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Apostle Ministry

Elder Holland Concludes Europe Ministry Visit

10-day visit to Germany, Finland and Sweden concludes

At a time when “some things do not feel right in the world,” when “some things do not make sense,” when daily life feels like “swimming upstream,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland promised Finnish Latter-day Saints they can find peace and comfort in their discipleship of Jesus Christ.

“The chief characteristic of a disciple of Christ is to love as He loves us,” said Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

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Visiting Finland Nov. 10 through 13 — at the conclusion of a 10-day, three-nation European ministry assignment that also included meetings in Germany and Sweden — Elder Holland addressed Church leaders in the region, young adults in Scandinavia, members throughout Finland and Latter-day Saints in Jyväskylä — the location of Finland’s newest stake.

Elder Holland was accompanied by his wife, Sister Patricia T. Holland; Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Marcia B. Nielson; and Elder Hans T. Boom, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Europe North Area, and his wife, Sister Ariena Johanna Boom.

His trip was in many ways “a walk down memory lane.” The Hollands lived in Solihull, England, from 1990 to 1993, while Elder Holland, then of the Seventy, served as president of the Church’s Europe North Area. The visit marked a return to places they served before, “all of which we visited time and time again when we were here,” and an opportunity to reconnect with “many of the people we knew then.”

Reflecting on his service, Elder Holland recalled being so close to the work that he wondered if they were “making any headway, making any progress.”

But visiting Finland “with a little distance” has given Elder Holland new perspective. “To come now, with a few years having passed, and to look at the size of these congregations, to see more stakes created than we had then, more missionary work, more missionary activity, more missions — it’s been very rewarding. So we need to be patient with ourselves, patient with the work.”

As a result Elder and Sister Holland will leave with both the recollection of earlier memories and new contemporary memories. “We have met people that we loved then and we love now and a lot of new people.” The Hollands have also felt and been strengthened by the testimonies of “people who have just recently joined the Church.”

The visit also came as military conflict between Russia and Ukraine has caused regional instability, inflation and rising gas and energy costs, and left many in Europe worried about the approaching winter. Those feelings were amplified in Finland — which shares a common border with Russia that spans more than 800 miles.

Despite the trying time, however, Elder Holland spoke with optimism and hope that “happier days lie ahead.”

“The prayers of the righteous will prevail, and we will have peace and prosperity for the rising generation,” he said.

Sister Holland echoed Elder Holland’s resolve. “I would like to express how completely and totally I believe you can trust Jesus,” said Sister Holland. “There is no doubt in my mind — I have had enough experiences with my Father in Heaven — to know I can trust Them.”

‘God is doing His work’

Trusting in the Lord is a principle Elder Nielson learned as a young missionary in Finland.

During member meetings in Helsinki and Jyväskylä, he shared his love for the country and the people — and even the language.

“I was just 19 years old when I received my call to the Finland Helsinki Mission,” he recalled. “I remember going to the MTC to learn Finnish, and after spending eight weeks, boarding a Finnair flight in New York City. I was sitting by my companion on the plane and the flight attendant gave us safety instructions before we took off. Of course the instructions were in Finnish. After the instructions were given, I turned to my companion and said, ‘Did you understand anything that she said?’ Both of us became very concerned that perhaps we had been taught the wrong language in the MTC.”

Elder Nielson said his experience as a missionary in Finland changed his life. While serving as an assistant to the mission president, he traveled to almost every city in Finland and met the Saints in almost every district. “I love you,” he told the country-wide congregation. “I am grateful to be numbered among the missionaries who have served in the Finland Helsinki Mission.”

Sister Nielson said, after returning home and throughout their marriage, her husband detailed every Finnish experience, mile, community and interaction.

Almost 50 years later, Elder Nielson said he is still humbled by the faithfulness of Finnish Church members.

“To my wonderful friends, the Saints of Jesus Christ in Finland, I share with you that when I left this country, there were only small branches and districts,” he said. “It is a miracle for me to come back and see three stakes and a temple.”

Especially touching is to witness the first Apostolic visit to the Jyväskylä Finland Stake, created last year. From end to end, the new stake spans 781 km; driving from one end to the other takes 8.5 hour by car.

As a missionary, a young Elder Nielson served as a zone leader in Oulu in Northern Finland. “Never would we have imagined back in 1975 that there would be a Jyväskylä Stake which would include the Oulu zone,” he said.

During the special conference, Elder Nielson told Finnish Latter-day Saints that there has never been a better time in the history of the world to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

“Please know that God is doing His work all across the earth and that you and I are part of this work. May we be faithful and strong as we participate in the ordinances of the temple, prepare our young men and young women for missionary service, share the gospel with those we know and love, and move forward with faith in God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.”

‘They are fully committed’

Elder Holland’s visit also coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Helsinki Finland Mission.

