Sharing the Load


In Norway, right by the town of Drammen, there is a mountain called the Spiralen. From the outside it looks like a normal mountain, but inside it is hollow. The mountain hides an old quarry where rock was dug, forming a spiral tunnel. Now the tunnel has been converted to a roadway that takes cars to the top for a panoramic view of the town and the ocean.

Not long ago, 43 priests and Laurels from the Norway Oslo Stake climbed the Spiralen as part of a priests and Laurels conference. This was not a regular youth conference; the stake sponsors one of those each year. But the stake also has a long tradition of holding a special conference at which all the priests and Laurels gather for two days of fun and serious discussions.

On the first evening of the conference, local Church leaders joined the youth for a panel discussion and answered gospel questions posed by the priests and Laurels. “All the questions were interesting,” said Jaren Rosaker, Oslo Third Ward. His friend, Christian Tarjei Gylseth, agreed. “They gave good answers as well.” Afterward the youth gathered for dinner and a dance.

The next morning they climbed the Spiralen. It was soon clear that this hike was going to be more than just a fun activity. They should have known. The hike was going to be an object lesson.

First the priests and Laurels divided into family groups using surnames from Church history, such as Smith, Young, and Kimball. The family groups were sent on their way up the path in intervals. The first rest stop was for water. Everything seemed normal. The second stop was for juice. Gradually, the hike’s meaning started to become clear—traveling in family groups, the rewards becoming better and better.

John Gundersen of the Fredrickstad Branch said he caught on to the symbolism of the hike at the first stop. “I started to understand when they told us to hold to the iron rod.” The first stop could be telestial glory. The second stop could be the terrestrial. When the families emerged from the woods at the parking lot near the top, they were expecting the end of the journey and their celestial reward. But it was not over yet.

Each family was given a wheelbarrow loaded with five large stones. They were told to continue up the path. Everyone was laughing and joking, and no one thought this last stretch would be hard at all. One strong boy could easily handle the loaded wheelbarrow, they thought—until they saw the last pull to the summit. It was so steep and slick that they would have a hard time just getting themselves up the hill. But their wheelbarrows and those loads of rocks would make it really hard work.

Each family figured out their own method for getting up the hill. ElRay Gene Hendricksen from the Hokksund Branch said, “We decided to share the burdens. Everyone took a stone out of the wheelbarrow. Two other guys took the empty wheelbarrow. We made it. We were the only family group who did it that way.”

No one complained. They all just pitched in and figured out how to get their rocks to the top. Then came their reward. Hot and tired, they rested and looked out at the beautiful country below them. They were pleased that everyone made it to the top, where they were able to drop their burdens, represented by the stones. They piled the rocks together into an impromptu memorial. Then they were served lunch—food for the body—and listened to a speaker who talked of heavenly things—food for the soul.

Bishop Aabo of the Drammen Ward explained that at times the climb was more challenging for some than for others. For a while a few carried the burdens while the others just walked along and didn’t need to help. But even though the challenges were uneven, eventually they all had to work together to make sure everyone made it to the top. Bishop Aabo pointed out that Jesus Christ promised he would help make our burdens light. Gaining our own testimonies gives us strength to reach the pinnacle.

The hike was the perfect conclusion to the conference. On a social level, it was great fun. Cathrine Opdahl of the Oslo Second Ward said, “The most fun is meeting people of your same age from different parts of Norway, getting to know them in a new way.”

“Yes,” said Kathinka Svendsen, also of the Oslo Second Ward. “We have problems in common, especially at school where people are not accepting that you’re a Latter-day Saint with high morals.”

“Here,” said Kjetil Pedersen of the Drammen Ward, “it’s people with your same attitude and outlook about religion. It’s good to do something together.”

Some of the most profound things these young people had to say came in quiet moments when asked about answers to prayers or about their testimonies. Then they spoke about the calm, quiet feeling of peace that could only come from the Lord. Jaran said, “I read Moroni 10:4 [Moro. 10:4]. That says if you ask God if what is written in the Book of Mormon is true, he will answer. I tried it out. I got the feeling that it was true. It is kind of a warm, good feeling inside.”

Hanne Akselsen of the Oslo Second Ward also felt something intense when she read the Book of Mormon. “I had taken the first discussion from the missionaries, but I hadn’t felt anything special when they told me I had to study and pray. I tried. I prayed and studied. What happened was amazing. It felt like the Book of Mormon was written to me. I just recognized it. It was so familiar and right.”

Coming to the priests and Laurels conference “helps build Zion here in Norway,” said Ida Podhorny of the Moss Ward. “We learn to be in the world, not of the world. I’m thankful for my good friends.”

Désireé Bjerkoe, the stake Young Women president, said, “Our purpose is to strengthen the youth and get them to strengthen each other. Actually that’s what they do. They stay up late and talk. That time is golden. If they don’t have friendships in the Church, then they turn to their friends outside the Church.”

Soon it was time to leave the mountaintop and go back down to the real day-to-day world. But as these friends made their way back down, they knew that in that high place they had built a monument more significant than one of simple stones. ElRay Hendricksen explained: “It is a monument that symbolized that we had all done the same things and made it to the top by helping each other. But we are not finished yet. We will have to develop ourselves and stay together and stay true.”

On a mountaintop in Norway, one group of teens found some answers.

[illustration] Detail from Christ in Gethsemane, by Heinrich Hofmann

[photos] Photography by Janet Thomas, DeAnne Walker, and Bryant Livingston

[photo] The problems these Norwegian priests and Laurels face daily are like the rocks they carried uphill during a two-day youth conference. They learned that life is better when the burden is shared.

[photos] These priests and Laurels know that the monument they made on the mountaintop is more than simple stones—it symbolizes all they can accomplish as they work together.