So this letter I apologize for it’s length….but this has been a week I can never forget and want to keep documented.
The entire mood of this city has transformed. It is like Diagon Alley in the 7th book of Harry Potter. It had reached the public’s attention that there have been terrorists threats to Göteborg. The whole week the city has been quiet. Vans full of 8 to 10 police are parked throughout the city. Central station is constantly patrolled by officers. Friday night, which always is a wild party throughout the entire city, was silent. It was the eeriest thing, walking to central station on Friday night to catch our tåg home. Normally the street we walked down, full of clubs and restaurants and malls and theatres, is jammed packed with playgoers and intoxicated Swedes. Only a few lonely figures were on the streets.
The restaurants were sparsely filled and you could feel an uncomfortable anxiety radiating from everyone. It was not at all pleasant. Everyone chose to be inside. Syrians and Afghanis were gathered around candles in the square in mourning of what has become of their countries. It is a very unforgettable time to be in Göteborg. The city has not had any wave of fear shared by all in it quite like this before.
The days are short, wet, and mostly dark, the borders were temporarily shut. The whole of Sweden is in a panic, war is waging and yet, I had the most wonderful ice cream flavour while on splits this week: Salt liquorice and orange. It was surprisingly perfect in every degree. It was very much like Salt and Straw ice cream from Portland BUT without the unbearable wannabe hipsters from the Midwest suburbs snapping Instagram selfies to show off how “indie” they pretend to be because they shaved the side of their head and started listening to some Seattle indie folk playlist on Spotify which they classify as “hipster music” in their sophomore year of colleg. This ice cream business was not trying too hard to make odd flavours so they could acquire social media fame…. They just wanted to make good ice cream- and salt liquorice and orange does collaborate well on the tongue.
I mentioned the ice cream because it is key to not let this current situation dispel all light in life. (And sorry if I offended any one regarding Salt and Straw. I just can’t get over how hilarious the whole concept of that place is. It is purely an Instagram checkpoint).
The world is crazy, but still liveable. We have the most wonderful two investigators that run the coolest and most delicious vegetarian cafe, who are the most amazing couple. They work, just the two of them, every day. They seriously spend more time together than missionary companions, and they are the best of friends. Michael has passed his interview and is getting baptised on Saturday. He has a nice suit and everything. We went to watch him teach special needs people how to play basketball, and it was the most adorable thing.
Every day, we find another wonderful soul on the street. There is so much goodness in the world. We still are entitled to happiness. We cannot let fear take over our entire being as “the greatest thing to fear is fear itself,” so let’s “keep calm and carry on.” That’s some WWII wisdom for us to apply.
Here is the troublesome thing with fear; it can make monsters of ourselves. The world is at the cusp of potentially going into a reenactment of the red scare all over again if we aren’t careful. Remember when Russia was the enemy and America became so paranoid some were falsely accusing everyone left and right for being a communist spy? Russia was still the enemy, but we ourselves in fear of the enemy, became a little less innocent. We did our share of bad. We destroyed lives and were corrupted in our mad search for the spies among the innocent. If you haven’t, read The Crucible by Arthur Miller, see the fate of John Proctor. I fear in the crisis we are facing, the McCarthy era will come back again. The good people of Syria, both the Christian Syrians and Muslim Syrians alike, and the good, harmless Muslims of this world, are going to be forced into the modern Salem witch trials;that is what this can become.
I can’t stop this world going into it’s inevitable dark patch, where in trying to fight evil we lose our goodness by oppressing with heartless bigotry. I can’t really do much for the big picture. But, I do have the most powerful tool to combat this; spreading the gospel. It really is the greatest thing I can do. President Ezra Taft Benson once said:
“It is my conviction that the world needs, as it needs no other thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the people of the world want what the gospel will give, but they do not realize it. They want the anchor which the gospel provides, which gives them the answers to the problems that face them; that brings them a feeling of security and a feeling of inner peace. The gospel is the only answer to the problems of the world, my brethren and sisters.
Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.”
Some people on the street argue that religion is the reason why we are in this crisis. Religion is the cause of more death and destruction than any other thing ever on earth. Yes, that is true. But we must recognise the difference between religion and the Gospel. The gospel is the message of God, of love, peace, and salvation. Religion is mankind’s organisation to acquire whatever salvation they believe they can receive. In other words; The gospel is God’s word. Religion is our various differing interpretations of His word. This separation of the gospel and the religion is essential for us to understand. A religion is subject to imperfection and wars and abominations of all kinds, not because God does not exist but simply because the religion is not God, it is man. The gospel is God. God does exist. He is heart broken with what is happening to this earth. It is mankind’s corrupted warped blaspheme of his word that is causing the destruction; not his word itself.
