Being Church in the Land of Fire and Ice
Being Church in the Land of Fire and Ice
It was already dark when we met pastor Gunnar Gunnarson and his family on Saturday evening in front of our hotel in Reykjavik. Jan Saethre, the EBF Chair of Finances, his wife Kari and I had come to meet the Baptist church here in Iceland, just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle. In spite of short winter days and long dark hours, our time in Iceland was enlightened by warm welcomes and enriching experiences.
Iceland is a fascinating country. Out in the Atlantic Ocean far from the mainland Europe, you can see the wonders of God’s creation – open landscapes with lava fields, snow covered volcanic mountains, erupting geysers, spectacular waterfalls. And horses, many horses, which is one of the symbols of the country. One of my friends when she heard that I was in Iceland, said: “Iceland is so mystical and powerful with its raw forces of nature. Being in Iceland is like standing in the midst of Genesis 1.”
Being a predominantly Lutheran country, there are only a few free churches in Iceland. One of them is the Loftstofan (Eng. ‘Upper Room’) Baptist Church. The church was established five years ago on August 18, 2013. One of the founders is Gunnar.
Over dinner Gunnar and his wife Svava shared with us their own story which is interwoven with the story of the Loftstofan Baptist Church. Gunnar’s desire was to help people to understand the message of the Gospel so they started gathering people in their home. Since then the church has grown and developed. Today there are two worship services on Sundays, one in English and one in Icelandic, and several other gatherings during the week.
The worship service in English is attended mainly by young people. There are students who have come to study in Iceland, and others who have come to work there. After the service we sat around the lunch table with people from Germany, Canada, Northern Ireland and Lithuania. In our conversation together they all shared how grateful they are for the church fellowship that helps them to grow in their faith and also to find friends and settle in in a new country.
The Loftstofan Baptist Church is housed in a beautiful church building looking over the lake and the mountains. Gunnar is the pastor, and Svava leads worship. This Sunday they spent the whole day in the church – two worship services, lunch between the services which was prepared by Gunnar’s mother, and members meeting together with an Icelandic outside barbeque in the evening. It is perhaps the only church in the world that celebrates God’s creation to such an extent then even a couple of minus degrees don’t hinder them having a barbeque outside!
As a church, their aim is to glorify God in everything they do, and to be faithful to Jesus’ call to preach the Gospel and make disciples. To do this, they work on connecting people with the community of believers, help them to grow in faith, and equip them to live out the gospel in their daily life. In coming spring, they hope to start a new church with a help of a missionary couple from America.
Gunnar’s and Svava’s commitment to their church and its people is remarkable. And this in spite of the hardships they are facing as a family. A day before we arrived in Iceland, their six year old son Mikael finished a 2,5-year chemotherapy treatment to fight leukemia. Their youngest son Solómon was born with a disability and needs special care. Their three year old daughter Sigurrós plays her part in sharing her love and care with her more vulnerable brothers. Despite these painful experiences it was inspiring to see the way in which Gunnar and Svava embody a real trust in God’s love and grace for their family.
Icelanders are resilient people. The surrounding sea, windy open fields and erupting volcanoes have strengthened their resistance to hardships and their capability to face the challenges. And even more, in the midst of an unpredictable environment they have learned to recognise and appreciate God’s grace and live it out for others.
And so the Kingdom of God continues to grow in the Land of Fire and Ice.
Photos: Jan Saethre