Iceland is an island full of breathtaking waterfalls, glacial mountains, and friendly Icelandic horses. A country where peace and stability are the ideal life, and where countryside and city environments join together for a community like nowhere else in the world.
What an honor it was to join our team of 12 through SEU Missions! We got to experience a world of a post-Christian culture where the norms contrary to the Bible were openly expressed and the “god of the mind” presided. Through evangelism in the downtown area and practical work in the countryside, our team got to see God move through the little things, yet show up in some of the biggest ways imaginable. Here are some things we saw, learned, and experienced during our time in Iceland.
A Shift From Foundations
To understand the spiritual landscape of Iceland today, it’s important to understand the foundations of Christianity in the country’s history. In the 10th century, Icelanders by and large worshiped the pagan gods of their ancestors under what was known as the Northern Germanic religion. Christianity was not widely accepted in Iceland until the year 1000 when the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland, adopted it as the national religion under the influence of Olaf Tryggvason, the king of Norway. This was done as a way for the country to maintain independence, keep the peace, and avoid a war with neighboring nations.
Iceland has remained a Christian nation by law since, with the national church being the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. Even so, many of the people who live there either are not Christian; have adopted other religions such as Islam, Paganism, Zuism, and many more; or have completely rejected religion as a whole. Iceland is now ranked as one of the top irreligious countries in the world, and our team saw this firsthand as we encountered the difficulty of sharing the good news of the Gospel with a people who often did not care to receive it.
The Countryside and Downtown Reykjavík
We spent the first five days in the countryside of Iceland, helping our contact, Kristján, with practical needs such as painting, construction, and overall physical needs at the Skálinn Hostel. We helped with renovations at what is called the Ark, another building on the property. The Ark is generally used as a gathering place for Christians, where they also hold conferences and church events.
Our days there were quite challenging at times, as many of us felt a sense of spiritual heaviness in the atmosphere, despite working in a Christian environment. This heaviness manifested in ways such as trouble sleeping, feelings of hopelessness, and lethargy that often had no explainable source. After days of dealing with this heaviness, and many discussions amongst ourselves and with our hosts, we discovered that this heaviness was unique to Iceland due to much spiritual resistance that has been present in the country for years. During our team devotional time, we talked about the importance of the armor of God and were encouraged by sharing our testimonies with each other on different nights. Worship nights were also an integral part of winning the spiritual battles that we were all facing individually and collectively.
Our next stop was the capital of Reykjavík, a busy seaside city with narrow streets and beautiful Nordic architecture. We stayed and served at Hvítasunnukirkjan Fíladelfía, the largest Pentecostal church in Iceland. On our first Sunday there, we were able to attend three different services; one in English, one in Icelandic, and one in Spanish. During the Spanish service, one of our leaders, Raúl Correa-Vélez, had the opportunity to preach and share his testimony.
We spent many days in downtown Reykjavík where we were able to evangelize to the locals alongside our contacts at the church. We served hot chocolate and coffee, gave out scriptures in Icelandic, and offered prayer to those who needed it. Our worship team sang in the streets, while different teams spread out downtown and ministered one-on-one to people.
During this time, we had the joy of leading a young teen named Brandon to accept Christ into his life. Another man, Ali, embraced the love of God and was truly changed. After prayer, he was freed from suicidal thoughts and exclaimed, “You saved my life tonight! Thank you!”
It was challenging, at first, to defend the Gospel, but sharing the love of God seemed to win over any debates. Many locals believed in the idea of self-salvation, and the concept that we are all sinful by nature was widely denied. Here lies the difficulty in sharing the gospel in Iceland: the overriding belief system was “following the god of your mind, thus, you will inherit eternal life,” which essentially means to follow your own beliefs and desires. However, through prayer and sharing our testimonies and experiences, many heard the Gospel and witnessed breakthroughs in the lives of others as well as their own.
During one of our outreach days, we had the privilege of speaking to Venezuelan refugees who, led by the Holy Spirit, sacrificed their previous lives to come to Iceland and find a new home. We heard many of their testimonies and stories of what God had done in their lives, and we were deeply moved by this group as we felt God ministering to us and others through these conversations.
That same day, we attended a worship and prayer night held in someone’s home. It was truly a powerful night as we worshiped in Icelandic, English, and Spanish, and heard an amazing message given by our other leader, Alexa Fortney. It was a beautiful experience getting to commune and have fellowship with so many people of different backgrounds and cultures — despite the language barriers.
Breakout Teams: Stykkishólmur and the Vestmannaeyjar Islands
During the last few days of the trip, our team was split into two groups. One team, in which we both were a part of, went to the small portside town of Stykkishólmur, and the other team took a ferry to the beautiful Vestmannaeyjar Islands. The Stykkishómur team partnered with a satellite campus of the Hvítasunnukirkjan Fíladelfía, where a few of us were invited to share our testimonies and to preach. Our team connected with the members of the local church, who were so kind and hospitable and invited us into their home, and we were all encouraged by each other’s faith. The Vestmannaeyjar team spent time in kids’ ministry as well as evangelism.
Both teams reunited toward the end of the trip, and we shared glowing stories of our encounters with the Icelandic people and the goodness of God over the past few days. It reminded us of what it must have been like for the disciples during Jesus’s day, when they got back together after sharing the Gospel in different regions and towns.
The Salt and Light of The Earth
To try and describe the fullness of this trip and its impact is more than can be written, but the words and experiences that are unspoken are burned into the hearts of our team and those we partnered with and encountered, and will last into eternity. Many team members were unsure of how the spiritual heaviness and post-Christian atmosphere of the country would affect them as well as the people we interacted with. By the end of the trip, we saw breakthroughs in many areas of each of our lives, as well as how God worked in others who gave a simple “yes” to what the Holy Spirit wanted to do.
As Christians, we sometimes get caught up in performance and expectations of what God can do, and how we think He should do it for us. Yet, we often forget that God simply wants our “yes” and our obedience to step out and to take action — even when we might not see or understand His purposes. The seeds that have been planted in Iceland are only going to grow. The churches there will continue to find God’s purpose for future generations. There is still much work to be done in Iceland for the missionary heart that is willing to go and share the love of God with the people there. God is not done with Iceland! If we can simply be the salt and light of the world as Jesus called us to be — to offer a new way of life that does not conform to the destructive patterns of this world – then what can limit God from saving anyone who simply calls on His name?
Thank you to the Church of Fíladelfía and all of our Iceland contacts for pouring into us, leading us, and for allowing us to partner with each of you in advancing the kingdom of God in Iceland, and building up the body of Christ that is already there.
Written & edited by SEU students, & Iceland mission trip team members, David Jarrett & Mia Golding
About SEU Missions
Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff travel the globe each year through SEU Missions. Each student-led mission trip has a specific purpose with one overall goal — to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.