. 

Last Saturday, we found another little forest in the city.  So peaceful and lovely and not too cold.  Actually, the whole area is forested.  I'm still not sure why it doesn't have that delicious pine smell.

We plan to walk here often when the snow is gone.  A lot of people use Nordic walking poles here.  At home I have hiking sticks that are like Nordic ones but heavier.  I took them with me to our Kenya Nairobi Mission and used them almost every day.  I left them home this time, so LeRon bought me some real ones here.  I haven't used them in the snow yet.

This paved walking/biking/running path is lit at night.  LeRon is pointing to show you that the light has just turned on as the sun is going down just after 3 p.m.  Remember that if you click on the pictures, they will enlarge.

This past Saturday, we ventured to a new part of town, and in the middle of the day too, when it was still light.  I discovered this lovely house that I really like.

This house is gorgeous.  I love it here in Sweden, but I think it would look funny in Alberta.  It would look just as out of place as that flat-roofed hacienda-style house on the way to Lethbridge.  (The one between Taber and Lethbridge on the north side of the highway, which by the way, is a lovely looking home, just not for southern Alberta.)

Tonight we went for our walk early.  It's only 5 p.m.  I love the flagpole lights.  This one has lights in a circular pattern, rather than straight down the guy wires.  Still lots of Christmas lights everywhere.

Look at all that snow on those bushes!  When we were here in January and February, there was only a skiff of snow.  But in March, when we went home because of the pandemic, we went home to two months of vicious winter.

This week we welcomed a new senior couple, Elder and Syster Wilhite.  They will be in charge of helping to procure missionary apartments and making sure things are up to snuff.  This winter weather is a bit of a shocker to these Californians!

Elder & Syster Cowgur are helping Syster & Elder Wilhite with apartments until the Cowgurs can travel for their Self-Reliance assignment in all the Scandinavian countries.  The Self-Reliance program teaches people how to manage their own resources, both financially and emotionally.  As people become self-reliant, they can better help those in need.  These courses are taught all over the world, even in the West.  

Click on this picture to see a page in an Amharic Book of Mormon.  Amharic is the language of Ethiopia.  I gave this book to a sweet young woman from Ethiopia whom I have befriended.  She was excited to be able to read the book in her native language.  The Book of Mormon, which is a record of Jesus Christ's dealings with people in ancient America, and which is a companion to the Bible, has been translated in more than 110 languages.  It was during the famine in Ethiopia in 1985 that the church first began its humanitarian outreach.  LDS Charities, since then, has served millions of people in more than 200 countries.  I remember the church asking us to have a special 24-hour fast and donate the money we would have spent on food to the church to help the people in Ethiopia.  It was the start of a major undertaking of humanitarian work that has blessed people in many countries, the giver as well as the receiver.

Thursday, January 14.  It's been snowing steadily but not heavily for a couple of days.  Here's our car in the parking lot of our mission office.

We'll go walking later today in this Winter Wonderland!

So here we are about 6 p.m.  These pictures were all taken on our android phone, and this one is a bit blurry, sadly.  What looks like tracks is really the shadow cast by the power lines that are loaded with about 5 inches of snow.

Christmas lights still up everywhere.

And here's a view of the snow-covered power lines.  I wonder if they ever break from the weight.  Hopefully not while I'm walking under them anyway.

Love the fence covered with snow.

And this photo too.  So pictur-es-cue, as Mrs. Lynde (of Anne of Green Gables) says.  

You can see the snow-covered power lines stretched across the street.  And it's interesting how the streetlights are directional -- focusing downward to prevent light pollution.  You can look up and actually see the stars, even here in the city.
Another cute home in the snow, still with its Christmas lights and curtains open.  There's so much darkness here that they start putting up Christmas lights in October and don't take them down until February.  It cheers up the darkness.  And I love seeing rooms lit and curtains open.  So welcoming.

One last picture of the snow covering trees and fences.  So different from winter in Alberta!  And so different from winter when we were here last January.  LeRon and I sang "Winter Wonderland" as we walked through the snow.  The only thing missing was the sound of sleigh bells.

Friday, January 15.  I just can't get over the beauty and magic of Sweden in the winter.  Like I said before, you would think I've never seen snow.  Well, I've never seen snow like this.  It actually stays and turns everything into a magical fairyland.  And it's not too cold.  We can easily go for walks, as long as we wear long-legged underwear, hats, and gloves.

The snow is soft here, not crunchy like at home.  As we were out walking, we met our neighbor (to whom we had given chocolates at Christmas) and we had a lovely visit with her.  She was just returning from an hour of cross-country skiing here in the city.  She agreed that this is an absolutely magical time of year with the snow and the lights.  It's good for the soul. 

