The forest here is calm and quiet, especially in the evening. A cool breeze, like a hymn being sung, whispers through the pines. It seems as though this grove has always been a sacred place, the kind of refuge from the world that a clearing in the woods provides.
As peaceful as the forest is, though, the young men and women gathered here seem just as reverent. They speak in quiet tones, but with gladness. They have just spent several hours in the Stockholm Sweden Temple, the house of the Lord.
“Being in the temple makes me feel clean and happy,” says Thor Andre Erak, 16.
Lillian Nilsen, 17, agrees. “Everyone who comes to the temple gets a stronger testimony because of the spirit here,” she says. “When you do baptisms for the dead, you have a feeling you’re doing them for someone, that maybe they will become members of the Church. It’s missionary work in a powerful way.”
This particular group of young Latter-day Saints is from the Oslo Second Ward, Oslo Norway Stake. But they could just as easily have been from remote islands in Finland, or the port cities of Denmark, or from busy downtown Stockholm, just minutes up the freeway. The truth is, young people come to the temple from throughout the northland.
“This is my second trip,” says Charlotte Marie Lundkvist, 12. “The last time we came with the whole stake, and I was baptized for 45 people. Then we went to the temple president’s house and had a fireside. He told us about a man who was paralyzed and couldn’t do things for himself. He had to rely on other people. That’s what we’re doing here. People in the spirit world can’t do this for themselves. They have to rely on other people.”
“They may be watching, just waiting for someone to do this work for them,” says Kristina Arsnes, 13. “I would be really thankful if I were in that situation and someone were to do it for me.”
The spire of the Stockholm Temple stretches straight and tall, bright white against the greens and browns of the trees. Here in its shadow, it’s natural to talk about missions, families, promises, and eternity, about things that are, as the scriptures say, everlasting (see D&C 79:1).
But those who come from far away aren’t the only ones who benefit from the temple. The youth who live right next door, in the little town of Vasterhaninge, say the temple has been a great blessing to their community.
“I ride by the temple on the bus,” says Roy Gunnarsson, 17. I hear people talking about it almost every day, even little children. The most common reaction when they see it is, ‘Wow, what a beautiful building!’ When they find out I know what it is, they want to know more: ‘Is it a church?’ ‘What do you do in there?’ It’s a wonderful chance to explain the plan of salvation.”
“For me,” says Cecilia Jensen, 16, “the temple is a constant reminder. Our ward building is on the same land, so when we go to a ward activity, we’re next to the temple all the time. Sometimes we watch the couples leaving after they’re married. How can you be around the temple that much and not think of what it stands for?”
Yes, the reminder is strong, and the spirit of gospel involvement is pervasive. Talk to Bishop Engman of the Vasterhaninge Ward, and you’ll find the activity level among his youth is near 100 percent. Six full-time missionaries from the ward are currently serving, and “our goal is for every young man to serve a mission.” A dozen seminary students meet in the chapel at 6:30 A.M. Monday through Thursday. And the Handen Ward, which meets in the same building, has a youth program that is equally valiant.
Because so many temple workers live in the area, the Mormon presence in Vasterhaninge is strong. Latter-day Saints make up 1.4 percent of the population, which gives them stature in local government, housing projects, and political groups. Instead of being the only Mormons in their schools, many young Latter-day Saints have two or three member friends in their classes. Teachers are aware of Church standards and open-minded about LDS ideals.
But having a temple in the community has done more than just make people aware of the Mormons.
“Having a temple here makes me feel secure,” says Sofia Sivula, 14. “It lifts me above the everyday problems and reminds me of eternity.”
“I see the temple and think of being married there someday,” says Annika Reithmeier, 16. “I know that the promises you make in the temple are promises with the Lord. The things you learn in the temple won’t just change or disappear.”
In Vasterhaninge, it’s easy for the youth to gather, since most of them live less than five minutes from the chapel. Virtually every Friday night, there’s a large group of teenagers at the ward. Sometimes there’s an opportunity to meet young members from other areas who are going to or coming from the temple.
“I love it when the kids from Gotenborg join us for a dance,” says Paul Engman, 16. “But even more, I love to see so many young people in the house of the Lord. It makes you feel the Church is strong.”
The temple president, George Damstedt, loves to tell of the faithful youth who attend the temple. Some have traveled long hours to be here. Many stay as a group in youth hostels to cut expenses. Most attend at least two sessions of baptisms before heading home.
“Once I was invited to climb aboard a bus of young folks from Finland,” President Damstedt recalls. “They sang ‘I Am a Child of God,’ and I just started crying. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could understand the Spirit.”
President Damstedt has stepped outside now. He’s visiting with the group from Oslo, here in the woods where the evening is crisp and the breeze is cool.
“It’s a little chilly,” says Julie Karine Rennesund, 17. “But I still feel warm inside.”
Julie knows, as the other young people gathered here know, that it is a warmth that will linger.
A lot of young men find ways to pay for their missions. But Patric Balck has found what he calls “an ideal place to work.”
Patric, 18, a newly ordained elder in the Handen Ward, is a groundskeeper and apprentice gardener at the Stockholm Temple. For four years now, he has spent his working hours mowing lawns, trimming trees and bushes, and tending flowers, all under the direction of the head groundskeeper.
“It’s more than just a job,” Patric says. “It gives me an opportunity to talk to nonmember friends and tourists. I’ve given out copies of the Book of Mormon. I try to make people who visit the grounds feel at home. And, of course, I try to make sure the grounds look good.”
Patric says the temple is a wonderful place to work, “because of the calm feeling that is always here.” He says he notices a new interest in religion among young people in Sweden, and that he’s eager to serve a mission and find out if that same interest is growing elsewhere.
Editor’s note: Since this story was written, Patric has received his call and is currently serving in the Idaho Boise Mission.