About 90 miles south of the Arctic Circle, where the summer sun shines day and night and where the Northern Lights illuminate the winter darkness, is the city of Lulea, location of a branch of the Church.
The branch has about 35 active members. Most are converts. The Church has been located here since the end of the 1940s. Unfortunately, many members have moved south, and the branch membership has not grown very rapidly.Lulea (pronounced "LUH-lee-oh") Branch covers a large area. Some members live only a few miles from the Norwegian border, on the opposite side of the country from this Baltic seacoast city. Such long distances often make it difficult to attend Church every Sunday.
But as often as his finances permit, Kodia Lukasi makes the trip from his home in Kiruna (KIR-uh-na), a city located 210 miles to the north, far above the Arctic Circle. Members also come from Overtornea (oo-ver-TOR-nee-oh), 96 miles to the northeast, and just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Some 268,000 people live in the county of Norrbotten, which contains Sweden's northern tip. Comparatively few have joined the Church. In Lulea, missionaries have always had to labor hard to further the Lord's work. But despite opposition, the public over the years has become accustomed to missionaries. Everyone recognizes them as well-dressed young men, usually on bicycles in summer and winter, in warm and cold (minus 30 degrees Celsius) temperatures.
It is a February evening. Stars fill the heavens, and snow lies in drifts outside the house. Although it is two months into the new year, the Christmas tree remains out on the terrace, lighting up the courtyard.
Inside, the home is filled with the strains of a hymn from the organ. It is Ulrika, 13, the family's eldest daughter who plays. This is the home of Ingemar and Louise Nyman and their children, Ulrika, Erik, 9, Stina, 6, Sofi, 2, and Asa, 1. Soon, all is quiet as the family gathers for evening prayer. It is bedtime for the youngest.
Brother Nyman, president of the Lulea Branch, works in the health profession and as an athletic coach. When not on child-care leave, Sister Nyman also works as an athletic coach.
She will soon have been a member of the Church for 12 years. It will be three years for Pres. Nyman in October.
Pres. Nyman appreciates the Church's emphasis on the family.
"The Church means a lot to our family," he remarked. "Foremost is the way it helps us raise the children. Right from the beginning, they learn proper moral principles and standards to follow."
"The gospel guides my entire day," added Sister Nyman.
Family home evening and the holding of personal and family prayer are important appointments, they feel. Both have noticed the joy that comes when they practice gospel principles.
It was the tremendously fine program for the family that encouraged Ingemar Nyman to join the Church.
"The gospel is superb," he asserted. "The Church wants the family to do well. Everything we learn builds our solidarity and strengthens our unity."
Neither has regretted becoming a member of the Church.
Pres. Nyman expressed his appreciation for the branch in Lulea and said he experiences a wonderful spirit at the meetings.
"It is a very fine branch. The active members have strong testimonies and are sincere in their faith. Of course there is always more to do, mainly for those who are not spiritually strong enough to come to Church on Sunday. Sometimes I expect more from the brothers and sisters."
But he feels he first must do more himself and set an example for the members.
He is very busy in the community with various sporting events. His time is well planned, and neither he nor his wife waste any days.
"Every week, our days and nights are booked," he said.
For example, Sister Nyman has scheduled a chat with Ulrika for one evening in the week.
"Ulrika, as a matter of fact, anticipates the evening when we sit down and talk, just she and I."
The couple's youngest child, Asa, has Down syndrome. Thanks to her, the family's unity has increased considerably, and they see the purpose of life much more clearly.
"We consider the circumstance a great blessing," Sister Nyman said. "We develop love and, at the same time, gain greater knowledge as we witness her purity and innocence."
The family strives in another way since Asa's birth, Pres. Nyman continued. Sister Nyman is even learning sign language so their daughter can make herself understood more readily.
"We want things to go well for her. Naturally, we invest more time with her than with the other children," said Pres. Nyman, who remembers the period just after her birth.
"The first week was difficult. But today we understand what a great and meaningful responsibility we have received," he said as he lifted Asa and gazed lovingly at her. (Asa got to stay up a little longer than the other children this particular evening.)
The Church is the foundation of the family's life. Sister Nyman gazes out the window as she explains: "I have learned much from the sisters in the Church. Among other things, I have learned that we are all on different levels and need each other, regardless of where we stand. Each sister must receive care.
"Love is important," said Sister Nyman, who is not only wife and mother but also Relief Society president in the branch.
Her husband looks with admiration at his wife as she speaks of the Church. He continues: "I have been impressed many times with the way my wife acts. A few days ago, a sister needed her help. The sister resides in Pitea (PEE-tee-oh), 30 miles from Lulea. Louise loaded the car, took all the children with her, and set out.
"Tithing is the first thing she pays when she receives her wages."
"If there's anything to do for the Church, I do that first. Then I'm able to take care of other things," Sister Nyman said, alluding to Matt. 6:33.