The name Iceland may call to mind visions of ice, snow, and igloos. This impression of cold is reinforced when we look at a map. Few people live as far north as Iceland. Why, the northern edge of this island country nearly touches the Arctic Circle!
In reality, however, Iceland is not as cold as its name and location may suggest. A warm ocean current, originating a little north of the equator, helps to make the climate much milder than might be expected. There are no igloos. Icelandic society is highly modern, and people live in well-built houses equipped with geothermal heating.
Iceland is a land of sharp contrasts. In the depths of winter, the sun peeps over the horizon for but a few short hours each day. Though the long, dark winter nights are often enlivened by the spectacular northern lights, or aurora borealis, it almost seems that the sun is reluctant to make a stopover. However, several months of continuous daylight in the summer richly compensate for this. In the northernmost extremity of the country, the sun lingers above the horizon for several weeks. There you can see the sun at midnight.
Iceland is called the land of ice and fire, a fitting description. Glaciers cover about one tenth of the country. There is also fire
This sparsely populated country enjoys a natural beauty and an abundance of wildlife. Clean air, impressive waterfalls, rugged mountains, and extensive wilderness attract many a visitor. In early spring, migratory birds return to their summer habitats on coastal cliffs and in wetlands. Among these birds is the arctic tern, whose annual migration takes it to Antarctica, at the opposite end of the earth. Puffins, eiders, and sea gulls dot the cliffs and coast. Sheep graze in the countryside, and small, hardy Icelandic ponies roam the highlands. In early summer, salmon return by the thousands, swimming and jumping up the rivers and waterfalls to spawn.
The 290,570 inhabitants of Iceland are descendants of Vikings, who settled there more than 1,100 years ago. These settlers came mostly from Norway, and they spoke Old Norse, from which Icelandic is derived. A strong literary heritage along with the relative isolation of the country has helped to preserve the language. Consequently, people today can read the old sagas, which were mostly written in the 13th century. Icelanders are proud of their language, and there is strong resistance to introducing words of foreign origin.
Most of the early settlers were “heathens,” and it was not until late in the tenth century that attempts were made to convert Icelanders to “Christianity.” Shortly before the end of that century, some prominent Icelandic leaders were converted, and in the year 1000, Iceland’s parliament, Althing, asked one of the foremost heathen religious leaders to judge between the two religions. Surprisingly, he decided that only one faith should be practiced, the “Christian” one. This seems to have been accepted without much opposition. However, his directive allowed the people to worship heathen gods in secrecy and to continue practicing heathen customs. While the ruling was more a political settlement than a religious one, it may have played its part in making Icelanders independent thinkers, liberal toward religious issues.
Today, about 90 percent of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is the national church. Though the Bible is found in almost every home, few believe it to be God’s Word.
The Good News Reaches Iceland
By the dawn of the 20th century, many Icelanders had emigrated to Canada, partly to escape the hardship resulting from volcanic eruptions and severe cold. It was there that some first heard the good news of God’s Kingdom. One of these people was Georg Fjölnir Lindal. Shortly after dedicating his life to Jehovah God, he became a pioneer. Brother Lindal spoke the Icelandic language, so in 1929, when he was 40 years old, he decided to move to Iceland. Arriving in Reykjavík on June 1 of that year, he was the first one to preach the good news in Iceland.
Brother Lindal waited three months before his first shipment of literature arrived, but as soon as it did, he set out to witness to everyone in the country. By the end of October 1929, he had distributed 800 copies of The Harp of God in Icelandic. At that time, he wrote: “Since my arrival here, I have canvassed a number of towns with a population of about 11,000 people. The total population of Iceland is about 100,000 or a little more, so there are some 90,000 more to be reached. It will take considerable time for one person to canvass all the territory here, as traveling is very difficult. Iceland is a mountainous country with a broken coastline, no railways, and few automobile roads, so I have been traveling by boat most of the time.”
There is no hint of complaint in the few handwritten letters on file in an old manila folder that bears the stenciled label “Iceland.” In that same 1929 letter, Lindal wrote: “It gives me great joy to relate an encouraging experience that I had lately. I had occasion to call back at a certain place where I had previously canvassed. I met several people who had bought books the first time I was there. One man said: ‘I have read the Harp twice and am reading it the third time. It is a good book. Thank you for calling.’ Another remarked: ‘So you are back. That book is very good. Why don’t you get all of Judge Rutherford’s books in Icelandic?’ I told him that many of them could be had in Danish. He said: ‘Send me everything you have, yes, Pastor Russell’s volumes too, and I will have enough to study this winter.’ Others expressed their appreciation of the books. I am thankful to God for permitting me to bring the message of truth to those who have a hearing ear.”
It was a tremendous task for one person to reach everyone on this island, which is more than half the size of England. Iceland extends about 200 miles [300 km] from north to south and some 300 miles [500 km] from east to west. The coastline, including fjords and inlets, is nearly 4,000 miles [6,400 km] long. Yet, within ten years Brother Lindal covered the whole island, preaching the good news and distributing literature. He traveled along the coast by boat, and when he visited the farms inland, he used two ponies, one to carry him and the other to carry his literature and belongings. According to the brothers who were privileged to work with him some years before he left Iceland, Brother Lindal was a devoted and serious-minded brother, shy and reserved, a man of few words. He was a man of imposing stature
Little did Brother Lindal realize, when he started his mission in Iceland in 1929, how difficult it would be and how much patience and perseverance it would take to break the ice, so to speak. For almost 18 years, Brother Lindal was the only Witness in Iceland. Despite his hard work, he did not see anyone take a stand for the Kingdom. In 1936 he wrote: “During the time that I have been here, I have placed in the hands of the people between 26,000 and 27,000 books. Many people have read them. Some seem to have taken their stand against the truth, but the majority remain entirely indifferent.”
Some, though, appreciated the message he brought them. For example, an elderly man accepted a copy of The Harp of God. When Brother Lindal called back several months later, he met the old man’s daughter, who told him that her father had liked the book and had studied it thoroughly before he died. In keeping with a pagan custom, he had even requested that at his death, the book be put in his coffin with him, which had been done.
Brother Lindal’s long, lonely stay in Iceland ended on March 25, 1947, when graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead arrived. He continued his service there until he returned to Canada in 1953. Sixteen years later, Páll Heine Pedersen, who was then serving as a special pioneer in Iceland, decided to travel to Winnipeg, Canada, to meet Brother Lindal and to get some firsthand information about his work in Iceland because, by then, the missionaries who had worked with Brother Lindal in Iceland had left the country. While on vacation in the United States, Brother Pedersen traveled by bus to Winnipeg. On arriving, he learned that Brother Lindal had finished his earthly course that morning. He had served Jehovah faithfully until his death.
