28 June 2008

Mikið frá mynd (A lot from a picture)

You can tell a lot from a picture. Take this one for example. It is of some unknown Icelanders. I got it during a random search of websites having to do with Iceland.
What can you tell from the picture? It is easy to see that more than one family is represented here. At first glance it appears that there are two daughters and a son in the foreground. Upon closer inspection though you can see that the little girl on the right has the hand of, not the grandfather in the picture, but the woman behind her. The little one wanted to see something through the crowd but couldn't do so without squeezing through. Mom is holding on tight though. Whatever is being looked at is fascinating to the kids and adults alike. The boy in the red shirt appears to be a part of a youth soccer team and if you translate the words on his shirt, they read, "corner ball". There are some kind of festivities in the area. The red-shirt boy has a ballon with a netting around it. The girl on the left has a ballon but it is not blown up, though it appears she has and is trying. The boy in the blue shirt, by the way he is standing, seems to have been right there for at least a few minutes. There is likely some kind of performance underway that is captivating them all. I would dare to say that this boy is "popular" at school.

The date of the picture is August 21, 2004. On that day in Reykjavík it was the Reykjavík Marathon. There may have been festivities downtown on a warm Icelandic day in August that would have brought everyone out. The mom on the left is being entertained. She and at least one of her children came to the events with a jacket, just in case, but has taken hers off, as well as has perhaps the boy. The girl on the left doesn't mind dressing like one since she is wearing pink, has a butterfly on her pants and lace at the bottom of her shirt. Grandpa has a newspaper or a program of the days events and seems to be intent on the out of sight performance as well.

What else can you see about the picture of these unknown Icelanders?

26 June 2008

Trip of a lifetime....again!

About nine months ago I received a phone call from my mother. During our conversation, she reminded me that in 2008, she and dad would be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I had already given the subject some thought, and was ready (i thought) for what was to follow. I told her not to worry. I was already in the preliminary planning phases of a big party. We would fly in long-lost friends and relatives for an extravaganza not to be soon forgotten. She stopped me mid sentence, and said that they had some ting else in mind. She said, "Iceland has always been such an important part of your life, and dad and I feel like we've missed out on something....We want to go to Iceland, and we want you and Chris (my wife) to come with us. We readily accepted.

We left on the 12th of June, and arrived in Reykjavík at nearly midnight to a beautiful midnight sun. This is a picture we took at a baptism that we were able to attend on the first night there Mattíus Olafsson had a friend that was baptized. He got to know some of the kids in the branch through work.

This is Olafur Olafsson´s extended family. Olafur married Björg Marteinsdottir while I was there in 1984. When I left, Björg was expecting Unnur. That is her on the left. Sóley and her family are on the right. The young man third from the left was the one baptized that night.

Sóley hates it when I tell this story, but I can´t help myself. When I was just a new missionary, Björg and Sóley had just moved back to Iceland from the states. Sóley spoke very little Icelandic, but was learning quickly....probably more quickly than us. She used to corner the Elders in church and beg us, "Please .......speak English to me!" Inevitably, Björg would find us, and scold both of us. Sóley has such a great family. Kristján is a great man, and has done much for the church in Iceland. Together they are raising another generation of Icelandic saints. Daniel, their oldest, just became a Deacon this week. The girls are the cutest. Anja and Yrja. This was a great evening, getting caught up with Olí and Björg.

25 June 2008

Að Læra Nýtt Tungumál (Learning a New Language)

Stundum hugsa ég svo oft um íslensku og Ísland and ég þreytast. Það er ekki einfalt ferli fyrir mig til að allt í einu og snögglega byrja að tala eða hugsa á íslensku þegar það er nauðsynlegt. Ég kann það nokkuð þegar nauðsynlegt er, en það er ekki auðvelt fyrir mig.

Ég man eftir því, jafnvel þegar ég hafði verið á Íslandi eitt og hálft ár og gat talað nokkuð, að ég hafði erfitt með að muna að tala hægt, eða á minnsta kosti á venjulegan hraða. Ég vildi alltaf virðast geta talað vel svo að fólk myndi hlusta á boð okkar heldur en hve slæmt tal mitt væri. Svo ég talaði of hratt stundum og myndi hrasa um orðin mín oft. Ef ég hugsaði um það, gat ég hægt ferð orða minna og orðið skilinn.

