Over the last couple of days, our team from H2O Kent has been gradually shifting our time and attention from the refugee communities of Tensta to the center of Stockholm. We’ve enjoyed brilliant blue skies and golden sunshine as we’ve walked many miles through this colorful city.
A significant part of our trip has been praying for the city. We’re asking God to heighten our awareness of the things that He’s already doing in Stockholm. We’re asking that some of our Christian friends in the area might be able to make some new inroads among new people groups here. And we’re asking that our team might be used to help spark some of these connections during the short time we’re here.
The island of Södermalm, just south of the city center, has been a particular area of focus for our team. As a complement to our prayer, we’re striking up conversations with strangers as we walk. Halle and I met an older couple on the southern end of the island, in an area called Tantolunden. Their names were Bjorn-Erik and Mojan. We found them in an area that might best be described as a sort of “village of gardening sheds,” and when we expressed curiosity they were delighted to tell us more and show us around. It seems like these recreational shelters and the gardening plots around them are the setting for a lot of community-building. Bjorn-Erik and Mojan said they know their gardening neighbors better than their residential neighbors! So that was interesting insight for potential work to build spiritual community in this area in the future.
On our first prayer walk in Södermalm, Halle and I also got to check out several houses of worship on the island. We stepped inside of a large Catholic cathedral called the Katarina Kyrka and the largest Muslim Mosque in Sweden. We spent a bit longer talking with a volunteer at the Andreaskyrkan: a church that he described as “free” and “congregational.” I can’t pretend that we got any kind of comprehensive view of what God is doing in Södermalm, but it was cool to see that faith is a normal thing in this community with a reputation for secularism.
In addition to exploring Södermalm, we’ve been spending more time with people from Korskyrkan, in the neighborhood around the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). For the middle part of today, we hung out with the pastor of Korskyrkan. I’ve spent time with Richard, on previous visits to Stockholm, but every time I get to see him again I’m freshly encouraged by his calm sense of conviction and calling. God has done some amazing things through Richard over the years (I heard several new stories about his earliest days in ministry, this time around) — and I was especially excited that some of our up-and-coming church leaders from H2O Kent were able to get some time with him.
After a few hours together at the church and a nearby cafe, our group went on another prayer walk: this time at KTH. Our friends from Kent, Aidan and Chelsea Rinehart, have been living and working at (or near) KTH for a year and a half now: Aidan pursuing a PhD at the Institute, and Chelsea coordinating with Korskyrkan to reach out to students on campus. After walking around for awhile with Chelsea and the team, we met up with Aidan and two of his colleagues to play a few games of Innebandy (Swedish floor hockey) at the Institute’s Recreation Center.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to fully commit to this statement yet — but our hour in the gym playing Innebandy may have been my favorite hour of the week. I felt woefully uncoordinated and unconditioned for the rigors of the sport, but it was a way to have fun with our team… a way to get to know new people… an outlet to blow off some steam in a very practical, tangible way… and it was easily the most Swedish thing we did in our whole week in Sweden.
We finished the day with dinner at a quaint little pizzeria in the Rineharts’ neighborhood, followed by some team prayer back at their apartment. Our week in Stockholm is rapidly approaching its conclusion, but we’re making the most of our time here — and we look forward to sharing more stories with everyone back in Ohio, when we return.