I received an interesting email last summer. It was from a man who was about my age and had recently received the grace of repentance through online services. He wanted to go to the Summer Services, but did not know if he could go there just like that, and how he should prepare for going there. He had not yet had the courage to go to local services. He came from outside the Conservative Laestadian community and was not familiar with the people, their customs and culture, the community, or anything else. For him, everything was new and special.
I was astonished. Do things like this really happen in our time? I had thought that only believers were willing to come and hear God’s word. But I was certainly overjoyed. We exchanged emails, and I encouraged him to come services. We decided to meet at the Summer Services. On the large fields of Muhos I met a happy man, who was very excited about his visit. I was excited too, and we found right away that we got along very well. We went for a cup of coffee at my wife’s parents’ mobile home and talked about the Summer Services and about being a believer. He had many questions and was wondering about many things.
Right from the beginning I was deeply touched by the great joy of this new friend who had found a treasure. God’s kingdom appeared beautiful to him. His joy was mixed with relief. The most important matter to him was that he had been able to believe his sins forgiven and leave behind his old life, which had been difficult in many ways. He was eager to engage in profound discussions of matters related to life as a believer.
And we did discuss. My wife and I invited our new friend to visit us after the Summer Services. We had meals and coffee together and all the while we discussed “the way and the journey”, as older people used to say. We talked about the miraculous power of repentance but also about services, work lists, camps, opisto work, and other important everyday matters. Although my friend did not know much about these topics, we understood things in the same way. Quite clearly, we had the same faith. We discussed faith and life with genuine openness and sincerity without any diffidence or insinuated undertones of “well, you know”. There were no such undertones and no limitations, and it was easy to discuss everything.
This is not always the case. It is sometimes difficult to talk about faith even with childhood Christians. I have been wondering about this. Why is it so? It sometimes seems downright shameful to speak openly with other believers. Especially if one is not sure about the other person’s way of thinking. But there may be rational explanations for this.
For many of us, Conservative Laestadianism is like the air that we breathe. If you were born into a believing home, have spent your free time with believers, and have friends who believe in the same way as you do, faith may seem like a self-evident part of everyday life. We may live for long periods hardly talking about the personal meaning of faith. Although we may go to services and participate in the work of the congregation, we may forget to marvel at the gift of faith. We do not know what it is like to repent from unbelief. We may not even understand how differently things could be.
For this reason, it seemed so special to meet a person who had been recently “awakened”. Our friend told us about his life on the other side of the fence. He had been familiar with King Alcohol, and his life had been full of action. Still, his journey along the broad road had not brought him happiness. Life had seemed meaningless and lacking purpose. Finally, he had only been able to make a simple appeal to God. His conscience had been awakened, and his distress for sin had been overwhelming. Thinking back to his childhood, he had remembered some friends who had been believers. This had made him listen to online services. Finally, he had been given the strength to believe the gospel personally.
Pain and distress had been replaced by peace. He described how all of the old burdens had been wiped away, and he had felt free in both soul and body. His mind had been filled with a desire to cherish this peace and to live like believers live. Sermons and the gospel preached as part of them had become the nourishment that he sorely needed. The Bible says that repentance is a change of the mind. This was concretely visible in him.
Meeting this new friend, I seemed to have some idea of the large historical awakenings. Old people still remember how a large portion of the adult inhabitants in some localities repented. This must have had an impact on congregational life and discussions. Things are different now, although there are occasional repentances. For me, it was memorable to meet this man who had found a treasure in the field.
Text: Sauli Tervaniemi
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
You will find the original blog post here.