When Jesus was on the earth he literally gave his life preaching about love and peace and forgiveness and kindness. Our Church is the church of Jesus Christ. The members of our church will not be perfect. Yes, religion is imperfect. But we are trying the best we can, through the church, to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is perfect. We can only fully do this through our church. If we were all trying our best to follow the gospel there would be world peace. So, missionary work is my way of making world peace, one soul at a time.
Also what I can do is ask of everyone within my reach to please, please, before you decide to embark on this Isis witch hunt yourself, remember history. Remember when McCarthy convicted 100s of innocent lives in a trumped up justice system. Remember when we ruthlessly threw the Japanese citizens of our country into our own prisoner camps in the midst of World War Two based off nothing more than their former nationality. Remember every scapegoat and body of people we hated and abused and killed for the few wicked hidden amongst them. It is what humanity has done since the dawn of time. Jesus Christ was strongly opposed to such bigotry as we see from his telling of the Good Samaritan. Today the word Samaritan makes many think of someone who is generous and charitable. In the days of Christ, it was a filthy word for the people of Samaria who the Jews bitterly spat upon. Jesus very purposefully used a Samaritan as the good, Christlike protagonist when he was asked “and who is my neighbour?” Why? He was not just teaching us that we should do good for others, but also that everyone, from all nations, religions, races, and walks of life have the capacity to be good Christlike people. He was teaching the key lesson of not stereotyping. So, to answer the question the lawyer posed to Jesus “who is my neighbour?” Syrians are your neighbours. Muslims are your neighbours. Everyone is your neighbour. Loving them is the way to eternal life.
I am not denying that Isis is among us, because they are. But Isis is an idea, not a nationality. The people running from Isis are certainly not Isis and I hardly think Christ would approve of treating them with any level of hatred or violence.
I have really come to see what happens when you put stories to faces. It is no longer just Syrian refugees. It is Alla, Mohammed, Samir, Omar, Sadik, and all of my other dear dear Syrian friends. They would give everything they have to me. You can’t compliment a Syrian on their coat or else they will insist you take it, even if it is their only coat. If they have a big loaf and a small loaf of bread….. They’d give you both.. It is so much harder when they are people that are a part of you. Disconnection leads to apathy and apathy allows Machiavellian actions to rule over moral values. We put the label of enemy on the forehead of everyone coming from the same country as the enemy. It is easier that way. We feel less guilt in bombing them, in killing their sons and husbands and fathers. In discriminating against them in our countries.
I do not want Isis in America or Britain or Sweden,but they already are here, and it’s terrifying. Please, don’t let that excuse us to hate and mistreat all those who are running from Isis. Please, love thy neighbour. They’ve gone through more than your worst nightmares. They just need love. Love is the way to combat hate. We can’t fight hate by hating…. then we are just making more hate.
Now, I’m not on the stage of Carnegie hall defiantly singing “With God on our Side” like Bob Dylan did in protest. In fact, my message is in no way political. I’m a missionary. I’m not a politician. For the two years I’m serving on my mission I do not wish to have anything to do with politics. My message is, for you personally, do not let fear deny you from living the great commandment from Jesus Christ “thou shall love thy neighbour”. Love all within your reach…..Whether you have refugees near you or not.
Love you all,
And For A Friend I’ve met here in Goteborg:
Before I close, I was last week accused of never including a Connor in my letters, who deserves some recognition. So, to calm Connor’s sass I will dedicate some time to praise the fine lad.
Here is my Ode to Connor:
What can be said of you in all your fine Cymru majesty? Shall I compare thee to a summers day? Thou art more lovely and temperate. You truly are a diamond of the Welsh coal mines. Only Doctor Who and John Rhys-Davies are equal gems of Wales. Yes, that means you beat Charlotte Church, Richard Burton and Welsh cakes. O, Connor, I can praise thee for pages. You, the legend that teaches more missionary lessons in the week than the full time missionaries. You, the pillar of charity. You, who is not one bit English, thank you very much. (please don’t call Connor English if you don’t want to be impaled…. He is Welsh…) You, fine maker of curries. You, the member missionary of dreams. May the children forever sing praises of thee, from the green mighty mountains of Wales to the frozen fields of Sweden. From fair Cardiff by-the-sea to Gothenburg the gött mos.
Is that an adequate enough appraisal? You can give me your rating at family home evening tonight. In all seriousness, you are sincerely one of the greatest human beings I know. You’ll never accept that compliment but you should. You do so much for everyone without expecting or excepting recognition and now it is time for you to get some. To all of yourself you have given to others, you deserve the biggest thank you. I know you won’t want me to make public just all the acts of service you do, so I won’t, but everyone, you ought to know this man is an example to me. You are one of the best missionaries in this world.