The view from the docks at the camp in northern Iceland on a very cool, wet, and dreary day. Perfect day for ice cream!
The view from the docks at the camp in northern Iceland on a very cool, wet, and dreary day. Perfect day for ice cream!

When we first began telling people we’d be spending our summer in Iceland, a common reaction we received was: “Iceland! Oh, that’ll be cool (wink, wink)”. So yes, Iceland is very, very far north.

In fact, Iceland is so far north that it has the honor of being home to the northernmost capitol of the world: Reykjavík. Furthermore, a good portion of the country sits just 60 degrees from the Arctic Circle. All that said Iceland is saved from a fate of year-round arctic conditions by being situated smack-dab in the middle of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. So while it is incredibly far north, the environment here is actually rather temperate and consistent: summer temperatures rarely push above seventy but in the winter it is rare for Reykjavík to see the thermometer drop below zero. Nonetheless, while it may not be totally frozen solid, Iceland as a whole is still very cool.

Which is why I was, and still am, surprised to encounter the Icelandic obsession with ice cream. I grew up in the mid-western part of the United States. During the peak summer heat, one could easily sweat off five pounds just fetching the mail or taking out the garbage. It’s understandable to me why an ice cream shop would be an opportune business endeavor in a region that regularly issues heat advisories.

But what I cannot fathom is why, on a day when it’s fifty degrees out, cloudy and raining to boot, I might be walking downtown with an Icelandic friend, soaking cold and wet, see a line of people stretching beyond the horizon, enquire “what’s everyone waiting for?” and receive the answer: “Oh, that’s one of the best ice cream shops in town…do you want some?” But it happened and I did. And I was so befuddled, and my teeth were chattering so hard from what I’m semi-convinced was stage-one hypothermia, that I could hardly answer what had to have been a hypothetical and seethingly ironic question. But it wasn’t. He was completely serious. It doesn’t matter if it’s their last meal atop a glacier before an avalanche swoops down over them: Icelanders love their ice cream.

They love ice cream so much that they literally roll out the red carpet when it arrives.

Last week, we took the opportunity to journey north from Reykjavík to Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland. Bill heard of a Christian youth camp run by two brothers in a small town east of Akureyri and we managed to connect with them and arrange a visit. So on Thursday we piled into Bill’s car and embarked on an eight-hour drive to the other side of Iceland.

We arrived late Thursday night amidst heavy fog and damp cold just in time to join the camp staff meeting. We introduced ourselves as visitors from the States who were interested in learning about the camp and the work they were doing. Many of the staff members are volunteers, some of them from Iceland, others from the Faroe Islands. They introduced themselves individually, smiling and asking how we’d enjoyed our time in Iceland thus far. All of them were incredibly polite, cordial and welcoming. After the meeting there was evening tea, all the youth met in the dining hall for drinks and pastries before washing up and going to bed. We were offered refreshments and told to make ourselves at home. With the fog and rain outside, a cup of warm tea in my hand and Icelandic youth chattering and snatching cookies off plates next to me, it was difficult not to feel at home and yet very foreign and displaced at the same time.

The next day dawned with no positive change in the weather. Rain fell steadily; the staff members told us it was the rainiest day they’d had all year.

“Usually it will stop for at least part of the day,” one of them said me as we sat inside, staring out the window onto abandoned boats docked on the lake. It was cold, wet, and miserable. A perfect day to stay inside, a perfect day to do everything possible to stay warm. And, for Icelanders, a perfect day for ice cream.

It was mid-afternoon and I was watching a chess game between two of the campers, unable to understand much of the trash talking but clearly sympathizing with one chum who was getting his butt kicked. Suddenly, an announcement came over the intercom in Icelandic and for a moment I feared something terrible had happened. I feared maybe the local volcano had erupted, or a nearby dam had given way because everyone was running around and screaming, grabbing raincoats and shoes and sprinting out the door. And so I joined the crowd and ran around screaming, snatching my coat and hoping at some point that someone might inform me if a volcano was in fact exploding so I might perhaps go back and fetch my wife.

I sprinted out the door only to come to a sudden halt with everyone else because it was there the crowd had stopped and gathered around….an ice cream truck. I was baffled. This was what the chaos was all about? Ice cream? Let me remind you: it’d been raining all day. The temperature couldn’t have been above 55 degrees. I was standing outside in jeans with a sweatshirt and jacket atop and I was still a bit chilled and I’d just been rushed out of the building like a five-alarm fire for…ice cream. I like ice cream as much as the next guy, but this was a little eccentric.

