Book your flight to Iceland now…A Northen lights extravaganza over Hella, Iceland.

Featured

To be fair, there is no bad time to visit Iceland. But at the moment, the skies above Iceland are literally dancing with colour and pizzazz. So much so that cities and towns all over Iceland are switching off their street lights so that everyone can admire this amazing display of nature without light pollution. The lights in Selfoss (where I live) are already switched off!  So, I’m heading out to enjoy the lights with everyone else. Meanwhile, enjoy the photos below. They were taken over Hella (southern Iceland) by talented photographer Sólveig Stolzenwald who very kindly gave me permission to publish her photos on the blog. To see more of Sólveig’s work visit her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/stolzenwald.

1403615_10152332180783782_1672910794_o 1400657_10152334408443782_1275334771_o 1398278_10152334407898782_19756251_o 1398221_10152332181223782_2117599198_o 1294533_10152332185373782_2102511114_o 1294454_10152332183448782_869314876_o 1277819_10152332182013782_112455593_o 778680_10152332184338782_397357462_o

Saddle up your horses…

Despite rumours of snow filled streets in Hvolsvöllur and Hella and temperatures of minus something in Selfoss, Icelanders are excited because brightening days and the appearance of tiny spring buds mean summer is in the air and in Iceland that means only one thing…ROAD TRIP. All over Iceland, portable BBQs are being dusted off and lopa peysas are being neatly folded into back packs and squeezed into overfilled jeeps. Before you set off on your travels though, download your copy of Issues and Images of Iceland and impress Icelanders with your knowledge of all things Icelandic.

Modern missionaries in Iceland…

So, what will you do in Iceland? It was a question that Chris and I were asked many times before we left England in January 2012. You might as well have asked, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ so impossible was it to answer. Now that we have been here for two months, things are becoming clearer. Although, we suspect that we won’t have a clear picture of what we will be doing long-term until we come back from England at the end of the summer. In the meantime, here are some of the opportunities God has given us to be a blessing to the lovely people of Iceland and beyond.

Our first priority when we arrived in Iceland was to move into our little flat and make it as cosy as possible as quickly as possible.  After unpacking an unseemly number of boxes (mainly my cook books I’m afraid) and strategically placing blue Christmas lights over a number of bookcases struggling to contain said books, I was happy – which means that Chris was happy. Our matrimonial bliss was complete however, when Chris unpacked his collection of DVDs. Due to the size of the flat, there remain lots of boxes to unpack, which makes me wonder how much we really need whatever is in them, having lived without them now for almost three months! Of course, all my kitchen paraphernalia got unpacked pretty promptly – but lets face it, no one will be surprised at that will they 🙂

Our second priority was to get acquainted with the lovely folks at our new Church in Selfoss. We decided the nicest way to do this would be to invite people over for dinner. Given the size of the flat this meant inviting people over in pairs, rather than our usual gatherings, which would often run to rather more than that. Anyone remember the BBQ of 1997 when we invited 40 people to our house and the grown-ups ended up playing on the bouncy castle, much to the annoyance of the children present? Good times indeed! We received a very warm welcome from the people of the Church and despite our terrible Icelandic, we have been able to make ourselves understood in most situations. Our new Pastors Aron and Gunna, went the extra mile to ensure we felt at home straight away, so many blessings to return to thank them for their support and encouragement. Their vision for the Church in Selfoss is inspiring and we feel blessed to be able to play a part.

One of the ways we have been able to support Aron and Gunna in their vision for the Church in Selfoss, was to work alongside them in the Church’s coffee shop, Kaffi Líf. To raise additional funds for the Church’s projects, Aron and Gunna hire the coffee house to locals and tourists. On occasion, they also prepare meals for groups of school children from England. On February 14th we volunteered to help Aron and Gunna prepare and serve a two course evening meal for 56 pupils and their teachers. The evening was a lot of fun, mostly because it was so well organised by Aron and Gunna and in the process we raised much needed finance for the Church. Aron, I haven’t forgotten the shark incident. I will never be able to forget the shark incident!

We hadn’t lived in Selfoss very long when a lady called Kim Fischer contacted us on the blog. Kim was looking for a way to contact another Christian in Iceland, because she had a very special favour to ask. It seems her daughter Taylor wanted to write about Iceland for a school project, but unfortunately the letter her teacher had written to the American embassy in Iceland was returned unread. She came across our website while searching Google for ‘Christians working in Iceland’, lol. When we read about Taylor’s plight, we paid a visit to the local library (also the local Tourist Information Office), where a lovely girl named Esther helped us to gather together, maps, wool samples and a children’s story book. To this goodly stash Chris and I added a box of Icelandic chocolates and a CD with Icelandic children’s stories and posted the lot off pronto to Glendale Elementary School in Flinton, Pennsylvania. Taylor was very pleased with her stash and has promised to send us photos of her final project. So, look out for a special blog in May with news (and hopefully photos) of how Taylor’s project went.

