As part of a historic visit to the Church’s Europe North Area, Elder Gary E Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, accompanied by his wife Sister Lesa Stevenson, met with missionaries and local members in Reykjavik, Iceland. This was the first stop on a three-country tour that included Edinburgh, Scotland and Northampton, England.
Visits from global Church leaders to the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ – as Iceland has been described – are not frequent and Elder Stevenson’s visit created a wave of excitement among members of the Church there, who are from diverse backgrounds.
The first missionaries to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in Iceland were Guðmundur Guðmundsson and Þórarinn Hafliðason. These missionaries were Icelanders who had recently converted in Denmark and returned to their homeland in 1851. Following Þórarinn’s death, Guðmundur continued to preach for almost two years. In 1853, despite ongoing opposition, he organised a branch on the Westman Islands.
Although Icelanders continued to join the Church, emigration to North America sometimes left Iceland with no established branches. Recent converts often led the Church with the help of Icelandic members who returned as missionaries.
Missionary work in Iceland was discontinued at the outset of World War I. By the end of World War II, the Church had slowly rebuilt its presence in Iceland. U.S. servicemembers stationed near Keflavík formed a small congregation in 1945 and began preaching the gospel.
Missionaries from the Denmark Copenhagen Mission were reassigned to Iceland in 1975, and a branch was organised in Reykjavík the following year. In 1977 Elder Joseph B Wirthlin dedicated Iceland for the preaching of the gospel. Elder David B Haight visited Iceland in September 1983 and dedicated a building converted for church use. Six weeks later the Church was formally recognised in Iceland when Elder Robert D Hales visited the Ministry of Religion and Justice.
The Book of Mormon was published in Icelandic in 1981. Elder Russell M Nelson visited Iceland in October 1989 and invoked an apostolic blessing for it to become “a lighthouse to all of Europe.”
The first newly constructed meetinghouse was dedicated in 2000. President Gordon B Hinckley was the first Church President to visit Iceland, in 2002.
Today there are just under 400 members in Iceland and four branches in three locations on the island. The Akureyri Branch, the Selfoss Branch, Reykjavík 1st Branch, and Reykjavik 2nd Branch. The Reykjavik 2nd Branch, a rapidly growing Spanish speaking congregation was formed three years ago, responding to the needs of new arrivals in Iceland from Latin America, especially from Venezuela. These diverse congregations include Church members from many areas of the globe and form a close-knit community. They recognise that ‘Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 84:110).
On 7 September 2023, Elder and Sister Stevenson, along with Elder Alan T Phillips of the Europe North Area Presidency and Denmark Copenhagen Mission Leaders President Leif G Mattsson and Sister Eva Ringheim Mattsson, hosted senior missionaries and young missionaries at a special luncheon in the centre of Reykjavík.
Elder Stevenson taught from the Preach My Gospel guide to missionary service: “You are all divinely called, perfectly placed.” “Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come…” (Doctrine and Covenants 31:3). Elder Stevenson added, “and please remember that this is a work of joy. Never be discouraged! We are all Heavenly Father’s children, and Heavenly Father knows and loves his children. In Preach My Gospel [2nd edition, page 26] we are told to teach with inspiration and teach from our heart. Spirit teaching spirit will overcome all language barriers in our work.”
Elder Stevenson concluded by bearing a powerful testimony of the Saviour.
Later in the day, at a special devotional in the beautiful Icelandic chapel near Reykjavik, the saints gathered to enjoy fellowship and listen to the inspiring messages of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The meeting was available online and was translated into Spanish and Icelandic.
President Leif G Mattson, President of the Denmark Copenhagen Mission, speaking at the Reykjavik chapel in Garðabær. “Iceland is a land of fire, it’s a land of smoke, it’s a land of volcanoes…. We all need some fire in our hearts,” he said, and referred to John the Apostle who wanted to remain on earth to save souls and because of this desire, Jesus Christ said that He would make him as flaming fire. “So, He is here to help us, and we all need fire in our hearts to gather the elect. This is the Lord’s work, and it is unstoppable and therefore we are unstoppable!”
Elder Alan T Phillips of the Europe North Area Presidency observed, “I can see miracles taking place in Iceland… I see the start of something very, very special.” Adding, “We need to look out for one another and care for one another.” Elder Phillips said, “We are children of a loving Heavenly Father and He loves each one of us. This has been a message that has been shared for many, many centuries. Now, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may live in. That his ‘bowels of mercy are over all the earth’ (Alma 26:37) We need to reach out to Heavenly Father, “talk to Him, pray to Him and listen – really, really listen,” he added.
