I don’t know very much about Mormons. My primary source of knowledge may be from South Park and John Krakaur’s book “Under the Banner of Heaven”. If you have ever read the book or seen South Park you know they do not paint the most positive picture of Mormons. Of all the places in the world, I did not think it would be my 3-day layover in Iceland where I would meet my first Mormons.

It all happened innocently enough. I arrived in Reykjavik around evening time, and as the travel video on the plane recommended I headed first to Hallgrímskirkja Church. A Lutheran Church located in the heart of Reykjavik, with a relatively tall tower that provides a great view of the city (at least I was told)

Being broke, and after spending 4 months in Turkey where I visited dozens of beautiful Mosques for free I decided not to pay the 5 or so Euro they wanted to see the view.

While I was standing outside taking pictures of the unique church I must have looked lost and alone. A formal looking young man approached me wearing a white short-sleeved dress shirt tucked into black dress pants. He asked if I would like to have my photo taken with the church. I said yes, thanking him.

After the picture we began to chat and he told me his name was “Elder xxx” (I can’t remember his name). Based on his appearance I assumed he was related to the church in someway, but now that he was calling himself “Elder” I was interested to see in what capacity, he looked no older than 20. He informed me that his youth group was getting together to make sushi in a few minutes and invited me to join. Having no friends or plan, I decided I had nothing to lose and agreed I would join him.

As we began to walk to the meetinghouse I had a nervous feeling that they were going to try and recruit me, or grill me about my own beliefs. But the conversation remained casual. The meetinghouse belonged to an older American couple that I later learned after both being widowed met each other at their respective Mormon Churches. Upon falling in love they decided to drop everything and move to Iceland in order to spread the good word.

Inside the house the other youth group members were very welcoming. On the walk to the house Elder xxx revealed to me he was a Mormon missionary. He was going to spend the next 2 years abroad in Iceland learning the language and hopefully converting new followers.

The others in youth group included a few local Mormons, a few travelling Mormons, several missionaries and myself. I was introduced to my hosts and began to make small talk with everyone. Soon we were making sushi and everyone was enjoying himself or herself, but I still could not shake the weird feeling the place gave me. Over dinner the topic of my religion was eventually brought up, as I had feared. Thankfully though the group was not overly pushy. I told them I was not practicing any religion, which they all seemed respectful of, and after insisting and extracting a promise from me that I would take a look online at the Mormon religion, they ceased bugging me about my personal beliefs.

Dinner ended with another one of the “Elders” reading his favourite passage from the book of Mormon. This was for me the most interesting part of the whole encounter. The young man was very enthusiastic about the passage he read. So much so that he had trouble articulating exactly how much it meant to him.

Alas, after dinner the religious formalities were done with for the evening. The youth group and I journeyed out to the front lawn where they taught me how to play the traditional Nordic game “Kubb” (a game where you throw wooden sticks at your opponents “King” to earn points). The game was a fun challenge, and it was also fun to see what little effect the rain had on all the Icelandic locals spirits. As it started to lightly pour I assumed we would pack up and head inside. My fellow Kubb players however did not even flinch. They told me after that if you want to live in Iceland you have to learn to live with the rain.

After the game we cleaned up and the festivities were over for the evening. I said goodbye to my hosts who again extracted one last promise that I at least take a look on their website to learn more about Mormonism. I offered them a small donation for the food, which they kindly refused. As I left I felt the warmth of their kindness towards me. I truly appreciated these strangers giving me food and company in a new land. While this was not the typically party that I had become accustomed to while travelling abroad, it was certainly one I will never forget.

And in a strange land where the sun doesn’t set in the summer, the night was still young. It’s a story on its own worthy of another blog post, but in short, the night ended with an interesting group of international students who study the “Sagas”, many beers, and many strange tales.