And here we are back at the walking/biking/running trail that we found last Saturday.  And it is indeed well-lit at night.  The lights give an amazing amount of light and yet they don't shine up into the sky.  You can still see the stars.  LeRon paced off the distance between light poles and they are about 100 feet apart or maybe a little more.  That's a man for you; I wouldn't have even thought to wonder how far apart the light poles were.  Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Snow for Christmas!!!

The prayers of Swedish children were answered . . . it snowed on Christmas Eve and continued all day Christmas Day.  The first snow of the year!  We woke up to a winter wonderland this morning, which is St. Stephen's Day in Sweden and in many European countries.  It's also known here as the 2nd Day of Christmas, or as Boxing Day in Canada.  

St. Stephen's Day commemorates the stoning of the first Christian martyr, the Apostle Stephen.  Remember Good King Wenceslas who "looked out on the Feast of Stephen?"  I always wondered what that had to do with Christmas, other than "where the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even."  Now I know.  

Our German Mennonite friends back home call today the 2nd Day of Christmas, just like the Swedes do.  But in Canada, most of us call it Boxing Day, as they do in all British Commonwealth countries.  It was originally the day to give gifts to the poor and to those who serve.  But my dad always said that Boxing Day was the day we box up all our presents and take them back to the store!

Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day, and the 2nd Day of Christmas (Boxing Day) were happy days, as we celebrated with friends and missionaries.  It was fun to go and meet some of our neighbors and share boxes of the beloved Swedish Marabou chocolates.  With the pandemic, Christmas gave us a wonderful opportunity to stand on the doorstep, say Merry Christmas, and introduce ourselves.

Shopping for our Christmas meals.  More interesting vegetables for sale.  These were called cabbage flowers.  Not sure what they are or how you eat them.

We headed out of the city to try and see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter.  It was hard to find a place without trees on the horizon.  But we saw this lovely church.

We finally found a hill next to a mine where we could actually see the horizon.  So here's our conjunction of the planets.  (Anyone remember Narnia and the conjunction of the planets in those books?)  Jupiter was shining quite brightly even though you probably can't see it in the photo.  Saturn was quite dim and it was a couple days past the actual conjunction on Dec 21.  We didn't bring our binoculars to Sweden, sadly, but I'm still glad we saw what we saw!  It's been nearly 800 years since Jupiter and Saturn were so close together at night, making it possible for almost everyone in the world to see it. They're calling it the Christmas Star.  

We're ready for Christmas Day with a few little presents under our tiny Christmas tree.  At home, we always put a paper nativity under the Christmas tree to remind us that Christmas is about the birth of Christ, not about presents.  So here is our little nativity Christmas card. 

We usually walk at night, but this day we took our first daytime walk.  The bedrock covered with lichens is so beautiful.  And the next day, it snowed.

Swedes eat lots of food at Christmas time.  Compared to what most families have, this is a very small Julebord (or Christmas Table).  But President and Syster Davis wanted us to have just a taste of a Julebord.  They provided this delicious food on two separate evenings for the 6 senior couples in the Sweden Stockholm Mission.  We followed government guidelines to have only 8 people at one time.

This is my plate.  I tried a little bit of everything.  Most of it was delicious.  I wasn't sure about the egg covered in caviar.  I love devilled eggs, but this was a hard boiled egg topped with shrimp and caviar.  So I have finally tasted caviar!  But somehow, eggs and fish don't go together in my book.

Three senior couples -- the Torries, Cowgurs, and Johnsons -- enjoyed Julbord with President and Syster Davis at the mission home.  A local member, Viktoria, catered the delicious meal.

The second evening, the Quists, Salls, and Moleffs enjoyed the meal.

I tried on the Santa Lucia crown and one of the candles fell on the rug.  I was so glad it hadn't been lit!  The crown is much too big for my head.  President Davis said that yes, my head is on the small size!  My dentist also says that my mouth is on the small size!

The Davis's gave us all mission aprons!  So fun!  Blue and gold are the colors of Sweden and the triple crown is also a symbol of Sweden.

Elder Torrie and Syster Cowgur entertained us and we sang along.  So fun to sing the Christmas carols!

The second night, the Salls, Quists, and Moleffs enjoyed dinner and getting the mission aprons.  By the way, if you think you can't serve a mission because you are too old, you need to know that Elder Moleff (on the right) just turned 82.  He and his wife started serving missions when Elder Moleff turned 70 and they served in Russia, Thailand, and now Sweden.  Amazing!

Selfie on Christmas morning.

Fun to unwrap a few presents.

A sweet lady here in Sweden, who actually comes from Chile, sewed this cute apron for me.

We gave all the missionaries, who live here with us, matching red ties.  Elder Torrie got one too and so did President Davis.  I'm sure they'll coordinate for the next mission office meeting.

And then the missionaries surprised us with a photo on canvas of elephants.  Elder McGill wrote on the back, "We love you more than you love Africa!"  They each wrote something sweet on the back.  We'll always treasure it!  We love these missionaries as much as we love Africa!