Within a few weeks of arriving in Iceland, Chris got into talks with one of the local Pastors Jóhannes Hinriksson about ways to link together the Pentecostal Churches in Iceland in terms of mission. The Pentecostal Churches in Iceland are independent, in much the same way as they are in the UK and USA. But at the moment there are no strategic plans in place to support mission at home in Iceland and/or abroad. Chris shared the vision God had given him for the development of an Icelandic Mission Movement that would link the Pentecostal Churches together in a shared vision of mission. Pastor Jóhannes became very excited at the scope and coherency of Chris´ vision and asked Chris to write down his ideas in the form of a proposal that could be presented at the upcoming National Pentecostal Pastors Meeting. Chris has now completed the proposal and it has been translated into Icelandic, ready for the Pastors to consider it in a couple of weeks time. If accepted, we will be able to share the detail of the plan with you in April/May. So, watch this space!

In addition to writing the proposal Chris has also been busy preaching. So far he has preached five times in two different Churches and once at a men’s breakfast – oh how Chris does love men’s breakfasts 🙂 Chris has also had opportunities to mentor a number of young men in the faith, something that is very close to his heart. Each time Chris has preached, we have both been blessed to have an opportunity to pray for people. God is so good isn’t He? Chris is also busy writing up all his sermons in full with the view of committing them to podcast. Hopefully in the not to distant future, we will be able to upload them to the blog…heady days indeed.

One evening in early February, Chris and I were chatting to our good friends, Óðinn and Rhiannon about the fact that Lindin Ministries were celebrating their birthday week at the beginning of March. Lindin Ministries is a Christian radio and media station in Iceland. They do tremendous work sharing the gospel and many good works to bless the people of Iceland. We decided it would be good to hold a fundraiser for Lindin and in the end thought it would be fun to organise an English Cream Tea, knowing that it was extremely unlikely that it had been done before. The aim of the Lindin Cream Tea (as it became known) was three-fold. Firstly, it was about inviting friends and family to Church to hear a simple gospel message. Secondly, it was about Rhiannon and I sharing something of our cultural background with the people of the Church in an informal way and thirdly, it was about raising essential finance for Lindin. We held the Cream Tea in two different Churches on two consecutive weeks. The first one took place at Selfoss Church on Sunday 4th March at 11.00 and the second one at Kirkjulækakot Church on Sunday 11th March at 14.00. We decided to surprise everyone by dressing up the tables in white linen tablecloths, pretty red voile, candles and table confetti made from tiny pieces of jigsaw as Lindin’s theme this year was, ‘Where do you fit into Lindin’s puzzle?’. Each place setting was decorated with a heart-shaped card (thank you Eyrún) with a blessing verse beautifully hand-written by Linda Rós.

Never knowingly under-catered, I prepared a batch of 60 scones the week before and popped them in the Church freezer. These were my back-ups, just in case we were stowed out. On the Sunday morning of the Cream Tea, I got up at 6.30 and baked another batch of fifty scones. We charged 500 kr (£2.50) per adult, children ate free. Sigrún, one of the ladies in the Church baked two glorious looking chocolate cakes for the kiddiwinks, so together with the bowls of mixed sweets on each table, they were well catered for. In addition to the cakes and sweets specially prepared for them, the children also received an ‘England’ gift which ranged from England caps, England bracelets, England flags and many more things besides.  Anne, a lovely lady from our Church in Evenwood, had given Chris the bag of goodies some time ago. Who knew they would be used by us in Iceland to bless families in Selfoss and Kirkjulækakot? Bless you Anne and many thanks from the children 🙂

In addition to selling the cream scones at a knock-down price…Rhiannon and another lovely friend Sigga who we have known for many years, sold their handmade jewellery throughout the day at both events. 50% of the proceeds they made that day was donated to Lindin Ministries. Good one girls! For more information on how you can buy one (or more) pieces of their beautifully designed and handcrafted jewellery, check out their online store The Bead Box now. In addition to buying the jewellery, you can also book a Bead Box party in Iceland or England. For more details contact the girls via the online store.