Elder Stevenson began his remarks by reminiscing on his first visit to Iceland, “Thank you for being here tonight. Isn’t this spectacular! The Land of Fire. I like that. We're so grateful to be here with you. Lesa and I were here for just 24-36 hours quite a few years ago. We were newly married; it was 1982, and we had a chance to be in Iceland. I remember as we walked the streets that day we met some missionaries, and if I remember we walked to a place that was a little bit close. It might have been a leased facility to see the place where saints were gathering to worship, and so within moments of our arrival, that many years ago, we met missionaries and [local] Latter-day Saints. We're going to be here about that same amount of time, but we're thrilled to be able to be with you, brothers and sisters, and to feel of your spirit.”
He recounted the historic progress of the Church in Iceland and how he will be able to report about this meeting to President Nelson, who will be especially interested since he, then Elder Nelson, visited Iceland in 2000. In 2002, President Gordon B Hinckley was the first prophet to visit Iceland. “And it's been since then, that a member of the Twelve has been blessed enough to be able to come and visit you here. And so, I'll report that directly to President Nelson that I was able to gather in Zion, with saints of Zion. This is the feeling I have in my heart, even here with you, of one heart of one mind. Their lives centred on Jesus Christ, doing all they can to follow him. Zion is in this place where you are. And so, I'm grateful to be with you, gathered in Zion together.”
Elder Stevenson brought the greetings of President Nelson. Elder Stevenson described how as senior Church leaders gathered on Thursday for their Temple meeting President Nelson said, “In just a few days, on September 9th, I will be 99 years old.”
Elder Steverson continued, “And so, Saturday we'll celebrate the 99th birthday of our dear prophet, President Russell M Nelson. He's vibrant and energetic, and enthusiastic. He's the living prophet on the earth today. And I bear testimony and witness of that to you”.
The Apostle expressed his gratitude to be with President and Sister Mattsson “who love you so deeply. We had a chance to be with them for a few minutes and the missionaries who are assigned to work here. They speak so warmly of the experiences that they're having with you.
“I didn't expect that I would see such a beautiful sight that we find here as we gather together in Iceland to see this wonderful congregation with its beautiful diversity,” Elder Stevenson said. “Finding ourselves gathered as Latter-day Saints with our hearts knit together, is what saints of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ do. And this is what we feel.”
“Whether you call Iceland your native country, or you find yourself here, never expecting to come from Venezuela, and now live in Iceland, or [are from] Ghana, or Nigeria, or wherever it might be, God is mindful of you,” Elder Stevenson explained. “He is mindful of those who are in the highlands of Bolivia or the plains of Serengeti (in Tanzania, Africa) or in Mexico, or China…God is mindful of each one of us. That means he's mindful of you. That means he's mindful of your children and of your loved ones. He knows you; He loves you; you are His and He is yours.”
“And so, brothers and sisters, speaking of the things that we know, we know that there will be challenges, heartache, affliction. It might be things associated with our health. It could be family issues that seem very, very deep and almost insurmountable. It could have to do with job or profession. Whatever it might be, we'll find in mortality that we will have challenges and afflictions. What I have found is that, really, no one is immune from this…. [But] the Gospel of Jesus Christ will bless us…Whatever the burdens or afflictions that you have, as you endure to the end.”
The congregation was pleased when Elder Stevenson shared his time by inviting his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, to address the congregation. She expounded on the scripture, “Have ye received his image in your countenances?” (Alma 5:14).
Elder Stevenson concluded by offering, “a blessing to each one of you tonight. A blessing for you and for your family, for your loved ones, for your children, for your posterity. That you'll come to know, that they will come to know of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even those of you who are here that are learning, who are listening. Our friends who are being taught, that as you pray and read the scriptures, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, with real intent, the truthfulness of it will be manifest to you. I you offer that blessing and that witness, and I do so the Holy Name of our Lord and Saviour, even Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Members expressed appreciation for the Spirit they felt and the messages they heard from the visiting authorities. From Ceriel Almarza, “I know that I am in the true church. I also know that all Leaders are chosen by inspiration from Heavenly Father.”
Mariangeles Peinado said, “I know with all my heart that Heavenly Father loves us, that he sent his Only Begotten Son to give His life for each of us and give us the opportunity to return to his presence, thanks to his Atonement.”
Jared and Ester Gerhardsson said enthusiastically, “We love being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it makes our family closer. And being in Iceland helps us appreciate the beauty of God´s creation.”