I found meaning

Tuukka Kotti, a basketball player, Espoo

Tuukka Kotti plays for the Finnish national basketball team in Susijengi, which in 2011 qualified for the European Basketball Championship after 16 years. Subsequently, the team has made it to the major games time after time again.

THE EVERYDAY LIFE OF A PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE is disciplined, especially when it comes to diet and rest. The most important thing is enough sleep and a regular sleep cycle.
Not a lot of people can play on a professional level at 40 years old, but I am lucky enough to do it. For that I am so grateful!
I have enjoyed every moment. Success is a thing I have wanted to look at first and foremost as the team’s joint effort, and I am glad to remember where we have come from and how much we have worked to reach our goal.
I’m sure a big part of it is because of the grounded attitude that my family and friends have instilled in me. My mind hasn’t gone ”off the rails” because of our victories.
I am a husband and a father of two, and I take my hat off to my wife. My family has to be flexible in many ways since I get my schedules only two weeks in advance.
They have made it possible for me to have the life of my dreams.
Since my childhood, praying has been a safety mechanism for me even though spirituality hasn’t been a daily thing for my family. Although sometimes we did attend church at Christmas time.
Even during my adult years, I have crossed my hands in prayer and talked to our Heavenly Father about my fears and troubles.
Six years ago, I was nervous about the basketball finals, and I spoke about my emotions with my mentor. He instructed me to do a mental exercise, which made me realize the kind of power the mind really has.
It also got me thinking about the fundamental meaning of life – what it’s all really about.
I read a lot of spiritual literature, and one day I ended up looking at my own bookshelf. Looking through the books, I saw the Bible I received at my confirmation camp in 1996, but I didn’t feel like opening it at all.
At the same time, I thought about why it was so hard and unpleasant to say the name of Jesus out loud.
I prayed that God would show me if there was any truth in the Bible. It was the bestselling book in the world, I knew that much.
During one of our game trips, I ended up sitting on a plane next to our team leader, Tero Kuivalainen. I didn’t know he was a Christian believer.
We started discussing spiritual things, and during that trip, it so happened that Tero prayed for me. Something within me started to change.
God finished my faith journey as I started to deal with the fears and bitterness I had against some loved ones. These problems had consumed me for a long time.
I confessed these things to God in prayer, and I decided to have the will to forgive them for what had happened in the past. A heavy load was lifted from me.
Life as a Christian man is mentally rich and exciting but also challenging. God knows how to gently and constructively bring up the weaknesses that need to be dealt with. And you can’t really do it with your own strength. You need the help of prayer and God.
The biggest blessing is the sense of peace. I can walk through life thinking that everything will be all right.
Loving your neighbour has become much more important and tangible. Faith in God takes my thoughts away from myself in a healthy way. Now, I think much less about myself and what I want.
I still don’t know what I would like to do when I grow up! I hope I still get a chance to play a season or two more.
The want to help people, especially young people, has sparked within me.
I want to be open about my faith. Even if only one person becomes interested in Jesus because of my testimony, that will be enough for me.

I found forgiveness through suffering

Jippu, a singer and evangelist, Helsinki

”I was singing about grace and love hoping that I would be an example of how a broken person can go into the light. But instead, I found myself hunting for approval again,” Jippu reveals.

FOR 11 YEARS, I was in a falling-out with my mother, and we were not on speaking terms at all. I only felt hatred towards her. I even hated my own feet because I had similar varicose veins as my mother.
Realizing I was falling into the same wrong patterns as she was, I was forced to forgive her.
After years of processing, we are now on good terms with each other. Together we have gone deep into each other’s feelings and cried.
It was easier to forgive my father. I had put him on a pedestal even though I suffered from not having him around as a child.
I think that forgiveness is loveingly giving up the painful things to God.
It is violent to demand forgiveness too fast or throughout a person’s life without giving them a chance to cry through the pain and to go through the process that comes with it. Forcing it on them may take away their power.
The troubles I have now I almost count as blessings. I have needed them to be refined, because I am stubborn and too strong of a character.
I remember my evangelist grandfather saying that everyone has the power to select their binder. Will you be bound by Christ or yourself? Will you enslave yourself with unforgiveness and lovelessness, or will you accept the road of Christ and His mercy?
I have dreamed about freedom, but I have always been a slave.
Now I really want to get rid of the yoke of my own will.
You will always be disappointed by people, but luckily in the Christian church, you can practice trust. It’s a place where sinful people at least try to love each other. It’s a place where you can learn by Jesus’s example how to accept a person the way they are.
Behind all the sorrow and troubles there is love. With love, a person can survive the darkness.
After I found God, I expected my life to become painless. It’s been eight years now.
My dream was to become an example for Christians – born again, broken woman, who rises to talk about Jesus with Finns, and to share that there is light after darkness. As a strong and powerful performer, I started singing liberation to reach people’s hearts.
But then a couple years ago I crashed. I realized I had rooted myself in spirituality in a completely wrong way. I noticed myself seeking the acceptance of other people and churches, when instead I should have focused on Christ and gotten to know Him.
It was difficult to recognize my failures and to forgive myself until I heard God asking, ”Would you now be willing to build up our relationship?”
Now, I know I’m on the right path, although very incomplete. I am outside of my comfort zone all the time. It’s important and you learn a lot from it, but it’s also extremely painful mentally.
I’m not in a superficial relationship with God anymore. I really need to know who Christ is.
If somebody wants to know Christ in a profound way, they must accept suffering, too. Luckily, I can rely on the fact that the crucified Christ knows what it’s all about.
I believe that suffering can be purifying when it happens together with Him. He will never leave a wounded person behind.
I want to go deeper in my relationship with Christ so that I can learn how to love myself in particular.

