HELSINKI, Finland In a land long skeptical about the Church and its practices, a new mood of acceptance and interest has emerged among many since the open house of the Helsinki Finland Temple, which began Sept. 21 and concluded Oct. 7.
An estimated 56,000 people attended the three-week open house, comprising roughly 1 percent of the total population of Finland.
"We didn't know what to expect," said Ville-Matti Karumo, the Church's national director of public affairs and a member of the temple committee. "We were each asked our estimation of how many might attend. Knowing the lack of interest most Finns have about spiritual things, the general consensus was about 25,000.
"But more than double that amount attended. Such participation in a religious event is unprecedented in Finland."
Repeatedly, tour guides heard expressions of adoration and amazement. "I've always believed this," one tour guide said, recounting a comment by a visitor. "I want the light you have in your eyes," said another visitor.
Religious privacy is highly prized in Finland. Here, religious beliefs are a personal matter and expressions of feelings of God are well guarded. They have their beliefs, but are reticent to speak of religion with others, said President Phillip Estes of the Finland Helsinki Mission.
So when a national radio commentator, who had toured the temple, gave a raving endorsement during his popular talk show, many listeners took heart and responded. At one point, listener interest was so great, he said phone lines were jammed and asked callers to wait, said Brother Karumo.
The Finnish media, long-time detractors of the Church, have been supportive of the temple, commending the Church for its goodness and willingness to build such a beautiful edifice in the land.
One major news report included a full-page article with a detailed illustration of the floor plan. Another featured comments from a companionship of sister missionaries.
Across the Baltic Sea, a 30-minute program about the temple aired on Estonia television.
"We've never had such enthusiastic coverage," continued Brother Karumo. "For years we approached people on the street or at the door. They wouldn't talk. They'd walk away or shut the door.
"Now they were standing in line for up to two hours in the rain to see the temple. Nothing like this has ever happened."
Members, who have endured years of rejection by neighbors and friends after their invitations to learn of the Church, were often emotional as they watched their countrymen line up outside the temple, the line sometimes winding down the hill and wrapping around the grounds.
"I was sitting in the lobby full of people, and the morning had just begun," explained Jussi Kemppainen about the open house to a friend. "They came and they came. They waited outside before the gates opened. They waited in the rain. They just kept coming. This open house has touched people in ways we never could."
In the Espoo 1st Ward, Helsinki Finland Stake, on the Sunday prior to the dedication, member after member spoke of personal experiences, explaining how the temple changed the feelings and attitudes of friends and family.
"They finally understand us," said Sister Varila Helina. "It's hard to describe what this means. For years, family and neighbors have thought us to be different. A group of 10 colleagues came. They felt the spirit of the edifice and shed tears. Now they understand my life. It is not strange to them anymore."
"I watched as a group of children from a religious school went in," said another sacrament meeting speaker. "The kids were active and happy and talkative. You could see the Spirit influence them as they went through. They became quiet and attentive."
"The problem," said Lauriina Saine, a young single adult, "is that when I went to invite my friends from other faiths, I realized I didn't have many. Since joining the Church two years ago, my friends are in the Church."
Aino Koponen, another young single adult, invited one friend, who then returned with a friend, who then invited another friend.
As a result of the open house, 3,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were requested.
"To put this into perspective," said President Estes, "a little while ago, a missionary called to share his excitement that one family had accepted a Book of Mormon and invited them back.
"Now we have 3,000 requests. The missionaries are really excited."
To aid the missionaries, members in the Helsinki and Tampere stakes were asked to take five copies of the Book of Mormon and record their testimonies in the front cover. They were also asked to assist the missionaries in delivering the books.
"We held an open house for them. Now they are opening their homes to us," said Bishop Petri Jakko to begin priesthood meeting in the Espoo 1st Ward. He then took the sign-up sheet and was the first to volunteer to aid the missionaries.
Among those leaving meetings Oct. 15, while clutching a stack of books were young single adults Lauriina, Aino and her brother, Ilari. They offered to work with missionaries following institute class mid-week.
Expressing his appreciation for the open house, Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy and president of the Europe Central Area said, "This is the most amazing member-missionary effort ever in Finland. I'm hearing great things."
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