I wish I could show you all 187 photographs of this gorgeous day. It was a once in a life time experience. Three young ladies stopped and congratulated me in Norwegian on the day. Since I didn’t understand what they were saying they asked where I was from. When I told them Canada and the United States they wanted to know if we have anything like this in the America’s. I could only think of one thing – The Kentucky Derby. Ten miles of The Kentucky Derby.
See more photographs on Entry 21
Before heading down to Italy, we were invited to spend a day and two evenings at our dear friends’ house in Oslo. The first night, Roar and Lillis Haldorsen Strat treated us to a fabulous meal of fresh grilled salmon with traditional Norwegian cake and ice cream for dessert. They also planned a truly fantastic day on the 17th, determined to help us experience the Norwegian national holiday in all its glory. We began the day by going to a local school where some of their grandchildren were marching in a parade. Then we drove downtown to the parade that outshines every parade Tony and I have ever attended. Lasting three hours, school after school marched down the avenue to be admired by all us onlookers and waved at by the king and queen of Norway and their son, the crown prince, and his wife and children. The Norwegian flag was seen everywhere – carried and waved with obvious pride by its citizens. The colors and patterns of the national costumes were so diverse and beautiful that I soon became quite overwhelmed in trying to take it all in. There are distinct patterns and styles associated with each region of the country and nearly everyone who owns one of these costumes wears it proudly all day. Since Lillis is from the Bergen region (west coast), she made Roar a costume to match hers and they looked so impressive in them that many people stopped to take their picture. I had a scary experience of almost getting lost in that enormous crowd and prayed my way back to the safely of their company, being a lot more careful to stay close after that. After the parade was over and we listened to a men’s choir sing traditional Norwegian songs, we all headed down to the harbor area to climb aboard Roar’s son’s sailboat and had lunch out on its deck! The day ended with a church service in an old church that sits next to the Oslo fjord and just down the road from the king’s beautiful country estate. What a day! We took hundreds of photos and have included some of them below to give you a taste of what we saw. We returned to their house to have fresh strawberries and ice cream before we all fell into bed. The next morning Roar and Lillis drove us to the bus station to begin our day-long trip to Italy.
Oasen (the church) and SBI (the training center) spared no expense and allowed Jeanne and I to spend whatever necessary to make this a real fiesta. Though short of time (one week), we made and distributed about six hundred invitations. Hoping to have as many as 250 people, we bought 13 kilo of ground beef for tacos and ten cooked chickens to shred for the burritos. We offered an authentic food experience with fruit punch, chips, salsa, soft and crispy tacos, and burritos made with chicken, peppers, garlic, onion, and tomato. Except for the el charro or black beans. the condiments were as expected – the same as you might find at Chipotle in America.
We began serving at 5:00 as people began to drive in to the campus parking lot. Though we did not get the 250 people we had hoped for, we did have many new faces show up along with many Christians from our church connections – about a hundred in all. It was an excellent turnout for them, since Norwegians are unlikely to come to anything they are unfamiliar with and the weather was less than ideal. By 6:30 I had to go buy more burrito tortillas. Fortunately every store in Norway (unlike Italy) seems to have a full supply of Mexican foods on their shelves.
We had thought to do all of this outside with traditional Mexican music blaring out onto the courtyard, but as the weather became even more uncooperative with wind and a cold rain, even the pinata-breaking was a challenge. Children gathered around it and pounded away with a bat under an awning in the pouring rain. After what seemed like an hour of swinging, there was a shout as a small trickle of candies fell to the ground. At first the polite Norwegian children didn’t know quite what to do, but once they caught on, they were pushing and grabbing like good Latino children.
At about 8:00 we drew for the $100 gift certificate we planned to give away and cleaned up for Sunday. It was a long day of preparation with many students and staff members helping with the set-up, signage, vegetable chopping, decorations, and punch. Students also helped by serving our “customers” for two hours. People were invited to give a donation to Ghana children, but otherwise we treated them to free food and an authentic Mexican experience… in the middle of Norway.
We are slightly behind on our blogging due to a busy schedule and a lack of reliable internet. We have now arrived in Parma, Italy after a few very busy days in Norway. On Sunday last, I preached the morning service at Oasen and then we traveled to Ga Ut Training Center near Oslo. On Monday I taught a class of about thirty students and we then immediately went to Oslo for Norway National Day on Tuesday. This all meant for a very busy schedule so these next blogs will take you back a few days.
Jeanne’s Norwegian Medical Experience
As you can imagine, it’s kind of inconvenient when you get sick on a trip – especially when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language. I’ve been hacking and coughing for quite a while, so I didn’t think much about it, but suddenly new symptoms developed that weren’t as easy to ignore – like shortness of breath and a loud wheezing in my lungs that got a lot worse when I went to bed. Tony became alarmed enough about me to insist that I have someone call a doctor and try to get an appointment before we head out for Italy next week.