”The Iron Chancellor” found the faith of his childhood again

Kalervo Kummola, a pioneer in ice-hockey, Tampere

”The Iron Chancellor” is celebrating Finland’s fifth gold medal in international ice hockey on the new arena, and is a driving force behind the sport. Some think he’s a rough iron chancellor worthy of his name, others think of him as a teddy bear. Part of his soft side is a steady faith in Jesus and the changing power of prayer

IN MY LIFE, I’ve had many great moments but also many trials and difficult times. My father’s death was the heaviest of times. He was my role model. I experienced a near-death experience as well, which was heavily publicised. That moment was terrible when Teemu Selänne’s rally car was in the air coming straight at me. I managed to turn my car just enough that Teemu didn’t drive through my car window, but he hit partially on the side of my car. I was fighting unconsciousness and couldn’t get out of the car. Teemu’s car was burning next to me. ”I will die in this car!” I thought. I hurt my hand and foot, but God was protecting me and ensured nothing worse happened. I feel like God’s protection and blessing have been present throughout my life, ever since my childhood.
We had some Christian relatives. That’s how my mother became the first of us to find faith. I had the kindest mother in the world who, by her example, left us a huge legacy. My father had been through a lot during the war. He had an alcohol problem, but he too found faith when my mother took him to a service at the Pentecostal Church.
I was born in Kaanaanmaa, Raisio. After my parents found faith, we as children became active members of the church as well. As a kid, I was eager to go to sunday school. It’s amazing how well I still remember the songs sung by Aunt Veera. I still miss the summer camps. They were powerful experiences. As was the move to Australia, I began translating our church meetings at 14 years old. I was there for three years. After coming back to Finland, I was very active in the church. I joined a band and, as a prophetic act, I founded a Pentecostal ice hockey team. After the activity dwindled, we joined a sports league.
I don’t know if my life would have turned out differently if I hadn’t drifted away from church as a high schooler. In the church, they suspected that we were on the wrong track. I was offended by the assumptions so I left the church and closed the church door for decades. There was some truth in it after all. In a young man’s life, it went something like this: in the summer we were Christians, in the winter we were something else.
I didn’t become an athlete even though sports played a big part in my life. I became a major player in the background of sports and culture. I was one of the founders of SM-Liiga and the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame, and I was directing the Tampere Hall and went into the television business. I am thankful for the rich life I’ve had, as well as for the time when I was in the Finnish parliament. It indicates that I have had a lot of experiences with people.
I have not tried to hide my faith in the Almighty in any way. I strongly believe in our Saviour and in the eternal life. What I experienced as a young boy has carried me through life. Sometimes Jesus was missing, or better yet, I was missing. I admit that I was rather far away for a long time and didn’t remember these things. As I’ve grown older, God’s meaning has become stronger. I often listen to the Christian radio channel, Radio Dei, and it makes my faith stronger. The power of prayer is great. ”When you are secure in God, you are in the best care,” is what we sang in my youth. And that’s a song I sing even today.

I found the missing piece

Katja Mäntyniemi, a coffee shop entrepreneur, Kauhajoki

Katja Mäntyniemi got such good feedback from the Finnish TV show ”Koko Suomi leipoo” that she encouraged herself to start up her dream café. She is having the most wonderful time there chatting with customers.

THE IDEA OF CREATING MY OWN COMPANY started to develop about six years ago when I was on holiday with my family in Antalya, Turkey. We feasted on some great waffles there several times.
I sighed because I wished we had them in my home area as well.
In the year 2020, I was selected to be part of the ”Koko Suomi leipoo” TV show. You see, I realized that as a 40-year-old woman, I perhaps had more life behind me than I had ahead. And you wouldn’t get onto the show if you didn’t apply!
I was overjoyed when I moved up with 500 candidates and had survived through four eliminations.
I inherited my baking skills from my mother’s family as they hav always appreciated making things by themselves.
TV exposure brought me nice, motivating feedback through social media. Encouraged by the feedback I started looking for a suitable space for my café in Kauhajoki.
In 2021 I found it. I felt deep in my heart that I would enjoy being there, but it was rented to another person. However, they started regretting their decision, so after two weeks I got the place that I really loved.
As a business owner, I want to work with the values I cherish; I want to serve people the way I would want myself to be served – and offer mouth-watering delicacies that I know I would enjoy myself.
I play Christian worship music on my café stereo. I keep praying that my customers will feel the warm Christian atmosphere.
I grew up in my childhood home together with my Christian mother. As a Sunday schoolteacher, she knew how to talk about Jesus in an age appropriate way, and I got to be part of that as well.
When I was eleven years old, I participated in the kids’ singing programme, ”Tenavatähti”, and reached the finals. Right after the show, I started doing music gigs with my father, Pepe Enroth. In the same year, he went through to the finals of ”Tangomarkkinat”, a tango singing competition in Seinäjoki.
I released a single and started preparing my own record.
The time together with my father helped me cope with how much I had missed him over the years, but at the same time, a vague anxiety grew within me.
It was very hard to tell him I was quitting.
Now I think of my decision as a part of God’s great protection and my mother’s answered prayer. The places and the moods that performing took me to wouldn’t have been good for me in the long run.
I believe I was spared from a lot of bad things.
In 1992, I went to a Christian event in Tampere where a former gang leader, Nicky Cruz, talked stirringly about how he found faith. Soon after that, I knelt in prayer at home and asked to become a child of Jesus.
It was the missing piece I had been looking for.
From that day on, I have experienced Jesus’s love for me in my daily life and felt His strong and powerful guidance. I’ve had peace in my heart in every turn of life, in joy and in sadness.
I gave karaoke singing and the dance halls one more chance when I was 17. But I quickly realised that they only gave me momentary joy which was followed by emptiness. It was the same feeling I had when I did gigs as a child.
I think I’m living my best life running a coffee shop. I often get struck by joy, gratefulness, and God’s greatness whenever I’m in the woods or somewhere in the nature where I jog almost every day.
I’m moved most by how He has protected me.

