Eric Louw, vice president for communications in the ministry organization Generation Youth for Christ (GYC), and a few friends share a very personal report of their life-changing experience during a unique mission trip to Iceland, a secular country of around 360,000 people, where only a few hundred are connected to the Adventist Church.—Editors
I have a confession to make. As the planning for a mission trip began to take shape and focus on Iceland, I didn’t like the idea at all.
Iceland is a country sometimes associated with a secular, humanistic culture and a minimal Adventist presence. In my mind, it made more business sense to select a country that would be more receptive and open, or at least one with a strong Adventist presence that could provide plenty of enthusiastic support. Attempting to reach Iceland felt like a setup for failure.
Despite my reservations, planning went ahead. We did recognize that the traditional goal of distributing flyers and conducting public evangelism might not be the most effective use of our time and energy. However, although we knew what we wouldn’t do, we weren’t sure what we should do. After all, the people of Iceland don’t appear to have many needs — the standard of living is high, and services like health care are free.
It was then that I believe God struck us with a simple yet profound idea. We would just go to pray — person by person, street by street, town by town.
The mission trip was now only a few months away, and participants needed to start booking flights. The problem for me was that I didn’t covet the work I knew it would take, even though I had said I would go. The difficult process of applying for a Schengen visa was not encouraging. I’m a South African citizen, so this required a lot of work.
When I discovered that the consulate for the visa interview was completely booked up, I was a little relieved and yet also conflicted. With some reluctance and a sense of obligation, I prayed God would make an opening for me if He saw fit. I told Him I would only go if an appointment became available within the next three days.
First day: nothing. Second day: nothing. Third day: nothing. Phew! What a relief.
And then, right before I went to bed that night, God impressed me to check one last time. With even greater reluctance than before, I pulled up the page for the consulate, and there it was: a dreaded green availability slot — for the very next business day.
I wasn’t thrilled, but I knew that since God had clearly set me up here, there was no point following in Jonah’s footsteps. So I planned for the best, and God began the miracles!
I got my visa, and the day finally arrived for the mission trip to begin. No sooner had we landed in Iceland than we discovered that we were over capacity for the place our team was supposed to stay. We had planned to stay at Hlíðardalsskóli, a former Adventist boarding school that now serves as a hostel and conference center.
As quickly as the problem arose, it was resolved, as another large group of people who had made a reservation long before us failed to show up. A second building on the campus was available. From our perspective, God caused an entire group of people to vanish so that we could use the needed space for our missionaries. Wow! With God working overtime so soon into the mission trip, I was really glad I hadn’t stayed behind.
Over the next few days, numerous difficult circumstances came up that God resolved for us in direct answer to prayer. Each day, we would come together in the morning and evening for up to an hour of united prayer. Through these times, God drew us together in a way that we had never experienced before. The power of prayer became especially apparent to all of us as we began to go out into the community. Below are just a couple of experiences related by our team members.
I was in a spiritual crisis before this trip. No one in my family goes to church anymore, and it sometimes annoyed me that they would tell me to go on a mission trip to help my spirituality, as if they had a good spiritual life of their own.
One day I was browsing on social media when I saw a story about a mission trip opportunity in Iceland, the number-one place on my bucket list. It sparked my interest because it was like hitting two birds with one stone. I could go on a mission trip as my family always wanted me to, and it would be the destination of my dreams!
Once the mission trip began, however, I began to regret that I was there. Listening to the testimonies of others made me feel worse. Why couldn’t I be as good as them? Some nights I just sulked and wanted to give up.
One morning, however, Jonathan Walter talked about how we shouldn’t be discouraged if others are good at outreach and we are not, because we were all called to Iceland for a reason. Of all the people who could have gone, we were the chosen. That day I felt positive and even began singing “Walking with Jesus.”
Everything was just like previous days until I was dropped off at my last territory. It consisted of huge apartment-like buildings. After distributing GLOW tracts at the first big apartment complex, I moved to the next one, which accounted for almost 30 percent of my total territory. It didn’t look like an apartment complex but rather like a hospital. I didn’t know how to reach the people there, but I was bothered by the thought of skipping such a large building.
As I considered what to do, I went to the next apartment building and met a man in the parking lot. We talked for a bit, but he wasn’t interested in prayer. However, he pointed at a woman who was leaving the apartment building and said, “That woman might need your prayers.” I immediately went up to her and began a conversation.
She shared that her sister had recently died and she was struggling to recover from her loss. I prayed for her and continued to talk, only to discover that she was also an Adventist! She said she wanted to help me, so I asked her to help me share GLOW tracts in the large facility, which turned out to be a nursing home. With her help, I was able to get permission from the staff to talk with the patients and share my testimony with them as well as leave GLOW tracts on bulletin boards and activity corners.
I’m not sure what plans God has for that nursing facility, but I am still praying for them to this day. I hope my visit will make a change in the patients’ lives and their outlook on God.
One day I was knocking on doors with another girl in our group. We were nearing the end of our last territory, and it was my turn to knock. A woman answered the door, so I shared my quick line: “Hi! My name is Eden, and this is my friend Brittney! We’re with GLOW Iceland. We are Christians who believe in the power of prayer, and we’re wondering if you have any prayer requests that you would like us to pray for?”
The woman looked happy and called her son to join her. “Tell him what you told me!” the woman, named Barbara, asked of us. So I repeated who we are and what we were doing. Her son shared a personal prayer request, and then we prayed for him.
After we prayed, Barbara shared that her husband is a Christian pastor. He soon joined us at the front door and asked us who we are with. Upon sharing, he told us that he had a Seventh-day Adventist uncle. The whole family was very excited about what we were doing.
“We’ve been praying for revival in Iceland,” he told us. It thrilled my heart! That is exactly why we were there, to pray for revival. What a b
lessing to know that our work was not in vain.
God Melts Indifference
These two stories by our team members are just a sample of the many we heard. I wish I could say I began this trip out of love and a passion for the lost. In reality, I did it because I knew God would use it to melt my indifference.
By the time the 10 days were up, we had distributed 150,000 GLOW tracts, and our group of nearly 50 had reached more than half the population of the country.
Icelandic Conference president Gavin Anthony was an active member of the group and reflected on what he learned from this mission experience. “Sometimes it is hard to imagine how we can make a breakthrough in the secular countries of Western Europe, but I think this GYC project in Iceland demonstrated a way forward,” he said. “Prayer is such a simple method to address people’s real and present needs in a very non-threatening way, and so many people expressed their appreciation for this.”
Trans-European Division executive secretary Audrey Andersson concurred. “The difference they made was contagious,” she said. “It showed that prayer does make a difference.”