“Africa has enough missionaries; north Norway desperately needs missionaries. They need you up there. They need Jesus!”
These were the words our dear Norwegian friends spoke before we headed to north Norway in January, and they’ve rung true throughout our time here in Tromsø. Our everyday surroundings are far from the igloos, polar bears and blizzards many people imagine life above the Arctic Circle to be (though we have seen reindeer). In truth, Tromsø is a growing city that boasts the world’s northernmost university and is aptly called the “Paris of the North” because of its love for the arts and a unique blend of cultures from both within and outside the country. Despite those charming qualities, however, the reality is that Tromsø—and indeed all of north Norway—desperately needs Jesus.
Everywhere we turn we find reminders of how far removed this region and country are from its Christian roots. Easter, for example, is still a national holiday where Norway essentially shuts down for a week to celebrate … well, ask people on the street why and you’ll get a dozen different answers, none of which have to do with Jesus. As in America, the country’s extraordinary wealth has pushed faith and belief in God into a diminishing corner—which is further complicated by the fact that 85 percent of Norwegians still consider themselves Christian while only 5 percent actually live out their faith as born-again believers.
Our family obviously can’t change that scenario overnight; indeed, countless others have gone before us to shine the light of Jesus Christ in Norway’s spiritual darkness. Yet here in north Norway, where most foreigners only come to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, we’ve been privileged to personally witness some incredible beacons of Jesus’ true Light (with a capital L).
This past weekend we attended a DAWN church planting conference for north Norway and met many spiritual heroes who stand as burning lights in a frozen tundra (see pictures below). These brothers and sisters in Christ have counted the cost and are spending their lives plowing new ground in seemingly forgotten areas. Nothing about their ministry work is glamorous or even easy, yet they continue to shine brightly for the sake of “drawing all people” to Jesus. Their boldness and perseverance reminds us of the teenagers we worked with at an Easter camp, many of whom were the only believers in their school or even region. Some came from non-believing families, yet none of them backed down from the truth that Jesus had changed their lives and they will never be the same.
At Norkirken, the church we’ve had the privilege to serve since we arrived in Tromsø, the light shines through a core group of young adults and families grappling with what it means to be true followers of Christ. Some, like the amazing couple we live with, Kjetil and Live, leave us speechless with their open-handed lifestyle of generosity and deep understanding that everything they have and do is for God’s purposes. This tight-knit community of believers is asking all the right questions when it comes to discipleship, outreach, church “models,” true growth, etc. And though they undoubtedly could have wrestled with these things—and what they should do next—on their own, we’re humbled by the fact that God sent us to Norkirken at just the right time to walk alongside them during a critical “crossroads” season.
To be honest, Amber and I feel a little like the apostle Paul in that we want to truly edify and encourage this church during our limited time here, equipping and training them with whatever tools God has given us. To that degree, we’ve taught, preached or met with leaders several times a week and at every available opportunity. Most of our days involve one-on-one “mentoring” time with key people throughout the church, and we’ve had the privilege of counseling several individuals and couples through some extraordinarily difficult times. Amber and I have also been able to help jump-start a family ministry that includes a weekly marriage and parenting course, and we’re encouraged by the fruit this already seems to be bearing. I’ve been working with the worship teams to help them grow in leading the congregation, and both Amber and I have tried to help foster more of a culture of prayer and worship through different means. The reality is, Norkirken’s believers are the ones who have been diligently plowing the ground in Tromsø for years; we’re simply here for a season–yet that’s why we’ve been intentional about equipping them with things that can last.
Of course, we’re learning how to balance all this with language classes and family time. On that note, Brayden and Xander are absolutely loving life here in Tromsø. Rarely a day passes when Xander doesn’t say something about how much he enjoys his friends at Kråkeslottet Barnehage (his kindergarten that’s just up the hill from where we live). And if you want to know how we’re doing on learning the Norwegian language, just ask Xander, who’s become our resident “expert” on pronunciation.
Brayden, meanwhile, is having the time of his life at Tromsø International School, a small private school with students from 27 different nations. Growing up in Hong Kong, I went to a school similar (albeit larger) to this one, and it thrills me that Brayden is already developing a more global paradigm to go along with the invaluable educational experience he’s getting here. Though his school is English-speaking, he studies Norwegian daily. I was also in Norwegian classes up until Easter, although my progress has been frustratingly slow (but more on that another time).
Our first few weeks here in Tromsø were challenging in that we still didn’t know how long we’d be able to stay because of an ongoing visa mix-up. Yet not only have we learned more about walking each day in complete faith and seizing it to the fullest, we’ve also “settled in” since then, despite every week looking different from the last. We’ll be in Tromsø only three more months, and we pray that during these remaining days we can fulfill every assignment God gives us here.