The Rev. Aarno Haho, a Lutheran minister and retired dean of a Christian school in Finland, and his wife Terttu spent several days visiting the Laestadian Lutheran Church in Brainerd this week.
The couple is in the seventh week of touring Laestadian parishes in the United States and Canada. The Rev. Haho spoke at services held at the Brainerd church Monday and Tuesday.
The Hahos' visit, said senior pastor Howard Parks of the Brainerd Laestadian church, is part of an exchange program between the American Laestadian Lutheran Congregation and its sister organization in Finland, the SRK (Suomen Rauhanyhdistykson Keskusyhdistys), which roughly translates to central organization in Finland.
The Brainerd church typically receives visiting pastors and ministers from Finland twice a year. Parks has visited Finland, as well, as part of the program. In 1995, he spent five weeks in Finland and one week in Sweden on a ministerial speaking tour.
The Hahos arrived in Toronto on Jan. 28, from their home in Kempele, Finland. They flew from Toronto to Florida on Feb. 1, and since then have also visited Laestadian parishes in Phoenix; Detroit; Seattle; Spokane; Vancouver, B.C.; Saskatchewan; and other parts of Minnesota before coming to Brainerd.
In an interview with the Hahos, Pauline Leppa, a member of the Brainerd Laestadian Church, acted as translator; Terttu contributed some responses in English.
The Rev. Haho recently retired from his position as dean of Opisto folk high school, one of 90 such boarding schools in Finland, one-third of which are Lutheran, and three of those, Laestadian. Fifteen years ago, Leppa spent a year teaching at one of the Finnish Opisto Lutheran schools.
In addition to serving as principal of the Opisto school, Haho taught religion classes to the students and led worship services. Terttu taught classes on Finnish language and culture.
Students at the Opisto school, who range from 16 to 20, often come from other countries. Some are American, some Canadian, some Swedish, and others Russian, German, Japanese and Hungarian. While on their current North American tour, the Hahos have seen a number of former students now living in the United States and Canada. These "foreign" students learn much about the Finnish culture, and in turn, "students who are Fins learn about these cultures and languages," the Hahos said.
"The main goal of the school is transitioning into adulthood, and assistance in that," they said. "In addition, it gives skills and knowledge. All of this takes place in the spirit of the Bible, using the gospel of the forgiveness of sins."
The Lutheran church's presence is strong in Finland. About 92 percent of Finland's population of 5.5 million are Lutheran. The other faiths the Hahos listed, which make up the remaining 8 percent of organized religions, are Catholic Greek Orthodox, Mormon, Pentecostal and Jehovah's Witness. In Finland, church and state are not separated as they are here, Leppa said.
The Laestadian order of the Lutheran church originated approximately 150 years ago, with the Rev. Lars Levi Laestadius, a northern Norwegian pastor.
"When he (Laestadius) was a pastor in Sweden, he recognized his own sinfulness," Leppa said, interpreting for the Rev. Haho. "There in Lapland he met a certain young woman, and she explained to him that a person can be saved, and explained to him the way of salvation, and proclaimed to him the gospel. ... The Laestadians called her Mary of Lapland. This happened in 1844. Then from this, when Laestadius received peace unto his soul, the Laestadian movement began.
"It's very difficult for them to explain Laestadianism. It's so well known in Finland ..." said Leppa on behalf of the Hahos. "When you think of what effect it (the new Laestadian movement) had on people, it had the effect that the use of alcohol was all but banished and those who'd stolen reindeer returned them."
On Wednesday, the Hahos left for Virginia, Minn., and from Virginia will go to Thunder Bay, Ontario; Michigan's Upper Peninsula; and, finally, to Connecticut. On April 1, the couple will return to Finland, and to their 14 children -- seven boys and seven girls -- all of whom live in their home country. And all of whom will no doubt be anxiously awaiting details on all of the new, and renewed, Laestadian connections and friends made in America by the senior Hahos.
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