You can find hope in climate anxiety

Markku Kulmala, an academy professor, Helsinki

Markku Kulmala is leading the flagship for climate research in Finland. In his field, he is one of the world’s most respected experts who never thought that there should be contradictions between science and Christianity.

THE WORST NUCLEAR DISASTER IN THE WORLD happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986. I was still a young researcher, and I left my doctoral thesis to collect samples. I was interested in how the pollution would transfer to the soil, waters, and animals.
Back then I didn’t own a car, so I rented one and took my wife and kids on the road across Finland. We stopped every 50 kilometres, and I collected needles and swiped samples from the road sign surfaces.
My group of researchers also collected data from the surroundings of Beijing in 2020 when the corona pandemic started. The traffic and some factories in China stopped because of the pandemic restrictions, and we clearly saw the effects of it in our measuring station.
We found out that the Chinese pollution cocktail is unusual and very challenging.
Because of these two miserable events, the nuclear accident and COVID-19, I got a lot of information about the state of the environment. We have plenty of important research in between these two events, and we can utilize them in the efforts of healing the earth.
The fact is that the earth and the climate are in an awful state, and it’s a huge problem.
As a Christian scientist and an optimist, I think our hope is in God, also when it comes to the climate. God can lead humanity away from this difficult state.
Before that, we must acknowledge that we have done wrong and repent. We haven’t succeeded in the mission God assigned us. The Bible says that God appointed people to cultivate and protect the earth.
I think climate anxiety is a natural consequence of breaking God’s will, and we as humans cannot keep going like this. People must act for the good of the environment. Scientific results are an irreplaceable help in it.
Christianity enables and permits critical thinking. It also gives us hope in every aspect of life and a foundation upon which we can deal with and face challenges.
I have struggled with being a workaholic since I was a young adult. Work has controlled my thinking and how I spend my time, which has led to serious problems in my relationship with my wife.
We started dealing with our issues at a Christian marriage camp where I found the right order to prioritize everything I did. I put my relationship with God first, my marriage and myself second, and our kids third. Only after them will I focus on work and church activities.
It has been a lot to learn even to this day.
How we use our time reveals what is actually important to us.
During that camp, my spiritual life was renewed, and we started to feel better about our marriage. That’s something me and my wife, Marita, have wanted to share with others too, as equals.
As a Christian, I regard it as my mission to spread hope. Let’s save our marriages! Let’s save the earth! Let’s grow some forests! Let’s take care of each other and make our forests grow. Let’s not burn and destroy them.
Everyone can reduce their consumption.
Every day is a possibility to do better than before.
Luckily, we don’t have to squeeze hope from ourselves. Our hope is in God.
I didn’t know that they gather lists of the researchers who show up the most at scientific research references. I was surprised to see that I had been on the top worldwide in geoscience for seven years.
I think it’s because of God’s guidance and blessing that I was able to do the best that I possibly could.

I found help in dealing with disappointment

Laura Salminen, a pentathlete, Helsinki

The father’s Olympic medal was shining so brightly that it motivated his daughter to become an athlete. Now, Laura Salminen is aiming to be at the top in modern pentathlon with Veikko Salminen, her father, as her coach.

WHEN I WAS A CHILD, my father always talked about his experiences as a professional athlete. However, he didn’t really encourage me to take the same path knowing how demanding it was.
My mother was also athletic. She motivated me to take up swimming when I was six and competitive running a year after that.
Sports gave me a good basis for the pentathlon, in which my father was successful at too. Now, on top of swimming and running, modern pentathlons also include show jumping, fencing, and a combination of running and shooting.
Success demands versatility and dedication because there are so many different events.
In the 2012 London Olympics, I was eliminated in the narrowest way. I had collected the same number of points in the qualifications as one Lithuanian athlete. In the end, she got the last spot in the Olympics because of her better result in the World Championships.
Faith has helped me to deal with it and overcome disappointments that an athlete will inevitably face.
I found faith at a Christian kids’ camp when I was 9. My brother had talked about Jesus already when I was 3 and a half years old. My parents would bless me and my brother every morning before school. The nights would end with a safe evening prayer.
Together with my family, I have read the Bible and sang spiritual songs.
All of this has been as natural as breathing.
It has been very affirmative to see how many pro athletes give glory of their success to God.
I also wore a T-shirt that said ”Jesus loves you” in 2003 when I won the European Championship in Varna, Bulgaria.
Now, my goal is to get to the Olympics and be successful. I think of competitive sports as my vocation, in which God gives me power and meaning. I trust that I will accomplish my dreams with Him.
If that didn’t happen, I would still think He has something better for me in store!
My father has been my coach ever since I was a child. Every time before practice, we start by praying.
We ask for wisdom in our training sessions – after all, He has given people lungs, the circulatory system, muscles, and the nervous system. And of course, we utilize new findings in sports science to reach great results.
Although sports take up most of my time, the most important thing for me is my faith in Jesus.
It gives me a sense of direction, meaning, and security. I trust that He will guide my life in the best possible way and that he will one day take me to Heaven.
God gives meaning to every aspect of life. That’s why I want to play sports joyfully with His power and for His glory.
I’m the kind of person who wants to do everything in the best possible way. That is the role of an athlete – to perform with resilience.
On the other hand, faith is not performing. It is a gift that Jesus wants to give anyone who wants it.
He gives people different gifts and talents in a wonderful way. We can use them for ourselves and for the enjoyment of others.
That is what I’m thinking of as I’m studying to become an exercise advisor for pro athletes in a customized training school.

