Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Week 102; October 26, 2015 – ‘Till We Meet Again!

Well this is it! After two incredible years this will be the last post I make for my mission blog from Sweden. 

I just want to thank everyone in my life that has made this experience possible! First, this would never have been possible without the love and support of my family writing back and forth faithfully every week to keep me strong! Thank you guys so much. I can't wait to see you all again! Many others back home have been huge supporters as well… Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

My amazing companions were all incredible missionaries to be around and they carried me through the struggles and the joy and gave me the strength to press on. I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to work with two wonderful mission Presidents and I am so grateful for the contributions they made to build me up and mold me as a missionary. 

I've loved all of the wonderful people I've worked with and shared the gospel with. They have been at the heart of my experience and I count my blessing for all of the people I was blessed to serve daily. Lastly, I want to thank the members of the church here in Sweden. They are some of the strongest and most spiritual giants I've ever walked beside! I was so blessed to work with them and I will draw from their wonderful spirit for the rest of my life!

I love this country and its’ people… This really has become my second home. I could say so much more, but I will carry those thoughts and memories in my heart always!

We did it... I love you all!  

Äldste Jacob Stoeltzing 

Signing off one last time... 

November 6, 2013 to October 29, 2015.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Week 101; October 19, 2015 Connecting the Dots

Steve Job's once said, “You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back.” 

Two years ago I had no idea what to expect from a mission, or the nation of Sweden. I had no clue what people I would meet or what lessons I'd learn. Now I'm on my last full week of missionary service and it's crazy to think that in no time at all this whole thing is going to be over. 

Looking back, I don't know if anyone can be fully prepared for all that a mission really is, but I am grateful to everyone that did their best to help me get ready to come out here. I know I couldn't have done it without my amazing parents and my brother, my friends, and my church leaders, who have been such a support throughout my time in Sweden. 

I really do believe that real life is the best classroom, and that's what my mission has been for me. I've always loved learning, and the past two years have been an intensive course in living the gospel, loving my neighbor, and surviving in the real world. 

It has been really hard to find people to teach out here, but the people that have been willing to listen have meant the world to me. Despite the challenges, I'm really grateful for the people I've met. I know that the gospel works in every corner of the world and testifying to the people of Sweden has strengthened my testimony greatly.

Nothing has strengthened my faith more than the little, but powerful moments where I could feel the spirit and know my words where helping someone to consider the existence of God for the first time in their life. It means so much to have your testimony and your words help people make decisions that will bring the gospel into their lives. 

I've learned a lot from my companions and the other missionaries I’ve served with. I could not have finished-up my mission without great people around me. There's a lot that goes into making a great missionary, but to me, the ones that were always friendly, seeing the good in everything around them, were the best examples. I was blessed to be around a lot of people who became some of the best friends I ever had.

By myself, I often fail to be the person I want to be, but by emulating the examples of the people I admire most has defiantly gotten me closer to my goals. I've learned that in all things, finding joy in the moment, smiling, and laughing, are qualities never to be overlooked. Looking past faults and failures with patience can build-up people in amazing ways. I know I’ve tried the patience of a few people from time to time, but their love helped me keep going and become a better friend and a stronger individual. I want to say Thank You to everyone that was there for me, you guys were always at the heart of my mission. 

Lastly, I guess I've learned that being an adult is hard, really hard. There's no one out there to take care of you, and you are expected to take responsibility for your mistakes. You have to be totally responsible for you. A few semesters of college was a nice preview of real life, but a mission throws you in the deep end, and fortunately, I learned how to swim. I've learned a lot of lessons that would have been impossible without my mission and I know that they will help me every day with my education, my work and my family. The great big world can be a scary place, but I feel ready to take on the rest of my life and start the next chapter. 

Although I I’m just finishing-up my mission, my testimony of what I know is true and it’s pretty simple. I know in my heart, there is a God. I know that because he created us he loves us. I know a loving God does all things with a purpose and he has a plan and a purpose for our lives. I know that he has shared that purpose with us here on earth and I sincerely believe that the restored Gospel contains the fullness of that truth. There is no greater peace that comes from knowing who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. That desire lead to my Dad's family finding the church, and my Mom finding the church, and our family being raised with the gospel in our lives. Although I've been raised with this understanding, the Lord gave me an inquisitive mind and I worked really hard to find out if all of this was right for me. I've never personally seen or heard any sort of divine manifestations, but I feel in my heart that the gospel is good and true. These are about all the things I know for certain and I'm so happy that I've been able to share that with the people of Sweden over the last two years. Thank you everyone for your love and support and I look forward to seeing everyone in a few short days. 

