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Easter in Oslo

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It's been two weeks since we left home, and last Sunday, we were traveling and didn't make it a priority to attend church. Personally, I'm not too bothered by this as it's been a while since I've really had a week off and alone to myself since I normally volunteer every week.

Easter was different though.

I saw this as an opportunity to blend into a crowd and soak in some local culture. After searching online for an hour or so, I settled on Jesus Church near St. Hanshaugen park in Oslo's city center. I woke up bright and early at around 9:30am to get ready to attend the only service for that morning at 11am.

Unfortunately for me, I awoke with a bit of a head cold that I likely caught from Alanna and in a rush to get out of the hotel and walk to the bus stop, I left my tissues in the hotel room. I got off the bus one stop early to buy some more tissues at a pharmacy, but it was closed so I was forced to buy a massive box from a convenience store and stuff my pockets with wads of Kleenex. I abandoned the mostly full box somewhere that it would hopefully be picked up by a stranger in need and headed inside the old St. Marks cathedral building that Jesus Church called home.


After the friendly greeting at the door, I quickly found a seat inside on the hard wooden pews that lined the building in two identical columns. I chose to sit behind the A/V people, strategically placed near the aisle, 3/4 of the way back, because it's a comfortable spot for me. They even used the same Yamaha console as the one back home, though admittedly the little brother to our CL5. :)

The service was surprisingly familiar! The band got things going with a couple songs, then a meet and greet amongst the audience. The band continued, even playing two songs in English during their set (Happy Day & Resurrecting (Your Name) by Elevation Worship). The pastor came up and gave a short offering sermon, and the band played another song.

The sermon was mostly from Matthew. I followed along to the versus on-screen on my phone. I didn't understand hardly anything that was said, but the energy was identical to any experience in an Evangelical church. The pastor was cracking jokes, telling stories, and even at one point burst into spontaneous song! Eventually, things became more somber as Jesus faced his crucifixion and the band came up to sing during communion. I found myself mumbling along the Lord's prayer in Norwegian, the familiar cadence mixed with the unfamiliar words I read from the projectors flanking the ancient forward facade, a faded mural of Jesus' ascent into heaving dominating the middle of the tall front wall.

It was honestly one of the most refreshing church services I have been to in a long time. Did my pastor back home give a similarly heartfelt homily? Probably, but the novelty of my situation opened my senses to experience things in a new way. Perhaps this is the feeling that's referenced in all those prayers about new eyes to see and new ears to hear?

If you're curious, thanks to covid, the church's sermon is available on YouTube. See if you can spot my dark red beanie as I step forward for communion. :)


Meeting new friends

After the sermon finished, I meandered over to the opposite corner of the sanctuary where a group of English speakers was congregated around the translator. I left this part out, but normally there are headphones available for a live English translation, but I opted to forgo them in favor of the au naturál experience.

If you've met me at church, you know I like to hang out afterwards and grab lunch with my church homies. What fewer of you likely know, is this is a huge percentage of my social interaction during the week, since my work-from-home job keeps me locked away while most people are gossiping around the water cooler. I greatly value my after church hangout time!

There were about 10 people huddled around the translator, discussing the dynamics of the sermon, and relating it to their experiences back home. From the accents present, only two of the eight were American, the rest a soup of other European flavors. The topic quickly changed to things-to-do around Oslo, as the translator gave advice for his top-spots to see in the city. The group got a little smaller as the other Americans left and a conglomerate of 7, including myself remained. A long bearded red-haired man turned to me and asked, "Are you coming with us?"

"Sure", I casually replied, a slight lift of feigned exuberance in my voice. You all know the sound.

There was a group of three men my age, who I would later learn were brothers, and a group of 3 ladies that set out from the church together. One of the guys had won a raffle on Instagram for a free camper van rental for a week. He invited his brothers to drive with him to Oslo from Frankfurt, Germany. The three girls were high-school friends, now post-college, from Northern Ireland.

The germanic brothers were a lively bunch and treated all like long-time friends. Two of the girls were quiet, but their ringleader was a bubbly dentist in training who was more than happy to talk for them all until we all became better acquainted. So here we all are, 7 strangers, about to pile into a camper van for 4 people, in a foreign country and none of us speak the local language. It was either going to go horribly wrong, or beautifully right, and I'm happy to say it was the latter!

Up to the ski jump & Lunch

As we clambered into the van, our first destination was the Olympic Ski Jump overlooking the city atop a nearby mountain. Our church guide had informed us of the spectacular views and delicious hot chocolate waiting for us atop the mountain. As we set off from the narrow side street where the van was dubiously parked, we all became fast friends. I sat in the front passenger seat alongside Matty, the red haired brother. The rest of the gang was in the back and learning how to play a card game from the other brothers Mirk (pronounced Mark) and Benjamin.

As the van snaked through the city and soon up the winding mountain road, joyous laughter dominated the enclosed space. The youngest brother Mirk was not as well versed in English as his more traveled brothers and occasionally would say some wacky things, soon followed up by a quick sentence in German that another brother would translate. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the large log cabin welcoming us atop the mountain. A crowd of people were gathered outside, seated as such to take advantage of the spectacular view overlooking the city and the fjord below.

People scurried in and out of the building carrying trays of food or drinks. A buffet inside tantalized the senses with fresh fish toasties and an assortment of pastries. I picked up a salmon platter and a danish and headed outside to join my new friends. We chatted with the locals, dodged some pigeon 💩 and took in the amazing view.

After lunch, we headed to the nearby ski jump proper, climbed up the olympic seating and quickly ducked into the attached museum just in time for the final entry. After exiting through the gift shop, we detoured slightly to a large statue of a troll that jutted out from the hillside. The brothers took turns climbing on the massive statue as we all relaxed in the afternoon sun atop the mountain.