Ég held að allir sem læra nýtt tungumál verða taugaóstyrkir reglulega (í byrjunni) þegar nauðsyn kemur fram til að tala málið við einhvern sem talar málið sem moðurmál sitt. Jafnvel á þessa stund er ég að nota orðabækur mínar til að skrifa þessa grein þegar ég get ekki munað eftir orði hér og þar sem ég vil nota. En að skrifa þetta hjálpar mér til að æfa mig svo að hæfileiki minn með málinu heldur áfram að vaxa heldur en að minnka. Ef ég hugsa aldrei á íslensku og tala aldrei, hvernig getur hann vaxið?

Nokkrum finnst gaman að læra mörg tungumál. Ég hef enn svo mikið til að læra af íslensku að ég hugsa ekki um önnur mál. Ég kann ekki að tala önnur tungumál. Það er í lagi. Ég skil mikið á spænsku og pínulítið á fáein önnur. Ég veit þegar ég er að heyra þýsku, dönsku, norsku, ítalsku, frönsku, portúgalsku, hebresku, kantonsku, mandarínsku og rússnesku. En, ég er ánægður með að eyða tíma mínum að læra íslensku vel. Er alltaf meira að læra um hana og dýpri til að komast í henni.

23 June 2008

Karlakór (Men's Choir)

A few weeks ago I was contacted by two people who serve in the leadership of the Icelandic Association of Utah, David Ashby and Jack Tobiasson. They asked if I would do as I have done in years past and arrange some kind of musical number for the Sunday night fireside which is associated every year with "Iceland Days" in Spanish Fork. I agreed and then proceeded to send out a mass email to all the former LDS missionaries who had served in Iceland. The email went out to over 100 email addresses. I asked all who might be in the area and available to come to Spanish Fork and sing "God Be With You" in Icelandic for the fireside last night. There ended up being eight of us there: Tyler Shepherd, Craig Holdaway, Matt Lillywhite, Brian Moser, Cody Sunderland, Matt Hyatt, Dennis Flynn and myself. Right before we sang I told the audience that we had not rehearsed, but that we would sing the same "parts" as we did when we were missionaries. The pianist played the introduction and I heard a power come out of these men as they sang that favorite hymn, "Guð sé með sér uns við hittumst heil".

I was able to get everyone rounded up afterwords for a picture except for Matt Hyatt. He got away somehow before I could catch him. From left to right in this picture we are: Darron Allred, Dennis Flynn, Cody Sunderland, Tyler Shepherd, Brian Moser, Craig Holdaway and Matt Lillywhite.

A woman named Telma Marínósdóttir gave the opening prayer in Icelandic. Then I noticed her crying as we sang. When I heard her fluent Icelandic during her prayer and noticed her crying, I wondered who she was. I had never heard of her, and yet here she was, involved, praying powerfully in the spirit. She was not a Western Icelander so who was she? I spoke to her afterward and got her interesting story. She basically moved with her family to Las Vegas when she was younger for her father's work, found the Church there and joined, has since married and just found out about the Icelandic Association of Utah not too long ago. We became friends immediately and she promised to help me in any way she can with my teaching Icelandic 201 in the fall at BYU.

The Western Icelanders in the Icelandic Association of Utah continue to hold on to their heritage. I heard someone say that the first Icelandic Days celebration was held in the 1880's. A proud heritage that I am honored to be a part of, even though the closest blood tie I have found so far is only in Denmark....

19 June 2008

Þurrkaðir Fiskar (Dried Fish)

Some of us have been back from Mormon missions to Iceland now for 33 years. Not me, of course, but some of the 165 of us. Dan and Dave Geslison, Gary Buckway and Blake Hansen, for example. We come home from that nearly other-worldly experience and pick back up with our former lives. Some of us maintain some pretty close ties with a few Icelanders who we got to know well and loved. Some of us developed deep and long lasting friendships with some of the other missionaries who served there and with whom we had some amazing experiences. Those experiences were often laced with a fair bit of pain and hardship along with the occasional amazing point in time. These experiences are hard to describe to those who didn't go through the same thing there....

