For the record: there are three things I really don’t like hearing in life: nails on a chalkboard, the words “there’s going to be a lot of people there” (#introvertproblems) and my own voice being played back to me. Since Iceland is technologically savvy and also the most sparsely populated European country, I was never really in fear of being forced to a massive party with thousands of people running their nails on old-school chalkboards. There’d at least be marker-boards.
But what I never expected to be hearing in Iceland was my own voice through headphones. I certainly didn’t expect to hear it the first day, and certainly not while on the radio.
We landed shortly before midnight Iceland time though, truth be told, it didn’t look like midnight. Because Iceland is so far north, the days during the summer are incredibly short; midnight appears more like dusk and during summer solstice the sun doesn’t actually set but just dips down like its taking a sip out of the ocean before beginning another day. When we landed and looked out the window of our plane it didn’t seem like we’d jumped forward several hours, it just felt like late evening in New England.
When we’d gathered our luggage and made it through customs, we made our way to the exit where we were greeted by our hosts Bill and Gunnar. Bill is the aforementioned pastor (ya know, the one I found on Google) and though we’d had a series of email conversations over the past 18 months, this was only the second or third time I’d seen him in person. All that being a grand justification for why I simply walked by him the first time I saw him; my wife grabbed me by the arm to get my attention.
We introduced ourselves; Gunnar offered to help carry our luggage to the car. We piled into the car all while exchanging pleasantries and remarking upon our shared delight that, to this point, the other didn’t appear to be a psychopath. Because you never know with people you meet on the Internet.
Driving north from Keflavík International Airport towards Reykjavík (two names which are all t00 easy to mix up) I stared out the window and listened to Bill and Gunnar explain our agenda for the next day. I heard Bill say something about “radio show” but didn’t think anything of it; I was too busy staring out the window.
The landscape around me was bare and desolate, rugged but mostly flat and completely encompassed in fog. The terrain appeared as though I would imagine the moon might, if it were covered in vegetation. In the midnight dusk I could see the rumors of Nordic irony I’d heard my entire life were true: Iceland is very green.
Needless to say, we were driving along and I was somewhat in a daze. Mollie asked a few questions and again I heard the words “radio show” coupled with “you” and “on it” but none of it seemed to register. I was just trying to soak in the lunar scenery passing by my window, along with sporadic splatterings of towns, the most prominent of which was named Hafnarfjörður (translated “harbor fjord”). Soon we arrived at our housing, where Bill and Gunnar assisted us with our luggage and bid us a goodnight.
We awoke late the next day and spent most of what remained of the morning and afternoon walking around the area where we were staying. Shortly thereafter, Bill picked us up to join him and his family for dinner. It was over dinner that he laid out the plan for the evening and this time I heard him: we were going to join him on a radio show.
As it turns out, there’s a Christian radio station in Iceland that was started by an Assemblies of God missionary here over twenty years ago. Most of the programming is in Icelandic, but once a week they have an international show that’s hosted in English. When the regular DJ is out of town, as he happens to be for the next month, Bill hosts the show. Bill informed us that we would be his guests on the show and, pending any (incredibly likely) gaffs, might join him in the coming weeks.
Thus it was that I found myself in a radio studio, wearing headphones, looking out over downtown Reykjavík on a typical, dreary, late summer evening. Bill was a gracious host and assured Mollie and I not to be nervous. Nonetheless, my leg was shaking as he signaled us that we were about to go “On Air”. I looked at Mollie and she smiled back; but what did she have to be nervous about? Her voice sounds like angels over coffee.
Bill introduced the show and “his new friends here for six weeks on an internship” while I prayed that my voice wouldn’t break the first time I opened my mouth. Then he asked me a question. I took a deep breath and answered.
I cannot tell you what the question was or if my answer was even remotely relevant. If I had to guess I’d say it was something like: “WELL, BILL OH MY GOSH IT’S SO NICE TO BE HERE. ICELAND PRETTY. PRAISE GOD. I LIKE TURTLES” followed by the sound of a diver taking their first gasp of air upon surfacing.
But I did it. I winced as I heard my own voice over the radio, smiled as Mollie’s came on and tried to answer the questions as best I could. Thus the evening progressed. Bill asked a question and, if directed at me, I answered all while dreaming that I sounded something like the professionals I listen to on NPR knowing that in reality I was actually a little closer to a chipmunk with a sore throat.
But ya know what? I did it. And as the night went on, I heard less of my voice through the headphones and saw more of the landscape through the window of the studio.
From where I sat I could see the largest peak in a range of volcanoes, Mount Esja, looming over the bay, its summit capped by clouds. Sun pushed through a sliver of the coverage and spread across the bay like fire. It was all so dreary, somewhat regular and a little bit commonplace: cars passed on the highway below; houses lined the bay beneath my view. Yet, at the same time, it was also so brilliant to behold.
And to be honest, I just couldn’t believe it. There I was sitting in a radio studio looking out on a cloudy sunset over Reykjavík, Iceland. After months of preparation, we were here to try and join in building God’s kingdom, to try and be a blessing to the people of this country. But that’s the thing about serving a graceful God, a God whose divine humility and love is reflected in his utilization of nervous, broken voices over radio channels to spread his Word. Throughout my time in seminary, ministry and just life in general, I’ve found that I often enter something thinking that I’m the one who will be giving. But I’ve found, time and time again, that I can never give more than he gave; the beauty of partaking in his grace is exemplified in the reality that the more I give, the more I receive.
I don’t know if anything I said on the radio the other night was any sort of blessing to anyone. But I do know one thing: time and time again, I feel like I’m the one who’s being blessed.
Mostly that’s because there weren’t a lot of people or chalkboards.