Monday, January 7, 2008

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 2

~Sunday~Day 2~

Though we were completely messed up when it came to time, waking up was easy. We were already awake. Hunter had woken me up at one a.m. and none of us slept well after that. We bounded out of bed with serious headaches, hunger (and one stomach ache) at six or seven in the morning. Phil got the address to the International Church he had found on the internet before leaving the states. The service began at 10:30 a.m., so we had plenty of time. We ate buttered bread toasted to nearly burnt under the broiler, yogurt and bananas. We couldn’t make the stovetop work to fry eggs. We were discouraged that we might not be able to use a stovetop. How would we cook our meals?

If finding the entrance to the parking lot of IKEA was difficult, it was even worse when it came to the church. According to the GPS, the huge, block-sized, mall-like building we were driving around was our destination. There were no friendly signs with sermon topics or a cross. What signs were available didn’t seem helpful at all (a trend?): A restaurant, a vacant laundry, etc. People were, indeed, streaming in as if it were time for something to start, but every last one seemed elderly. The cross-walk was busy with stylishly dressed elderly women in long coats pushing their little green-wheeled walkers (in fact, these green walkers with hand-brakes are used by masses of the walking elderly—who seem to be many compared to those on foot in the US). We had already driven around the exterior once the wrong way, so we decided to park across the street.

We entered into what still looked very much like a mall. Organ music played over an overhead speaker. An elderly woman in a camel skirt-suit was handing out bulletins and chatting with another woman. We waited our turn, but Phil checked his watch often. Hunter thought the wide open space meant that he should take off running everywhere.

We were finally greeted in Swedish, but the woman quickly changed to broken English to say, “English service? Open door,” pointing away from where I thought the service would be.

There must have been yet another congregation meeting down that way, because I started to hang my coat on the wrong rack—so I was told by people gathered around there, and Phil admonished me with, “didn’t you see the open door?” Which, I guess, I had not. But there it was, an open door—a side door, mind you, in a place this huge.

We entered the open door and were greeted by a short, youngish, Swedish man accompanied by a little black boy. I hung my coat on the correct rack and we entered a tiny sanctuary no larger than the whole main level of my house back home and ceilings only twice as high, but at a 45 degree angle. It was obvious that this room was next to a staircase on the other side of the wall. A jazzy sort of music played at the front with four black women singing in high nasally unison into their microphones. The few people seated were mostly various tones of black with the exception of a lighter-skinned woman with jet black hair and a woman in a big coat and scarf with brownish hair (come to find out, the first woman is Iranian, the second from Lithuania). We were heartily greeted by various English accents. When we sat down, Hunter looked a bit terrified. Phil was his typical expressionless self on yet another adventure and I felt exhaustion pulling at my eyes and brain.

The music stopped and the four women singers sat down amongst us. More people started arriving by twos and threes and the musicians stood to discuss the morning music so that I observed the pianist who looked like a New York gentleman from the era of Lawrence Welk. Behind him a white, bald, pierced man with sunglasses, who looked like a bouncer, played a mean tenor saxophone. A black man jostled a set of congo drums as he arranged transparencies for the overhead (which he managed between and during songs while playing the drums). Together, these men made the most wonderful, jazzy church music I’ve ever heard—it was tasteful and beautiful. Hunter couldn’t resist moving his foot to the music, but he also had trouble sitting or standing still. He’s only had church service experience in the nursery at our church back home (sad, isn’t it?).

By the time the service had begun and we had sung two very familiar songs, the place had filled up with a greater mix of nationalities. I got the greatest understanding of this when it was time for children’s Sunday School and Hunter urged me to go with him. We wound around and downstairs to a place where a few dozen pairs of shoes littered the entrance as a mysterious clue that we should take off our shoes before turning the corner and beholding a most wonderful children’s place—a little like Mr. Roger’s studio. Hunter and I were ushered into a room where a Swedish teacher knelt before a circle of multinational children who were as beautiful as can be. They were fascinated to have an American boy among them, so the teacher had each child tell where their parents had come from: Ghana, The Congo, Vietnam, China, Sweden and the U.S.