More Workers for the Harvest
In 1947 a new era of preaching the good news began with the arrival of the first Gilead missionaries, who were both from Denmark. One of them was Leo Larsen. Two more missionaries arrived in December 1948: Ingvard Jensen from Denmark and Oliver Macdonald from England. These new harvest workers followed up the work done by Brother Lindal and distributed large quantities of literature. During the winter, they would work in and around Reykjavík, and during the short summer, they turned their attention to working rural territories along the coast. Ingvard Jensen particularly remembers one preaching expedition. He wrote: “During my first summer in Iceland, I accompanied one of the other missionaries on a trip to the rurals. As a rule we would go by bus or boat to the selected territory, bringing with us bicycles, tents, sleeping bags, literature, and provisions. So one evening we sailed to the town of Stykkishólmur on the west coast, arriving on the afternoon of the next day. Our plan was to call on all the homes in the town and then to bicycle to the town of Borgarnes, about 60 miles [100 km] away. A daily ferry service operated from there to Reykjavík. The trip began well. It was mid-June, and we had sunshine. The first night, we crept into our sleeping bags after having worked part of the town. During the night, however, we couldn’t keep warm in the bags, and the next morning we found out why: Four inches [10 cm] of snow had fallen during the night! It was impossible to cut short the trip, since there were no boats for a week. So we had to stick to our schedule, work the town, and bicycle over a mountain road to the next town, working the farms on the way.”
They reached Borgarnes four days later, cycling through sleet, rain, and gusts of wind up to 70 miles per hour [110 km/hr]. This bad weather was partly offset, however, by the extraordinary hospitality of the farmers along the way, who always invited them in for coffee and something to eat. Brother Jensen recalls that they had eight to ten meals a day! He said: “I had the feeling that people would be offended if we did not accept their kind offer, and it gave us an opportunity to give them a thorough witness about Jehovah’s established Kingdom.”
During the first three years of missionary activity in Iceland, the brothers placed over 16,000 pieces of literature. The return visits and studies, however, did not increase proportionately
In 1952 it was decided that the territory on the northern coast deserved more attention. So in June of that year, Oliver Macdonald and his wife Sally, who had come from England in 1949 to marry him, were assigned to Akureyri as special pioneers. There they encountered fierce opposition from a group of Plymouth Brethren led by the British consul in town. He had many followers, and others listened to him when he attacked the Witnesses in lectures and in articles. Though the pioneers were not used to such opposition in Reykjavík, they faced the attack fearlessly, continuing their work as usual and using every opportunity to answer the false charges. Some of the newspapers carried their replies.
Besides working the town, the pioneers also went on trips to the outlying areas, placing literature and receiving the typical hospitality but not finding much genuine interest in the Kingdom message. Brother and Sister Macdonald moved back to Reykjavík in July 1953, but before they left Akureyri, they planted seeds of truth, which were to grow later.
A Foundation Is Laid
After 27 years of planting and watering, the brothers in Iceland finally began to see the fruits of their labors. Early in 1956, seven new ones took their stand for the Kingdom and dedicated their lives to Jehovah. Until that time, most of those who had shown interest in the truth did not stand fast in it. An exception was Iris Åberg, an English sister who eventually left the country. Now seven new ones were baptized, and a firm foundation was laid. By the year 1957, however, the missionaries and pioneers who had worked so hard to see the truth take hold had left Iceland, mostly for health reasons.
So it was that in 1957, one special pioneer sister
With growth came exciting developments, including regular circuit overseer visits and yearly district conventions. More literature was needed in the Icelandic language. The first Watchtower magazine in Icelandic was the issue of January 1, 1960. This gave great impetus to the work. What a joy it was for the brothers to be able to offer this publication to the Icelanders in their mother tongue! And how faith strengthening for the brothers themselves to benefit from the fine spiritual food every month! When it was announced at a circuit assembly in Reykjavík that The Watchtower would be published in Icelandic, a large replica of the magazine was uncovered behind the speaker. How the brothers cheered this new gift from Jehovah!
Brother Pedersen recalls that when he arrived in Iceland in October 1959, the booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom” was the only Icelandic publication then available for the field, and many householders already had a copy. The publishers offered The Watchtower and Awake! in Danish, English, German, or Swedish to those who could read one of these languages. Though many could understand one of these languages, it was far more meaningful for them to read The Watchtower in their mother tongue. This publication in the Icelandic language had a profound impact on the preaching work. The 41 publishers and pioneers obtained 809 subscriptions and placed 26,479 magazines during that service year. The brothers also saw an increase in the number of Bible studies.
Another milestone came with the establishment of a branch office on January 1, 1962. Iceland had been under the oversight of the United States branch and before that the Denmark branch. Then, in 1969, Jehovah’s Witnesses obtained legal recognition and were registered with the Ministry of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs. Now the Witnesses in Iceland had the same rights as all other denominations and were authorized to perform marriages and to officiate at funerals.
Opposition From the Clergy
The month the branch was established, the brothers experienced opposition from the clergy. One morning, headlines in a major newspaper announced that the bishop of the national church had issued a booklet warning against Jehovah’s Witnesses, advising people not listen to them. The title of the booklet was Vottar Jehóva
The booklet with the warning was distributed all over the country. The outcome was great publicity for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the effect on our work was felt in the territory for many years. Because of all the publicity, one of the papers reported: “The bishop has become an advertising manager for Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Jehovah’s people became well-known, even out in remote areas of the country where the Witnesses were not yet preaching. While some people followed the advice of the bishop, the common reaction of most was one of curiosity. In the north, in Akureyri, however, there was hostility. At times, youngsters would throw stones at Heinrich and Katherine Karcher, who served there as pioneers. Years later, some other religious opposers in Akureyri redistributed the booklet from the bishop, having had it reprinted locally. Pentecostals did the same in Reykjavík, thinking that they could stop or hamper our preaching.
The Challenge of Organizing Conventions
Assemblies and conventions have always been joyful highlights for God’s people in Iceland. Even when the publishers were few, the brothers did not shy away from organizing assemblies. The first assembly was held in July 1951, when two brothers
Fridrik Gíslason was one of the few brothers who had parts on convention programs during the 1950’s. He relates: “I remember being in charge of the Food Service Department at the first assemblies. Apart from doing most of the work myself, it was not unusual for me to have three or four parts on the program each day. While working in the kitchen, I wore an apron. When hurrying into the hall to give a talk, I put my jacket on, though at times the brothers had to remind me to take off the apron. Now we have from 400 to 500 attending the assemblies, and many fine elders are qualified to handle parts on the program.”
