By Kristel Ringer Ortiz on May 17, 2019
High in the North Atlantic Ocean near the frigid waters of the Arctic lies the ancient Nordic country of Iceland.
According to tradition, Vikings led by Ingolfur Arnarson first settled Iceland in 874, establishing the capital city of Reykjavík and paving the way for Norwegian settlers who eventually established the Althing — the world’s oldest surviving parliament. Some records imply that Irish monks arrived on the island even earlier than the seafaring Norsemen.
Lutheranism was later imposed on Iceland, replacing Viking paganism and worship of Norse gods like Odin and Thor. The wild north country, a land of Viking freedom, then fell to foreign rule for centuries.
Religious freedom exists today in Iceland, now an independent nation. Most Icelandic people still associate themselves with Evangelical Lutheranism, yet have no personal connection to their religion. Norwegian missionaries brought the message of Pentecost in 1922.
Nearly 50 years after Pentecost’s arrival, upon traveling to Iceland for the burial of his Icelandic mother, AG pastor and Vietnam war veteran Mike Fitzgerald and his wife, Sheila, sensed God’s call to share their faith with the islanders.
“I was 42 years old when we applied for missionary appointment,” Mike recalls. “We were pastoring in Bristol, Tennessee, and had two teenage daughters. But God called, we answered, and He made a way. For seven years, we traveled back and forth to Iceland before finally resigning our pastorate. We thought we would serve as missionaries for four years and then return to pastoring. We had our plan, but God had His. And His plans are always best.”
“What Are We Doing Here?”
Just prior to the Fitzgeralds’ departure to Iceland for their first missionary term in September 1992, Sheila’s father passed away unexpectedly. Only months later, in December, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died within 10 months.
Mike and Sheila’s oldest daughter’s husband was diagnosed with a rare disease. He suffered for 10 years before the illness took his life. Their daughter remained a widow and raised their granddaughter alone for the next 11 years.
Throughout these tragedies, Mike and Sheila grappled with one burning question: What are we doing here? We are needed at home.
“But we knew God had called us, and that He would take care of us all,” they say. “He is faithful.”
Since October 1994, Mike and Sheila have served as the founding directors of Radio Lindin (“the Spring”), broadcasting Christian programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week across Iceland. In 2000, Lindin spread to the Faeroe Islands, and in 2010 to Greenland.
The spoken nature of radio ministry presented many challenges to Mike and Sheila, as the Icelandic language is complex and remarkably difficult to learn. Additionally, Icelandic broadcasting laws are strict. Getting a license for the station was a challenge, Mike remembers. For a foreigner, it is illegal to own media in Iceland, but Mike’s Icelandic heritage allowed him to obtain the necessary license.
“Another challenge has been that the people of Iceland are very closed to discussing their faith and beliefs,” Mike says. “But this has changed somewhat over the years as they have been exposed to Christian radio and TV.”
The Fitzgeralds have seen Iceland’s Pentecostal church grow dramatically.
“When we first visited Iceland some 30 years ago as a visiting pastor and family, we never dreamed we would be living here and helping touch an entire nation,” they say.
In addition to radio ministry, Mike and Sheila established an annual children’s summer conference and helped develop and build a national church campground in southern Iceland. In partnership with AGWM’s International Media Ministries, Light for the Lost (an AG men’s ministry), and Iceland-based Omega Television, they have also created and distributed many video projects translated into Icelandic, included the Jesus film for children, Magadalena for women, and Winds of Adventure (Ævintýravindar), a puppet series.
They translated the first 12 issues of the PowerMark comic book series into Icelandic and delivered it to over 2,000 homes, also placing them in libraries and schools nationwide. For the past several years, each child who is admitted to the national hospital is given all 12 issues to read and take home. Under Mike and Sheila’s direction, 80,000 schoolchildren received Icelandic copies of The Book of Hope, which was designed to encourage spiritual seekers by introducing them to biblical truths.
Throughout personal tragedy, linguistic and logistical challenges, and more, Mike and Sheila attest to God’s faithfulness to carry out His plan in their lives and for Iceland.
“Please pray with us as we keep sowing into Iceland the seeds of the gospel,” they urge. “Stand with us as we continue to develop more materials into the Icelandic language, pressing on in the work God has laid upon our hearts. We are looking for a greater harvest. We are thankful to the Lord who called us, and to all who have helped us over the years. Together we are making a difference in the north.”