Then it got weirder.

Because as I stood beneath the porch, watching the campers huddle and shiver in the pouring rain (some of them, in all their urgency, had forgotten a jacket) I watched as some of them actually lined up to take pictures with the ice cream man. I mean, don’t get me wrong: the delivery guy was handsome and all: but taking a picture with him? Isn’t that a little much?

Apparently not. Because next thing I knew, a group of the staff members dashed back inside then reappeared with a box full of supplies. Within seconds, they had arranged a red carpet leading to the ice cream truck, lined the campers on either side with horns and Icelandic flags, and positioned the smiling deliveryman at the end next to the truck. And there they stood, blowing on the horns and waving the flags as the rain fell and I stood off the to side asking myself: what. on. earth. is. happening? At this point, I was truly baffled and started to wonder just what type of camp I’d wandered into and if maybe I should lock the door when we went to sleep that night. At the same time, I was leaning down to tighten my shoelaces, just in case the next thing they did was trot out a goat to sacrifice to the ice cream gods; if that happened I’d just start running. In case you’re wondering, I was concerned about my wife, thank you very much. But she’s run a half marathon. She’d catch up.

But just in case I was missing something, and because they really did seem like nice, amazing and awesome people, I turned to one of the staff members next to me and asked her what was going on.

She turned to me and laughed. “Já” (that’s Icelandic for ‘yeah’ or ‘yes’ the one word I readily understand) “this must look a little strange, huh?”

I allowed a small laugh but kept tightening my shoelaces nonetheless.

“There’s a competition with this ice cream company right now for the best picture taken with their delivery man. You take a picture and then tag them online. Winner gets, oh, I guess it would be equivalent of $2500 US dollars.”

“Oh…oh. Okay, I gotcha,” I wiped my brow. “That makes sense.”

She laughed. “Yeah, they’ve been planning to do this all week. They really want to win. I guess it must look a little… uh…strange, yes? I can only imagine what you must be thinking…it must…is something wrong with your shoelace?”

“What? No, sorry…just needed to tighten them a bit. Look at that! They’re all set.”

So many times we are quick to judge a culture by our own standards and biases. I’ve heard endless stories of missionaries who’ve tramped into foreign environments and immediately wrecked Christ’s reputation with misunderstandings of the local culture. A missionary in Europe declared the national church heretical for their use of wine in communion, a minister to the Congo was appalled by the immodesty of the local natives whose women didn’t wear tops, this one American buffoon thought Icelanders were really weird for how they reacted when the ice cream delivery guy arrived even though they were actually just trying to win a photo competition… the list goes on and on. We have a tendency of attempting to fix a culture, to break it down and smash the circular way things are in order to fit them into our square perspectives before even taking the time to understand what’s really happening, what’s truly going on.

The more time I spent with the camp staff, the more I enjoyed their presence. They were some of the most joyful, sincere, and welcoming Christians I’d met on our trip. I stayed up till midnight that day just hanging out with them. We sat around the kitchen table and ate popsicles. They talked, laughed and since they were speaking Icelandic I simply laughed when they laughed and hoped they wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t a clue what was being said (spoiler alert: they did). I never would have come to enjoy this kinship if I’d assumed the worst and written off an innocent attempt to win a photo competition as some lactose-ridden golden calf incident.

I’m not saying there isn’t right or wrong, I’m just saying that there’s also culture. And before jumping to the conclusion that something is morally unacceptable, we owe it to the people we’re with to assume that perhaps, just maybe, our view is culturally nuanced, that there’s a log in our eye that’s keeping us from seeing things clearly. Especially when it comes to spreading the Gospel.

For the Gospel message is one that stretches to every tribe and every tongue, and you can bet that it doesn’t sound the same or look the same in all of them. Some of us will inevitably dance differently, act differently, understand things differently and say things differently than the rest. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t all worshipping the same God. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have more to learn than those who’re already here.

Because who knows, some of them may even line up to buy ice cream when it’s really cold outside. And for what it’s worth, I guess that’s not too weird. In fact, I think it’s kinda cool.








Snapshots from the various spots we visited throughout Reykjavik as we learned to use the bus system.
Snapshots from the various spots we visited throughout Reykjavik as we learned to use the bus system.

Navigating around cities is not one of my spiritual gifts. People always remark to me that it’s not that difficult to find one’s way around if I just use the public transit system. While this may seem like common sense to most, personally it just sounds like telling someone who doesn’t know how to swim: “it’s not that difficult, just hold on to this anchor.”