Bible dramas are a thrilling and instructive high point of the district conventions. Because there were so few publishers in Iceland, however, dramas had to be presented with sound only. The Denmark branch helped to make the dramas come alive by providing color slides that could be synchronized with the sound track. Still, the dramas required a considerable amount of preparation. First, they had to be translated into Icelandic. Then they had to be taped using the voices of brothers who spoke the native language. Moreover, music and sound effects were added from the English tapes. Some had to play various roles, changing their voices according to the character to be represented. In time, some of the dramas were enacted in full costume.
The first, a drama about Queen Esther, was to be staged at the district convention in 1970. The brothers eagerly worked on that project and rehearsed the drama with much zeal. It was a new experience to dress in clothes like those used in Bible times and for the brothers to have a beard glued on their faces. It remained confidential that there was going to be a staged drama at the convention. This was a pleasant surprise. At small conventions, where nearly all know one another and everybody is close to the stage, some try to figure out who is playing which role. After seeing a drama, one sister said, “Imagine, I recognized only one brother in the drama, and he played the role of King Nebuchadnezzar!” She said the brother’s name and was surprised to learn that she was wrong. The brothers truly appreciate the hard work done by so many to present the program at the small conventions and assemblies. All benefit from the excellent lessons of the dramas presented in their own language.
International Conventions Bring Joy
Over the years, the brothers in Iceland have also enjoyed attending conventions in other countries. Five delegates from Iceland had the privilege of attending the Divine Will International Assembly in New York in 1958. Many attended the United Worshipers Assemblies in Europe in 1961 and the “Everlasting Good News” Assemblies in 1963. Others enjoyed the fellowship of brothers from many countries at the “Divine Victory” International Assemblies in 1973. More than one hundred publishers from Iceland attended the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 5-10, 1969. This was the biggest group from Iceland to attend an international convention in a foreign land. That summer, 80 percent of the publishers in Iceland went abroad to attend a convention.
Because so many from Iceland planned to attend the 1969 convention, the Denmark branch arranged for the Icelandic brothers to sit together there. During the mornings, before the sessions began, the brothers from Iceland met in their section where they enjoyed résumés of the program in their own language.
Among those who attended this convention was a young man named Bjarni Jónsson. He was the son of a lawyer who owned the building in Reykjavík that the brothers rented as a missionary home and branch office. Bjarni knew little about the truth, and his purpose in traveling with the brothers to Copenhagen was not to attend the convention. How did this come about?
Kjell Geelnard, who was then branch servant, had some matters to discuss with Bjarni’s father. Kjell told him about the international assembly in Copenhagen and the group of brothers who were planning to attend. When the lawyer heard about this, he asked if it would be possible for his eldest son to join the group. He told Brother Geelnard that his son had just finished secondary school, and he would like to give him a trip abroad, so it might as well be to Copenhagen. Kjell thought that this was a good idea and told the lawyer that if Bjarni would like to attend the assembly to see what was going on there, accommodations could be arranged for him in Copenhagen. Pleased to hear this, the lawyer asked his son if he wanted to join the group of Jehovah’s Witnesses going to the assembly. The son readily agreed.
The Rooming Department was contacted to find accommodations for Bjarni in Copenhagen. The brothers found a place for him with a family of Witnesses. An American delegate who was going to share a room with an Icelandic brother named Jakob had canceled his reservation, so Bjarni got his place. For some reason, however, Jakob did not turn up. The only one who went to the accommodations was Bjarni. Since the Rooming Department had not told the host family that Bjarni was coming in place of the American brother, they assumed that their guest was Jakob.
As always when brothers from different places meet, they shared experiences. The Danish brothers were surprised to find that “Jakob” had little to say. Bjarni, on the other hand, was a little confused when his host and hostess kept calling him Jakob. He thought that since Jakob was a Bible name, it might be a custom among Jehovah’s Witnesses to use Bible names in conversation with one another. The misunderstanding was cleared up when one of the brothers in the home where Bjarni was staying met a Danish brother who was pioneering in Iceland. He asked the brother whether “Jakob” was new in the truth because he had so little to say about the work in Iceland. The Danish brother explained that “Jakob” was actually Bjarni, a student from Iceland traveling with the brothers to Copenhagen. Bjarni’s hosts treated him with warm hospitality and invited him to stay another week while he did some sightseeing in Denmark. This kindness touched Bjarni’s heart.
In fact, Bjarni attended the assembly. And even though he did not have a background knowledge of the truth to help him enjoy the program to the full, what he saw and heard impressed him greatly. As soon as he returned to Iceland, he and his family began to study the Bible. Bjarni made good progress in the truth and was baptized in 1971. He has served as a member of the Branch Committee in Iceland since 1979.
Svanberg Jakobsson has been a translator at the branch in Iceland for many years and is now the overseer of the Translation Department. As a young publisher, he attended the “Divine Victory” International Assembly in London, England, in 1973. He relates: “I remember how thrilling it was for me to watch the brothers and sisters stream into the convention stadium by the thousands. It fascinated me to see the many brothers and sisters from Africa, all in their colorful traditional dress. It was an unforgettable experience to be with tens of thousands of brothers, to listen to the program with them, to sing with them, to join with them in prayer, to eat with them, and simply to be among them.”
Sólborg Sveinsdóttir, who was baptized in 1958, made the six-day trip to Denmark by ship with four of her children to attend the convention in Copenhagen in 1961. Sólborg belonged to a small isolated group in Keflavík. How did it affect her to attend a big international convention? She says: “It was breathtaking to hear over 30,000 brothers united in singing the Kingdom songs in five languages
Traveling to international conventions was expensive, but the brothers felt that doing so was more than worth it. To attend such wonderful spiritual feasts prepared by Jehovah and to be among thousands of others of like faith was a blessing.
A Spiritual “Waiter” Pays a Visit
Many have moved to Iceland to serve where the need is greater. For all of them, the move has meant a long and difficult struggle to learn the complex Icelandic language. Nevertheless, sometimes a misunderstanding in language can be a blessing in disguise. For example, Heinrich Karcher was working from house to house one day, presenting himself as a minister, or servant. At one house, a young woman came to the door, and as soon as he introduced himself, she invited him in. She had misunderstood who he was because in Icelandic the same word means both “servant” and “waiter.” She thought that he was a colleague of her husband, a waiter at the local hotel. She knew that her husband would soon be home, so she thought that she might just as well invite his supposed workmate in to see him. Of course, they had a good laugh when the misunderstanding was cleared up.
