24 August 2007

Eldruhjónin (The Senior Couple)

The Senior Couples. I mentioned before that Byron & Melva Geslison were the senior couple who were in Iceland when I arrived. The senior couples only served for 18 months in Iceland then and now. This first picture is of Byron about a year before I arrived. I like it in particular because it depicts the man I remember. Byron was a man who loved the Lord first and foremost. He loved his family and he loved Iceland, the land of his ancestors. He was always happy. This picture was taken during his second mission of the three. I had four months working with him and Sister Geslison and then they went home again. I really looked up to him and can remember vividly certain situations I was in with him and things he said to encourage me and strengthen my faith and desire to master the language and love the people. Sister Geslison was always at his side. Quiet, supportive, consistent.
I didn't know what to expect with the next senior couple who would be coming to Iceland. I was happy when they arrived though. They were Austin Gudmundur and Geniel Loveless from northern Utah. This picture of them was taken in the Skólavörðustíg chapel during their mission. I remember them being very hard working. Sister Loveless tried to get to know everyone and was especially good with the sisters. Elder Loveless was made District President upon his arrival and was very busy at the church coordinating and presiding. They both cared very much about the missionaries and wanted them to do their best. Elder Loveless has since passed away, but Sister Loveless still lives in northern Utah and came to our mission reunion in Provo last April with some of her family. It was great to see her again. I had only seen her once or twice since my mission, the last time being over 10 years ago. She told me the Brother Loveless had passed away on Christmas day years before. I asked her if Christmases were hard for her now because of it and she just smiled and said it was okay and that on Christmases now she pictures him teaching the gospel and doing all this work of redemption which was made possible because Jesus was born, lived, died and was resurrected. I wish I lived closer so I could take my wife and kids over to know her better.

Just a few short month before I came home, Don and Mary Dilworth came from Idaho to replace the Lovelesses in Iceland. I don't remember what Brother Dilworth did for a living, but I do remember quite well the stories he told us shortly after arriving. He apparently almost didn't make it on a mission because of some medical problems just a few weeks before they were to start their mission. The stories about the medical problems were quite graphic, so I won't go into them here but the way he told them made us laugh our heads off. Then there was the story he told us about when he was up on the mountain with his horse and he had stopped to "take care of business" and a bear came out of the trees and had him running. He told the stories as if they were just happy times from a bygone era, but we were dumbfounded at some of the things he had faced and then lived to tell about it. Sister Dilworth came with a suitcase full of vitamins and made sure we took handfuls each time we were at their apartment so we would stay strong. Some of those vitamins looked like only Brother Dilworth's horse should have been taking them, but we dutifully swallowed full handfuls.

I was not around the Dilworths much in my last few months of my mission. I was up in Akureyri and they were down in Reykjavík, so when I started hearing about Elder Dilworth's driving, the laughing ensued once again. Apparently, Elder Dilworth had a hard time with the "roundabouts" in Iceland. There was only one in Reykjavík that he faced with any regularity when driving the missionaries around occasionally in the mission van. Usually the missionaries would try to get him to take roads in a different part of town as to avoid this life-threatening spot. The roundabout had two lanes and poor Elder Dilworth could not for the life of him understand the rules of that perplexing part of the road. The end result was to watch him and the rest of the missionaries tense up as we approached it and then hope the Icelanders would be attentive enough to stay out of the way. Many of the cars in Iceland at that time had horns with different sounds. I think I learned them all in just two or three trips through that roundabout

After my mission I was blessed to teach at the MTC for two years. I was able to teach one senior couple in the MTC. They were Joe and Alene Felix. Elder Felix and my dad had known each other for years from working for CES down in southern Utah. I can't remember if this was their first or second mission, but they ended up serving a mission in Iceland, the Philippines, Hawaii (teaching at BYU-Hawaii) and New Zealand (where my sister was on a mission at the time). They then went home to southern Utah and did service missions closer to home. This picture is of them and all but two of the missionaries I taught in the MTC during the two or so years I was at BYU doing my bachelors degree. Elder Felix had some pretty funny stories to tell me in the MTC too. On occasions, Sister Felix would not be feeling well and would stay in her apartment during the evening class and he and I would talk about all kinds of things (often involving Iceland, but not always). They, too, were Saints in my eyes and I felt they should be my teachers. I just happened to know a language (to a degree) that they needed.

