09 August 2008
Fyrr 1975 (Before 1975)
I was speaking with Hera Toutai recently, an Icelander who I knew when I was a missionary in Iceland and who I stay in contact with. Her husband, Henele, is Tongan, hence the last name. She told me an interesting story about a Mormon American living in Iceland before the mission got formally started in 1975.
It was actually nearer the end of 1975 that the mission started in Iceland. Byron and Melva Geslison came to start things off at that time, but they didn't just hop on a plane and then go right to work without speaking to anyone in Iceland about what they would be getting themselves into. Byron found out that there was an LDS American man there named Payne who was teaching Sociology at the University of Iceland as a guest professor for a period of time. Byron called Payne on a number of occasions and they discussed the cost of housing, possible receptivity of the Icelanders to the Church, etc. Housing was very expensive, so the Paynes agreed to allow the Geslisons to share their apartment when they arrived until they could find something of their own or until the Paynes left Iceland. Byron mentioned in an interview with Fred Woods for his book, Fire on Ice, that the boys had slept of the floor during that time with their coats over them.
Time went by and Bro. Payne's assignment at the University came to an end without the Geslisons having found a better apartment for themselves and the twins. It was hoped that the Geslisons would be able to take over the Payne's apartment, but for some reason they were not allowed to do so. One of the few Icelandic members on the island at the time was Þorsteinn Jónsson. Þorsteinn felt so bad for the Geslisons that he agreed to let them stay in his apartment for a time and he went and moved onto his boat (he was a seaman) until they were able to find another apartment. I lived with Þorsteinn in his apartment for about a year and a half of my mission back in the mid-eighties. He always let missionaries share his apartment. A true Latter-day Saint. I gained a lot from my relationship with Þorsteinn.
Hera told me that the Paynes were the first to help her understand some of basic principles of the gospel at the age of 12 when she was sure she was not going to heaven. The Paynes were set apart as special missionaries to the Icelanders by a General Authority. She her comment on this blog on 17 Jul 2008.