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OBC’s 2017 Icelandic Mission Trip

Shine in dark

For the last two years, Occoquan Bible Church has supported Loftstofan Baptist Church and the ministry of Gunnar Ingi Gunnarsson. This fall was our first of what we hope is many mission trips to Iceland. In what follows, Gary, with a few editorial remarks from David, reports on the happenings of the week. Hopefully it makes sense who’s talking.

The Mission. Our primary goal of the week was to encourage Gunnar, his family, and the believers we met in Iceland. One of the ways we did this was through Pastor David's teaching class; another was to observe the local church there and learn how we might come alongside the gospel labors on future trips. In this way, the trip served as a vision trip, as well as a ministry of encouragement.

The Flight Over. We spent the first day (Monday) with Gunnar, visiting his office and getting settled into Iceland. Because we took an overnight flight, we were too tired to be of any real value that day. So we got settled in our rental, took a nap, and found our way to the grocery. Thankfully, Gary’s familiarity with Iceland made the trips in and around Reykjavik rather uneventful.

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Visiting Reykjavik. Gary’s familiarity with Iceland was most evident as we drove around the downtown of Reykjavik, a city of 280,000 people situated on the Southeast coast of Iceland. On Tuesday, we drove around; we visited Hallgrimskirjka—the iconic Lutheran church in downtown Reykjavik; we ate an Icelandic hot dog, well actually more than one; and we ate dinner with Gunnar and his family. This was a great time to meet our friends who we often only see on Facebook.

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Akureyri. Wednesday, we scheduled a visit to a handful of believers struggling up in Akureyri. It was about a 5-hour drive north from Reykjavik. We used that time in our tiny clown car to share stories, perspectives on life, testimonies, and Godly living. It was a joy for David and I to get to know one another better through this trip and through the whole week. For those considering a short term mission trip in the future, this is always one of the greatest “fringe benefits”—getting to know better the brothers and sisters who travel with you.

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Borganes. On the long drive to Akureyri, we also stopped about an hour north of Reykjavik in a town called Borganes. The visit was with some sweet friends of Veronika and I. They were very hospitable, giving us coffee and Icelandic donuts. After an hour of lively conversation, we got back on the road to Akureyri.

Encouraging Two Downcast Saints. Upon our arrival to Akureyri, we met with a young lady named Christine and her uncle, whose name is still something of a mystery to us—Auchrey? The Uncle, we’ll call him, shared with us the struggles of his Christian ministry there, and the summer camps they held each year. Many events seemed to unfold with several stories all pointing back to one particular issue, homosexuality. Icelanders hang their hat on how "progressive" they are in embracing the LGBT community. Such affirmation is so great, that once they hear you are not an avid supporter of this world view, they stop listening. We also heard how the believers there do meet each week, but need a better place to do it, and with greater instruction. They also need a way to be able to share their testimony with others. I learned that Icelanders do not generally ask each other about their personal testimony, even within the local church. Humorously, this was about 20 minutes after we had asked Christine how she came to know the Lord. Christine is a student in the University there, and was meeting with Agape (the European arm of Campus Crusade for Christ). They are hoping to get the ministry started on campus there. Please pray for this effort, that God's blessing may be poured out on an area that needs it so very much. In our time with these two saints, we opened God's Word with them and reminded them of their position in Christ—something “coincidentally” that the Agape worker had shared earlier in the day. After a time in the Word, we went to a Thai Restaurant—who knew, Thai food in Iceland??—and made the long voyage home, arriving back in Reykjavik about 2:30 AM.

A Rest Day. After a late night, Thursday was primarily a recovery day and a chance to get ready for the weekend teaching. In these off hours, David stopped in at a Panera-like bakery, Gary visited Veronika’s family, and both enjoyed Icelandic coffee.