On that rare occasion when you get into a conversation with someone who has never even heard about Iceland, let alone been there, the back and forth of that exchange usually revolves around only one or two questions and our standard answers of, "yeah, it was pretty cold there." and "no, not many people were interested in our message." (Kind of a dry conversation, like these drying fish). We walk away though with very specific and vivid memories returning, very few of which would have been considered "normal" or "cliché" to the person we just spoke to (like the story about how the Icelanders dry their fish). If we had been able to sense an interest from the person in getting past those initial clichés, then we sense we can be a little more open about how deeply our feelings run for that land and the people there.

A few times each year, a former missionary will be able travel to Iceland, not always on the way to somewhere else, and spend a few days with old friends and somewhat familiar places. That is when the store of love for and interest in Iceland and the Icelanders returns and we each feel the same feelings we did when we lived there as missionaries, wanting to help that group of people to come to know God better.

I know it is the same for Mormon missionaries wherever in the world they serve, but to me, Iceland, its people, its land and its language are THE place. There is nothing cliché about Iceland to any of us.

05 June 2008

Auka Fréttir (Additional News)

Just a few additional bits of information about members of the Church in Iceland and how the "jarðskjálfti" affected them. This is from Lee Wohlgemuth in an email he sent me yesterday from Iceland where he and his wife are serving as a senior missionary couple.

"All of us are fine. A number of local people were injured and had to go to the hospital, and a few members also sustained some minor injuries. The epicenter of the quake was near Selfoss, about 40 miles from where we live in Reykajvik. We have missionaries and members in Selfoss, and many members in Hveragerði, a small town about 9 miles from Selfoss. The mountain between Selfoss and Hveragerði is where the quake was centered. We had driven by the area about 1/2 hour before the quake occurred, as we were returning to Reykajvik from Selfoss.

The quake was, of course, felt in Reykjavik and in surrounding areas, but the damage was worst in Hveragerði and Selfoss. Our chapel, a rented hall in a store building in Selfoss, was also slightly damaged, and we have some small repairs to make. Our members in the area were harder hit in their homes. The Selfoss Elders Quorum President, Jóhann, who lives in Hveragerði, lost about everything in his kitchen and dining room. Everything was dumped onto the floor and is broken. The house itself sustained damage, and the walls are not at right angles any more! During some of the aftershocks, Jóhann could see the walls swaying and moving a bit, then settling a bit further off square. A nearby neighbor, Sveinbjörg, also lost almost all of her dishes and crockery and china, plus the cabinets all came off the walls. Sveinbjörg is the lady who translated the Book of Mormon into Icelandic in 1981. Her house is a mess.

Other members in Hveragerði and Selfoss had some significant losses, but not as bad as Jóhann and Sveinbjörg. They all have their miracle stories, of things that were spared, and they are all grateful that everyone got through it as well as they did. They have had a very healthy attitude, as they have simply cleaned up, thrown away the broken items, and moved on. Stoic. And faithful.

There is a little remaining road damage in the quake area. The surrounding area is well known for the hot geysirs which are everywhere. They are all steaming as usual. They seem to be even more active than normal, so you never know when the ground will open up again. The whole countryside is broken up lava rock from previous eruptions, and nothing is very stable.

You may be interested to know that the mountain Hekla erupts about every ten years. Hekla is about 40 miles from the latest quake area, further away from Reykjavik. There is talk that Hekla will spew lava again, perhaps earlier than its expected next eruption in 2010 or 2011. Of course, the Elders are praying that it will blow while we are here, so we can see it. The Relief Society President of the Selfoss branch lives near Hekla, and has a good view of it from her living room window. We always joke that we´ll all come to her house when Hekla blows again, and eat popcorn while we watch the eruption in comfort. Until we have to run! Hekla erupted the last time in 2001, and ash darkened the sky and fell in Reykjavik at that time. We drove up near Hekla a few days ago, just to look."

04 June 2008

Nýjar upplýsingar um jarðskjálftann (New Information about the Earthquake)

The earthquake in China was an 8.0 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was in Sichuan Province. About 90 kilometers away is a city called Du Jiang Yan. I girl at BYU sent me a few pictures of the damage to her family's home today in Du Jiang Yan. It had been condemned and will need to be rebuilt. Many families there are living in tents at the edge of the city. The following is a portion of an email I received from this girl in my office at BYU, "My hometown Du Jiang Yan is only 92 kilometers away from the center of the earthquake; therefore, my hometown is one of the cities that has been damaged most severely. Over 4000 people died in my hometown alone and 80% of the households are so seriously ruined that they need to be demolished."

