31 December 2007

Erfitt verk á Íslandi (A Difficult Work in Iceland)

A difficult work in Iceland. I used to feel bad on my mission at times because I found myself marking off the days on the calendar during certain months. The weather was bad, we spent most of our time tracting, lots of people were rude to us when we knocked on their doors, etc. But then as I have started to get in contact with a number of the missionaries who had served before me, I began to realize how easy I had it--comparably.

Two or three years ago I began to compile a list of all the missionaries who had ever served in Iceland from 1975 to present. I now have contact information for over 90% of the 160 missionaries who have ever served, including the 19 or so senior couples who have served in that time. Eventually we had our first mission reunion where we invited all the missionaries we could find of the 160. About half who ever served came to the dinner in April 2007 held at BYU. To get everyone there I did a lot of emailing and calling to help everyone know about the details and be there if they could.

After the dinner and program were over, we all went our separate ways. I then started to get emails from missionaries who had served in all eras of the mission. Some had attended the reunion, others had not. One or two of the emails struck me. One was from a fellow who had served early on when there was no Book of Mormon in Icelandic, no missionary tracts to hand out, nothing. He told me that even though he couldn't come to the reunion, because of my sending him out emails and photos of those who came, he had for the first time contacted some of his old companions from 30 years ago. Apparently some of the early missionaries had had such an exremely difficult time serving in the beginning that they still had emotional scars from that period. But the option of a reunion for the first time for just those who had served in Iceland (we didn't fit in with the Danish mission reunions, even though that, technically was our mission) had brought some together, at least by email, who had for years been blocking out the pain or at least the extreme difficulty of those years. These first two pictures are of one of the early missionaries, Mike Little, who survived those tough first few years with a number of others. The second picture is of him and his wife. The are Canadians and were only prevented from coming to the missionary reunion because their grandchild was being born that same day (and grandchildren always take priority over mission reunions).

I don't think that I would be able to find a single missionary who served in Iceland who would not say that there were some extremely challenging times while serving there. I suppose if we had had more people interested in our message then those times would have been fewer. One of the recently returned missionaries was Gayle Waters (at left). He got home a few months ago and visited me in my office. I always get their pictures when I meet them. "Waters" will be heading back into active duty in the military for two years and then possibly coming back to BYU for school. He had some really tough times on his mission, just like we all did there. But there were incredible times as well with lots of people that he ended up loving.
In the end it matters who you serve, not where. I had a friend serve in Hawaii with another in the Marshall Islands. They didn't have the cold, snowy weather, but they had their own problems. And just like it says in the Book of Mormon, there must be opposition in all things. If not we would not be able to learn to choose between right and wrong or understand the difference between joy and misery. When it is eight below on the Celcius scale in Iceland you can be pretty miserable, but if there is no wind that day, s-allright. The glass is more than half full.

28 December 2007

Númer trúboðanna á Íslandi (The Number of Missionaries in Iceland)

The number of missionaries in Iceland. I got another old slide photo converted this week to digital from 20 years ago. It is this one at left. I was 20 years old and at the far left. With me from left to right were Elders Hansen, Benson and Worth. I ended up in my career as a university administrator, Elder Hansen is in the construction business, Elder Benson has worked for years as a city planner in central Utah and Elder Worth is a doctor who started with the military and now has a practice in New Mexico. Elder Hansen was my second-to-last companion. We had a blast together and worked hard. I remember we worked a lot on the language together in the mornings. Elder Hansen wanted to learn the language well so we studied a lot of the English rules of grammar so he could learn Icelandic well. The four of us in the picture represent half of the missionaries who were serving in Iceland at the time. My whole mission there were eight missionaries in Iceland at any given time, but that was not always the case.

In the early days of the mission in Iceland (mid-to late-70s) the Geslisons brought their two sons who had both already served missions in Asia and got the work started. As I was looking at the dates of when missionaries arrived and departed (I've compiled a full record of their arrivals and departures), I noticed that early on, there were as many as 16 missionaries on the island at once. Finding enough places for them all to live was a hardship, as well as paying for things. Since the mission was new, there was plenty to do. But it wasn't long before later senior couples began to see that the island wasn't big enough to sustain a group of missionaries that large. During the year 1980--five years after the mission opened as a sub-mission of Denmark--10 missionaries went home but only four came out to replace them. By the next year the best number of missionaries on Iceland was set at 8 and stayed there for many years. Eight missionaries were able to keep busy. The number on the island at any given time since my years in the mid-eighties has fluctuated anywhere from 10 to 6. Currently there are six there, which seems barely enough to maintain a useful number who can speak the language and do anything that is asked. This newspaper clipping shows 5 of the 16 that were in Iceland during the late 70's with the senior couple, the Hansens.

