Marcus & Amber Yoars

Echoes from the mission field of Norway

Tag: Christian community

Top 7 Things We’ve Learned in Tromsø

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!

How We’re Meeting the REAL Northern Lights

“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.