Together both events raised just over 170,000 kr (approx £850) for Lindin Ministries. We were pretty whacked by the time we had cleaned everything up afterwards, but as Chris loves to say, ‘It’s good to be tired doing the Lord’s work’ and I quite agree. On the Tuesday following the Selfoss Cream Tea, Mike and Sheila Fitzgerald, founders and directors of Lindin Ministries invited me onto their International show to talk about the Cream Tea and to chat a little about our lives here in Iceland. Mike and Sheila are so professional I didn’t get too panicked at the thought of thousands of people listening to me prattle on. God is good! The good thing about outreach, is it gets people thinking about what they could do. During the clean-up after the Lindin Cream Tea, Anna, one of the ladies in Selfoss Church, talked to Chris about developing an outreach to encourage people back to Church. Knowing Chris, I suspect the outreach will have the words ‘Back to Church and BBQ’ in them. More information about that once we get the chance to think it through.

Chris and I were blessed to be part of a new ministry to couples that our good friends Valeria and Paulo are facilitating. The first session took place around a lovely meal of beef steak and tender vegetables prepared by Chitó and his lovely wife Sigga – of the Bead Box fame. Yum, roll on the next one! We were also very blessed to be invited to a weekend conference facilitated by Mike and Sheila from Lindin Ministries. Teaching over the weekend was based on a the book called ‘The Remnant‘ by Larry Stockstill. The book calls for a restoration of values such as integrity to the Church family across America. The message of the book is one that works globally though and the message was timely for the Icelandic Churches. Many thanks to Mike and Sheila for a great weekend 🙂

We have of course been doing lots of ordinary things, like helping Pastor Jóhannes and his lovely wife Sissú move house, help our dear friend Helgi clear out his father´s house on the Westman Islands (Helgi´s father has just moved into the local nursing home) and visit new friends for coffee and cakes. Thanks to Unnur and Kristján one of our very first meals in Iceland was an authentic Icelandic meal of salted cod, potatoes and ryebread. It was so good! On another occasion we were unexpectedly treated to a feast of Icelandic lamb courtesy of Ódinn and Rhiannon. It was the first time we had had lamb since we arrived in Iceland at the beginning of January, it was indescribably good. We had forgotten just how wonderfully fragrant Icelandic lamb was. It literally rendered Chris and I speechless, it was that good ❤

We haven’t managed to get to know Selfoss yet, as the weather is not conducive to walking…you can go outside, but you do so at your peril. We have managed to get to the local shops which are just five minutes away, but any further than that usually means either a good soaking with horizontal rain, being pelted with super-sized hailstones or becoming a walking snowman. It is nice to have the choice of course. Oh, and the wind. Did I mention the wind?

A couple of days ago I was having trouble sleeping, I was just drifting off at stupid o’clock in the morning, when our bed jolted violently. A little while later there was another violent jerk, this one was a bit stronger than the first. In the beginning I thought, okay what happens if it gets closer and the ground actually opens up under the bed, then I fell asleep. We found out the next day that the quakes were a bit further down the coast from us and measured M3.3 and M3.7 on the Richter scale. They were due apparently to the Krísuvík volcano in the Reykjanes Peninsula deciding to wake up somewhat. Well, she has been asleep since the 14th century. There have been over 800 smaller quakes in the region over the past week or so. It seems that Krísuvík is the one to watch at the moment. Must be jealous of Katla stealing all the limelight.

In the midst of moving countries, setting up home, making friends, helping out whenever we can, attending Church, catching glimpses of the northern lights, inviting new friends for dinner, visiting new friends, planning and executing a multisite outreach, mentoring, planning a new outreach, falling asleep during earth quakes, baking 50 scones before breakfast, preaching every other week, enjoying and sharing at men’s breakfasts, catching up with old friends, writing up a PhD thesis…Chris and I have been able to draw closer to God. We are so thankful to be here in Iceland and are excited about what the future holds for us here.

Prayer needs: In addition to the opportunities outlined above, Chris and I have other plans in the pipeline that we are not in a position to share with you just yet. With regards to these, please pray that we have the spiritual wisdom to discern God’s will for us in these issues. We don’t want to make the mistake of settling for what is good in God and missing out on His best for us. Please continue to pray for a vehicle. We were blessed to have the use of a friend’s car (thank you Eyrún) for a couple of weeks, which was great. But, unfortunately we are again car-less. Part of the vision that Chris and I have for Iceland is to develop a plan for supporting the smaller country Churches dotted around the island. When you live in a geographically isolated area, it can feel as though no one is interested in the particular challenges you face. Our heart is to resource the smaller Churches with all kinds of ministry gifts, such as visiting ministry teams who will work with the Pastors and leaders of the Churches in order to bless the local communities. It’s a big vision, but we have a big God. Having a car in Iceland is not a luxury item, it’s an essential item. The distances between towns and villages are vast and the weather is violently unpredictable for most of the year. We had visitors this morning, for example, who had driven all night in near blizzard conditions to reach us this morning and they will be driving until almost midnight to reach their destination! Without transport, we can of course bless the people of Selfoss, and as you can see, we have tried to do just that. We believe however, that we are called to the Nordic countries in general and to Iceland in particular, so without transport we believe our ministry will be less effective. Also pray for finance related issues. We need to build a base of people who can make a small monthly donation. If you feel able to support us financially, please contact us directly via the blog and we can send you the Missionary Giving Form issued by AOG World Missions in Nottingham, England.

