Northern Stars

“Northern Stars,” New Era, Feb. 1992, 21

Northern Stars

Some shine alone. Some shine in a group. But throughout Norway, LDS youth are illuminating their homeland.

In Norway, light is a treasure. You savor it in the summer, when the rich sun of midnight melts from one day into another. You cherish light in winter, too, when days are short and a single, golden beam can seem like hope from heaven breaking through the clouds.

But there’s another light some Norwegians treasure, young LDS Norwegians who have learned about the truest light of all. It’s a light they carry with them even when life’s hard, a light that gives them strength and warmth in any season.

Always Better Weather

In Bodø, a city far to the north, Church members have gathered for a district conference. The few teenagers present tell what it’s like living above the Arctic Circle, often as the only LDS youth in their towns.

Håvard Lunde, 15, and his brother Erlend, 13, live in Alta, almost as far north as you can go in Norway. There is no chapel in Alta; the eight Latter-day Saints take turns meeting in each other’s homes.

“The Church seems normal to us, because we were born in it,” Håvard says. “But in Alta, like in most of Norway, young people don’t believe in much of anything. Our friends don’t shun us, but they wonder why we make such a big thing about religion.”

“We just try to set an example,” Erlend says.

And they wait for times like district conference, when their spiritual strength is renewed.

Anja Pedersen, 16, lives in another Arctic city, Finnsness. On Sundays, she and her father, the only active members in town, drive two hours each way to Narvik, the nearest branch.

“I have a brother who says he could write five pages of things he thinks are wrong with the Church,” she says. “And I have a sister who thinks my father has brainwashed me. My mother and my other two brothers just don’t care. But I met a friend a year ago who asked me about the gospel. I had to read and study and I found things that I needed. My testimony grew stronger and stronger.”

Since then, she’s shared seven copies of the Book of Mormon with friends and given two copies to local libraries. She also wrote a seven-page report about the Doctrine and Covenants, which she read to her school religion class, and saved up enough money to take a trip to the temple that left her feeling “all warm inside.”

Torje Gundersen, 18, lives in Narvik, where he performs the harsh, rough labor that teenagers eager for money seem willing to do. He spends his days at a factory, cutting and weighing fish. But Torje has an excellent reason for working so hard: he’s saving up for his mission.

Torje is the only young man his age in the Narvik Branch, and here at the conference he’s all smiles. He’s just had his interviews, and he knows he’ll be receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, one of the final steps in preparing for his mission.

“I know the Church is true,” he says simply. “It’s hard for all the youth here to always see that. It’s a lot like being in the middle of a rainstorm. Sometimes life seems all dark and threatening. But if you hold on to the gospel, if you live by the principles, you’ll make it through the storms. There’s always better weather.”

Morning Light

In Oslo, the morning sun is hazy. It’s peering over rock walls, creeping down the cobblestone streets. For most teenagers, it’s time to get up and get ready for school.

But at the Oslo First Ward building, a group of teenagers is already studying. In fact, they arrived long before the first light peeked through their seminary classroom windows.

“I have to get up at 5:30 in the morning to get ready,” says Øyvind Andersen, 17. “My father drives me over, and class starts at 6:30. Then at 7:15 I take the subway to my school, which starts at 8:20.”

“At school we already have classes on Christianity and World Religions,” says Liv Austenaa, 15. “So some of my friends think I’m crazy to come to another religion class early every day.”

“But early-morning seminary has given me a lot,” says Thor Andre Eråk, 16. “I believe I’ve learned much more than if I had studied by myself at home.”

Is it worth the effort? “I cannot possibly express my gratitude for what the Church has done to my life,” Øyvind says. “I know what I have—the gospel—is extremely valuable. I’m convinced that programs like seminary and missionary work give you a solid platform for later life. They strengthen your testimony radically.”

His brother Geir, 16, agrees. “Seminary helps me to find out what the gospel is all about,” he says. “I think Christ is the best of all examples, and thinking about him makes me want to get up and go to seminary. When I come here, I always get more out of my day.”

Stars Meeting Stars

Watch the youth in Norway long enough, and it’s almost like star gazing. Glimmers here, bright spots there, sometimes a constellation. You’ll see youth groups headed to Sweden to do baptisms for the dead in the Stockholm Temple. You’ll see talented young musicians performing at firesides. You’ll see the students who speak two, three, or more languages, already studying at an advanced level well before they reach 18 years of age.

And at some point, you’ll see Festinord (“Northern Festival”), a priesthood-approved local activity that gathers 14–18-year-old Latter-day Saints from Scandinavia to a conference, this year on the outskirts of Göteborg, Sweden.

Of course there are workshops, like one entitled “Problems of Today and How We Solve Them by Looking to Christ.” And speeches, such as the main address given by Regional Representative Arne Hedberg. And testimony meetings. “There are always two or three testimonies that get you in the heart,” says Maria Ahl, 16, from Trollhättan, Sweden.

But there are also activities like soccer, wind surfing, a triathlon, and a cultural evening with dancing, theater, and classical music.

“It’s nice to be where no one drinks,” says Daniel Nørrung, 17, of Copenhagen, Denmark, “where dress standards are normal, and where you don’t have to feel embarrassed to ask a blessing on your food. But the greatest thing is to see several hundred other Latter-day Saints the same age as you, who believe like you do. The reinforcement is terrific.”

In fact, says Catharina Karlsson, 16, of Oslo, what Festinord is about is sharing the light. “When you get enough young Latter-day Saints in one place,” she says, “it’s like, well, it’s like …”

It’s like the stars gathering together. When you look at the youth of the north there will be moments when you view not only constellations, but entire galaxies.

Always in Fashion

Sixteen-year-old Catharina Karlsson has a favorite outfit she loves to wear. But it isn’t the latest in trendy designer clothes. It’s a traditional Norwegian costume passed down from generation to generation.

“I actually feel more comfortable dressed this way,” says Catharina, a member of the Oslo Third Ward, Oslo Norway Stake. “It gives me a feeling of national pride. It links me to the area some of my ancestors are from, the Telemark region where skiing originated. And it never goes out of style.”

Her younger brother, Tobias, 13, has a similar costume he wears for special occasions. But clothing isn’t the only tie to heritage in the Karlsson home. The house is full of antiques and family photos, many of them of ancestors who were early members of the Church.

“My mother is a fifth-generation Latter-day Saint,” Catharina explains. “The Church has been part of our family for a long, long time.”

With the Karlssons, you quickly get a feeling that the hearts of the children have turned to their fathers. In this home that eternal perspective, much more than any traditional clothing, is something that will never go out of fashion.

Photography by Richard M. Romney, Peggy Jellinghausen, Karen Millet, and Rick Lofgren

In Norway there’s plenty of heritage for Catharina and Tobias Karlsson of Oslo, and plenty of isolation for Anja Pedersen and Håvard and Erlend Lunde, who live north of the Arctic Circle. (Below and right) There is also an abundance of early-morning light for seminary students Liv Austenaa, Thor Andre Eråk, and the rest of their class.

From time to time, there’s a gathering of stars in the north. It isn’t a constellation; it’s a conference called Festinord, an opportunity for youth like the three young men below to bask in and benefit from the light of the gospel. For LDS youth, Festinord is as traditional as the hand-painted rosemaling designs so common in Norway.