If you are thinking about going on a mission please go. I can never tell you all that a mission is, or all it entails, but as difficult as it may be, you'll feel so happy serving. Looking back at all the dots along the way, I can see that the Lord was there for me every step of the way and he will do the same for anyone who has a desire to serve. It's not easy, but it’s definitely worth it. 

Gud väre med dig tills vi möts igen! 

-Äldste Stoeltzing

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Week 100 - HAAPPPYYYYY Birthday DAD!!!!!! 

Sorry I wasn't able to get a letter out last week, but I remembered it was your birthday and I had to write! 

I have been doing a lot of thinking and I’ve realized just how central you have been in preparing me for a mission. Every single time I've struggled with questions growing-up it was your testimony and love of the gospel that ultimately helped me build my faith. You were the perfect Dad for me and the one I needed help me grow a strong testimony of my own.  

We've had pretty different missions, but the result, I believe, has been the same, helping others come to Christ, and returning with a firmer and more resolute faith of my own. Thank you for always having the patience to guide me through life’s struggles, I don't know what I would have done without you before, or during my mission, and I'm sure I'm going to need you a ton after too. 

I can't believe this is all almost over, and I wish I could have been home a few weeks earlier to celebrate your birthday, but I'll see you soon and I hope this lets you know what an incredible father you've been to me!

Love you a ton and I’ll see you in 11 days!!! 


Best Friends Forever! Welcome home after two amazing years!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Week 99; October 5, 2015 – Numbers Rarely Tell the Whole Story

It's weird for me to think this whole journey's almost over. Two years ago the nation of Sweden was more of a concept than it was a tangible reality, but now this place has become a second home to me. There isn't really any way of gaining an understanding about another culture until you've walked a mile in their shoes. Superficially, Sweden has a lot in common with the United States, and in many ways they've influenced our fashions and our music, but this is very much a nation of individuals that think, act, and believe in a very different manner than what I was used to. Nonetheless, I have grown to love them all. 

I don't know what other missions around the world are like, and I don't care to compare them, but I would venture to say my mission experience has been unconventional at best, and most of my preconceived notions of missionary work and the people of Sweden have been turned upside down. If numbers matter, I have not had a numerically successful mission. I have never baptized anyone here, and for most of my mission teaching more than 15 people a week has been a nothing short of a miracle.

Yes, if one could look at the baseball card statistics of my mission and compare it with other, more traditional expectations of a mission, they might think that my two years has been a waste of time. I however, have learned that a mission, regardless of where you may serve, or what language you may speak, is far more valuable than what can be quantified into numbers.

I have enjoyed a deeply meaningful, cultural, educational, and spiritual experience over these past two years that I would not trade for anything. My mission has given me a unique perspective and preparation for the rest of my life that would have been impossible to develop in any other way. The challenges, trails, hardships, triumphs, failures, and friendships that I've developed during my time away from home couldn't be traded for anything. But, before I talk about life-lessons that can't be quantified, I want to briefly describe a few experiences and conclusions I've made that do have numbers attached to them. 

Until recently, Sweden has ranked as the 128th most culturally diverse country on earth. I was expecting a pretty ethnically homogeneous experience here. However, Sweden has had a strong open-border policy over the past decade that has rapidly shifted the demographics of this nation. In my two years here, the world has undergone the largest international refugee migration since World War II, and Sweden has taken-in immigrants from every corner of the globe. I've done my best to keep track, and in total, I have met and worked with people from 85 countries. I’ve become acquainted with grad school students from China, and demoralized refugees from places like Syria, and Somalia. I have met displaced Americans who have moved for love, or for business, and Africans that have given-up everything they own for a fresh start in Sweden. I have seen the results of war and poverty, and the hopes that this nation has brought to so many for a fresh start. 