The Parker family motto: But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD”. Joshua 24:15 (NIV).

How to have your cake and your 5-a-day…

Photo by Aron Hinriksson

Pumpkin cheesecake with easy peasy caramel sauce

When the nights are long and bleak and the wind is howling all around, there is only one thing to do…invite friends round for dinner!

This recipe is actually made from butternut squash, a vegetable only recently introduced to Selfoss, a lovely town in the south of Iceland. This version of pumpkin cheesecake is adapted from a recipe I recently plundered from the McCormicks website. I was searching for ‘butternut squash ideas’ so that I could introduce my Icelandic friends Aron and Gunna to this lovely and somewhat under-used vegetable. If you can find a 15oz/425g tin of unsweetened pumpkin purée, use that instead of steaming/roasting the butternut squash. Most recipes ask you to drain the cooked pumpkin for a couple of hours or overnight, I did neither (forgot to actually) and the cheesecake was still a huge hit. It did though need an extra 10 minutes in the oven, perhaps that was the reason. I served the cheesecake with a very quickly made caramel sauce and freshly whipped cream. It both looked and tasted fabulous. Like all cheesecakes, this one is best prepared and baked the day before and positively enjoys an overnight sojourn in the fridge. For the best results, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature before you begin. A light dusting of icing sugar won’t go amiss just before serving. Makes one 9in/23cm cake. Serves 10-12.

Ingredients: for the crust: 220g of biscuit crumbs (ginger nuts, digestive or graham cracker), 50g butter melted. For the filling: 400g butternut squash purée made by peeling and then steaming or roasting a small/medium butternut squash (remove all stringy bits and any seeds), 300g cream cheese, softened, 140g firmly packed dark brown sugar, 3 large eggs, 1 tbsp flour, 2 tsps vanilla extract (not essence),1 rounded tsp allspice*, several chunks of finely chopped stem ginger in syrup (optional, but very good).

**If you can’t find allspice, combine equal parts of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper.

Method: Preheat oven to 180°/350°. Lower oven temp by at least 10% if using the fan. Generously butter a 9in/23cm springform cake tin, line the base with parchment paper if liked. For the crust, mix all ingredients in a bowl until the crumbs are evenly coated with the butter. Press firmly into bottom of the prepared tin. Chill crust until needed in the fridge. To make the filling, lightly whisk the cream cheese, brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin purée, flour, vanilla and allspice until smooth – do not overwhisk. Pour into prepared crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until top is lightly browned and centre is almost set. Remove from oven and let the cheesecake cool in its tin. When cool, run a small knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

For the caramel sauce: melt 210g of vanilla sugar in a large pan, when completely melted and caramel brown in colour, add 85g of butter, whisking well. Be extremely careful, as the mixture will foam and rise up the sides of the pan. Once incorporated whisk in 120ml of double/whipping cream, again watching out for the foaming action of the mix. Whisk until smooth and pour into an airtight container. Will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

To make vanilla sugar: place 1-2 vanilla pods in a large pot of castor (superfine) sugar. Leave for two weeks and then use as normal in all baking that would benefit from the rich, sweet aroma of real vanilla. As you use up the sugar, simply top us as required. I had a pot that I refilled for almost seven years with no loss of flavour.

Chris and Eth’s leaving/sending do…

CelebrationUnless you have been living on Mars these past months, you will know that Chris and I are planning to move to Iceland in January 2012. We will be going as AOG GB missionaries. In the first instance we will be living in a lovely town called Selfoss which is in South Iceland, about 50 km from Reykjavík. Now that we have sorted out somewhere to live, we thought it was time to turn our attention to more important matters, like…having a party to celebrate God’s provision and plan for our lives. We would love it if you could join in the celebrations which will be held at Cornerstone Christian Centre, Swan Street, Evenwood, Bishop Auckland, DL14 9RN on Wednesday 28th December, 2011. The party starts at 18.00, so be there or be square 🙂

Welcome to Iceland…

This video was produced by our new Pasters Aron and Gunna who pastor the Pentecostal Church in Selfoss, Iceland. We will be living in a cosy flat owned by the Church when we first move to Iceland. Each Church we have been a part of has been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to Chris and I and our children James and Kim. We are indeed very blessed to know so many Godly people who want to make a difference in people’s lives and who gladly sacrifice their own finances, time, skills and talents to do so. Thank God for His Church, where ever it may be 🙂