The husband arrived, and our spiritual “waiter” served the young couple a fine spiritual meal, which they liked very much. They even asked Heinrich to come again and to bring his wife with him. Soon a regular Bible study was established, and the interested couple began witnessing to others. Even when working at the local hotel, the young waiter talked to all who would listen. In time, the couple were baptized. They were happy that this spiritual “waiter” had called on them and that he had not held back from giving a witness in a language other than his own.
Over the years, there have been many funny incidents because of misunderstandings when foreign brothers were learning the language. For instance, shortly after her arrival in Iceland, Sally Macdonald prepared to say as an introduction: “I am visiting people in this neighborhood to share with them some interesting things from the Bible.” But she mixed up the word for visit (heimsækja) with the word for persecute (ofsækja) and smilingly said: “I am persecuting people in this neighborhood.”
From House to House With a Lutheran Minister
For many years, Holger and Tove Frederiksen from Denmark served faithfully as special pioneers in Iceland, and for a while they served in the traveling work. Even though it was difficult for Tove to learn and master the Icelandic language, she helped many into the truth because of her zeal and enthusiasm.
On one occasion while serving in the circuit work, Holger was working with a young publisher from house to house in a small village. To their surprise, the local Lutheran minister joined them. How did this come about?
A little while earlier, they visited the minister at his home. He was outwardly friendly and invited them into his office. After the minister glanced over the books they were offering, he said, “These books contain false teachings!” Then he suddenly stood up, raised both his arms, and declared God’s damnation upon them. “I forbid you to preach here in my parish!” he shouted. Holger told the minister that he did not have any right to prevent them from preaching and that they were going to continue their preaching work. Then the minister said, “If you continue to preach to people here in my parish, I am going to go with you.” Holger told him that he was welcome to do so.
After the minister followed them on two visits to the houses closest to his home, they met Tove and another sister, who were surprised to see who had joined in the house-to-house work. The minister now invited all of them into his home for a cup of coffee. They had a friendly conversation. Holger had the feeling that the minister’s sudden and unexpected hospitality was somehow meant to prevent them from preaching to everyone in the territory. So the next day, they went back and worked through the whole village, placing much literature and meeting many people with a hearing ear.
Stopped by an Avalanche
Preaching to people living in the countryside often involves driving over mountain passes where the roads are icy and covered with snowdrifts during the dark winter months. In December 1974, while in the traveling work, Kjell and Iiris Geelnard visited Akureyri, on the northern coast. During the week with the congregation there, they made a trip of over 50 miles [80 km] to the town of Húsavík. They took with them Holger and Tove Frederiksen. The four of them worked the territory in and around Húsavík for a few days and ended the visit by having a public talk with a slide presentation at a school. As the meeting began, a storm moved into the area, bringing freezing winds, snow, and sleet. After the meeting, as those attending gathered their things to go home, the whole town experienced a blackout caused by the snowstorm. The brothers left the school in darkness, but all were happy that it had been possible to show the slides before this happened.
The Geelnards and Frederiksens had to get back to Akureyri. They asked the local police and some bus and truck drivers about the road conditions and were assured that earlier there was little problem. So they decided to leave as quickly as possible, but it took time to pack by candlelight. And when they went to buy gasoline for the car, the attendant had to pump the gasoline by hand. Finally, they were ready to leave by about nine o’clock in the evening.
Describing the trip, Kjell said: “At first everything went fine, but the snow was getting heavier. At times it was so difficult to see where the road was that Holger had to get out of the car in order to guide us with a flashlight. Then we got caught in snowdrifts. We managed to get out of the drifts a few times by pushing and shoveling, but finally we were stopped by a great wall of snow. We later found out that it was snow from an avalanche on the mountain above. Under normal circumstances, it takes two hours to drive from Húsavík to Akureyri, but by then we had been on the road for six hours and had driven only halfway.
“There we were at three o’clock in the morning
“Now we experienced a heartwarming example of Icelandic hospitality. The farmer and his wife moved their sleeping children to another room so that the four of us could have two rooms to sleep in, and after a little while, there were hot coffee and delicious bread on the kitchen table. The next morning after breakfast, the farmer insisted that we stay for lunch. After eating lunch with the family, we continued our journey to Akureyri because by then two big snowplows had cleared the road. The hospitality of the farmer and his wife gave us the opportunity to talk to them about Bible truth.”
Preaching on a Fishing Trawler
Some years ago, Kjell Geelnard met a young man in the field ministry. His name was Fridrik. The eldest son in the family, he was spiritually-minded and enjoyed discussing the Bible. He had many questions and showed deep interest in gaining Bible knowledge. However, it was not an easy task to find him again, since he was an engineer on a fishing trawler. Most of the time, he was at sea, with just a few days at home between trips. Yet, by checking the trawler schedule and by asking Fridrik’s mother when he was expected home, Kjell was able to meet him, sometimes at the harbor and sometimes at home. Thus, the brothers helped him to progress spiritually.
Toward the end of 1982, Fridrik was invited to an assembly in Reykjavík. By then his faith in Jehovah had started to grow, and he prayed that the way might be opened for him to attend. It then happened that a man in his crew who had been given time off from the fishing tour suddenly decided not to take it. That opened the way for Fridrik to be excused from work and to attend the assembly. The program deeply impressed Fridrik, who was now convinced that he wanted to serve Jehovah.
When Fridrik came back to his hometown, he told his fiancée about his decision and the effect it would have on his life. He told her that he wanted her as his wife but if she could not see herself being married to a Witness of Jehovah, she should break off their engagement. The next morning, there was a knock on the door of the missionary home. Outside stood Fridrik and his fiancée. Fridrik’s message was short but firm: “Helga wants a Bible study!” So the missionaries arranged to study with Helga. Later that day, one of Fridrik’s younger brothers also asked for a Bible study. During the same week, Fridrik brought his youngest sister to the meeting and said: “Unnur wants a Bible study!”
Fridrik wanted to symbolize his dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. First, though, he had to build on his knowledge and then go over the questions for baptism. The problem was that he had to spend most of his time at sea. If Kjell could not visit Fridrik at his home, it might be possible at his workplace. The solution? Fridrik hired Kjell to work with him in the engine room on board the trawler. In early 1983, equipped with Bible and study material, Kjell stepped aboard the trawler Svalbakur.
