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 may 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. 

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.