Granted, the system here is not perfect, but most of the experiences I’ve encountered have been positive, although sometimes they’ve been a little scary. That being said, my time in Sweden has shown me that amazing and inspiring people come from every walk of life and from every corner of the world.

It's been prophesied that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be preached to all people from across the four corners of the globe. Quite frankly, that is not possible right now, there are still some places that missionaries just simply can't reach, and they won't be able to for quite some time. Sweden has, however, helped to fulfill this prophesy by taking-in people from literally everywhere. As wars and political unrest spread across the globe, groups that have never before had a chance to hear the gospel message are now getting that chance in Sweden, and I am glad to say I extended this opportunity to countless people. This is something that I am very proud of, and I hope that some of the people I've met will be the first from their nations of origin to accept the gospel message.

There is a wonder willingness and a desire to accept the gospel that is found among the weak and simple of the earth. Humility, born from circumstance, certainly adds to ones’ willingness to seek for something greater, but what about the rest of the country. 

Well here's another statistic... Sweden ranks as the number one most atheist country on earth. This is a daunting truth that I've been aware of since the day I came to Sweden. The Swedes aversion to faith made it hard for me at times, to believe I could connect with anyone and share the gospel on their level. Of course, I have been teaching Swedish people my whole mission, but attracting an interest in religion has been one of the most frustrating challenges of my life. That is, until I had an interesting experience in a town called Norrköping.

I approached a group of young people and asked them a simple question… Did they believe in God? They all laughed and said no, but I could tell that saying ‘no’ seemed to bother one of the youth. After the laughing died down, he admitted that he actually did believe that some sort of God existed. One by one, all of the youth admitted to a hope that there was indeed something out there beside empty space that they, to some degree, believed in. We explained that contrary to their prior belief, they were not in fact, atheists, but searchers of truth, and there was nothing wrong with searching. 

Time and time again I've had experiences like this. It's not been often that our lessons have come to fruition, but I would say it is incredibly uncommon to find a passionate atheist, even in the most atheistic country on earth. Nothing confirmed this more than my time serving in Halmstad, where I found the greatest number of people anywhere on my mission who were willing to listen. I left there thinking, “I’ve spent the past six months in an ecclesiastical utopia,” but it was only later that I realized Halmstad was actually the most atheist city in Sweden.

This was such a shock to me! How did I have my greatest successes in the least believing city, in the most atheistic country in the world? I've thought a lot about Halmstad and it has led me to the conclusion that belief in a higher power is a fundamental part of the human condition. No amount of social conditioning or collective ideology can truly take away a person’s desire to understand the mysteries of their existence.

Yes, it's true I have met atheists. And, it is possible, by means of enough reason and worry, to conclude that there is no God, but it is my conclusion that belief cannot be completely quenched from a society. The average person will always, to some level or another, believe that there is something greater than themselves governing the universe. 

That being said, Swedes are naturally distrusting of religion and have struggled to take any collective leap of faith necessary to build on their uncertain, yet ever present, hope. But, having seen that desire in the eyes of thousands, has kept me going through all the rejection. There have been points on my mission where I thought religion and Sweden were incompatible, but I am leaving this place with the hope that the gospel of Christ really is for everyone, and I do sincerely believe I have planted a lot of seeds within people's hearts who had previously given little or no thought about religion. I am leaving with the peace of mind that many people will be more open to a relationship with God because of my efforts here. There is always hope… And there is a God who is willing to fulfill that hope that naturally resides in the hearts of all men.

These are just a few of my thoughts in regards to numbers. Numbers can be good benchmarks and they have their place, but numbers rarely tell the whole story.

I have a lot of stories to tell that have meant a lot to me and literally changed who I am. In next week’s letter I'll write about some of these lessons… The ones that can't be measured, and those I will take home as blessings for the rest of my life. 

Thank you to everyone who has soldiered through reading this blog. I know that some weeks have been interesting and some weeks have been pretty mundane, but your love and support means a great deal to me. I really enjoy writing and I hope that I will be able to share my thoughts as clearly as possible in their raw form, as I bring my mission to a close in the coming weeks. 

I love you guys! 

Äldste Stoeltzing