“The work and service on board Svalbakur was a memorable experience,” recalls Kjell. “The workday started at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 6:30 p.m. At noon, we had lunch, and there was a coffee break both in the morning and in the afternoon. Time outside working hours was used to study with Fridrik, and there were many opportunities to witness to other members of the crew. The evenings were used to study and discuss spiritual topics. Sometimes it was past midnight when we went to bed. During lunchtime, we tried to spend only a short time in the dining room so that we might discuss the daily text in Fridrik’s cabin.”
Of course, it attracted attention among the men on board that a missionary was now a member of the crew. For the first few days, the men were wary of Kjell, since they did not know what to expect. However, some of the crew listened eagerly to what Kjell had to say. One of them showed considerable interest, and when he learned of the lunchtime discussion of the daily text, he wanted to join in. One day when the conversation in the dining room got lengthy, he became impatient and said to Kjell and Fridrik in front of all the others: “Shouldn’t we go up and read the daily text now?”
One evening, Kjell and Fridrik invited the crew to Fridrik’s cabin to consider material from an Awake! magazine on alcoholism. Seven of the crew came to this long-remembered meeting, and news about this meeting reached the crews of other trawlers as well.
“After I had spent almost two weeks of service and work on board the Svalbakur, we reached the harbor again,” says Kjell. “By then I had gone through the baptism questions with Fridrik, besides examining with him many other Bible topics, witnessing to other members of the crew, and placing magazines and literature with them.” Fridrik was baptized in the spring of 1983. Fridrik’s fiancée, Helga; his mother; and his sister all took their stand for the truth.
Studies by Telephone
It has always been a challenge to preach the good news to people who live in remote areas on this big island. The telephone has been an effective tool to reach and keep in contact with interested people.
Many have benefited from this way of sharing the good news. Some years ago, a woman named Oddný Helgadóttir visited her son and daughter-in-law, who were studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. When they related to her what they were learning, she wanted to study the Bible too. However, Oddný lived in a remote area on the northwestern coast of Iceland, more than 200 miles [300 km] from the nearest congregation. When a sister, Gudrún Ólafsdóttir, offered to study with her over the telephone, she happily accepted. After an opening prayer, Oddný readily answered the study questions set out in the book. In her thorough preparation for the study, Oddný wrote out the cited scriptures so that she could read them as soon as they were referred to. Thus, she did not need time to search for scriptures while the study was under way. On one occasion, they studied in Gudrún’s home when Oddný visited that area. They both felt a little uneasy, since this was the first time they studied face-to-face, so Gudrún jokingly suggested that she go into the next room where there was another phone!
When Oddný began to understand the truth, she started witnessing to her husband, Jón. When he showed interest, she was not sure that it was fitting for her to conduct a study with him. She learned that she could conduct the study but that it would be appropriate for her to wear a head covering while conducting. Besides studying with her husband, she also witnessed to neighbors. Next, she expressed her desire to be baptized. Gudrún arranged for her to go over the questions in the book Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry on the telephone with an elder, to see whether she was qualified. It was obvious that she was except for one thing: She had not yet formally resigned from the church.
About one week later, Oddný phoned Gudrún to tell her that she had now resigned from the church. Her husband had done the same. This was a big decision for him, since he had been the chairman of the local parish council. Later, Oddný was baptized at a circuit assembly. The assembly was a pleasant experience for her as she had met with a small group of Witnesses only once before that. In an interview on the assembly program, she was asked if it was difficult to be so isolated. She answered that she never felt alone, since she knew that Jehovah is also present on the northwestern coast of Iceland. Then she added that she was sorry her husband could not attend the assembly but that he had assured her that he would come when he was ready to be baptized. He kept his promise! Soon they moved to a more populated area so that they could attend meetings regularly.
A Need for Missionary Homes and Kingdom Halls
When Nathan H. Knorr from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses visited Iceland in 1968, he wanted to find a more suitable building for a branch office and for accommodating the missionaries. Before then, various homes were rented. Now the brothers started looking for land where they could erect a building that would contain a Kingdom Hall, a missionary home, and a branch office. Meanwhile, a suitable house at Hrefnugata 5 in Reykjavík was rented, and on October 1, 1968, the six missionaries moved into it. This building served as a center for the work in Iceland during the next five years. Later, the brothers acquired a well-situated plot of land at Sogavegur 71, Reykjavík. In the spring of 1972, construction on the new branch building got under way. This turned out to be a major challenge for the few brothers there, who had little knowledge of engineering and construction. There were no building contractors or masons among them, so it was necessary to hire contractors who were not Witnesses. These contractors showed great willingness to cooperate and allowed the brothers to work along with them on the project. The brothers rented part of an old house next to the building site as a shelter where they would eat. Sisters took turns cooking food in their homes and taking it to the building site to feed the workers.
The building work served as a fine witness in the area. The contractors and the city authorities had good opportunity to become acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Others stopped by the site to see the progress. When the time came to do the inside plastering, a brother from Denmark who was a professional mason came to help. Also, sisters did much of the work. When some supervisors from the city came to visit the building site, they noticed that the sisters were using the cement mixer. One of the supervisors said: “I think the women in our church could learn something from this. It would certainly be more successful to build churches by working than by walking around with a collection box, begging for money.” The building was dedicated in May 1975, when Milton G. Henschel visited Iceland and delivered the dedication talk. The building served for many years as the main missionary home in the country as well as the Kingdom Hall for the congregations in Reykjavík. Now it serves as the branch office.
By 1987 a new Kingdom Hall and missionary home was built in the town of Akureyri. The evidence of unity and international brotherhood existing among Jehovah’s people was obvious when more than 60 brothers and sisters from Finland and Sweden came to help the brothers in Iceland with that building project.
“The Best Kind of Wood”
Over the years, representatives of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses have visited Iceland, and these visits have always been a great source of encouragement to the brothers. The highlight of 1968 was the visit of Brother Knorr, previously mentioned. He gave a stirring talk to the brothers, shared experiences, and discussed the progress of the Kingdom-preaching work in Iceland.
Brother Henschel’s first visit to Iceland was in May 1970. Some sleepy missionaries welcomed him. The reason for that was not only that Brother Henschel arrived very early in the morning but that Hekla, a famous volcano, had started to erupt the day before, and the missionaries had spent the night watching it!
Brother Henschel gave special attention to the missionaries and the special pioneers. He invited all of them to a special meeting and shared with them experiences from his own pioneering days during the Great Depression. He told of how the pioneers had exchanged literature for chickens, eggs, butter, vegetables, a pair of glasses, and even a puppy! In that way, the work had continued during difficult times, and the pioneers had not lacked the necessities of life.