After losing my arms and my legs, I found a new mission

Reijo Ahteela, a priest, Harjavalta

It only took 1,5 hours for a man to change from a healthy person to quadriplegic for the rest of his life. This is what happened to Reijo Ahteela on April 1st 2017, because of a spinal cord infarction.

I HAD JUST SPENT a lovely winter season with my wife in Costa Blanca as an assistant priest for a Finnish church. We were planning on moving to Spain permanently at retirement.
My shoulder was hurting as I was waking up in our home in Harjavalta. After getting up to make some coffee, my leg suddenly failed me. I had to roll onto the bed again. Soon, I noticed my arms and legs stopped working.
In the hospital, they said that the seizure would pass in a day or two.
When my wife, Eija-Maaria, came to visit me in the evening, she said something wise and moving, ”This is a disaster. But we will not worry about what is already lost, but we will rejoice for what we still have.”
During the examination it was determined that the spinal cord infarction had been the result of a clot that had formed in a vein less than a millimetre thick in my cervical spine. The paralysis would be permanent.
Now I’m surprised how quickly I adjusted to the new situation.
Freshly retired, I had asked the Lord to use my hands and feet in His work if I could still serve Him. Was this the answer He gave me? Making my arms and legs completely unable to function?
I had already experienced a time in my life when I was very disappointed in God, myself, and others. I didn’t want anything to do with spiritual things. At that time, I was so tired and depressed. On top of it, I’d gotten divorced, which made me feel like a total failure.
That period lasted for seven years, but then it ended.
I found Eija-Maaria by my side who bought me entrance exam books for the faculty of theology on my 50th birthday. She knew that my childhood my dream had been to become a priest. And I got to serve as a priest during the last years of my career.
After ”losing” my arms and legs I started to serve as a priest to care for the disabled.
As I was paralysed, I had to be in rehabilitation therapy almost continuously for six months. I’ve had nearly weeklong training periods every month.
In the rehabilitation centre, everyone knew I was a priest. The personnel and other patients to chat with me about their questions on faith.
In this regard, being one of them is an advantage. I’m on the same level with my electric wheelchair.
I am unusual enough that people ask me to come speak for audiences who are mostly free from physical limitations.
My message is: trust God in everything.
When the crisis hits, like the war against Ukraine – money, success, or health won’t be able to help you. It is a relief to leave your life in greater, better hands.
Even though I was paralysed, we could keep living with my wife in our familiar, one-story detached house after making some renovations to the bathroom and making some of our doors wider.
I can eat, use a computer, and move around in the wheelchair all by myself.
With my car for the disabled, I can go wherever we want.
My personal assistant comes to help me six days a week.
I don’t ask God ”why” anymore. He is not accountable for me. I still know that He is good in His omnipotence.

I found my self-esteem

Odetta Lee-Simmons, an early childhood educator teaching Finnish as a second language, Uusikaupunki

Odetta Lee-Simmons left Finland as soon as she turned 18. She had had enough of the name-calling and discrimination. In middle school, her bullies threatened to kill her father.

WHEN I WAS ATTENDING comprehensive school, my father was a famous basketball player. However, it didn’t help me much since I was stared at all the time because of my skin colour.
People called me names like the N-word or ”colour-disabled”. Sometimes bullies grouped together around me in an oppressive manner and yelled mean things at me.
I became a girl who was downcast and who wished she didn’t exist at all.
Little by little, I started to believe that I had deserved the treatment I had to suffer.
The bullying became even more cruel in middle school when the tough guys threatened to kill my father. I was nervous to the point of feeling nauseous about going to recesses, to classes, or to the school cafeteria.
I was too afraid to tell anyone about the bullying in all of its extent, even to my mother who worked as a teacher on the third floor of the same school. When I finally told her, she talked about my problems with her colleagues, and the bullying situation calmed down a little bit.
Still, I had already decided to leave Finland as soon as I turned 18, and I did. I was tired of the racism.
After I finished my last matriculation exam, I flew on the same Saturday to the East Coast of The United States to become an au pair in the city of Providence. I wasn’t planning on returning to Finland ever again, even if my work contract was only for a year.
I still went to my graduation ceremony.
I returned to Finland after 11 years with my American husband and two children as a university graduate. Our third and fourth children were born here in Finland.
As an early childhood educator, I have taught kids who don’t speak Finnish, Swedish, or Sami as their native language. I strongly relate to their lives through my own life experiences.
Still today, after decades, I analyse the hatred, shame, and trauma of being bullied.
I realize that hard events and feelings must be dealt with in order to leave them behind.
Luckily, I don’t have to do it alone. God who loves me is also with me. Now that I’m an adult, He has allowed me to remember and deal with memories that were hidden behind my defence mechanisms.
The Heavenly Father can handle my crying fits. I get to stumble and learn.
I found faith already in seventh grade because of my friend. Even though we saw each other daily, we would still write letters to each other. Through those letters I got to hear from Jesus who I had come to know as a small child. Together with my friend, I started going to church services.
Faith has been my resource for all these years both abroad and in Finland.
I have found and learned to accept the fact that my self-esteem is not bound by other people’s opinions. It’s enough that God has estimated my value.
I have also been working on a book about hatred, a feeling that many people find unpleasant, tiring, and unacceptable.
We should explore where our hate stems from. We often discover that hate can stem from a need that hasn’t been fulfilled.
When I find repressed feelings of hate inside of me, I talk about them with God in prayer and start a process within me that is strongly connected to forgiving others and myself.

I found a new tone

Pekka Simojoki, a songwriter, Kangasala

Pekka Simojoki needed African rhythms, a guitar as a confirmation present, avoiding military exercise, and some tabloid headlines before he became a musician with over 7,000 gigs and 800 written songs. The most known of them are ”Onneni on olla” and ”Tulkoon joulu”.