Iceland has a great bus system. There were years when the missionaries tried using bicycles to get around, but they were hard to maintain. The weather often was too rotten to ride them anyway, so eventually they always went back to riding the buses. On the left is a typical busstop in mid-Reykjavík right by Háteigs church. I never really used this busstop much. It just happened to be by the church I wanted a picture of. Our apartment at Hátuni was just a few blocks from this church. It has the look of a castle somewhat (which I like) because of its spires. The left picture is from 1984. The right one is from 2004. You can see a few differences if you look closely.

The local churches were usually pretty empty though. The State religion was Lutheran like in most of Scandinavia. Ours, by contrast, was usually full, with little room for more people to join us. A problem we loved having, but had difficulty solving. Our new building from two or three years ago is the last one in this post. The cute little yellow one. It is the first one built especially for us by the Church. It is in Garðabæ, a suburb of the capital, Reykjavík. When you are in it, you feel like you are home.

27 December 2007

Of langir helgidagar (Overly long Holidays)

Overly long holiday. I have been to work only once in the last five days. It's been a nice break. I am the director of the International Admissions Office at BYU in Provo, Utah. I have three full-time and three part-time staff in my office. I love what I do. This is a picture of my office. I am in the blue shirt in the middle with most of the people I work with.

It's nice to have a break, but probably unlike most people, after five days of just hanging around the house I like to get back to work. I don't like just sitting around for long periods.

I remember a time on my mission when I was with a companion named Greg Hamblin from Brigham City, Utah. This is him at right. He and I got along really well and had a great time working together. He had been in Iceland about three months when I was put with him. I had been there only three weeks. Needless to say, we learned a lot of Icelandic those two or three months. I remember a time though--I think it was during our companionship--when he got really sick. At first we didn't know what it was, but pretty quickly we discovered that it was the chicken pox. He had never had them as a kid and that was before the day when you could get the vaccine. Well, I had heard that if you get the chicken pox when you're older, it is often much worse than if you got them when you were younger. I found out this was true for poor Elder Hamblin. It was awful. But I felt then a bit as I have this week. Then, he and I were the only ones in our apartment. So I studied and read and studied and looked out our 6th floor window (this blueish picture shows you what we could see out our window). That got old really fast. Elder Hamblin felt bad but there wasn't a lot we could do about it. I wrote letters, updated our tracting records, cleaned our apartment, etc. I must say it sure felt good to get back to work though when he was better. If there is one thing most missionaries hate--sitting around. That isn't what we were there for.

Today though I am able to sit around longer without getting ancy (sp?). I think that is mostly because I have my wife and kids around me. But there is only so much cleaning, reading and other stuff a person can do around the house without needing to go out and do something. Maybe its just me....

This last picture is (from left to right) Elders Hunt, Hamblin and Benson in our apartment in 1985. These three represent 1/50 of those who have served in Iceland since the mission began in 1975 (there have been about 160 to ever go there).

26 December 2007

Að telja á íslensku (og á indíánu tungumálið) (Counting in Icelandic and Indian)

Counting in Icelandic (and Indian). In the missionary training center I remember looking at my missionary name tag for the first time and having it blow my mind. It had my name and the name of the Church in Icelandic on it. I thought that if I could ever even learn to say the name of the Church in Icelandic, I would have really accomplished something. The name in Icelandic was Kirkja Jesú Krists hinna Síðari Daga Heilögu. Not too long after that I remember hitting the section in our language book where we learned how to spell, speak and write the numbers. Again I was dumbfounded at how complex Icelandic was when I learned that, not only were the numbers and the ordinals hard to learn in and of themselves, but that the numbers 1 to 4 were all declined like other adjectives. To begin with, there were eight ways of saying each noun depending on whether it was a masculine, feminine or neutur word. Then there were 24 different ways of saying every adjective--including the numbers one through four to an extent--making sure that any adjective "agreed" gramatically with the noun it modified. Mindblower for a 19 year old who thought he was relatively intelligent. Humility set in, hard work ensued, leaky-brain-syndrome was discovered and the days passed.

