Anna-Liisa Rinne: Finding Her Life through Service


A pediatrician and single mother turns her life to missionary service.

Two missionaries tracting in Helsinki, Finland, in the spring of 1960 met an angry woman when they knocked at one door. She told them that if they were there to talk about a church, she didn’t want anything to do with it. One of the missionaries put his foot in the door in order to finish explaining that they represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To the missionaries’ surprise, as soon as the woman heard the name of the Church, she opened the door and invited them in. So began a conversion that has touched the lives of many people in many countries.

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

A Doctor with Childlike Faith

The missionaries taught her about the Book of Mormon. Anna-Liisa Rinne believed. In fact, she says, “I believed in such a childlike way that the next day I asked my colleagues at work whether they had heard that the origin of the American Indians had been discovered.” When she told them about the Book of Mormon, they all laughed at her. “For the first time I noticed that something exceptional was happening to me,” she recalls.

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

But the matter kept bothering her until she finally went to a Church meeting. Soon the missionaries were coming again. “When I stopped drinking coffee, I received a testimony. I knew that the Church was true, and I had to join it.”

Three of her four children joined the Church with her, and all of them are still active Latter-day Saints. “When I was first being taught, the children would laugh behind the door. After I received my own testimony of the gospel, I got them to promise that they would listen to one discussion. I told the missionaries that they had better be good, because the children had promised to listen just this once. The elders prepared a very fine flannel-board presentation, after which the children promised that they would also join the Church. It is true, though, that the youngest son, Eikki, later said the reason he joined the Church was that his mother told him to,” Sister Rinne says, laughing.

Sister Rinne’s daughter, Kaarina Merenluoto, remembers that joining the Church changed their family life greatly. “Mother seemed much closer to us; we talked together more. She even looked quite a bit younger. Guests began to visit us, whereas before we had lived a fairly isolated life. Often the whole branch would meet at our place, as we had a large apartment, and we made many friends. Arguments between us brothers and sisters decreased. It is difficult to explain just what happened, but the whole atmosphere in the home changed.”

Helping Build a Chapel

In the Kuopio Branch, Anna-Liisa Rinne soon became a central figure. She was Relief Society president while the branch was building a chapel, and she also served as interpreter and messenger for the construction supervisor. “At that time, I was the only one in the branch with a driver’s license,” she explains. “Therefore I had to take care of business with the hardware supplier. At the same time, I had to oversee the delivery of lunches to the construction workers.” For a while, the hospital’s pediatrician was “on call” at the church construction site.

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

As a Young Women leader for years, Anna-Liisa Rinne had an enduring influence on the lives of many girls. One of those young women, Raili Jouttenus, now the wife of the bishop of the Tampere Ward, remembers, “Sister Rinne was a legendary teacher. I remember many of her talks and teachings vividly, even now after twenty years. She really cared about us young people. The doors to her house were always open, and she had time to listen to our questions, which were sometimes rather silly. In dealing with youth, she followed Joseph Smith’s concept: teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves. She never forced us into doing anything, but rather she was warm and encouraging. She showed that she believed in the youth, but she never compromised her correct principles. If something was wrong, she said so clearly.”

Sister Rinne also remembers her work with the Young Women fondly. “Many of the youth were the only members of the Church in their families and schools, and they had a very strong faith and testimony. We started to organize youth temple excursions in Kuopio, and the spiritual experiences we had on those trips were the best rewards of those years.”

Serving Many Missions

Missionary work has been an important part of Sister Rinne’s life in many ways, although she did not at first expect that it would be. “When I returned home from the baptismal service, I thought, ‘Well, I have done the right thing in joining this church, but I will never tell anyone.’ But when we arrived home, Heikki changed his clothes and ran to tell all the neighbors that we were Mormons now,” Sister Rinne remembers, smiling.

Sister Rinne received her first missionary assignments after she moved to Jyväskylä, where she served twice as a district missionary. “In those days there were so many baptisms in Jyväskylä you could hear the roar of the water,” she recalls. “The Lord just sent us the people who were ready to hear the gospel.”

One of Anna-Liisa Rinne’s companions as a district missionary was Sister Kerttu Harinen, who has many good memories of that time. “Sister Rinne was my first companion in missionary work. I myself was still a little timid. I grew at her side and received courage enough to serve as a district missionary for many years afterwards. Our first investigator was baptized before we had been companions one month. We had asked that we could practice our missionary discussions with a family whose father did not belong to the Church. So it happened that as the result of our ‘practice’ the father of the family was baptized.”

In 1974, Anna-Liisa Rinne retired from her work as a doctor. In January 1975, she left for an eighteen-month health mission to Samoa. “Up to that point in life I had imagined that I was something of an important person. But a missionary is on one of the lowest steps in society, something like a private in the army,” she explains. Finding her own sense of worth was an important lesson of that experience.

Even before leaving Samoa, Sister Rinne received a new mission call to Tonga. An important experience there was getting to know her mission president, Tonga Toutai Paletu‘a, now president of the temple. “He was a man who performed one or two miracles every day. His absolute faith and positive attitude were a great example to everyone,” Anna-Liisa Rinne recalls.

During her time as a missionary in the Pacific area, Sister Rinne experienced many miraculous testimonies of the nearness of Heavenly Father. When she arrived in Tonga, hardly knowing the language at all, she was sent to speak in a certain village. In her pocket she had a ten-minute talk written on paper. But when she arrived, she learned that she was to be the only speaker for an hour-long meeting. “I was horrified in the face of this assignment. 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, Anna-Liisa Rinne returned home to Finland, only to receive another mission call. In 1979 she left for Scotland as a proselyting missionary. “I had only young companions, and I was their trainer. We had a rule that the senior companion had to prepare breakfast until the junior companion learned the discussions. I always made Finnish oatmeal for breakfast, so these American girls learned the discussions very fast,” says Sister Rinne, laughing. For health reasons, she had to interrupt the mission after eleven months, but this did not mean a slowdown in her activity—just the opposite.

After twice serving as a volunteer temple worker in the Swiss Temple, she received a 1982 call to a temple mission. “It was valuable to me to work with older people who have had a long experience in life and to try every day to be pure in heart.” Then she was called as a counselor to the temple matron. “After completing my mission I still went back to work in the temple, and I would probably have stayed who knows how long, except that it was difficult to take care of my health there,” Sister Rinne says.

After returning from Switzerland to Finland, Anna-Liisa Rinne became involved with an assignment she had received even before she was called to temple work, writing a history of the Church in Finland. But before the work was finished a call came again—this time to the Stockholm Temple.

If Anna-Liisa Rinne’s work career has been exceptionally varied and broad, her hobbies have not quite been ordinary either. This grandmother of sixteen likes surfing, and last summer she taught almost all her grandchildren to surf. She also owns a small sailboat, and has passed a coast-guard class which finally resulted in an international sailing permit. A diving class and pistol shooting are still in her plans.

Looking back over her life to this point, Sister Rinne says, “I have continually sought my own identity in all phases of my life: who and what am I?” It is the gospel that has provided the answers to Sister Rinne’s quest. “In some ways, I have been a very lonely person, but this has forced me to seek Christ for protection. I have had to depend on him many times, and I have always received help from him,” she says.

In return, Anna-Liisa Rinne has been ready to serve wherever the Lord has needed her. And in so doing, she has verified Christ’s words: “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ron Peterson

Marja-Leena Kiviniemi, mother of five children, is a journalist, translator, and public communications director of the Tampere Finland Stake.