I WILL NEVER FORGET IT. I was 12 years old, and I was listening spellbound to how an African choir was singing and dancing to the beat of their rhythmic songs with such a great joy and power that it went straight to my core. It was at that point that music came into my life to stay.
I simply had to make myself a guitar from whatever I could find. An oil canister would do as a guitar body, a piece of a plank became the guitar neck, and fishing lines worked as strings.
We were living in Ovamboland for eight years because my mom and dad were missionaries. When I tried to adapt myself to living in Finland as a teenager, I was hit by a major culture shock. Here, after being in Africa, singing in church felt like dreary mumbling, and nobody even looked at each other.
At the confirmation camp, the best times were in the cosy barn-church that smelled like grain. The camp’s summer workers, who were some years older than me, would sing songs with their guitars, and I wanted to do the same. Luckily, my parents made my wish come true and bought me a Landola guitar as a confirmation present. I was so excited that I would often run home from school because I was so eager to play the guitar!
And so, it happened – the next summer I was strumming the guitar as one of the camp workers, and as a young man who was admired by the girls.
I didn’t feel any ”trembling Heaven experience” and it started to bother me. Did I have faith in Jesus? Was God real after all?
One night I was kneeling beside my bed and praying as earnestly as a young person can. I got an answer in the form of a deep, convincing peace. That was enough.
Nevertheless, after high school, I was confused about what I would do with my life. My motive to participate in the entrance exams of theology department in 1977 was not much. I was serving in the army and wanted to avoid crawling in the ground in military training! To my great surprise, I got accepted into the University of Helsinki.
During my studies, I kept tormenting my poor guitar. I wrote some tunes but not lyrics. I think it was Heavenly Father’s guidance that all of a sudden, I met a poet, Anna-Mari Kaskinen, at an international student night. Together we eagerly started making new songs.
A great turning point was when we were asked to make an African Gospel Mass in 1981. Everyone liked it, and the phone started ringing. A couple years later, we made it to the headlines when the cathedral chapter banned this kind of ”noise” on TV as inappropriately good-humoured. Because of this, our gig calendar burst at the seams. Churches were full of people who wanted to see this scandalous Mass. And it was eventually filmed for television as well.
In 1995, I had toured all over the country for 15 years and I noticed that I was exhausted. I felt that joy had changed in this forced performance, faith had changed to routine, and I could no longer sign off on what I was singing. Even though I prayed and prayed, Heaven was silent. I was tired and disappointed. One night I told my wife that I was quitting. ”If God won’t answer, I won’t continue.”
The next morning, I got a call from a complete stranger. They told me that God had instructed them to call and tell me, ”I know that you are tired, but you will get new strength and new songs if you still full-heartedly want to keep doing this work.”
I answered God that I wanted to. And I’m still on that road.

I found assurance in God’s care.

Irina Matjushina, a jewellery designer, Mariupol, Ukraine

Irina Matjushina was forced to flee from her home with seven children when the Russian soldiers attacked Mariupol and the tanks rolled forward under her own window.

OUR FAMILY’S LIFE CHANGED on February 24, 2022. I woke up per usual at six in the morning to make breakfast for my children and see them off to school. One of them got an alarming message on their phone from a friend. They said that Russia had started firing on the other side of the city.
I called my kids’ teacher and notified them that I was too afraid to send them to school. A couple hours later, the school sent an official announcement about closing the school for now.
The dramatic events unfolded quickly. On the same morning, the sounds of war echoed in our home, and the children were frightened. My husband left to be recruited. Since he had a heart condition, he couldn’t go to the front but started serving the defence forces with helpful duties. From the beginning, he has had a deep desire to defend his home country.
Once, my husband popped by for a visit asking me to wash his sneakers. They were completely stained by blood. My husband had dragged his friend’s dead body away from the scene while he was still warm. All of it sounded terrible to me.
I ended up seeking refuge for me and my children in the cellar of my home church where a couple of families had already settled. The other family had five children and the other one had three, one of whom was a new-born.
From the church window, we saw how the Russian troops were approaching. Soon, they were with us informing us that they would kill us if they found anything suspicious. Otherwise, they would spare our lives, but death would reach us by the time the next troop found us.
We had to flee to Lviv straight away. On the way there, we saw dead Ukrainian people on the side of the road.
Many refugees were hoping to get to some other country to flee the war. I was just praying that God would arrange for me and my children the best help, in any way He saw fit.
The solution came in the form of my church pastor who now was serving as a military pastor. He called and asked whether we would be ready to go to Finland. He had gotten information that Christians had organized a bus coming to get people from the war-torn country. We accepted that offer.
Now, I’m living in Kerava with my children. My feelings have been changing a lot. At times, an anxious fear takes over my mind, and sometimes I feel great gratitude and joy that God brought us to safety.
My faith in His care has grown. In Ukraine, I saw a lot of situations where people miraculously survived in the middle of gunfire. It was like it says in Psalm 91, ”A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”
I grew up in a large family with alcoholic parents, where me and my siblings didn’t even have proper clothes. We were ashamed of our poverty, and we were also bullied for it.
When my mother accepted Christ into her life, things changed for the better. I went to Christian services with her, and I made my own decision to follow Jesus when I was 17.
Now I hope that my big and happy family will get to live out the testimony of God’s goodness.
I pray that He will guide us according to His plan. We don’t know whether our future is in Ukraine or in Finland.
In any case, we must build everything from scratch.
I’m sure that Ukrainian Christians didn’t end up in different countries by accident. I think that we are seeds sown in the fields of different countries, and we get to grow and nourish our new homelands in God’s way.
It’s great that in Kerava we get to enjoy services and Christian gatherings in our own native language.

I found my dream

Roberto Brandão, a singer and pastor, Järvenpää

At 13, Roberto from Brazil lost his hope for the future and the ability to dream, when his mother died suddenly. His father passed away four years later. Then, he found a Finnish woman, Annamari.

