With the Festival of Hope just a few hours away from beginning in Reykjavik, Iceland, here are five things you may not know about this country and this unique evangelistic outreach.
Coffee Talk: In theory, it was just a conversation over coffee, but what happened in Germany in late June 2008 may have been the very catalyst of this weekend’s event in Reykjavik.
Willy Oeninger, a businessman and Angus beef farmer from Zurich, Switzerland, had received a prophetic word that, through a mutual friend, he felt led to give to Ómar Kristjánsson, a businessman from Reykjavik.
That word? “A black cloud,” is headed to Iceland.
Less than three months later, the Iceland economy had completely collapsed, with the Krona worth about half as much practically overnight.
At Friday night’s dedication ceremony, Oeninger presented a bell to Kristjánsson in an emotional ceremony demonstrating the power of following God’s call.
Weekly Prayer: Kristjánsson, at the urging of Oeninger, gathered pastors and leaders of Reykjavik together, beginning in late-August 2008 to pray weekly on Wednesday at noon for one hour. The initial commitment was five weeks.
“We’ve been praying every week since 2008,” said Kristjánsson, the Festival of Hope committe chairman.
Yes, by the end of the five weeks, it was clear the Holy Spirit was directing this group to continue and at the same time, the economy was starting to fray.
“Depression,” is how Vordur Levi Traustason, pastor of the largest evangelical church (Filadelfia), described the mood in Iceland during the following years.
The group of 15-30 prayer warriors have been faithful every Wednesday, many of whom are serving on the Festival of Hope’s committee chair this weekend.
Norway or Bust: Within two years of the economy collapse, Traustason said thousands of families headed to Norway to find work. It was a stunning percentage for a country of only 320,000 people.
“People were angry,” said Traustason, whose church is heavily involved in this weekend’s Iceland Festival of Hope. “Angry at God. Angry at the government.”
Traustason felt the loss deeply at his church. He knows of at least a half dozen families who left for Norway, but none hurt worse than losing his 38-year-old daughter’s family, including three teenage grandchildren, because of the collapse.
Not that he blames them. But they haven’t been back since. Although he’s gone to visit several times.
“We had five or six part-time workers at our church that I had to ask to take pay cuts,” Traustason said, as the church giving was the first to go in many people’s budgets. “They had to work for nothing.”
Five years later, all of his part-timers are still working at the church. For free.
A First for Everything: Not only will this be the first time Franklin Graham preaches in Iceland, but it’s a first for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Iceland is one of the few countries that Billy Graham hasn’t held a Crusade, despite preaching in 185 countries and territories.
Two other Franklin Graham Festivals this year — La Paz, Bolivia in March and Chiang Mai, Thailand in November — are also in countries his father never had a chance to hold a Crusade, as the ministry continues to deliver the Gospel message to the ends of the earth.
The event tonight and tomorrow night will be held at Laugardalshöll arena, the same place that hosted the 1972 World Chess Championship, where Bobby Fisher of the U.S. defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in what was dubbed as the “Match of the Century.”
Say What? Standing next to Franklin Graham at the podium tonight will be 29-year-old Helgi Guðnasson, an assistant pastor for Filadelfia Church, who will be translating the message into Icelandic.
Guðnasson, who knows Icelandic, English, Dutch, Spanish and German, says he’s not overly nervous, but is praying that at the end of the night, nobody notices him at all.
“If the translator manages to get the message across and be invisible, you’ve done your job,” Guðnasson said. “It’s like playing bass guitar in a band. If nobody notices you, then you’ve done your part.”