All fun and funny memories aside, all these senior missionaries were salt-of-the-earth people who had put everything on hold and went to serve the Lord. The senior couples I knew were only three couples of the 21 who have served there since the mission began. I met another 7 couples at the reunion in April of 2007. I'll include more photos of other couples in the future.

16 August 2007

Orðabækurnar mínar (My Dictionaries)

My dictionaries. While I was in the MTC, I remember asking my teachers where I could get the best set of Icelandic-English and English-Icelandic dictionaries for my mission. Remember, this was 23 years ago. We were given one of those little pocket dictionaries in the MTC, but I knew there had to be much better dictionaries in Iceland that I could find or order. I was told to wait until I got to Iceland to buy the dictionaries, so I did. When I arrived my trainer Dale Tanner (who is in this first picture and got a little carried away with the whipped cream) told me that all the missionaries start looking for their dictionaries by going into the old book stores all around Reykjavík and asking the owners if they had any dictionaries by a man called Geir T. Zoëga. Those were the coveted dictionaries and any missionary who had found a matching set was worshipped, or at least his dictionaries were worshipped. I'm not quite sure why we coveted these particular dictionaries so badly, especially because, since that time, some really nice dictionaries have been published that are far better with modern English equivalents than these had. The Zoëga dictionaries were published between 1900 and 1925, but we couldn't find anything better in our day. I still keep my Zoëga dictionaries in my office at BYU, but I bought a new dictionary in 2004 when I visited Iceland again for the first time since my mission. The missionaries in 2004 said that this new book was the best in its class. It cost the equivalent of $80 and has been worth its weight in gold. I used the Zoëga dictionaries for the first 18 years that I was home from my mission. I did some translating for a BYU religion professor and helped translate for General Conference for the four or five years that they did it in Salt Lake City. I used them to help me write letters and translate old Spanish Fork Icelanders' letters home to see what they had been saying to their family members back home. The problem with the dictionaries wasn't the Icelandic, but the English. It was all turn of the century English equivalents to the Icelandic words and wasn't as helpful to us who were trying to learn Icelandic in the mid 1980's. When I got this new blue dictionary, all those old Zoëga problems went away. The book was perfect for those who are learning Icelandic today. Each word had phrases attached to the definition along with showing how the verbs and nouns were inflected if they were unusual. The blue one was only an Icelandic-English dictionary and did not go the other direction, but that problem was solved a few years back too. BYU had a copy of a $250 English-Icelandic dictionary that came out while I was in Iceland in 1984. None of us could afford it though back then so we just used the Zoëgas then. I have permanently checked this one out from the library and no one has recalled it in years (go figure).

In the end though, in the absence of having a native Icelander standing next to me every day, I have these dictionaries which, altogether, give me more Icelandic than I could ever use in my conversations and letters to people. I'm sure glad there are some very educated Americans and Icelanders who put all these together. Makes it possible for the rest of us to more fully interact with the great and varied people of that far away land.

15 August 2007

Nýjustu Trúboðshjónin (The Newest Missionary Couple)

The current senior missionary couple: When I first arrived in Iceland in 1984 to start my mission there was an American man and woman there serving as a senior couple. Iceland most always has had only one senior couple at a time, on occasion two. The couple who were there when I arrived were Byron and Melva Geslison. They had been the original couple to come and start the missionary work in Iceland in 1975. Byron had Icelandic heritage and lived in Spanish Fork, Utah where the original Icelandic immigrants settle after immigrating with other LDS converts. They came for their second of three missions in mid 1983, about 15 or 16 months before I arrived. We called him President Geslison, even though he wasn't really a president. Our mission president was in Denmark but we rarely saw him so Elder Geslison was president to us. Since early 1975 there have been a total of 21 senior couples come and serve in Iceland as missionaries, a few having served two missions there. Byron & Melva were the only senior couple to serve three missions there. Arthur & Amanda Hansen from Utah and Amos R. & Helen Jackson from Utah both served two stints there.

Today, the 21st couple to serve as an LDS senior missionary couple in Iceland are Lee & Marti Wohlgemuth from Utah. The senior couples no longer get two months of language training in the MTC, but instead maybe get a week or so and then head to the island. That is okay though. The senior couples most often find that so many of the Icelanders speak English that their time is likely better spent in Iceland getting to know the people and helping them than spending a full two months in the MTC. I have been in regular contact with the Wohlgemuths and know that they are working hard, perhaps too hard. I can tell they love the Icelanders though and hope to help many of them come closer to God.

