Merike Pajula, Finnish nursing student, made the life-altering decision to be baptized after meeting BYU nursing students. Adjunct professor Curt Newman flew out to Finland to perform the baptism. Photo courtesy of Pajula.
By Quincey Taylor
One of the first things Merike Pajula noticed about the professors and students from BYU was their warm presence. They had a light in their eyes. A light which she later discovered stemmed from the gospel of Jesus Christ. D&C 88:11 reads, “And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings.” This light, which shines in each of the BYU nursing students, can bring about miracles wherever they go.
Pajula attended church during her childhood, but as she grew up she fell out of activity. She always felt different from her peers and says, “It was difficult for me to make friends, and those that I had led their lives differently from mine.” She made personal choices to live high standards, a reason why she later connected so well with BYU students.
In 2018, she met the BYU students on the Finland section of the clinical practicum for the public and global health nursing course in the city of Savonlinna. They were the first Americans she had ever seen. “I felt nervous,” she reflects, “but excited.” They had previously met over Skype, but this was the first time seeing each other in person.
From the first day Pajula met the students, she decided she wanted to do an exchange program to BYU. “There was no other option I would have preferred,” she says. She approached BYU adjunct professor Curt Newman and associate teaching professor Dr. Leslie Miles to talk about the possibility. Pajula remembers, “The two teachers were so friendly and welcoming. The moment I met them, they had a sense of peace and warmth around them.”
After the BYU students and faculty left, Pajula stayed in contact online. They communicated for a full year, discussing how she could come to BYU, until the 2019 nursing students group came to Finland. Pajula had the chance to spend more time with the students this year and ask them questions regarding their religion.
She found a community with the BYU students with which she connected. She says, “I felt like I had finally found people I understand and people who understand me. I had very warm feelings from the time we had spent time together.”
Pajula stayed in contact with Newman for a long time, and he answered all her questions from where to travel while visiting the United States to details of the Plan of Salvation. They became friends. Newman had fostered a love for the Finnish people since he had served a mission there as a youth. Eventually, Newman offered to connect Pajula with the missionaries in her hometown.
Pajula reflects, “I jumped at the opportunity, and the next day my phone was ringing. The missionaries were calling me. We set up a time and day, when they would come and visit me. When they arrived I felt so excited, but at the same time they had so much peace and positivity around them. I was in a hard place in my life, but I felt motivated afterwards to perform and to get my things in order.”
As a curious person, Pajula researched to find more information about the church online. She found plenty of information – both positive and negative. The missionaries answered all of her questions and helped her feel peace regarding her questions. She says, “I am glad I got to find information from both sides and eventually I got to make up my own mind about which way I feel about the church.”
One of the lasting impressions that helped Pajula in these moments of doubt was the example of the BYU students. She says, “I remembered how much I admired the commitment and the determination of the BYU students I met. Religion was so important for them and it made a positive impact in their lives.”
As time went on, Pajula saw a change in herself and in her lifestyle. She remarks, “I realized that the church can offer me more then what I expected. It offered me a chance to repent for all my sins and to start over in my life. To learn to respect myself and to try to be more considerate to my fellow man. From that moment on, I was sold.”
Pajula finally took the step and booked a baptism date in January 2020 with the sister missionaries. It was really important for her to have Newman attend and perform the baptism. She says, “[Curt] taught me so much about the church and encouraged me to better my life. I couldn’t be more grateful to have him in my life.” He promptly booked the flight and was there for her special day. It was a moment that touched her heart, one that she will never forget.
Newman performed the baptism, sealing their friendship. Photo courtesy of Newman.
Pajula feels she has gone through a transformation and has finally started the road towards becoming the person she always wanted to be. Meeting her local ward has added new friendships to her life and has given her an opportunity to serve others. She says, “My circle is finally full. I said goodbye to the old me and I greeted my new life with open arms.” Even though her family was initially unsupportive of her decision, they changed their minds when they saw how positively the baptism had impacted her life.
Pajula’s new ward family is ecstatic to add her to the fold. Photo courtesy of Newman.
They celebrated with Finnish foods and snacks. Photo courtesy of Newman.
Pajula looks forward to the future and says, “I feel like, I have grown so much and have begun to understand myself, while trying to get into the habit of studying the scriptures daily. There is still so much to learn and it has been truly a culture shock. Even though I have been baptized, I still struggle with faith. However, knowing that God is up there watching over us encourages me to go through the difficult times so I could share the sunny moments with the people that I love and care about.”