Here in north Norway the midnight sun is now in its full glory, and the result is a surreal experience that’s left us in awe of the power and beauty of sunlight. It’s been tough convincing the boys that it really is their bedtime even when it still looks like early afternoon outside, though that became easier this past weekend, when they saw with their own eyes how something magical happens between midnight and 2 a.m. That’s when we get an uber-early “sunrise,” if you will, that casts a golden glow over the mountains, fjords and city surrounding us. It’s one thing to see a beautiful sunrise against the majestic Norwegian backdrop; it’s another matter to experience this in the middle of “night.” Truly, everything looks different when darkness has no place.

With only two weeks left until we leave Tromsø, our family is praying that we cast a similar glow of pure light—that of Jesus—in the lives of those with whom we’ve shared this season. This truly has been a wonderful, God-appointed five months for us. When we arrived—at the peak of the “dark season” of 24-hour darkness, mind you—Norkirken Tromsø, the church where we’ve served, was facing major issues coming off a rough fall season that had left the leaders discouraged and burned out. We’d be fooling ourselves to say we changed that—only God could—but it’s been humbling to be continually put in situations where the Lord has used us to encourage, equip and empower people. (Hey, sounds a bit like our vision for coming to Norway! :p)

I wish we could share more stories of those we’ve worked with, but many of those involve people who’d rather us not publicize their accounts online. So instead, we took this chance to think through what we’ve learned in the five months we’ve lived in what many call the “Arctic capital.” Here are a few things.

1) Prayer is foundational if you hope to bear lasting fruit.

Nothing we’ve done here in Tromsø—from helping build a family ministry to counseling couples to walking with individuals through inner healing—has produced or will produce real fruit without prayer. In fact, without prayer continuing to surround it, even that fruit will likely spoil. That’s because nothing lasts without God sustaining it as we commune with Him.

Norkirken was birthed generations ago as a house of prayer, part of a movement that founded several bedehuset (houses of prayer) throughout Norway. Its very foundation is upon prayer, yet the church’s leaders admittedly lost sight of this for a season. In the relatively short time we’ve been here, it’s been incredible to watch God restore the place of prayer among this community as He re-establishes a culture of dialoguing with Him. It began with leadership returning to the place of humbly waiting upon God, and now we’re seeing people throughout the community—without anyone’s prompting but God’s—stirred and compelled to gather in prayer. YES!

 2) The Northern Lights really are that spectacular.

Until you see them in person—until your soul melts in worship as you stand there dumbfounded before a dancing heaven exposed—you just can’t fathom how stunning aurora borealis is. Just thought I should point that out. :)

3) Open-handed living is a beautiful, motivating thing.

Those who carry a spirit of generosity understand everything we have is from God, and therefore nothing we have should be held tightly. It’s about living open-handed. It would take months to recount all the ways we’ve been blessed by people’s generosity to us since our family began this journey of faith last year. But in Tromsø, God has taught us even more—through watching others—about how to live holding onto nothing but Him.

For example, before we arrived in Tromsø a family we’d never met had already committed to pay for Brayden’s education while we were here. A complete stranger at Xander’s school found out he lacked some winter gear and anonymously bought him all he needed. The couple we live with—who are some of the greatest models of open-handed living we’ve ever seen—have continuously given, given and then given more. Another family just blessed the boys with bicycles.

These are humbling examples that involve far more than “things.” They’re testimonies of people being the extension of the Father’s extravagant love for us. And as much as we’ve been on the receiving end of this, I pray we’ve learned how to mimic it even more through our own open-handed lifestyle.

4) Sven (from Frozen) lives in Tromsø.

We chased him and his family atop a mountain overlooking the city. Don’t believe us? We have pictures to prove it!

5) One size doesn’t fit all.

Amber and I have seen, studied or been part of enough churches that we know the characteristics of a vibrant community of believers. But as any missionary quickly learns, trying to force ministry models and methods that work in one culture into another is a recipe for disaster. And in our efforts to serve Norkirken, not only would that plug-and-play mindset have been detrimental to furthering their mission, but we also would’ve lost out on the beautiful journey of truly getting to know and love Norkirken’s people as just that—people, not “ministry recipients.”

One of the prime areas we discovered this has been in corporate worship. Scripture says that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). And I strongly believe that that liberty most often equates to freedom in the expression of worship. In my experience, this is where charismatic churches often thrive, as they typically promote more “risk” in stepping out of what’s familiar and comfortable to offer God the extravagant worship He’s due. However, Norkirken isn’t a charismatic church, nor should it be. Because of that, we’ve been continually forced to consider what true freedom actually looks like in a worshipping community. Raised hands do not equate to liberated hearts, yes; but to what extent is the reverse true? Can you walk in true freedom and yet only express that inwardly? My journey for that answer continues … but at Norkirken, it’s been interesting to at least wrestle with this more.

6) Feed those who are hungry first.

Not everyone wants to be fed. And even among those who do, some are hungrier or more desperate than others. Jesus didn’t plan on “feeding”—or more accurately, healing—the woman with the issue of blood or the woman with a demonized daughter, but their unrelenting pursuit of Him captured His attention and resulted in their healing.

We’ve realized more and more during our time in Tromsø that you can spin your wheels trying to win over those who are blasé about what you have to say or give; or you can ride the wind of the Spirit already moving upon those who are chasing after God for a morsel. In our last few weeks here, as we try to finish well and not leave with any regrets, it’s been crucial to follow the same directive Jesus followed: to do what you see the Father already doing and go where you see Him already moving.

And last but not least …

7) Not all Norwegians are born with skis on.

It’s shocking, but true. I’m not sure if we’re allowed to say this publicly, but we’ve actually met a handful of Norwegians who don’t ski. OK, maybe four or five. Or two. But they do exist—and we found them in Tromsø!