In the thirty-two years that the missionary work has been going on since 1975 there have been a few hundred baptisms. Last year (2006) the eight missionaries at the time had a record breaking year. I hope they continue to have great years like that. Some of the individuals and families who have been baptized have moved out of the capital city, Reykjavík, onto farms and into villages around the island. Some are not able to have much contact with the main branches of the Church in Reykjavík. To help diminish the consequences of this distance many feel from the Church, the Wohlgemuths went on a ferðalag (trip) around the island to visit many of the far-flung members. This picture is of Marta María Friðþjófsdóttir and her daughter Ásta María Ásgeirsdóttir. They live on a farm in Litluhlíð which is about 20 miles south of Varmahlíð. I know that doesn't help much, even for missionaries, since few if any of us ever passed through that area for any reason. The Wohlgemuths visited about 13 or so individuals or families on their trip and had sacrament meetings with some. Others they gave out new Church materials and books in Icelandic so they could feel somewhat connected to the main body of the Church. They saw some beautiful parts of the island at a beautiful time of year. As I think back through my life, I can think of more than 30 separate senior couples who have had at least some positive impact on my life. They do a service in the field that the younger missionaries can not. Ég, sem einstaklingur, er þakkláltur fyrir þjónustu hverrar hjóna sem hafa þjónað þar (I, for one, am thankful for the service of each of the couples who have served there). I think all of us who are LDS should not just think about serving after we retire, but make plans now so that we are ready financially and spiritually. Imagine what could be done by the young RM's who go back after retirement with all their language abilities coming back to them....

14 August 2007

Önnur Tilraun (Second Attempt)

Second Attempt: There is a woman that I work with indirectly here at BYU who has a blog that I found out about not too long ago. She is helping me get this one all set up. There's not too much to figure out, so I don't think it will be too hard to master the process.

I mentioned before that I come into contact with most of the former missionaries who served in Iceland. There have been about 158 who have ever served there since the mission opened in 1975. I know where about 90% of them are currently. I will try to mention one or so each day that I post something. About a week ago one of the older RM's who served in the late 70's was in the Provo area and asked if he could stop by while he was here. His name is Jim Erdmann. We have been in contact for some time by email since I had been involved with planning the first mission reunion ever for those who had served in Iceland. He and his family live in Washington state and were out to visit family. I invited him to my office so he dropped by. He came with his daughter, Kellie. I got a picture while he was here with his daughter. He apologized for not having shaved that morning, which people tell me from time to time when they come up to BYU and visit me. He served from 1978 to 1980. That was back when the mission had only been open for three years. They didn't have a Book of Mormon in Icelandic back then and were just getting pamphlets put together. So the mission was much harder than what I faced when I was there in 1984 to 1986.

I have a photo album that was given to me over a year ago. It was put together over quite a few years by Klara Gunnarsdóttir who was very involved with the missionaries in the early days. She thought someone else should have the book now and could make more use of it. I inherited it so I have lots of pictures of many of the missionaries who served in the early days, back before Iceland's crust had cooled. This second picture is of Jim's wedding announcement. A bit of a difference in 30 years' time. He is an avionics system engineer and works in a Boeing plant. I have been amazed over the last two years at what a variety of jobs the RM's who served in Iceland have ended up with. We have a few doctors, lots of dentists, some pharmacists, a motivational speaker, entrepreneurs, etc. Jim was fun to talk to and described a mission similar to mine, but with quite a smaller group of members in the beginning.

13 August 2007

Handing it Over

As it turns out, Uncle Dale is now Bishop Dale and does not have the time that he had originally hoped to contribute regularly to this blog about Iceland and it's missionaries. He handed the reins over to me last week in hopes that I would be able to post things about Iceland and the missionaries more regularly. Hopefully I will post things that are interesting to you who have served as missionaries there. I will post things that are currently happening with folks in Iceland as well as a few things about my work here at BYU. I am in charge of the International Admissions Office at BYU. The picture you see here is of me and my boss, George Vaieland. He just retired two weeks ago and I took his place. He was at the university for 33 years. I see lots of people in my office from all over the world since I work in the International Admissions Office at BYU. Anyone who applies from Iceland comes through my office. Currently Friðrik Guðmundsson is the only Icelander on campus right now, but others like Unnur Ólafsdóttir and Þórbergur Sigurjónsson have been on campus recently. I see Friðrik about three times a month when he drops by. He teaches Icelandic on campus, so if any of you are in the area and want to take a class from him, I'm sure he would love it. There are never enough people taking his classes. We could use more who are passionate about Iceland.