We hung the photo on the wall.  It looks great and I can just imagine it hanging in my house at home.  What a beautiful memory of both our Kenya Nairobi Mission and our Sweden Stockholm Mission.

Boxing Day we were surprised to find that the missionaries had made a snowman.  Right behind the snowman is our living room and kitchen windows.  So the snowman was the first thing we saw when we got up this morning.  We've noticed lots of people stopping to take pictures.  The snowman's eyes are oranges, the nose is a cucumber, and the mouth is a banana.  Very creative.

Fun walk in the snow today.  And look at that curvy tree!

No salt or sand on the roads here.  They sand with GRAVEL!  It makes it so easy to walk on hills.  And all the cars are required to have winter tires by December 1, and many cars have studded tires.  I remember when we had studded tires many years ago, and I loved it -- until they outlawed studs.  So nice to see that you can have studded tires here.  They make interesting clicking sounds as they drive by.  And the tires are covered with studs, not just on the edge like they used to be at home.

The snow on this wooden fencing makes a nice pattern.

More beautiful scenery here in the snow in the city.

I love the colored houses.  The deep yellow and the red ones are my favorites.

Just showing you more of the winter wonderland and the beautiful homes.

It's so quiet as we walk the streets.  Not at all what I expected in a city.

And today, for the first time, I heard beautiful bird songs and I managed to spot the tiny birds up in the trees.  But not close enough to see what they are.

We stopped at the local Danderyd Kyrka.  A very beautiful old church.  Love the gothic arches.  The Church of Sweden used to be the state church but now is no longer sponsored by the government.  Of course right now, only 8 people can gather at one time so the church was empty on this Christmas Eve Day.  Sad that the church was empty, but the malls were full.

A woman had come to the church today and said she would sing for us if the minister would play.  Sandra had a gorgeous voice, and with the acoustics in the building, it was heavenly to hear her sing.  LeRon asked if he could play for her, so the minister, Jenny, got out her flute and played while Sandra sang and LeRon accompanied.  I joined in too and it was amazing!  Today, Boxing Day, we went back to the church to take boxes of chocolate to Sandra and Jenny.

Christmas Day we had a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings for these 5 missionaries and our friends, Tamara and Marko.  It was pretty crowded in our tiny kitchen but it actually worked quite well.  After dinner, of course, we sang together and then played Uno.  Here the missionaries -- Elder Nordgren, Elder Longman, Elder Ronndahl, Elder Olson, and Elder Stinson -- sang our mission song for Marko and Tamara.

Marko joined the singing while Tamara filmed it.  The mission song is powerful, and the spirit was strong as the missionaries sang about our Savior Jesus Christ caring about Sweden.

This is the view out our living room window this morning.  There's the back of the snowman waving at the tow truck driver who is getting ready to tow a stalled city bus.  You don't see stalled buses too often here.

Back to the store to pick up a few groceries for the weekend.  We saw these pine cones in the fruit and vegetable section.  I asked a young girl if people actually eat pine cones, and she said she thought they did but didn't know how you would cook them.  Interesting.  They weren't with the Christmas decorations; they were with the food.

We went back to the Danderyd Church today to take some boxes of chocolate to the minister and the lady we sang with on Christmas Eve day.  Outside the church is a rune stone.  So much evidence of Vikings is everywhere.

The oldest part of the church was very small and had paintings on the walls.  This is of Jesus Christ and the apostle Peter.  Above the painting of Jesus is a painting of King Gustav Vasa, the first king of Sweden.  The minister said they didn't appreciate King Vasa being on the wall with Jesus, and in fact being higher than Jesus.  But that's the way it was painted originally in the 1200's.

Lovely wooden statue of Mary and Jesus.

The pulpit is beautifully carved out of wood.  We sat in on a small worship service with just 3 people and the minister and organist.  We recited the Lord's Prayer with them -- us in English and them in Swedish.  It was lovely to worship together.

The organist let LeRon play on the big pipe organ.  He said the tracker action was really difficult to play.  More so than he would have thought.  He's played other pipe organs, such as the one in the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem, but he didn't notice the delay in sound there.

It was special for him to be able to play a beautiful organ at Christmas time in a beautiful church with amazing acoustics.

Notice that the "white keys" are black, and the "black keys" are white!

Love the snow on the stave church behind the stone church.  Now the stave church is being used as a bell tower.  We've heard the church bells ringing lately and we absolutely love that sound as it rings across the valley.

Just a last few pictures from our Christmas Day.  Don't the missionaries look nice in their matching red ties?  Elder Torrie took his off so he wouldn't spill food on it.

Marko and Tamara have joined the picture now.

Marko and Tamara gave us some gifts they found from Africa.  The spoon is from Kenya and the basket is from Senegal.  It was such a thoughtful present that we will treasure, along with the lovely elephant photo from our missionaries.  It was a very fun and happy Christmas!