Portraits

By


Anna-Liisa Rinne: Saint from Suomi

While tracting in Helsinki, Finland, in the spring of 1960, two missionaries knocked at a door. The woman who answered angrily told them that if they were there to talk about a church, she didn’t want anything to do with it. But to the missionaries’ surprise, as soon as the woman heard the Church’s name, she opened the door and invited them in.

The woman was Anna-Liisa Rinne. A pediatrician, she was also divorced and the mother of four children. At the door, she suddenly remembered reading a newspaper article in 1946 when Elder Ezra Taft Benson had visited Finland to dedicate the country for missionary work. “I remembered the Church’s long and peculiar name in Finnish,” she recalls. “I had thought then that if there was a true church in the world, it must be that one.”

The missionaries taught her about the Book of Mormon, and the gospel message seemed familiar to her. She continued to receive the missionaries when she moved from Helsinki to Kuopio. But when they talked to her about baptism, she asked them to stop coming. “I was afraid of people’s opinions,” she explains. “In my professional circles, belonging to a religious group was not considered acceptable. I didn’t want to be different.”

But she finally attended church, and soon the missionaries were teaching her again. “When I stopped drinking coffee, I received a testimony,” she says. “I knew that the Church was true, and I had to join it.”

Three of her four children joined the Church with her. Sister Rinne’s daughter, Kaarina Merenluoto, says that joining the Church brought changes in their family life. “Mother seemed much closer to us. We talked together more,” she says. “Arguments between us brothers and sisters decreased. It is difficult to explain what happened, but the whole atmosphere in the home changed.”

Sister Rinne soon became a central figure in the Kuopio Branch. She served as Relief Society president while the branch was building a chapel. Because she was the only one in the branch with a driver’s license at the time, she had to take care of business with the hardware supplier and oversee the delivery of lunches to the construction workers. For a while, she had her medical office at the Church construction site.

“As the chapel was being built, she did all kinds of work and climbed the highest scaffolds,” remembers Anna-Kaarina Roto, a former branch member. “Later, after the chapel was completed, members took turns cleaning it. Seeing how conscientiously Sister Rinne swept the floor when it was her turn, no one dared to complain about his or her own turn.”

Sister Rinne also served as Young Women leader for several years. One of the young women she taught, Raili Jouttenus, remembers Sister Rinne as “a legendary teacher” whose teachings remain vivid even after twenty years. “The doors to her house were always open, and she had time to listen to our questions,” says Sister Jouttenus. “She showed that she believed in the youth.”

Missionary work has also been an important part of Sister Rinne’s life. She served twice as a district missionary after she moved to Jyvaskyla. Kerttu Harinen, one of Sister Rinne’s companions, recalls that Sister Rinne helped her “receive courage” in doing missionary work. “We had asked if we could practice our missionary discussions with a family whose father did not belong to the Church,” she says. “As a result of our practice, the father of the family was baptized.”

In 1974, Sister Rinne retired from her work as a doctor, and in 1975 she left for a health mission to Samoa. Before she left Samoa, she had received another mission call—to Tonga. While in the Pacific area, Sister Rinne had many faith-promoting experiences.

When she first arrived in Tonga, hardly knowing the language, she was sent to speak at a meeting in a village. She had a ten-minute talk written, but she learned that she was to be the only speaker for an hour-long meeting. “I was horrified in the face of this assignment,” she recalls. “As I was sitting there afraid, I heard clearly the words: ‘But I am here.’ All fear vanished, and I spoke for the whole hour.”

In 1978, Sister Rinne returned home to Finland, only to receive yet another mission call—to Scotland as a proselyting missionary, where she had several young companions. Because she was the senior companion, she prepared breakfast while her companions studied the discussions—until they had them learned. “I always made Finnish oatmeal for breakfast, so those American girls learned the discussions very fast,” says Sister Rinne, laughing.

Her mission was interrupted after eleven months because of health reasons. But in 1982, after twice serving as a volunteer worker in the Swiss Temple, she was called to a temple mission in Switzerland, where she assisted the temple matron.

After returning to Finland, Sister Rinne began work on an assignment she had received even before she was called to do temple work—writing a history of the Church in Finland. But before the history was finished, she accepted another call to serve—this time in the Stockholm Temple.

Besides missionary and temple work, Sister Rinne also enjoys a variety of hobbies. Last summer she taught almost all of her sixteen grandchildren to surf. She owns a small sailboat and has passed a course to obtain an international sailing permit. She also plans to take a diving course and to learn pistol shooting.

Unusual activities for a grandmother? She doesn’t think so. “I have continually sought my own identity in all phases of my life,” she says. “Who and what am I? In some ways, I have been a very lonely person, but this has forced me to seek the Lord. I have had to depend on him many times, and I have always received help from him.”

[photo] Anna-Liisa Rinne has been a prominent Church member in Finland for several decades. She has served five missions and has learned to rely on the Lord in all phases of her life. (Photo courtesy of Church News.)

Marja-Leena Kiviniemi is a journalist and translator. She serves as public communications director for the Tampere Finland Stake.