Visitors to Iceland will quickly notice that the food is not what they are used to. Among the special Icelandic dishes is svid, a sheep’s head cut in half and boiled. Imagine looking down at your plate to see half a sheep’s head with teeth and one eye! Many foreigners find it hard to look svid “in the eye.” Of course, fresh fish is always available. One Icelandic specialty is hardfiskur: fish that is filleted and dried. It is eaten uncooked, preferably with some butter. Typically, this fish is hard and has to be beaten to become soft. Thus, it was with special anticipation that the missionaries waited to see Brother Henschel’s reaction when served this fish. After he tasted it, the missionaries asked him how he liked it. He thought for a moment and then came up with a diplomatic reply: “Well, I think this is the best kind of wood I have ever eaten.”
Many other visits by representatives of the Governing Body have been memorable and encouraging. These visits have impressed on the brothers in Iceland that despite their few numbers and isolated location, they are part of the international brotherhood, united in bonds of Christian love.
Working With Doctors and the Media
A Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) made up of four brothers began serving in Iceland in 1992. For training, two of the brothers attended an HLC seminar in England, and the other two, a seminar held in Denmark. When the newly formed HLC had been organized, a meeting was held with the medical staff of a large university hospital. One hundred and thirty people showed up for the meeting, including doctors, nurses, lawyers, and hospital administrators. Since this was the first meeting that the HLC held with medical professionals, the brothers were, understandably, rather apprehensive. However, the meeting was a success, and afterward, they arranged to meet with smaller numbers of doctors and other professionals at various hospitals. The brothers also established a good rapport with some leading surgeons and anesthesiologists. These contacts have helped to avert and solve problems concerning treatment without blood.
A new law on patient rights was passed in 1997. The law stipulates that no treatment may be given to a patient without his or her consent and that if the will of an unconscious patient is known, it must be respected. The law also states that children 12 years of age and older must always be consulted as to their treatment. Gudmundur H. Gudmundsson, chairman of the HLC, reports: “Generally, doctors are very cooperative, and problems are rare. Even major surgery is done without blood.”
When the January 8, 2000, Awake! on bloodless medicine and surgery was published, the branch office encouraged the brothers to make a special effort to distribute that issue of the magazine as widely as possible. The branch offered suggestions on how to offer the magazine and how to answer questions on the blood issue. At first some hesitated to present the magazine, but soon they saw that people wanted to know about the subject. Over 12,000 copies were distributed to the public. That amounts to 1 magazine for every 22 inhabitants of the country. One brother said, “My problem was covering the territory because I had so many good discussions.” A sister said, “Only two people refused to accept the magazines from me!”
A lady who hosted a weekly program on nationwide radio received this magazine on bloodless medicine. On her program, she related how she had got the magazine, and then she reviewed the history of blood transfusions as explained in Awake! She ended her discussion by saying that anyone who would like to get more information on bloodless medicine could request a publication on this subject from the Witnesses.
The special campaign with this issue of Awake! opened the eyes of many to the reasonableness of our stand on blood. Further, they came to know that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not want to die. Rather, they are seeking the best medical treatment possible. As a result, some who had been misinformed in the past regarding our stand on blood became receptive to the Kingdom message.
Two Halls in Four Days
For the brothers in Iceland, an outstanding event of the 1995 service year was the building of two Kingdom Halls during the month of June, one in Keflavík and the other in Selfoss. These were the first Kingdom Halls in Iceland to be built using the quickly built construction method. It took only four days to build both of them. The loving help of the brothers in Norway made it possible to accomplish this task. The Norway branch sent most of the building materials, and more than 120 brothers and sisters from Norway came to help with the project. The most common remark heard at the building sites was: “This is just amazing.” The brothers in Iceland had been reading and hearing about building Kingdom Halls quickly, but now they were seeing it with their own eyes. Of course, this was amazing, considering that the number of Kingdom Halls in Iceland doubled in just a few days!
Besides acquiring two new Kingdom Halls, the brothers in Iceland were encouraged by the fine association with the brothers and sisters who came from Norway at their own expense to spend their vacation time working on the halls. What an evidence of our international brotherhood! The brothers in Iceland also contributed to these building projects. More than 150 local publishers shared in the work, about half the number in the entire country.
These Kingdom Hall projects were also a fine witness to the public. Two nationwide television stations covered the story on their news programs and showed pictures from both building sites. The project was also reported on by several radio stations and in newspapers. A minister of the local church in Selfoss did not like the attention being given to the Witnesses. In the local newspaper, he published an article warning against what he considered to be the dangerous false teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He mentioned that weak and sensitive people should especially be on guard. In a radio interview, he repeated the same warnings. However, the words of the minister did not have the impact he had hoped for. Instead, most people were amazed at the Kingdom Hall projects, and many whom the brothers met in the preaching work said that they were surprised at the minister’s reaction.
About one week after the minister’s warning was published, the newspaper printed a cartoon. In the foreground of the cartoon, you see the church, and in the background, the Kingdom Hall. A river runs between the two buildings, and some smiling, well-dressed brothers are walking over the bridge from the Kingdom Hall toward the church, service bags in hand. Outside the church, a woman leaps in panic from her wheelchair. A man with his foot in a cast and another man, apparently blind, run, shouting: “Flee, flee, the Witnesses are coming!” On the steps of the church stands the minister, looking surprised. Many enjoyed this cartoon. The editorial staff of the newspaper chose it as the best cartoon of the year, enlarged it, and displayed it on their office wall. There it remained for several years.
Exhibition Gives a Good Witness
During the 2001 service year, an exhibition was presented that focused on the neutral stand taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses before and during World War II as they bore up under Nazi persecution. Held at three locations, the exhibition had a combined attendance of 3,896. During the final weekend, the exhibition hall in Reykjavík was packed with more than 700 visitors. The video Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault in Icelandic ran during the whole exhibition in all three locations. Many of the visitors used the opportunity to sit down and watch the entire video.
The firm stand of the Witnesses in the concentration camps impressed visitors who had not previously known this side of our history. One professor who visited the exhibition site several times said that the exhibition had made a deep impression on her and that she had changed her attitude toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was particularly moved by the strong faith of the Witnesses in the concentration camps. Unlike other prisoners, they could have gained freedom by denying their beliefs.
Fine coverage of the exhibition was provided by one nationwide television station and by local television and radio stations. When the exhibition opened, a Lutheran minister attended with his wife and daughter. Some time later, a brother invited the minister to visit Bethel, and he accepted. A few days after the visit, a woman approached the minister with a question about a certain Bible text. The minister encouraged her to contact the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as he was sure that they would provide an answer. A brother later conducted a Bible study with the minister.