Our conversation flowed naturally, at this point moving on from the awkward jokes and banter into topics about our lives. This is where I learned of the girls' childhood friendship and the extensive family of the German brothers. I'm not sure on the exact count but I think they were 10 siblings total! I'm happy to say we all fell into a rhythm of old friends. As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, we ventured back into the large white van and I played navigator to the city's harbor district.

The harbor and ice cream

Another tourist hotspot, but also a local favorite, we were hoping to make it to an acclaimed coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up. Unfortunately, the baristas had closed shop for the day by the time we found a spot for the white behemoth amidst the maze of parking lots and storefronts that lined the water.

Fortunately, there was one more attraction on the agenda in the form of Italian gelato from Paradis. A cute trailer sat at the end of the wharf, manned by a single cashier, now being verbally assailed from all angles by three giddy german men, excited to practice their rusty Italian on this poor fellow. He took it in good stride though and even returned some of the banter as we ordered our ice creams.

Cones and cups in hand, we sidled into the nearby grass and sunk to the natural green carpet. Matty teased a seagull, obviously unfazed by the previous attack on his lunch, and our discussions continued. At one point, Benjamin asked one of the girls, Phoebe, how she came to be a christian. This led to short round of stories from Phoebe, Kate, and Matty on their journey to Christ.

Similarly to the sermon from that morning, these weren't foreign topics to me. I can't tell you how many testimonies I've heard gathered around a table at a small group or youth event, but today it just hit different. Sitting on the grass, overlooking the boats in the small harbor, each of us slurping on an ice cream cone, things felt right. I was overcome with a sense of peace and contentment with my new friends.

Maybe it was the novelty, but I will definitely be trying to focus more on the moment the next time I find myself in a similar situation back home. So often, my mind is racing a million miles an hour trying to think of what comes next, that I can often forget to slow down and smell the roses. If you find yourself hanging out with me in the future and having a similar feeling, let's talk about it and see if we can't come down and find zen together. :)


As the sun continued to set and shadows began to dominate the landscape, we headed back to the van just in time to catch the meter rolling over.

The girls had an Airbnb a couple miles away and had invited us all back for a home cooked meal! I navigated once again and soon we were parked on another narrow street pointed downhill in front of a block of apartment buildings. The ladies headed upstairs first to tidy up while the boys gathered some extra ingredients to contribute to the feast.

Inside, the cramped one bedroom apartment was abustle with activity. Kate took charge of cooking and soon the sounds of sizzling ingredients and the accompanying smells filled the tight living quarters. Conversation spilled out onto the balcony where Phoebe, Benjamin, and I sat and enjoyed the view. The glint of metal on the giant metal ski jump was clearly visible from the balcony, the silhouette of the enormous structure jutting from the mountain like a curled finger pointed towards the heavens. A small rainbow also sat atop the vista, perhaps a small reminder of the Holy day?

Thirty minutes later, the food was ready and the table set. Abbie took an order for drinks as we began to sit around the expanded Ikea table and smorgasbord of mismatched chairs gathered from around the apartment. The food was passed around the table as Matty piled generous portions on all of our plates. On the menu was a tuna pasta with tomato sauce and aubergine (eggplant). A salad of finely chopped broccoli and herbs with a honey mustard dressing was the perfect accompaniment, with some cut-up pitas acting as the mop for the leftover sauce.

The conversation from earlier at the harbor continued, with more stories being told by myself, Mirk, and Benjamin. Abbie, who had been reluctant to share due to stage fright, finally overcame her fear by turning away from the table and reciting her story to the wall. A hardy round of applause followed and helped ease her back into the conversation, now comfortable enough to answer some questions about her story. Now we had all shared our stories and the similarities were striking. We had all grown up in Christian homes. None of us had really fallen away from the church entirely, but we each had a story from adolescence that made the childhood stories a reality.

To commemorate the special occasion, Kate brought out a large box of Cadbury Cream Eggs for dessert, the perfect capstone to our Easter feast! She could only speculate that the reason they had so bought so many, was in unbeknownst preparation for the holiday festivities.


After dinner, the table was cleared and the decks of playing cards made another appearance. I'm not sure what game we were playing but it was easy to pick up; the goal leading players to swap cards and discard in an effort to rid themselves of as many points as possible. I think Abbie won, by sheer luck and perhaps some ignorance of how the scoring worked, as her giddy excitement filled the room with laughter when the points were tallied.

As the light outside faded from the warm reds and oranges to black, it was becoming clear that it was time to depart. Abbie was worried about her 7am flight back to the UK, and the other two girls needed to catch a train eastward further into the Norwegian countryside to continue their holiday. Goodbyes are never easy though, and this night was no exception. Mirk threw himself on the couch, remarking how it was much more comfortable than the RV parked outside. His older brothers joined him, but then quickly read the room and started to push their brother towards the exit.

Warm hugs were exchanged around arms full of half-emptied packages of broccoli, dressing, and a coffee machine, the brother's contribution to the evening's meal. Awkward goodbyes echoed in the concrete hallway as the door closed and us four guys slipped out into the cool evening air. Handshake/back slapping hugs were exchanged as we set off in separate directions, me back to the hotel, and the brothers back up the mountain so they could wake up watching sun rise atop the city.

This has been my most memorable day thus far and I suspect it might be the highlight of my trip. I am however, invigorated, to seek out new companions in the remainder. I hope this experience can be a catalyst to more memories over the coming months as we continue traversing the continent in search of further tales and wonders.