Today there are 5,000 members, three stakes and a temple in Finland.

Elder Boom said there is one word to describe Latter-day Saints in Finland — faithful. Finland has the highest percentage of activity in all of Europe. Members here also have larger families than neighboring countries.

“When a Finn says yes, it is yes,” he said. “So once they make a commitment to the gospel, they are fully committed.”

Helsinki Finland Stake President Harri Myllylä also spoke of the members’ steadfastness and dedication.

“Our members are very active. It is part of the Finnish mentality that if you start something you finish it; you do not give up,” said President Myllylä. “Our members are very faithful, they are eager to serve and they have a purpose. They have chosen to be members of the Church.”

Joining some fourth-generation families is a growing international Latter-day Saint presence — with members who find it hard to learn the Finnish language participating in an English-speaking ward, established last year in Helsinki.

Ami Kemppainen, bishop of the English-speaking ward, said because the Finnish language is so hard to learn, it is important for people who do not speak the local language to be integrated to the gospel. The ward has a feeling of “love and inclusion,” he said.

Mervi Multamäki, the Relief Society president in the Jyväskylä stake, explained that in Finland religion is something that is private. People do not talk about it, she noted.

So often, sharing the gospel comes as a result of people noticing the example of Latter-day Saints.

President Myllylä was 12 years old when his parents met the missionaries — through a colleague his mother noticed did not drink coffee at work. “My parents had been looking for something,” he said. “It was the right time for them to find the gospel.”

President Myllylä did not want to be baptized with his parents and they respected his decision. He followed them to the waters of baptism six months later — “with a testimony of his own” and the Finnish determination to remain active. After his parents had been members for one year, the family was sealed in the Stockholm Sweden Temple. From 1994 to 1996, he served a mission to the England London Mission.

Looking forward, Finnish members are facing a long winter with rising fuel and energy costs and uncertainty amplified by their shared geography with Russia. “We are worried, but we are not afraid,” said President Myllylä. “We trust the Lord that He will help us.”

‘One big family’

Following spiritual impressions, Elder Robert Blair, a young missionary serving in Finland in 1951, knocked on the door of Annikki Lehtovirta Hartiala and Martti O.J. Hartiala. They were baptized Dec. 29, 2951, eventually bringing all five of their children to the Church.

Two of their daughters, Anna-Leena Hartiala and Mimmu M. Hartiala-Sloan, remember a childhood filled with Latter-day Saint house guests and Church activities. “It was one big family,” said Anna-Leena Hartiala. “There was something everyday going on at Church.”

Wearing traditional Finish clothing, Mimmu M. Hartiala-Sloan explains the symbols that are part of costume — including a small knife “so you can always share bread.” Anna-Leena Hartiala’s costume represents Sippola, her mother’s Finnish village.

Looking at the congregation gathered to hear Elder Holland, Mimmu M. Hartiala-Sloan said that it didn’t matter what space was provided for Church conferences, “they were always filled.

Their parents celebrated every gospel milestone: In the 1950s, the Book of Mormon was published in Finnish, and Finnish Saints organized their first temple trip for the dedication of the Bern Switzerland Temple. About 20 years later, in 1977, the first stake in Finland was organized in Helsinki.

Both sisters express gratitude for their parents, who were courageous and gave their posterity the gospel. “They were brave,” Anna-Leena Hartiala said.

‘Decade of decision’

Elder Holland said it is impossible to serve a mission and not love the people.

“All of us have a special place in our hearts, forever, for the land of our missions,” he said, noting that Elder Nielson has been very happy to be “back home” in Finland.

Directing his remarks to the young people in the audience during the special conference throughout Finland, Elder Holland asked the youth to commit the next decade of their lives to the Lord — to prepare for missionary service, temple blessings and marriage.

“And I say to the young people within the sound of my voice, that you will make every important decision you’re going to make in your life in those 10 years.”

Personally, Elder Holland continued “everything that I hold dear, everything that I cherish,” came from that “decade of decision.”

Speaking on Father’s Day in Finland, Elder Holland shared the experience of two fathers — one that was totally committed to the gospel and gave up everything to answer a missionary call from a prophet and another father that — despite a longing — was not embraced by members on the only day he walked into a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. The first claimed all the blessings of the gospel and the second “walked out of the meetinghouse never to return.” Through a series of poor choices and bad decisions, the second father lost his first marriage and the affection of his children before changing his life.

Elder Holland pleaded with the youth to offer their next decade — a decade that could determine so many things that matter most — to the Lord.

Then he turned his thoughts toward heaven on the day that Finnish Latter-day Saints were focusing on fathers. Of all the things that God could be called, “He has asked to be called Father,” Elder Holland said. “The grandest part of His mission and the most eternal consequence of his service is the word “Father.”

Through care and work, God’s children “can become like Him,” Elder Holland added.

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