These are the 12 ways of spelling the number "one" (you don't get twenty-four since there is no plural of "one"):

m f n

einn ein eitt
einn eina eitt
einum einni einu
eins einnar eins

Be careful with the number six, too (Enough said). Even our buddies learning other Scandinavian languages felt sorry for us because of the difficulty of the Icelandic language system. We persevered though and by the time we got to Iceland a total of two months later--we knew Icelandic so well that we thought we were hearing Japanese when we arrived.

Our teachers made all the difference though. We did not have natives from Iceland who were teaching us, but returned missionaries who wanted to make life easier for us when we got there by giving us a good foundation in the training center. My teachers were:

Paul Lewis (before and after. The tall guy on the left was Gerald Dunlop, also an RM who served in Iceland)

Eric Kristjanson (with before & after pictures. The "afters" include twin grandchildren)

Curt Hutchings (no pictures for him yet)
I came home from Iceland in 1986, married in 1987 and had my seventh daughter of seven children in 2005. Shortly after I was married though, I met my wife's grandfather, Harold Reed of Thatcher, Arizona. He required all of his grandchildren to learn to count to ten in "Indian". I thought, since I was marrying into the family, that I should learn to count to ten in Indian too. So I did. I must admit though that there is something fishy about his way of counting....It was much too easy to learn when compared to learning to count to ten in Icelandic. Here it is:
one zaw
two zaw
words of Mary
Haileum, scailium
zeencum peencum
You must draw your own conclusions about this. Either way, I learned it in Icelandic and was able to survive in Iceland and then learned it in "Indian" and was "in" with my in-laws. A plus on both counts. The more languages a person knows, the better.

20 December 2007

Trúboðaskólinn (The Missionary Training Center)

Missionary Training Center. July 1984 was a long time ago for me. I went into the MTC in Provo, Utah then. I had done a year of college while still living at home in St. George. That year at Dixie was good, but I was ready to be on my way. My mom experienced the traditional amount of emotional trauma when I went out my door at the MTC and they had to go out the other. All I could feel though was excitement. For some their missions come all too soon, but mine didn't quite come fast enough. I suppose some of that was because I thought I was going to a cool place: Iceland. Who in the world ever goes there.

This first picture is of me and most of the Norwegian missionaries who were in our district. One of my two companions is in the picture as well (I had two). He is Elder Edwin Benson, the one praying over his food (very devout fellow). I am leaning in front of Elder Benson showing you my food, I think. What is strange is that I still remember the names of three of the four guys even after 23 years, even though we only really knew each other for two months. The back left was Elder Muir. The back right was Elder Drumiler. Across from me was Elder Darin Smith. The guy in the foreground on the right--I can't remember his name. I remember Elder Muir was from Myton, near Roosevelt in Utah. Farm town. I saw him once after our missions. He was working at the U-haul center in Provo. Good guys all.

Elder Benson was from Whittier, California as I recall. He has lived in Utah now I think since he went to BYU after his mission, married and started working. But because they only have a few missionaries at any given time in Iceland, they had to bring three into the MTC one time and so the need for three-somes began to be necessary. My other companion was Elder Thor Christianson from Utah. He and I are shown here in a cave in Iceland when he and I ended up companions in the summer of 1985. He had Icelandic heritage so while he was serving we tracked down some of his relatives and they took us out into the countryside on a two-day trip. Thor is the strapping fellow on my right. I was trying to downplay my wiry studliness in this picture so Thor could feel better about his pitiful "god of thunder" self.