A Pastor’s Lunch. Several U.S. pastors came to Iceland to learn how they might join the work of the gospel. On their first day, Friday, we met for lunch, where we met Pastor Helgi from Filadelfia Church. Helgi leads an English speaking service at Filadelfia, a local charismatic church. It was encouraging to here of his faith in Christ and his desire to share the gospel with others. This lunch afforded us a chance to hear about the challenges Icelandic Christians face, but it also gave us a chance to hear of their ministries. For instance, at that lunch Mike Fitzgerald, the founder of Lindin Icelandic Christian Radio, shared with us his vision for ministry in Iceland. Recently, Mike stepped down from his work at the radio station, a ministry that he had been at for 25 years. In short, the afternoon gave us a perspective from those who had been doing the Lord’s work in the trenches.

Teaching Time. On Friday night we began our teaching lessons. Gary manned the camera; David did the teaching. And together, we had a great time walking through the main storyline of the Old Testament. The material was The Drama of Scripture and many questions arose from the group, including on free will and Calvinism, which prompted the need for a couple blog posts while in Iceland. Amazingly, the man who asked the question about free will also made the connection with Gary that his sister lives in Manassas. This prompted a flurry of picture-sharing, including one from the Kolomichuk’s house, where this man’s sister was visiting with them.

Leg of Lamb. After the teaching on Saturday, we rejoined the pastors and several of the Loftstofan believers for a special meal prepared by Gunnar's mother. It was absolutely delicious! Leg of lamb, brown gravy, sugar brown potatoes, peas, corn, and several delectable desserts. All in all, it was a glorious time sharing a meal with brothers and sisters in Christ from so many different backgrounds—some of the pastors on the Icelandic vision trip shepherd Hispanic congregations in the States.

Church. Sunday morning we slowed down to have breakfast, and went to worship with Gunnar at what was to be his last service at the downtown location. They had been blessed with a larger facility closer to Gunnar’s home, which will afford them greater ministry in the years to come. Our worship time was such a sweet time! It made Gary’s eyes a bit sweaty to hear the voices of so many pastors praising the Lord in such a dark land. Then, Sunday evening we finished up on the classes there, and returned home late that evening to pack up.

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Our Final Goodbyes. Monday we stopped over at Gunnar's home in the morning, and then went over to see the new church location. It is a fantastic site. We then went with the entire group of pastors to a pizza and ice cream shop in Keflavik. If you didn’t know this, Icelanders love ice cream. We had a short lunch together, said our goodbyes to each other and to Gunnar and made our trek to the Airport.

The Greatest Need (Right Now). All in all, we were reminded of the spiritual condition of Iceland. The nation is in dire need of the gospel and the work Gunnar has taken on. And he needs, in turn, a large amount of assistance. I would say his greatest need is someone to come alongside him to handle administration. He needs someone to help coordinate the many visitors, and the various details of the ministry there so he can focus more on the Word and his family that so desperately need his attention right now. Please pray for the Lord to raise up laborers around him, especially someone who might join him in the work. We were encouraged to learn of some potential helpers in this endeavor, but we need to keep praying for him and this labor.

A Learning Lesson. I see major differences between the churches here in the US and there in Iceland. Here in the United States, we are a bit more fickle when it comes to who we fellowship and worship with. We are too easily offended by a viewpoint that may be different from our own. It would be quite unlikely for us to have a joint venture with our more "charismatic" brothers here, and yet in Iceland our first speaker was just that—a charismatic committed to sharing the gospel. This is a great reminder, when you are in a place where darkness prevails, you sense more acutely who your family in Christ is. In such a context, Christians celebrate each other’s victories, and mourn each other’s losses regardless of denominational differences. By contrast in our country, since we have such a broad number and range of churches here, we tend to strain a gnat out of our soup and will give up on each other rather than press into each other as we have observed during this trip. Icelandic Christians are thankful that there is any soup at all. While I believe we need to live by our convictions, I also believe we will all get to heaven one day and find out that we were wrong about several things we believed to be true. The command for Christ’s Church to live in unity and forgiveness far outweighs our personal feelings about anything else. We are His witnesses here on this earth and the world watches. Nobody has all spiritual truth figured out except Him to whom we worship. My prayer for us is that we can be shoulder to shoulder, in this together as a church FAMILY, and talk to each other. Communicate! Don't live in your own bubble. Satan separates and divides. The Lord unifies and strengthens.