I was recovering from my parents’ death very slowly. There were days where I only wanted to sleep.
In addition, I was afraid to live alone in the house. In Brazil, it is quite common to rob homes at night.
There was no culture around giving psychological help in my home country.
I was looking at other young people my age and thinking, ”I wish I still had parents who loved me.”
I was troubled with the question, ”Why did it happen to me?”
At that moment, the heritage of a Christian home wasn’t helping me. I didn’t trust God anymore or believed that He could in any way fulfil my dreams – which included studying in London.
I thought of God as a bad boss who recited His truths from the throne.
However, I wound up going to a Christian service to listen to a preacher who insured me that God was interested in our dreams. The man suggested writing them down and asking God to bless them.
Half-jokingly, I made a list of the kind of a wife I would like to have. She would play the piano; she would be a year or two younger than me; she would have blonde hair and ocean blue eyes; she would be from the ends of the earth; and she would love God more than anything, even more than me.
Through an amazing series of events, I got to go to a Bible college in London where I met a person who was just like the one that I had described on my list. She was Annamari!
For some reason God wanted to show His love for me by fulfilling all my criteria, and more. It was a big thing in my life. My whole perception of God changed. He wasn’t that bad after all; he was a loving father.
In 2006, I moved permanently to Finland with Annamari three years after getting married. We had just graduated as pastors. Now we had three wonderful children.
When we had been living in England, I had gotten the chance to sing and perform at Christian events for thousands of people in places like Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena.
In Finland, I performed in ”The Voice of Finland” television contest in 2018 and 2021 after my daughter, Sara, had inspired me to do so. She had already made it to ”Junior MasterChef” with her cooking skills.
In 2016, I was on a cruise ship to Sweden having a vacation with my kids. They had eagerly asked for something fun to do together since Annamari had gone on a trip to the United States.
I went to sing karaoke, and I sang ”You Raise Me Up” that talks about how God lifts us on His shoulders. After singing, I hurried to our cabin to put my kids to sleep.
But a woman came running to me, and she wanted to talk about her situation. She had come on the cruise to commit suicide. She had decided to have one last drink at the karaoke bar.
After listening to me singing, she had a change of heart. A hope for the future had awakened in her and she decided to continue her life.
I was surprised and so impressed that I didn’t really find the words.
The woman assured me that I didn’t have to be worried about her. She said that she understood the song’s message – that Jesus will help you; He’ll be there for you, and He’ll give meaning to your life.
If I could meet a 13-year-old me, I would give that young fellow a warm hug and tell him, ”You can always trust God in everything. He is good. For everyone.”

I found a way to replace lies with truth

Sonja Kuula, a nurse and Christian solution-focused brief therapist, Helsinki

My father’s sudden death and a trip to Bali awakened a yearning to find life’s deepest meaning and truth. Sonja Kuula ended up looking for it in mind and body exercises and by expanding her sense of consciousness with drugs.

AS A 19-YEAR-OLD, I wanted to see life far away from Finland, to get to know new people and cultures. I went to Indonesia when I had made enough money for the trip.
I found Hindu women fascinating, since they used at least a third of their waking time preparing offerings to their gods.
In Finland, I started going to Buddhist meditation gatherings. I noticed that something happened during the guided meditation that I had never experienced before. I found the exercises full of power.
They told me that it was the science of happiness from thousands of years ago. And happiness was just the thing I was looking for.
I started doing yoga, as I thought that even scientists think it’s good, physical exercise.
I began to believe in my body’s energy centres, through which I would not only find a connection to myself and others but to the whole universe. I read spiritual literature and self-help guides that would lead me to better life.
I found myself surrounded by people who used cannabis, psychedelic mushrooms and other ”natural medication” to broaden their consciousness.
I thought that they would help me to go through the dark places within me.
About four years ago, I realized that I was very distressed even though I had gone through many special experiences and times of momentary peace. I was having relationships with guys that started and ended. I was hurting myself and others.
Ten years of searching hadn’t fulfilled my inner yearning or properly answered my biggest questions. During the hardest times, I really wanted something greater than ourselves to come and help me. Finally, I was even ready to give a chance to Christianity, although I thought it was naïve and didn’t think I could find a solution to my problems outside of me.
I had started to believe in enlightenment – that I should only realize that I am one with the universe and, in a sense, I was a god myself.
I googled desperately how to pray to the God of Christianity. I even went to a Christian prayer meeting.
When they started worshipping Jesus, my forehead started to ache. It was so bad that I was planning on leaving the service. At that moment, however, somebody grabbed the microphone and said, ”There’s a person here whose forehead is aching badly. Jesus wants to heal you.”
When they started praying, the aching stopped right then and there.
How did they know? How did God know? I hadn’t even held my head.
Near the end of the meeting, I joined a small group of people. Astonishingly enough, the prayer of Christians put it into words what I was most afraid of and what I was missing, and I hadn’t even conceptualized them to myself. I felt that God knew me better than I knew myself.
I asked Jesus into my life in prayer, but I returned to my old life the following weeks. I thought that Jesus was one of many religious teachers, a guru, like so many others.
Luckily, this one Christian moved to the community I was living in.
This person told me that only Jesus is the truth and redeemer of our sins. We also studied the Bible which I thought would only contain old human wisdom and symbolism.
I was surprised that it wasn’t the truth. One day I felt God speaking to me through those words personally and powerfully like the other time in that prayer meeting. It was the moment that I found faith.
I found that Christianity was the only solid foundation on which we can build our lives and eternity.

I found comfort in the midst of sadness

Tommy Koponen, the main coach of a sports league, PE teacher, Seinäjoki

It is the most rewarding joy when you get a medal in the Finnish Championsips. Tommy Koponen felt the extreme end of that feeling after suddenly losing his sister and brother.