Translation Over the Years
It has often been a challenge for the few publishers in Iceland to translate all the spiritual food from “the faithful and discreet slave” into the Icelandic language. (Matt. 24:45) In the early years, Icelandic Witnesses who lived in Canada did most of the translation work. Later this work was done in Iceland. After the first missionaries arrived in 1947, they became acquainted with an elderly poet who lived in the same house as they did. He knew English and helped the missionaries to learn the language. He also offered to do some translation work for them, so the brothers hired him to translate the book “Let God Be True” and the booklet The Joy of All the People. Unfortunately, he used an old poetic style with too many archaic words and expressions, and even though one of the new missionaries and Brother Lindal checked and retyped the translation, the book never became the fine study aid expected. Nevertheless, the book was widely distributed from its first printing, and altogether 14,568 copies were printed. Over 20,000 copies of the booklet were printed in 1949. Later the brothers hired another translator to translate the book What Has Religion Done for Mankind?
During those years, a small team of brothers translated a number of booklets. One was “This Good News of the Kingdom,” released in 1959. This booklet helped the brothers to start many new Bible studies. At this point approval was given to publish The Watchtower in Icelandic.
Many fine books were translated and released in the years that followed: “This Means Everlasting Life” was released in 1962; From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, in 1966; The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, in 1970; You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, in 1984; and Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, in 1996. A quarterly edition of Awake! was added to the list of Icelandic publications in 1982.
For many years, the brothers did not have the songbook in Icelandic. In 1960, four songs were translated and mimeographed for an assembly. Then at the district convention in November 1963, a little songbook with 30 selected songs in Icelandic was released, to the joy of the brothers.
Until then, congregation singing had been done in a blend of languages. Günther and Rut Haubitz arrived in Iceland from Germany in 1958 as special pioneers. Rut still remembers how the foreign brothers just used their own respective songbooks in Danish, English, Finnish, German, Norwegian, or Swedish. Icelanders chimed in with whichever language they knew best. She says, “It was a rather mixed choir!” Gradually, over the years, more Kingdom songs were translated, but it was not until 1999 that a complete songbook with all 225 songs became available in Icelandic. How grateful the brothers are for this provision to praise Jehovah!
The district convention held in August 1999 featured something new for Iceland. The book Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy! in Icelandic was released simultaneously with the English edition. At the convention, when the speaker announced the release of the book in English, all in the audience applauded. But instead of telling the brothers that this book would be released later in Icelandic, he continued by showing an Icelandic copy of the book, saying
Bethel Expansion and Further Increase
The branch facilities underwent renovation in 1998. Two apartments across the street were purchased to house Bethelites and to allow more space in the office for the Translation Department. In recent years, the translators have also benefited from visits by brothers from world headquarters in New York. These brothers have taught them how to use computer programs that were developed by Jehovah’s Witnesses and are specially designed for translation work.
Recently, representatives from headquarters conducted the Course in Improved English Comprehension at the branch. The course has helped the translators to gain deeper insight into the English text before they start translation.
The branch office writes: “Looking back over the years, we are happy that some had the courage to start translating into Icelandic, even under primitive conditions and with limited knowledge of the language. Though the quality of translated material was not the same in the early days as it is today, we do not ‘despise the day of small things.’ (Zech. 4:10) We rejoice to see that Jehovah’s name and Kingdom have also been made known in Iceland and that many people have learned the truth.”
Presently, there are eight full-time workers at the branch office. Others commute to Bethel and are helping part-time. To replace the Kingdom Hall at the branch, a new Kingdom Hall has now been built for the congregations in Reykjavík. Consequently, plans are under way to renovate the branch building in order to accommodate more Bethel workers.
Preaching the good news in Iceland has required perseverance, self-sacrifice, and love. Truly, it can be said that the hard work performed by zealous Kingdom proclaimers in Iceland for the past 76 years has not been in vain. Many faithful brothers and sisters have had a share in the harvest work. A great number have moved from other countries to serve for some years, and their work will long be remembered. Some have stayed and made Iceland their permanent home. The perseverance of many fine native Icelandic publishers is also commendable.
The average number of Kingdom publishers is small, but Jehovah’s Witnesses have become well-known in the country. Now seven missionaries are serving in rural areas and in small congregations on the island. This past service year, 543 people attended the Memorial of Christ’s death, and close to 180 home Bible studies are being conducted.
Perhaps one day the brothers in Iceland will have the sort of increase described at Isaiah 60:22: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.” Meanwhile, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Iceland are determined to accomplish the work with which they have been entrusted by the King, Jesus Christ
[Box on page 205]
Where First Names Become Last
In harmony with local tradition, Icelanders do not have family names: People address one another by their first name. The last name of a child is determined by combining the father’s first name with the suffix -son for a boy and -dóttir for a girl. For example, the son and daughter of a man named Haraldur would take the last names Haraldsson and Haraldsdóttir. The name of a woman does not change when she marries. Because so many people share the same name, telephone books list not only a person’s name, address, and phone number but also his or her occupation. Genealogical records allow Icelanders to trace their ancestry back more than a thousand years.
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An Overview of Iceland
The land: This island country is situated just below the Arctic Circle between the North Atlantic Ocean, the Greenland Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. Volcanoes, hot springs, and steaming geysers abound. Glaciers cover one tenth of the land.
The people: Descendants of Vikings who came mostly from Norway, Icelanders are generally hardworking, innovative, and tolerant. Most people live near the coast.
The language: Though Icelandic is the official language, many Icelanders also speak two or more foreign languages, typically English, German, or a Scandinavian tongue.
The livelihood: The fishing industry plays a vital role in the economy of Iceland. Trawlers bring in capelin, cod, haddock, and herring, most of which are processed and exported.
The food: Fish and lamb are commonplace. A special Icelandic dish is boiled sheep’s head.
The climate: Warmed by an Atlantic current, the climate is temperate. Winters are mild yet windy. Summers are cool.
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September 6, 1942: “There is still only one pioneer working in this land, so there is not much to report. The population of Iceland is about 120,000 people, and there are about 6,000 farmsteads. The only way to reach these farms is by using saddle and pack ponies. To call at all of these homes, it is necessary to travel approximately 10,000 miles [16,000 km], and there are many mountains and mountain torrents to cross. There is very little interest in the message so far.”
These words of Georg F. Lindal were written after he had pioneered in Iceland for 13 years. He was to remain the only publisher in Iceland for five more years.
[Box/Picture on page 213, 214]
A Record of Faithful Service
Oliver Macdonald was among the early missionaries assigned to Iceland, graduating from the 11th class of Gilead. He arrived in December 1948 along with Ingvard Jensen. They traveled there from New York by freight ship. The journey took 14 days, and the North Atlantic Ocean was rough. They were both seasick for most of the journey.