We were pretty surprised when Tina (the school’s administrative assistant) came back a few minutes later and said she had an appointment for me later the same day with a doctor down in the village just five minutes away by car. I took a translator along with me (Hanne) in case I had problems communicating with the doctor, but the young doctor spoke English pretty well. We didn’t have to wait at all (even though we were a few minutes early for the appointment). After a short interview and examination the doctor said my lungs did sound quite noisy, both when I breathed in and breathed out. She ordered some kind of blood test (finger prick) that would tell her if my body was fighting a bacterial infection. When the results from that test came back low, she decided I likely didn’t need to take antibiotics and so she prescribed two inhalers to target my asthma symptoms. She also ordered a chest X-ray.
So Tony and I enlisted the help of a student couple who have a car – Ruben and Birgitte – and they kindly drove us to a pharmacy to fill my prescriptions, then on to a hospital where I could get a chest X-ray. Turns out it was Tonsberg, the city we visited last week and blogged about. Finding the hospital was simple enough for them and when Birgitte and I walked down to the radiology dept. we looked at the clock. It was five to three. My doctor’s appointment had been at 12:30 and we were already at the last leg of our medical assignments.
How fortunate our timing was … the radiology department closed at 3:00! I sat down, expecting a long wait since the room had several people waiting ahead of us, and couldn’t believe it when they called my name not more than 10 minutes later. The women doing the X-ray were fast and efficient, and we were on our way by a little after 3:30. I paid the bill for the X-ray on my way out of the hospital with cash.
What a difference from my medical experiences in the U.S. The total for my medical visit – doctor’s examination, blood test, X-ray, and two pharmacy prescriptions was 600 Kroner … a whopping $100 in U.S. currency. Quite a bargain, wouldn’t you say?
Oh sure, there are still inconveniences to trying to get health care in another country. It wasn’t easy to decipher what the radiologist was saying (in Norwegian) on the chest X-ray results. But it appears that my problems stem from condensation in my right lung. They are treating me with two kinds of asthma medication and we are continuing on to the next portion of our trip, hoping for the best and trusting in our faithful heavenly Father.
As of Wednesday past, we have been on the ground in Norway for two weeks. After landing we stayed a day and a half in the Oslo area (The Normisjon Ga Ut Center) catching up on sleep and getting our land legs. We will be going back there tomorrow where on Monday I will teach a day long seminar on “Contemporary Evangelism Methods” or “Communicating Christian Thought in a Post-Christian, Post-Modern World.”
For the last two weeks we have been mostly encouraging, teaching and mentoring students.
Last Sunday I preached here at SBI and Oasen on, “The Plague of the Heart – The High Cost of Sin Management” apparently resulting in good fruit especially with two young ladies, C and J who seemed impacted by the call to Christ and righteousness.
On Sunday evening we were at Betel in Halden across the Oslo fiord near Sweden where I spoke on “Justice, Mercy and Grace – The Unjust Steward.”
During the first week I taught everyday for about four hours. If I were to title the course I might have called it, “Rightly Dividing’ or “Discerning the Full Counsel of God,” where first I explained the divisions of systematic theology and the purpose of theological study. After explaining why theology is important, I took denominational distinctions and various doctrinal positions such as water regeneration, universalism, second work of grace, etc. along with statements like, “What Happens to the Poor Innocent Native who Never Heard of Christ,” and provided biblical answers. We were lost at first with a certain air of anti-intellectualism but once they could see it they got on board and we wound up having a good class which I think will greatly benefit them in the future.
MEXICALI ROSA’S OUTREACH TONIGHT!
Jeanne and I also organized an outreach whereby we hope to entertain many first time guests. You can read about it on one of the earlier blogs, “Mexicali Rosa’s, Cafe’ del Sol.” We hope to serve over three-hundred and fifty tacos and burritos today between five and seven pm today.
On the next Friday evening I spoke at a youth meeting on “So What Makes Jesus So Likeable?” Jesus commended the social outcasts (sinners) while turning away the self – righteous. He was and is a friend of sinners. All other religions teach exactly the opposite and this is why the gate is narrow. People simply have to put away their pride which they are not apt to do. People can’t seem to get this concept without divine revelation.
This past Thursday evening I spoke to a combined church, bible college meeting on “Totemism – Living in the Culture of the King.” All cultures tend to remake Jesus into themselves by making our cultural values his. When we do this we wind up worshipping ourselves. We become God. This is true in America where Jesus is upwardly mobile, successful and wealthy. By putting cultural grids over the New Testament many “Christian’s” wind up as tourists to the kingdom of God rather than immigrants. We should not be forcing Jesus to be the culture learner. He is King.
