As I write this Jeni and I are sitting on a SleazyJet flight back from Iceland. The reason for our visit was to partake in a ’round-table’ conference for an organisation called ‘Radstock‘.
In simple terms Radstock exist to promote
“Mission at the heart of Local Churches, Local Churches at the heart of mission”.
This involves networking leaders and their Churches around the world in order to facilitate the sharing of resources and skills, and to build long-term relationships. These relationships often lead to short-term visits between Churches, sharing of resources and finances, and sometimes the equipping and sending of long-term cross-cultural missionaries. In my experience mission that is not rooted in the local Church is rarely effective, so we love what Radstock is about.
The time we spent hearing about what is happening in the Global Church at a local level, and strategising for further mutual enrichment has been thought provoking. Not only that but hearing some of the struggles and dangers our brothers and sisters overseas are facing is deeply humbling.
We also spent time together in worship and prayer, and took a little time for play too! I think something about the gathering of differing tribes and tongues to worship puts a smile on God’s face.
One of the real bonuses of the trip was getting the chance to see some of the Icelandic landscape. By the time we left there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground, which brought a magical atmosphere to the place. We visited a few of the main landmarks – geysers,waterfalls and a good late-night walk in downtown Reykjavik. Something of the landscape gave rise to a romantic image of God carving and pock-marking the island like a grand sculptor. It was a place of immense power and beauty.
The people and culture of Iceland were fascinating to me, especially as I come from Norse stock. Despite the bleak weather people were friendly and welcoming, and all spoke excellent English. There seemed to be a strong emphasis of the Viking roots of the culture, but equally most areas were very modern, especially the capital Reykjavik where we stayed. Everything seemed to run very smoothly, and apparently Reykjavik has one of the lowest crime rates for a capital city in the world. The whole population of Iceland is only around 300,000, which isn’t much bigger than the town where I live, and despite the economic crash in 2010 it still seems a prosperous place.
What really impressed me was how little the snow affected life. Normal cars easily carried on helped by regular plowing and excellent winter tyres. Some of the roads and paths even had under-floor heating to melt the snow! Most of the electricity in Iceland comes from geo-thermal generators, which means power is very cheap, and most places have the heating cranked right up!
A real highlight of the trip for me was visiting the outdoor hot baths. I’ve certainly never been swimming in a blizzard before! This led to some playful larking, especially from our Albanian delegates who had a great sense of humour. Riding the waterslide, jumping in the 44C hot tub and then making snow angels, we had a good time letting of some steam! (No geiser pun intended)
All-in-all I have to say that Iceland is one of the most interesting countries I’ve ever visited, and I’ve been to a fair few! It was such a fun place to visit, and they deliver a pretty polished tourism experience (even when we got stranded in a service station for 8 hours when the snow closed a mountain pass). I’m deeply thankful to our Church for giving us the opportunity to go, and deeply thankful to God for the diverse beauty He has woven into different places, people and cultures.
I hope one day we’ll be back!