In March 1950, Brother Macdonald married Sally Wild from England, who had worked at Britain Bethel. Mac, as he was affectionately called, and Sally did much good work in those early years, and people they studied with are still faithfully serving Jehovah.
In 1957, Mac and Sally returned to England, where Sally died of cancer that had been diagnosed in Iceland. Mac entered full-time service again after Sally’s death and served as a regular pioneer and then as a traveling overseer for 13 years. In 1960, he married Valerie Hargreaves, a special pioneer. Together they served in various circuits in Britain, from northern Scotland to the Channel Islands, off the southern coast of England. Working their way northward through the circuit and on to the Shetlands off the northern coast of Scotland, Mac would say, “The next stop is Iceland!” never really thinking they would go there.
However, in 1972, Mac and Valerie were appointed as missionaries and reassigned to Iceland. Mac served as branch servant and later as Branch Committee coordinator. He and Valerie stayed in Iceland for seven years and then were assigned to Ireland as missionaries, first in Dublin and later in Northern Ireland. After serving in Ireland for 20 years, Mac died of cancer in December 1999, having spent 60 years in full-time service. Valerie is still serving as a regular pioneer in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Valerie and Oliver Macdonald in Reykjavík, 1970’s
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Reykjavík, which means “Smoky Bay,” is the capital of Iceland and was named by the first permanent settler, Ingólfur Arnarson, for the steam rising from its hot springs. Today Reykjavík is a bustling modern city with a total population of about 180,000.
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They Made Iceland Their Home
Páll Heine Pedersen comes from Denmark. He was assigned to Iceland as a special pioneer in 1959. In 1961 he attended two of the “United Worshipers” International Conventions in Europe, where he met Violet. She had come from California, U.S.A., to attend several of these conventions.
After the conventions, Páll made his way back to Iceland, and Violet went back home to California. They corresponded for five months, and in January 1962, Violet came to Iceland to marry Páll. He was still pioneering, being the only Witness in a sparsely populated area in northwestern Iceland. They lived in a small town where the midwinter sun does not shine for two months. To reach some of the people in the territory, they had to travel steep and often very icy mountain roads, and their only means of transportation was a motorcycle that Páll had brought with him from Denmark. Since Violet had been born and raised in sunny California, many of the brothers thought that she would not last long in Iceland. But she did, and she grew to love the country and the people.
Páll and Violet pioneered together until their daughter, Elísabet, was born in 1965. Páll continued pioneering until 1975, and Violet pioneered occasionally during those years. In 1977 they decided to move to California because of Páll’s health. In time, they felt a strong urge to serve where the need for Kingdom publishers is greater. They took up pioneering again, and when their daughter had finished school and was of age, they were assigned to return to Iceland as missionaries. They served in the missionary field and the traveling work for a few years. In 1989, Páll was asked to serve as a member of the Branch Committee. Then, in 1991, a Bethel Home was officially opened in Iceland, with Páll and Violet as the first Bethel family members. They continue to serve there.
[Box/Picture on page 228, 229]
Known for Their Hospitality
Fridrik Gíslason and his wife, Ada, were among the seven who were baptized in 1956. Fridrik and Ada learned the truth from Oliver and Sally Macdonald. At first, the Bible study was conducted with Fridrik, while Ada was involved with her sewing club all winter long. When the sewing club finished in the spring, she would sit in the kitchen during the study. Eventually, her curiosity in the Bible discussions moved her to ask if she could sit in on the study as a nonparticipant. Soon, though, she became thoroughly involved.
Later, an English Watchtower Study was regularly held in their home. They began attending meetings at the missionary home. “I recall that we used to have meetings in a small room in the attic where the missionaries lived,” says Fridrik. “There was room for 12 chairs, but sometimes when more than the usual number showed up, we opened the door to the next little room. What a difference today
Fridrik and Ada became well-known for their hospitality. Though they raised six children, their home has always been open to the brothers. During the early years of the congregation, many who arrived in Iceland from other countries enjoyed staying with Fridrik and Ada, who accommodated them until they could find homes of their own.
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The Bible in Icelandic
The earliest Bible translation into Icelandic is found in a 14th-century work called Stjórn, which contains translations and paraphrases of parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. The first complete “New Testament” in Icelandic was printed in 1540. The translator was Oddur Gottskálksson, son of the bishop of Hólar. He had embraced the reformed faith in Norway and had come into contact with Martin Luther in Germany. History has it that after Oddur’s return to Iceland, he did his translation work in a cowshed, with great difficulty, not wanting to offend his Catholic employer, the bishop of Skálholt. Oddur translated the text from the Latin Vulgate, and he personally took his manuscript to Denmark to have it printed. In 1584, Bishop Gudbrandur Thorláksson commissioned the printing of the first complete Bible in Icelandic. The first complete translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek was printed in 1908, and a revised version, in 1912.
“Gudbrandsbiblía,” the first complete Bible in Icelandic
[Chart/Graph on page 216, 217]
1929: Georg F. Lindal arrives, the first publisher in the country.
1947: First Gilead missionaries arrive.
1950: A small congregation is formed.
1960: The Watchtower is published in Icelandic.
1962: Branch office is established in Reykjavík.
1975: New, enlarged branch office is completed and dedicated.
1992: Hospital Liaison Committee is formed.
1995: Two Kingdom Halls are constructed in four days during June.
2004: 284 publishers are active in Iceland.
1940 1960 1980 2000
[Maps on page 209]
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[Picture on page 207]
Right: Georg F. Lindal, 1947
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Below: Brother Lindal with an Icelandic pony, early 1930’s
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Some of the first missionaries in Iceland, from left to right: Ingvard Jensen, Oliver Macdonald, and Leo Larsen
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This building housed the branch office from 1962 to 1968
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More than one hundred publishers from Iceland attended the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1969
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Iiris and Kjell Geelnard in Akureyri, January 1993
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Right: The trawler “Svalbakur”
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Below: Fridrik and Kjell
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Right: Oddný Helgadóttir
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Below: Gudrún Ólafsdóttir
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Right: Kingdom Hall and missionary home in Akureyri
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Below: Bjarni Jónsson in front of branch
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Above: Construction of the Kingdom Hall in Selfoss, 1995
[Picture on page 249]
Right: The completed building
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The Iceland Bethel family
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Branch Committee, from left to right: Bjarni Jónsson, Gudmundur H. Gudmundsson, Páll H. Pedersen, and Bergthór N. Bergthórsson