When, some sixty years ago, I traveled to Sweden for the first time, my first stop was in Jönköping. It is a city of almost 100,000 people on the southern tip of the large, elongated Lake Vättern. If you drive into Sweden from the south you have about 300 km ahead of you before you get to Jönköping. Back then, over sixty years ago, I hitchhiked from the Netherlands to Jönköping in less than two days. I arrived at the apartment of Pastor Stig Sjölander in the middle of the night. He was the coordinator of the canvassing program of the Swedish Adventist Church. Every year more than a hundred young people came to Sweden (and also to Norway and Iceland) to earn their schoolfees by selling Adventist books and magazines. A steady stream of them also came from Holland. I had heard of this adventurous method of earning money, and had applied for one of the slots. Soon I received a letter telling me to report to the indicated address in Jönköping. After arriving, I was allowed to sleep for a few hours on a traditional Swedish couch in the kitchen. But early in the morning I was awakened by Stig Sjölander. He told me that we would be taking the train to the Värmland province. There he had arranged lodging for me and there would be my work area. During the trip he would give me the necessary instructions!
It was my first introduction to Sweden, and I could not yet have imagined that I would go there again and again over the years–perhaps some 40 or 50 times. The first stay that began that night in Jönköping lasted six months with a brief interruption after three months. I earned enough to pay for the first year of my studies at Oud Zandbergen (the theological school the Adventist Church had in the Netherlands at that time). A few years later, I and two fellow-students went to Sweden for a summer with the goal of scraping together the tuition for Newbold College. A year later, almost immediately after I married my wife Aafje, we went to Sweden together for three months, this time to earn enough to be able to survive financially for a year at Andrews University in the US.
In the meantime, canvassing with Adventist books is no longer an option. Government regulations have gradually made it impossible to come for a few months and do this kind of work in Scandinavia. This, by the way, is what has happened almost everywhere in the western world: door-to-door sales activities have been more and more restricted. This meant a huge disadvantage for the denominational publishers who, for decades, generated a significant portion of their income from these door-to-door sales. In the Netherlands, the church’s colporting system fizzled out by the end of the 1980s.
For some fifteen years now, my wife and I have been regularly traveling to Sweden to visit our son and our grandchildren, who live some 800 km further north of Jönköping. When we drive through southern and central Sweden, we often pass through places where we once tried to sell our books. That was also the case last week. A number of times we have stayed a night in a hotel in Jönköping. This time we decided to stay there for two nights and take the opportunity to go to the Jönköping Adventist church on Saturday morning.
Such a visit to an unknown church is not always a great success. Sometimes you hardly feel welcome and are barely greeted. But here, in this beautiful church building, with a gorgeous view of the lake, we were warmly welcomed. Among the people were also some retired Swedish pastors, with their wives, whom I knew from the times when I had an international role in the church. After the service there was a free meal and we were told we definitely had to stay for that! Then we were invited by one of the retired pastors to have a drink at their home, and soon after we arrived in their home the other two retired couples also appeared. All in all, it was the kind of Sabbath that reminded me once again how good it is to belong to the worldwide Adventist Church.
But, I was assured, the next time we are in Jönköping, we should not book a hotel room, since there are several homes where people will be happy to accommodate us. And then, of course, I must do the preaching in the Sabbath morning service!