Last night I talked on the subject, “Who Switched the Price Tags,” using “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” All persons, place high value on trivial things and fail to give importance to the things that really matter.
I will finish the series on Sunday morning when I have chosen to talk on Hebrews 12: 1-2, “Jason’s Marathon and Laying Aside Every Weight.” Many people need to unload their anger, bitterness and pain. I will also take them to the bitter water’s of Marah in Exodus 14. To sweeten the poison of life we must put in the stick as Moses did. This stick is a type of the cross of Christ.
A Land Full of Surprises…
It’s fascinating to me how many surprises I have experienced on this cross-cultural adventure. And it has just started! A good case in point is how much Norwegians seem to enjoy Italian food. Now in my head I figured my time in Norway would be spent eating lots of fish and potatoes and I would have to wait to get to Italy to have pizza and spaghetti. But in the mere two weeks we’ve been here, I’ve had pizza three times and just a few nights ago Tony and I
enjoyed a truly outstanding spaghetti dinner at a friend’s house. The man of the house, Tor kjell (forgive me if I spell it wrong!), cooked up his own marinara sauce and focaccia bread to go with the perfectly cooked pasta and fresh salad (he used rapeseed oil instead of olive oil for the dressing, because it’s not as heavy tasting, he explained). To say we were impressed with his cooking skills would be an understatement. It turns out that he loves to watch cooking shows and read gourmet cookbooks – another stereotype blown out of the water since I thought all Norwegian men were outdoorsmen who would disdain spending time in the kitchen. Our host is a man of many talents… he is a kindergarten teacher with amazing musical talents and is also an excellent translator. He served as our translator when Tony preached and I gave an impromptu testimony at the Sunday evening service at the school. He and his wife Heidi (also a musical whiz and an exceptional baker in spite of being blind) live in a rented farmhouse with their two young children. Their son, who’s four, really reminded me of our grandson Dylan back home. Anyway, after enjoying the sumptious main course our host shooed us out of the kitchen so he could clean up. (He
insisted he had his own system and wanted no help!) In about half an hour he called us back in for some to-die-for berry crisp served with ice cream and Norwegian coffee. If we closed our eyes we might have thought we were in another country, but I’m beginning to see that Norway’s people have many sides to them and each of them are terrific. Although they have no regular television, our hosts were able to share some interesting Internet sites with us… including cooking shows like “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Heidi leads worship at the SBI church services and has such a sweet spirit. Obviously her disability is not something that robs her of her joy in the Lord. How blessed we are to know them both. Sharing their home and their lives with us was an encouragement to us, the bewildered strangers in their midst.
My morning walk…
Note these unusual trees. Anyone know what they are?
While Tony has been teaching his classes, I’ve had the luxury of spending my time as I please… something I haven’t been free to do for years. So I’ve been reading my Bible, writing, praying, and taking walks around the beautiful countryside here. Here are a few pictures of my favorite walking path. With my feet problems, I have to keep my daily walking to between 20 and 40 minutes.
The school where we are is set high on a hill that overlooks the farms with newly plowed and seeded fields. The trees are budding out in response to all the warm temperatures and bright sun, and flowers like lily of the valley and tulips are adding color to the green grass beside the roadway. I usually tackle the steep hill climb first, before I get too tired, and am rewarded by a
lovely steep descent on my way back. One part of the walk is through woods, where I see new birds and trees that I’ve not seen before. And if I walk far enough (the 40 minute version), I pass by a small village with houses and a lovely Lutheran church complete with a small graveyard and high steeple. Sometimes I pass by some pretty impressive bikers trucking up the steep hill without even looking tired. One day I met a friendly man (who looked to be in his eighties) walking his bicycle up the hill in anticipation no doubt of enjoying the ride back down to where he lived. He graciously let me take his picture and cheerfully called as I turned to leave, “Enjoy your trip.” I wish I knew enough Norwegian to reply in kind. All I could manage was the one word I’ve learned: “Tusen takk!” (a thousand thanks)
Now remember, I am a visitor here in Norway. Also, keep in mind, a blog is not a thesis. I consider this particular blog a sort of diary – travelogue filled with observations, impressions and comment.
I recently got in trouble by saying that Norwegians didn’t have C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” or “Screwtape Letters.” I was informed by the same fellow who complained about my comments concerning the price of pizza in Tonsberg that Norway does have these books in their language and for this I was thankful to hear. He went on to scold me about doing better research before telling “gullible” (his culturally sensitive word, not mine) Americans this sort of misleading information. He’s right. I probably should have done a quick “Google” search but I am often pinched for time and these blogs take a lot of time out my schedule. Sometimes I am just happy to get them written and published, warts and all. Anyway, they apparently do have these books but as I pointed out to another friend in an email, what’s the point of having such books if people don’t know they exist? I am told there is no good Norwegian word for “mere” so I probably would have missed it anyway as “mere” is most likely rendered as “normal.” I wouldn’t have thought of that.