We’d been in Reykjavík only a couple of days and Bill had borne the burden of picking us up via car anytime we needed to go somewhere. Obviously this system wouldn’t be sustainable for our entire time in the country, so on our third day Bill drove us to the mall where we bought bus passes. As the lady at the counter was ringing up purchase, I picked up the bus map and glanced at it tentatively: it was covered with different colored lines and names like “Hæðargarður” and “Lækjartorg”; nothing on the page bore remote resemblance to the city I’d been living in for the past two days. In fact, if you’d have paid me 100 Icelandic krona right then and there to tell you where we were living on the map, I couldn’t have pulled it off. For that matter, I couldn’t have even told you that the bribe of 100 krona was hardly worth enough to open my mouth (it equals about 87 cents). I was too stupefied to even be stupid.

So it would seem inescapably necessary that Bill would give us the assignment of spending the entirety of the next day learning to use the bus system. We were told to navigate our way from one corner of the city to the next, exploring it’s various neighborhoods while understanding how to get from point A to B to C and finally to Z hopefully without becoming irrevocably lost somewhere in between.

We arrived at the bus stop the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to discover that we’d just missed the closest scheduled bus and the next one wouldn’t arrive for at least another twenty minutes. So we sat at the empty station while, somewhat ominously, it began to rain. Good start.

Within a half hour the next bus pulled up and we jumped on board. My wife flashed her bus pass like and old pro, but I strode right past the driver as if I owned the whole city before realizing my mistake. When I finally did, it lead to me fumbling through my wallet, nervously muttering apologies in every language I knew (“sorry”, “lo siento”, “my bad, brah”) and finally showing the driver my pass somewhat abashedly like it was a fake ID at a night club. Despite the scene, he didn’t seem to care too much and with a nod, turned and jolted the bus into gear. We were off.

Our first destination for the day was Mjódd one of the focal points of bus routes in the city. From there we were going to try and catch a transfer to Hlemmur then onto Harpa which was right on the waterfront of the city. Being as unaccustomed to city transit as I am, I was uneasy, anxiously anticipating my next stop. Not knowing the language magnified the anxiety greatly; a lot of the names here sound the same to me.

For instance: when traveling to Höfðatorg I might hear the announcement for the upcoming stop at Holtagarðar and, though I correctly believe Höfðatorg to be at least five stops away, will stand up quickly, slam the stop button and sprint to the door in expectation, only to second-guess myself when the doors open, eyes glance in expectation of my departure, and, noticing now that we are actually at Holtagarðar, will return to my seat as inconspicuously at possible. I’m not saying this has actually happened (or that my wife has ever been caught in the cross fire of these cross-cultural anxiety attacks) I’m just saying that if it had actually happened, it’d be embarrassing. That’s all.

It was during this time that I also started preparing for my first sermon here in Iceland; it is without coincidence that I find the correlations between navigating my way around a city and through a Biblical text to be endless. There’s something entirely wondrous yet equally fearful to me about opening the Bible. It’s like opening the map to a grand city, full of mystery, perplexity, and the ability to find and lose my way at each and every turn with each and every decision.

I am constantly amazed, if that is the right word, by people who simplify their understanding of the Bible by saying things like: “I just read it literally.” I cannot say whether I doubt or admire this kind of faith; I simply don’t understand it. It sounds to me like someone looking at my perplexity with urban navigation and saying: “your problem is that you’re not reading the map literally.” While it may be that simple, it also isn’t that simple, as anyone trying to decipher the enunciated difference between “Höfðatorg” and “Holtagarðar” or what it really, practically, physically, down in the dirt of day-to-day living means to be a “living sacrifice” to “take up your cross and follow me”, can tell you.

But: “The answer is right there! You’re holding it in your hands.” And yet there I am stumbling around the city, jumping off and on busses at the wrong points, waving the banner of Christ’s name over misinterpretations of his words throughout my life and teachings.

And so there is grace. Several times throughout the day bus drivers pulled over so we could get off the bus after we’d missed our stop and were scrambling out of our seats in a panic. Once or twice a kind bystander affirmed our location at a bus stop, nodding politely when we inquired “English?” while pointing to a map and asking where the deuce we were. At the end of the day, we returned to our apartment (after missing one last bus, I might add) alive, safe, and slightly more confident in finding our way around the city. Slightly.

The next day I took the morning to navigate through the week’s passage and prepare my sermon. And, like the previous morning, I felt lost among streets of mystery and alleys of unknowing. And as I prepared I knew there were times I was getting off at the wrong stop, I knew there were places I was misunderstanding certain words. How could I not? I am, after all, a stranger in a foreign land, an adopted earthly child in the kingdom of heaven.