I had the traditional LDS upbringing, with the exception that my dad was a "CES" man. That meant to us that the gospel was studied in depth in our house. Sometimes that was good; other times it was a little hard for us. When I got to the MTC, I went eagerly from one place to another trying to learn as much as I could along the way. One day, after a few weeks of becoming very settled into the very structured routine there, Elder Thor and I were walking to an afternoon or evening class. I hadn't realized it before this day, but I walked fast almost everywhere I went. Elder Thor had noticed this but hadn't said anything for a few weeks. But on this day he was speed walking to class. I sped up but then realized he was doing it on purpose. Then he asked me why I had to run everywhere and told me to cut it out. About a year later we were companions and I remember an argument about a hamster too....Hmmmm....He and I both had dads who were CES men but still had come from different backgrounds. We ended up becoming good friends and still see each other once in awhile since we still live in the same town. Strange though. His dad passed away from a brain tumor shortly after his mission--or during--I can't remember. My mom passed away from a brain tumor too just about three years or so ago. They aren't that common. Weird coincidence. This baptismal picture is of him and Elder Jensen (from Denmark) in one of our only baptisms while on our missions. Elder Benson, Elder Christianson and I had a good time in the MTC, but were glad to to get to Iceland two months later.
Two new missionaries just arrived in Iceland recently. Elders Higgins and Teodoro, both from Arizona. This picture shows them in the MTC with one of their two RM teachers who served in Iceland, Craig Holdaway. Craig served in 2004.

19 December 2007

Myndir, myndir, myndir (Pictures, pictures, pictures)

Pictures, pictures, pictures. As part of my attempt to catalog and organize all the pictures and information I have been getting from the current mission couple--the Wohlgemuths--in Iceland, I have started to organize a collection of photos (of people mostly) from all periods of the history of the LDS missionary work in Iceland. I am getting photos from all eras, but have a lot of years where the photos are few and far between. Any photos you want to send me of people in the Church or associated with the Church would be appreciated. The photo I have added here is of me on the far left and then Víðir Óskarsson and Klara Gunnarsdóttir. They were married not too long before I arrived in Iceland in 1984. Klara's first husband was named Páll and was in the Branch Presidency in the early 80's. On a hiking expedition he and another member fell from the side of the mountain they were hiking on and died. These two then married and are now living in Selfoss, about an hour's drive from Reykjavík. This picture was taken in 1986 in their home that was then on the Westmann Islands off the southern coast of Iceland. The Westmann Islands is the site of the first group of large numbers of conversions from the early 1850's through the 1890's. Missionary work continued in Iceland from 1851 until about 1914 when WWII halted formal missionary work among the Icelanders until 1975.

Of all the places in Iceland I have visited, the tiny main island of the Westmann Islands called Heimaey is one of the most picturesque. I visited there right before the end of my mission in June of 1986 and then again a few years ago in September 2004. I'm in the process of converting a ton of my old mission slides to digital images (now that that is possible). The first photo above is from an old mission slide that was 20 years old. The one at right is from 2004. Its what you see when you come in on the ferry from the mainland on a two hour ferry ride. If you click on the picture and blow it up, you'll be able to see a little house on the mountain at the top left of the picture. Apparently there is a fellow who lives up there and takes care of the sheep that cling to the cliffs all around. The mountain goats in the U.S. would have a hard time keeping from falling into the sea here, but the Icelandic sheep seem to have no trouble. How would you like to live in that little house? I hope the fellow doesn't sleep-walk.

This one shows a large part of the only town in the whole set of islands. There is really only this one flat part that they could build on. Part of it was covered by a volcanic eruption back in 1973. But since then things have been quiet. The eruption partially closed off the habor entrance, but that ended up being a good thing because now the harbor is protected better from bad weather and the periodic ferocity of the ocean. We rented a car the morning we arrived (taking the 7 minute flight from the little airstrip within sight of the island) and caught this lady on her morning walk out of town. You leave town and most of what you see is just this yellow grass and cliffs. Quite a beautiful place to visit. Incidentally, the island has no fresh water supply, which, more than once in its history, nearly caused the residents to abandon it. Now their water is supplied by pipeline from the mainland the two or more miles it takes to get it there.

Right now there is only one couple living on Heimaey who are members of the Church. Their names are Óskar and Una. They have a bunch of kids at home. The kids' grandparents are on the island as well, so it ends up not being too bad for them there. Both Óskar and Una spend time off the island each week either working or going to school. Any members or missionaries who go there seek them out since they do not get a chance to be "sustained" through normal church attendance and/or home and visiting teaching. I am amazed they have stayed strong.