We are here in Finland getting to know the land, the people, the culture and the Church. It is a wondrous experience. We have already met some delightful, amazing members — and we are going to introduce you to them in coming issues this next week on Meridian.

Getting into the hearts of the people is our favorite job. It is deliciously fun and wonderfully spiritual. Earlier today (it’s late at night here on Thursday, Helsinki time) we were meeting with members of the Church near the Finnish-Russian border who were instrumental in opening the gospel to the former Soviet Union. You can’t miss that story. Wait until you see where they live; it was like being in a fairy tale land. We’ll take you to their home in the forest about 60 kilometers from the city of Lappeenranta — we’ll bring you up front and personal.

Yesterday we met with the stake president of the Tampere Finland Stake — a man whose stake extends through a vast wilderness of Finland and who has great hopes for the growth of the Church here. One of the nine units in his stake has more than 90% average sacrament meeting attendance. What is going on there?

We met with a couple in Rauma whose story will inspire you in ways perhaps you have never thought of before. Where is Rauma, Finland? Well, it’s really about halfway between Uusikaupunki on the south and Björneborg on the north! Okay, one more hint: It sits right on the Bottniska Viken Pohjanlahti coast. Now you know!

The day before we met with a young family with three children, whom we will introduce to you as “The Hope of Finland.” And earlier that day we were eating lunch with the first stake president in Finland and his lovely wife, who were living near Turku on an inlet of the Gulf of Bothnia, the northernmost arm of the Baltic Sea. The faith of these people will inspire and bless your lives.

We’re here, of course, for the Helsinki Finland Temple dedication (which will be this weekend), but in order to really capture that, in full measure, we have to first get into the hearts of these beautiful and amazing people here in this land of the north. We want you to be with us, both heart and soul. If you’ll look at the photos today and in upcoming articles, read the stories and bask in the faith of these wonderful people, you’re going to have a great week.

Today we just wanted to show you around a bit, give you a taste of the scenery in Finland and encourage you to read all the pieces we will do in the days ahead. Oh, will you do us a small favor? Will you spread the word about Meridian to your friends and family and Church associates around the world? This would be a good time to invite others to start reading Meridian.

Do you have friends or family members who served a mission to Finland? Let them know about this article and the coming week’s pieces. Have you not told all your friends about Meridian yet? This is the week to do it. Okay, I’m pleading now — we really would like to increase the unique readership of Meridian to more than a million readers. The only way we can do it is through YOU.

You can have friends and family and all sign up right here: or you can just send them straight to our home page at www.latterdaysaintmag.com You know we have a little “share button” on each article we publish each day. It’s there on the right sash (right column), down a little bit and says: Share the article on this page with a friend. Click here. That’s pretty easy.

The steady growth of Meridian will assure that you will continue to have the best stories and the most thorough coverage of events (like the Helsinki Finland Temple dedication) of any news source in the world.

Some save the best pictures for last, but I had to pull this view out first. It is so hard to drive around (safely) here in Finland because you are constantly cranking your head this way and that way to catch breathtaking scenes of beauty like this one. I have to admit, I am head-over-heals in love with this amazing country. It is stunningly beautiful. You know that line from The Princess Bride where Westley is talking to Buttercup about the Fireswamp and he says, “It’s not that bad. I’m not saying I’d like to build a summer home here…” Well, in contrast, I would like to build a summer home here in Finland.

Okay, so let’s pretend this is my summer home here. Here’s an interesting fact: There are no maple trees in these forests, not one. They are all birch, mixed in with the beautiful coniferous trees. We are seeing the fall colors just after their prime (according to the Finns) but we have no complaints. The bright yellows are a delight to the eyes everywhere we look.

Finland is not only the most forested country of Europe, but it also has 187,888 lakes! They take up ten percent of the country’s surface area. Finland is the seventh-largest country in Europe and its southernmost point is equivalent in latitude to Anchorage, Alaska, or southern Greenland!

The granite outcrops are everywhere here. I’ve never seen so much granite in my life. I asked the Finns if the new temple was made from the native granite here and they said “No! It’s Italian.” I then asked them if that bothered them. They said, “Of course not! Our granite is too dark. We love the Italian granite!” I love the Finnish granite as well.

I had to be careful as I would so quickly pull off the road to shoot various scenes like this one in south central Finland. Our first full day here was completely overcast and our second day (shown here) was full of a mix of sunshine and clouds and beautiful golden light. We are so far north here and the season is so late we are shooting golden light all day long (those of you who are photographers will know what I mean by golden light). This picture was shot at 11:46 AM! That’s usually a time I would just turn off my camera for a few hours.

You remember the old saying from sailors: Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Well, for me as a photographer I can say, Red sky at morning, photographers rejoice (I really don’t have to rhyme), Red sky at night, photographers still rejoice. I loved this sunrise in the beautiful city of Rauma. You’ll come to love this place too.

I love the early morning light with a backdrop of beautiful gray and ominous clouds. It provides such a lovely contrast. I took lots of pictures of this old town hall in Rauma — we’ll show you more of the old part of this city in a later article.

We’ve been trying to learn Finnish as fast as we can so we at least find our way around. No kidding, we have found some words with more than 25 letters (that are just out on the signs around the villages!). We’ll talk more about the language in a future piece. Just know that Finnish is not an Indo-European language.

You saw this picture on the cover of today’s piece. Again, this is in the old part of the city of Rauma. We came to love this place and had a blast shooting pictures here for a couple of hours one morning this week.