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG MAN, I loved to play floorball with a group of friends. In 1994, as a sort of a test, we formed a floorball team.
Seinäjoen Peliveljet, SPV, started competing in the fourth division, and has risen to the top in national ranking. The team has several championships and cup wins, as well as many silver and bronze medals.
Through the years, I have had duties in almost every role that floorball offers. As a sports manager, I have influenced how the team has developed. In the public eye, my most prevalent role is being the current head coach of SPV, which demands co-operation and leadership skills as well as time management.
I ended up in sports because I was very competitive as a child. I have always wanted to measure my skills and win. This has enabled SPV to be able to dream big and be motivated to win the Finnish Championship.
When you get a gold medal hung around your neck after a lot of hard work, the emotions take over. I’m over the moon! Sometimes I think that’s a taste of the amazing moment when we get to see Jesus face to face.
The friends I set up SPV with are also Christians. At first, we were freaks in the sports world. It’s not common to openly stand up for Christian values in Finland.
Nowadays, people respect our faith much more than before. I think that SPV has an advantage by acting sustainably and ethically in sports. We’ve even had an impact in changing floorball to be a little bit less aggressive.
I grew up in Hankasalmi in a big family. My parents found faith the same year I was born. We would go to Christian events as a family, and we the children would go to church as an after-school club. My father would teach Sunday school at home.
Faith to me is as natural and important as the air I breathe.
But it doesn’t mean being free from sorrow and grief. Together with my parents and siblings, I have had to face the tragic suicide of my brother, Timo. At that time, we asked God a lot of questions without getting any answers.
Still, the faith we shared helped in the grieving process.
I think our Heavenly Father coached us earlier when my sister had suddenly gotten sick and passed away.
These days, I go to a lot of Christian gatherings, and I have some duties in my own church.
Daily prayer is important. Also, reading the Bible and studying it is a part of my morning routine. Eager to learn, I also read Christian literature.
Part of my everyday service is also running an after-school club for 7–11-year-old boys. We do stuff they like to do, and in the meantime, I talk about who God is and what He’s like.
I work as a PE teacher. When I’m teaching, I also remind them to think about their own principles when it comes to alcohol, drugs, or sex, for instance.
At one of our morning devotionals in school, I spoke about disappointments that life will inevitably throw at us. I encouraged everyone to see if prayer would help in those situations.
God has the right kind of manuscript for everyone.

I found grace

Lauri Johansson, an evangelist, reporter and powerlifter, Tampere

Once named Finland’s most feared criminal, Lauri ”Late” Johansson found himself in a spiral of crime, even murdering three people. The course of his life changed in a prison cell, alone in the dark.

WHEN I WAS 13, I had to move out from my home. My alcoholic father had beaten me and my mother for years when he was drunk.
Then one day, he couldn’t mess with me anymore. I almost killed him with a furnace fork, but my mother stopped me and sent me to live at our family friend’s place.
In the town centre, I ended up with ex-prisoners and drunks. I didn’t go to school, except for to eat.
I even hit my teacher and got the lowest grade in behaviour, which was a 4. It was my PE grade of 9 that raised my average grade to 4,6.
When I was 14, they put me in jail for three days without anything to do. It was rough for a young man.
I started doing violent crimes when I was 16. In the 1980s, I organised and cranked out property offences and taught myself drug trade. I got a life sentence in 2001, when I was arrested for murder.
In 2007, I was awake again at night in the prison thinking of my life, distressed, and desperate. I realized I would go to hell if I died at that moment. If I decided to end my days, I would end up there in that case as well.
I had only one lifeline.
I was crying as I knelt to pray. I asked Jesus to forgive my sins, and I felt that He really forgave them as my mind was filled with amazing peace and great gratitude.
I immediately knew what I had to do the next day when they came to open my cell. I had to confess to the murders I had committed in 1992 and 1998. The investigation of the crimes had gone cold, and they were on my conscience.
After I did that, they let me go from solitary confinement to the prison unit where I could go to the prison chapel. I doubled my ”daily dosage” as I joined the Bible study for inmates.
God saved me from great depths, but He does so with everyone who accepts Him as their Saviour.
I’m sure that my mother has always prayed for me and my little brother who is five years younger than me. When we were kids, my mother would say an evening prayer for us. When I was five or six, I even went to Sunday school.
After finding faith, I stopped having nightmares of the murders I had committed, the dreams that I had seen for 15 years.
I graduated from high school in prison, and I got the second-best grade in Swedish!
I got a complimentary reference from the prison of Naarajärvi for working as a tractor driver.
Now, I am free, Christian man who has a nice home and a lovely wife. We got married over two years ago. I have cleared all my debts. I got a chance to become a reporter in the ”Ex-Criminals” programme on a Christian radio channel. I get to talk about my experiences and write about them in my biography.
I’m grateful for the Finnish social system that gives opportunities for inmates. That’s not the case in all of the countries.
I deserved the sentences that I got for the crimes I did.
Almost everyone I knew from my ”previous life” has died as a crime victim, in an overdose, by suicide, or they have inexplicably vanished.
Many of those who are still alive are chasing money or high living standards without thinking about the true meaning of life, unfortunately.
When I was young, I was a passionate boxer, but I couldn’t go to the Finnish Championships since I had to do time. Now in 2022, I have taken back what I lost as a powerlifter, competing in the European Championship level. I have three bronze medals, two silver medals and one gold medal from the national senior championship.
However, I won the most important competition in 2007 in a small prison cell.

I found inner peace

Kalle Mäenpää, a criminal investigator, Pori

”One day, when I was sitting with a crime suspect in the interrogation room, I realized that I was in the same position as him. I became aware of the evil part within me.”

