I've heard these stories, from my grandpa, from my grandma, from my mom, from my aunts and uncles . . . Finland is a special place to us because it was such a special place for my grandfather.
So, since Russia isn't that far away from Finland (to the chagrin of many Finns), I decided to fly to Helsinki before making the trek back to England.
And I'm so glad I did.
Even flying over Finland made me feel like I was entering an entirely different world from Moscow. There were so many pine trees and wooden houses . . . it was like flying into Santa's summer home. Helsinki had a much different feeling than Moscow. It's a Nordic country with a people who are incredibly proud of their independence, their language, and their history.
[Streets of Helsinki.]
[The train station. This is where my grandfather, as a nineteen-year-old missionary, was left stranded on his first night in Helsinki, with very little command of Finnish.]
But at the same time, you can definitely see (and hear) the Russian influence. One of the main squares has a monument dedicated to Tsar Alexander II. And then one of the main cathedrals in the city is a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Even though there are reminders of Russia, that's just what they are--reminders of the past.
[Statue for Alexander II in front of the Lutheran Cathedral]
[Uspenski Sabor--Cathedral of the Ascenion.]
Something I loved about Helsinki was just walking there. There was this clean, crisp feeling about the city. (And those Finns do love their clean, crisp design.) I also liked walking by the ocean and through the open-air markets.
My favorite part of Helsinki, however, was going to the Helsinki LDS Temple. That was something that I really wanted to do when I was in Finland. Temples are very special places for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are places where we make sacred promises with God to do good and to dedicate our lives to Him. They are also places of peace; places where we believe that heaven meets earth.
They are certainly places of peace for me. I have felt God's love for me there and have gone there when I have to make decisions and need clarity and direction.
Going to the Helsinki Temple was special to me because I had not been able to attend the temple for a few months, and also because I knew that the Helsinki Temple was so important to my grandfather. It symbolized God's love for the Finnish people.
The Helsinki Temple is an international temple. People from Finland, the Baltics, and Russia all regularly come here to worship. While I was there, I participated in an endowment session (a temple ceremony), where the entire ceremony was in Russian. This was very special for me, especially since I haven't yet had a chance to listen to a temple ceremony in Russian. (I have yet to actually make it to the Kyiv Temple--it just hasn't worked out.) But to be able to worship in that language that I love and understand it? It was an amazing experience for me.
Afterwards, I was talking with a very sweet temple worker. She was Finnish, and she asked me what brought me to Helsinki. I said that I was there because my grandpa had served a mission in Finland in the 60s, and I had always wanted to see this place. She took my hand and said that I was honoring my grandpa by traveling to Finland and attending the temple.
"The missionaries who served here in the 1960s did so much good work," she said. "And now the people that they taught--and the children and grandchildren of the people they taught--are strong in the faith of Jesus Christ. The Lord loves the Finnish people very much. He sent us missionaries. And we have a temple."
There certainly is a lot to love about the Finns. They are strong in spirit and devotion. They love their land. They love their language. And they remember those who love them.
Oh, Helsinki, I was made for you, my dear.