In contrast, the earthquake in Iceland was not as strong--in the 6.0 category--and did not kill anyone thankfully. But there was still a lot of damage. I just received a few pictures of the Nóatun grocery store showing some of the damage there. Lots of things thrown off of shelves and broken glass.

I wrote to the current senior couple who are serving in Iceland right now and they wrote me back the following about the members who were in that area: "Most of the damage was in Hveragerði and some in Selfoss. In Selfoss, Barður had some glass things break, they were able to clean up the damage. No one was injured. Johan and Þorstina seemed to have a good deal of damage in their home. Things fell off the walls, much internal damage. In fact Johan said that his walls weren´t at right angles anymore. They are not cleaning up because insurance needs to come and take pictures. They also had a trip to Paris planned and will leave on Tuesday for a week. When they return, many have offered to come and help them clean up. Sveinbgörg had many things fall out of her cupboards. She said she has 4 plates left out of a servive for 12 china and everyday ware. Her children have been very good to come and help her clean up things in her home. She said after the earthquake they were told to stay out of their homes. She said she had walked up and down the street for as long as she could and then she went into her garden to work. She said she was kneeling to work in her flowers and for about 20 minutes while working, the earth just kept moving around. She mentioned that she has felt many after shocks, as have many of the people in Selfoss and Hveragerði. Valla said they just had a few trinckets that were broken. Margret Annie did not report any damage either, but she was further away from the center of the earthquake. Greta was in Spain at the time with the kids. There was minor damage to the road from Hveragerði to Selfoss, a couple of new bumps and one small crack across the road. We have felt no aftershocks in the Reykjavik area. We were very blessed that there were very few injuries, and nothing serious. Since it was a good day in Iceland, some school children were outdoors playing and a ceiling came down in their school. Also some men digging ditches took a late break and so they were away from their machinery when the quake occured. All is well with us here. We are happy to report that everyone is safe and many of the messes have been cleaned up and now they are back to their regular lives. We will send more reports if anything major occurs."

Sigh of relief....

02 June 2008

Jarðskjálfti (Earthquake)

Not knowing more about the causes of earthquakes than that the tectonic plates are involved as they move, I used to think it was strange when I would hear about an earthquake occuring in Iceland like it did last week. I thought it was strange because the plates are pulling apart in Iceland, not coming together and colliding. That is why when you go to the visitor's center at Thingvellir in Iceland, there is a display there which shows how much the land has separated in the last 1000 years. I saw that back in 2004 and was reminded again how unique Iceland was as a landmass.

I searched the internet today looking for a unique picture which showed what the earthquake had been like in Iceland last week. I found this seismograph image which is said to be showing the "P wave and the surface waves." I don't remember enough from my college geology class to remember exactly what those were, but it is easy to see that some serious movement was going on. All news reports say that the damage will be expensive to repair, but no one was seriously injured.

As missionaries in Iceland, every one of us used to wish for some kind of cataclysmic event there to help people realize they needed God. I suppose we didn't really want people to suffer much of what that type of event would bring, but something Elijah-esque would be okay. A famine, bank and money problems, an earthquake or two, with a volcano eruption in a populated area thrown in for good measure. Oh, wait. All of these things have happened in Iceland, if not during this last 12 months alone, then we can go back to the volcano that covered a good part of Heimaey of the Westmann Islands back in the 70's. And okay, the famines were not that recent, but some serious suffering was going on in those days.

But even when those things do happen, the missionaries continue to move along, working as hard as they know how, and continue to find just the one here and two there who can sense the gift they are being offered. The key then, I suppose, is to try to avoid having to receive a "shaking" from God in the spiritual sense by trying to sense the gifts that are right in front of us.

He exists. He loves us. He has ALWAYS given his truth through his Son, in person, to prophets who then go forward with authority to preach the purest Word. We can know him today and hope to avoid a spiritual shaking. As Nephi was commanded in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 17:53 "And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them, saith the Lord, and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God."