And so I prayed for wisdom, prayed for understanding, and prayed for grace that’s already been given.

And as such grace abounds, we continue navigating our way through the city.


I really hate airports.

They’re always crowded, always busy, and always loud. I’m usually in such a hurry that it warrants plowing over fellow travelers or being stuck on extended layovers caused by “technical difficulties beyond our control”. I’m always getting honked at by some angry employee barreling through the terminal on a cart, always paying somewhere between and arm and a leg for a stale hamburger and always, it seems, always receiving dagger eyes from the lady with blue gloves that works security, the one who seems to think that forgetting to remove one’s belt before stepping through the scanner warrants glares normally reserved for men who shot-gun kittens. If Dante were around and writing today, it wouldn’t be called “Purgatory”, it’d be “O’Hare.”

I really just hate airports.

This morning, however, as my wife and I check flight times, double check baggage weights and stuff granola bars in our pockets, I’m not even thinking about the airport. I’m just thinking about where we’re going; I’m thinking about Iceland.

Iceland: a mysterious land sitting in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, formed in ages past by the eruption of massive volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates. Iceland: the country with the northernmost capital of the world, where winters are long but lit by the extravagance of the aurora borealis, where summer’s midnight sun illuminates a landscape described by one tourist as “out of this world.”

It’s the land of sagas and myths, where national pride is rivaled only by a welcoming nature and the native tongue has hardly altered in nearly 1,000 years. It’s a thriving epicenter of culture, home to renowned poets, writers, world-famous musicians and international chess champions. It’s the epitome of Nordic traditions, a place where one can actually go on elf excursions when the tour guide isn’t even slightly kidding, the origin of globally acknowledged beauty queens and the locale where Quentin Tarantino once noted that McDonald’s employees could very well be models.

I’m thinking about Iceland.

I cannot say when the siren call of Iceland first entered my mind. But since the youngest age I can remember, something inside me has drawn me north. Scanning a world map as a young child I was constantly drawn towards its northern pole. Tracing my finger, just south of there, I beheld a tiny island amidst a vast sea.

And I couldn’t help but wonder: what kind of people lived there? What were their stories? Who were the souls that quietly settled and inhabited this mysterious volcanic island?

I don’t know what to call this stirring within me, wanderlust, adventure, curiosity, the Spirit… but whatever it was, it continued to foster and grow. In college I learned that one of my favorite bands originated from Iceland and obsessed myself with their music. I read travel guides and dreamed of spending a month hitch-hiking around the country. I even spent one socially exclusive Friday night attempting to teach myself snippets of the language (an endeavor which promptly ceased when my roommate kindly informed me that he wasn’t sure what Icelandic sounded like but was positive it didn’t entail the orc-ish sounds I was garbling).

Fast-forward a couple years to a conversation I was having with my girlfriend, who (spoiler alert) would later become my fiancé and {(not as much but still a) spoiler alert} is now my wife. I told her about my fascination with the country and shared how I’d recently searched a massive database (read: Google) and found a church in the capital city willing to host us as summer interns. She considered the prospect briefly, no doubt wondering what horrible life decision lead to landing a boyfriend who’s idea of a romantic adventure involved down jackets in July. After calculating these missteps, she replied with a simple: “Well… let’s go!”

And so we are.

We’re going to explore, to learn, to share: share our hearts, our stories and The Story we’ve been grafted into. We’re going to see the world and see the Creator of the world from a different angle, like moving sideways to examine a famous painting. We’re going to help who we can help, join in worship with whoever wants to worship, and embrace the common mysterious link that binds us all in a landscape that cannot help but testify to this mystery.

And so today, for once, I’m not really dreading the airport.

Now if you’re reading this blog, logic would lead me to believe that you must be A) really bored 2) family and friends that are also really bored or D) a least a little bit intoxicated.

But here you are. And while I have you I must extend this invitation:

Journey with us to the land of the midnight sun. Travel with us as we venture into a mystical land to interact with a spectacular culture. Join us on this adventure to Iceland. Come with us to Reykjavík, Kópavogur, Akureyri, Garðabær and (pending the possibility of literally blowing it’s top off) Eyjafjallajökull. Follow us here, on this blog, as we take our adventure. We don’t know quite what to expect but we know it’s worth expecting. And we hope you come with us.

It’ll be the best boring moment of your day.

So will you join us? Will you accept this invitation?

For the record: I promise there will be no shot-gunning of kittens.