I am likely to get in trouble again with this post as I am going to talk about something I only know about from “hear say.” But if I offend you with my, “shoot from the hip” analysis, as long as you are nice, I will listen to your perspective on the following subject. Even if we disagree, remember, we are approaching seven billion people in the world and I am but one. Slap your hands together and move on.
Last Sunday people from all over Norway – people who rarely darken the doorway of the Lutheran state church – put on their finest traditional dress and go to their respective churches for a national “coming of age” event called “Confirmation.”
I found this surprising since I almost never run into anyone while traveling here that has much use for church, Christianity or God. I have always thought of “Confirmation” as a very serious bit of business where one publicly confirms their Christian faith. Apparently, this is no longer so and has taken on a more secular significance. I have been told that Lutheran youth have not had to confirm their faith by vows for over fifty years. One is a Christian simply by virtue of baptism.
As much as 80% of Norway would be Lutheran by baptism and membership. For every head that can be counted, the church receives and annual stipend. This is true of the other legal churches as well. If one should change his or her denominational or church allegiance the government must be notified and the money will go in another direction. I should point out that the confirmation candidates receive financial gifts as well… MONEY – lot’s of it. So whether or not people hold any conviction regarding religious matters, it is for the most part, immaterial.
Still, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. While much of the state church is steeped in formality and tradition there is a living faith within the Lutheran community where lives are being transformed, churches planted and missionaries sent. One friend points out that while the Lutheran church often lacks vibrancy, the largest percentage of active, regenerate believers in Norway are undoubtedly Lutheran.
When over lunch I asked the more important question about whether people took this pomp and ceremony seriously from a spiritual vantage point I was told an emphatic, “No.” Most young people thought it was meaningless and just something that all or at least most Norwegians are expected to do.
It is well-known that Norway is a highly secular state where people rarely attend church. I wanted to know so I asked, “What percentage of those being confirmed take their vows seriously?” In other words, “Do you think very many put any confidence in the Lutheran Church or the Christian gospel?” Again, (and no real surprise) I was told by the group at the table that they would suppose only 1% would remain active in the Christian faith. Confirmation would make little difference. I privately wondered if , “Thou shalt not take the Lord thy God’s name in vain,” might not be what this verse really means?
Like it or not, these are the facts…
My dad used to talk about the “burnt over” country where seed could not take root. As another analogy, people can be vaccinated against catching the real thing. This is just such a place. It is tough going here with most people up to their necks in skepticism. When I have tried to talk to people at the small shopping center and coffee shop in the nearby village, I have been met with either coldness or, in some cases, rudeness. Faith is not a subject to be talked about outside of the walls of a religious institution. It is no wonder Muslims in Europe are puzzled with Christianity and see it as meaningless in determining the course of one life, let alone all of history.
Culturally speaking, God has been gagged and Christianity muzzled.
The Bible has a verse for all that I detect, … “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” 2 Timothy 3:5
Martin Luther would roll over in his grave to see what has become of the Lutheran Church. It is true, it begins with a man, then a movement, next a machine and finally a monument. In the words of A.W. Tozer, “Denominations can backslide too.”
It seems as though eating is all we are engaged in.
Perhaps I have more pictures of me at a table than anyone in the world. We do have lots of opportunity to try new items and socialize around food. Actually, you will find that when you are without transportation the highlight of the day is not seeing a new landmark but rather eating a new way to cook fish.
Here we are eating what Norwegians consider to be a Saturday special – a traditional and national treat – a kind of porage made from rice. The next day they made a desert with what was left over. On the porage they sprinkle cinnamon or sugar, others put dollops of strawberry jam or a splash of raspberry sauce.
Then later in the evening it was an outdoor dinner party on the veranda featuring a superb Chicago style pizza. Karin is one good baker and the crust was crispy but chewy with wonderful Italian toppings. I was surprised that Norwegians with their inclinations toward healthy foods would have opted for toppings of broccoli and cauliflower but nope, it was the real thing with all sorts of greasy items I could easily recognize.
Finally, sometimes you find a treasure. Here is our friend Ingres. I have known her for about two years and now Jeanne has her for a friend as well. I used to call her “Slave Girl” on Facebook but this nick name seemed to make people nervous and cause them to wonder what kind of relationship I was having with Ingres. I assure you, it was all on the up and up. Ingres was assigned to be my “Girl Friday” and the “go to” person anytime I needed something while here at SBI. She turned out to be my cultural informer, translator, chauffeur and she even did my wash a couple of times. Ingres has an authentic servants heart and we wish you could know her too. She is always busy and though she is a school teacher she makes herself available to cook in the kitchen, clean and work with the children in the Kid’s for Christ Club. We are blessed.