The Sunday School lesson was delivered in Swedish and the group of children were gathered from all the congregations meeting in the building. Richard, the teacher, was such a great actor that, even on our first full day in Sweden, hearing and watching the telling of the Good Samaritan in Swedish was nearly as clear as if we had watched a mime.

After that, I could only imagine how many nationalities represented sat upstairs listening to the sermon delivered by a man from Ghana. Apparently, the current pastor is only present two weeks on and two weeks off. He lives in Belgium. They tell me his specialty is International churches. We were amazed what a Holiness message was preached!

Hunter made fast friends with the first black boy we had seen when we entered the service: five year old David. After church they ran and shrieked around that massive space as if it were not church and no one seemed to care. None of the other parishioners flinched.

After the service, the congregation meets for coffee, tea and bread in a little café atmosphere off of the larger foyer. There we were better able to meet people and hear their stories.

I was promised more stories next time I came to church, which I look forward to hearing from the other people. It is not difficult to imagine that these people from all over the world, living in Sweden and gathering together under the Name of the Lord, have stories—some very intense and violent.

Friedrick mentioned that since so many were university students, the turnover of the International congregation (under a larger Swedish Penticostal Church) is very rapid. He said there is a core of some 10-15 people, from there the population fluctuates a great deal.

There is a cafeteria next to the little tea area which serves an inexpensive lunch after church on Sundays. When we heard it was inexpensive, we determined to lunch there rather than wander around town looking for something to eat. We learned that it was necessary to pay cash, yet we had not yet made any cash exchanges, so Phil walked across the street to get cash while I heard Terbarn’s story and Hunter ran around with David. By the time Phil returned, they were closing the cafeteria.

LeAnne, an American who has lived in Malmo a long time, told me to expect such things in Sweden. Time is immaterial. If a business decided to close, it was closed! She then told us it was such an unusually beautiful day that we might enjoy walking around the Lilletorg (pronounced Lillatory--meaning small town).

With that, we dismissed ourselves from the friendly folks. I told Phil about the recommendation and he was delighted because it was the very area Securitas was located, so he’d be able to show us a beautiful area as well as where he would be working each day. In went the word “Lilletorg” on the GPS and we were driving under blue skies past beautiful ancient brick buildings, a castle, several churches with stunning steeples, a canal and parks, hoards of people riding bikes and walking along stone bridges and cobblestone streets.

The women wear black leggings or blue jeans, knee-high black boots and various lengths of mostly black coats with huge collars for pulling up around a colorfully scarved neck with hats of many shapes and colors. Men wear blue jeans and some form of overcoat or shorter double breasted coats in mostly darker colors. The men are less likely to wear hats, though they do wear scarves. I’m thinking about trying some of the style, myself… : )

The wind was bitterly cold, especially when we turned down the narrow cobbled streets in the shadow of the tall buildings. Phil took us to a restaurant mentioned in the guidebooks but it was full, so we went to an Italian restaurant. Phil ordered a pizza to prove what we’d been told by the church people that a pizza is only enough for one, in Sweden. However, this pizza would have fed all of us. I had tortellini with ham and peas and Hunter had spaghetti; adventurous for foreigners, huh?

We walked across a huge canal to the train station for Hunter’s sake, so he could see where the fast electric trains come and go as well as get the feel for the whole place. They are remodeling the station to accommodate more regional travel rather than simply local travel—the demands of the city are growing so fast.

I began to feel ill, so we saw Phil’s office (in a scary part of town on the weekends) and headed back “home.”

The rest of the day was unremarkable for the too-long nap, the unpacking, the getting ready for the work week, including setting up for DSL, networking, etc. We stayed up later that night due to the long nap . . .

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