I BECAME INTERESTED in applying to the police academy when I was in reserve officers’ school, and realized that police work would be interesting and diverse. As a police officer, I could help people, protect, and serve the society and my country in ways that I deemed important.
Now, I’m a detective who must deal with people struggling with bad and bitter feelings. I meet people who are deep in the world of crime but also victims and witnesses who have seen a lot of brutality. I get to investigate all sorts of crimes, such as cases of severe violence, fraud, and theft.
By interrogating the suspects, I try to find out the truth behind the crimes.
I have noticed that many of my clients are trying to reach freedom in their life. Unfortunately, it’s like a rolling stone that only goes downhill.
Even though I have always been a man of introspection and research, I didn’t have a need to stop thinking about the direction of my own life or spiritual things.
I didn’t want to bother God, and I didn’t want Him to bother me.
My change began in the interrogation room. To my surprise, I noticed I was relating to a suspect – the person who sat before me. I started to recognize evil things within me, and it didn’t feel good. I became aware of my own shadows, and they rolled over me.
I was forced to look for life’s truth in the same way that I was digging out the truth in my job.
In my spare time I started reading through the texts of different religious and philosophical thinkers. Time after time, they encouraged me to look for the truth.
But in the Bible, I read Jesus’s words that He is the way, the truth, and the life.
That got me interested in Christianity and the changes it has started in people.
I noticed that those people, who had surrendered to Christ and his grace, had something I was missing, which was inner peace.
I started the ”peace process” at a Christian event at Helsinki Ice Hall on March 16, 2012.
Afterwards, I have slowly started to understand and feel God’s love that He is offering to everyone.
It has also given me grace to understand those who think differently than me.
The fact is that people will die sooner or later. Sometimes the end comes before you expect it to, in a surprising way, and at that point, we don’t have the time to think about the deep meaning of life.
Heavenly Father is offering a piece of heaven even for today. His help is near, and His hands are always reaching out to people. With His help, change is possible, and nobody needs to be alone.
I proudly wear my police badge, which has the Finnish coat of arms with a lion and a sword, which is there to stop evil. Both symbols are in the Bible. The lion of Judah represents God’s power, and the sword represents an instrument that leads to the truth.
Therefore, the police badge connects both political science and theology, of which I have masters degrees in.
I’ve always liked to travel to different continents and enjoy different cultures with my family.
I’m impressed by the earnest and sometimes enormous joy that sparks up in the middle of need, for example, in the humble straw and clay huts in India and Africa.
Most of the people in Europe have a lot of material goods, but our hearts are often hard.

We found the power to forgive the killer of our daughter

Veli-Pekka ja Minna Joki-Erkkilä, doctors, Tampere

The Joki-Erkkiläs lost their daughter, Laura, in January 2011, when she died in a violent act by a Muslim man. The devastating event became the most important turning point in the lives of the parents.

Minna: After the police told us what had happened, Veli-Pekka was in such a bad place that he couldn’t take care of anything. He did nothing but scream. I was worried about our daughter, Saara, who at the time was in New Zealand. I wanted the news to reach her through me and not somebody else on Facebook, so that I could be there to help her. I reached her after leaving a call request. We agreed that she would come to Finland on the next plane.
Veli-Pekka: As a doctor, I understood physical pain – how it feels to break an arm or a leg. Now I was just thinking about how small that pain would be compared to the pain of when your daughter is murdered. There was nothing to be done.
I didn’t know that such a great, hard, emotional pain even existed.
Your whole self and soul crumbles down.
The next days and weeks I realized that no one could help me, although I needed help. That’s why I started looking for it from God.
I saw our white wedding Bible in our bookshelf, and I opened it. It said, ”The Holy Bible”. On top of the words, there was a piece of paper cut into an outline of a small hand. I knew that in their day care, our four children had drawn the outlines of their hands and cut the paper following the line.
I looked behind the piece of paper and found Laura’s name written in small handwriting.
It felt like she had encouraged me, ”Dad, read the Bible.”
And so, I did. I noticed my pain dissolving every time I opened the Bible – and growing stronger when I closed it.
Minna: I felt like I was in a dark hole that was void of anything good or pretty. I worked according to schedule and fixed food for the kids. We had one Christian record, which Vellu played after he found faith. I was annoyed by it.
Still, I agreed to go to Christian gatherings when Vellu’s sister asked me to come with her.
When they prayed for me, I noticed I felt a bit better.
One time there was a female soprano singing so incredibly beautifully, ”God can heal everything.” The first two words were loud and powerful, the last two were quieter. The song was moving, and it was healing my wounds in a profound manner.
The others didn’t hear it.
I am sure that it was an angel singing and helping me to look for Jesus.
I wanted to get out of the darkness, and so I left my life in His hands on the altar, at a Christian event. I walked to the light where I saw goodness and sunshine and heard birds singing.
I was surprised when the people we knew saw that I had changed and was feeling better even though I hadn’t told them that I had found faith.
Veli-Pekka: I used to think mostly about myself, and I would sweep all the difficult topics under the rug. I was afraid of dying. If I would suffer from backpain, I would immediately want an x-ray to ensure that I didn’t have cancer.
It’s different now. I want to live the good life that Jesus is teaching about in a practical way in the Bible.
At first, I felt great hate against the father of Laura’s murderer. Why had his son become such a violent radical Muslim?
As a Christian, I have tried to love and understand my enemies according to Jesus’s example. Like He says in the Bible, ”They don’t know what they’re doing.”
By processing it by myself, I couldn’t have forgiven what the man did, but God gave me the power to do it.
Minna: After finding Jesus, my husband is a new person! Our relationship has healed, and we can be honest to each other. Veli-Pekka has eased up with his work to get in more time for studying and teaching the Bible, so that we could know even more about God and His goodness.
From my old life, I don’t miss anything else but Laura.