As I was serving a mission in Norway in 1980-81, I had an opportunity to learn firsthand what the "glory of the sun" truly means.
My first city of service was the beautiful city of Bergen on the southwest coast. I arrived there in the first part of February and was surprised to find the winter to be very mild and wet. Spring soon came, and the city was alive with beautiful tulips, daffodils and a million shades of green. The rain never seemed to stop, but that only served to intensify the lush beauty of this small part of heaven. I grew to love Bergen, and as summer lengthened out her days the more friendly the people seemed to become.I served five months in Bergen, and in June received notice that I would be transferred to the little town of Tromso, in northern Norway. In looking at the map I discovered that Tromso was more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. I would be one of the two northernmost missionaries in the world.
I began telling members and investigators of the upcoming transfer, to which most of them responded, "I'm so sorry to hear that" and "Well, north Norway is nice in the summer."
All the same, I was very excited. I would be blessed to work in a part of the world that very few missionaries ever have the opportunity to see.
By the middle of summer the days in Bergen had become very long. There were only a few hours of darkness each night. I knew that being north of the Arctic Circle would offer 24-hour sunshine, but I was totally unprepared for the impact it would have on me.
The day of the transfer finally came and I was very excited. The plane trip took several hours because of frequent stops at nearly every major city along the coast. I finally arrived in Tromso late that evening.
I can remember to this day the feeling I had as I stepped off the plane. The sight before me was like nothing I had ever before seen. Clearly I was in another world. Tromso is so far north that the topography is mostly tundra. The city of Tromso is located on an island three miles long. It is connected to the mainland, on the east, and to other islands on the west, by two massive bridges. The bridges were tall enough for very large cruise ships to pass underneath them.
The main trade in Tromso is fishing, and there were large racks all over the island on which thousands of large cod were hung to dry before being exported to other countries. The drying fish gave an aroma to the entire city that I have never forgotten. My new companion met me at the airport, and we were soon aboard a bus to our apartment.
Our apartment was very nice with two large windows facing north. That first night, as anticipated, I watched the sun sink lower in the sky, but never go below the horizon. About three in the morning the sun began to rise again. I did not sleep much that first night and soon found that I could not sleep more that a few hours a night.
My companion had no problem sleeping from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. No matter how hard I tried I would just sit, wide awake, and read while my companion slept as if nothing was different.
One day I explained the situation to a native Norwegian, who said to me that about half of the people are daylight sensitive and the other half are not. Those who are daylight sensitive sleep with the sun and so sleep very little in the summer.
With permission from our mission president, we could go out at "night" and experience the midnight sun firsthand. It was fascinating to find people mowing their lawn at 2 a.m. We even had the opportunity to teach several midnight discussions. The people who were awake at night were the most friendly people I have ever known. They all acted as though they had all the time in the world. I absolutely loved this place! I felt as though I had found heaven on earth.
They say that all good things must come to an end. About a month after I had arrived in Tromso, the sun went down for the first time. It still took a few weeks more for the nights to become dark, and very soon after that the days and nights were back too normal. I found it much easier to sleep at night and by September was back into a normal sleep routine.
As the days grew shorter the temperature became colder. We saw our first snow in late September, and after that first storm it never seemed to quit. Almost every morning we would wake to a few feet of new snow.
By November the days were so short that there were only a few hours of daylight each day. I remember stopping wherever we were and looking at the sun sinking lower and lower in the sky. In late November we rode the bus to the south end of the island to watch the sun peek over the mountains for the last time that year. A few weeks later there was nothing more than a few minutes of twilight visible on the southern horizon. We were in near total darkness.
The thing that was the most interesting to me was the change that took place in myself and others. It seemed that all anyone wanted to do was sleep. My companion and I soon found that while tracting, if anyone would answer their doors, they were usually in their pajamas and almost all of them would shut the door in our faces without so much as an acknowledgment that we were even there. As we would try to contact people on the street many of them became very angry, and a few of them even took a swing at us.
We continued working. Three weeks with only one discussion was almost too much for any missionary. I experienced depression greater than anything I have known before or since.
The brightest part of our week was our Sunday meetings. The branch was small, less than a dozen members, and the harshness of this winter took its toll even on them. Everyone's spirits were down. The few short visits we did have with the members, with the almost nightly displays of the aurora borealis, were all that seemed to keep me going. I felt alone, abandoned, and forgotten. What I thought of in summer as heaven had now become a dark, endless frozen night.
In the middle of December we received notice that the mission president had decided, because of the severity of the winter, to close the entire northern half of the mission. In less than a week we would be moving south. The members were disappointed at the announcement that all the missionaries would be leaving and I felt bad for them, but I was inwardly more hopeful than I had been in months.
The day of the transfer came none too soon. The morning was cold and wintry, with light snow falling from a heavily overcast sky. I remember boarding the plane not sorry to be leaving, but having feelings of love for the members there. I was most anxious. My only thought of missing that place came as the plane climbed above the city and I could see the glimmer of the city lights at noon shining through the snow as if it were midnight. The beautiful and lonely view of the city soon vanished as the plane was at once engulfed in clouds as we continued to climb.
Without warning a few moments later the windows in the plane began to glow. It suddenly dawned on me that the sun would soon be visible. In all of my anticipation to leave the city it had not occurred to me that the first view I would have of the sun would be from the plane. As the windows grew brighter, my heart began to pound in anticipation.
All at once the plane burst out of the clouds and the full brightness of the sun was before me. It was so bright that it hurt to look at it but I could not stop myself. With tears running down my cheeks I beheld a most beautiful sight. Simultaneously, I felt an inpouring of the Spirit that seemed to fill my entire being.
This experience lasted several minutes, and I sobbed like a child the whole time. I arrived at my new assignment with a renewed spirit. Although my new area of assignment was below the Arctic Circle, there was only about two hours of direct sunlight each day. For several days after arriving I would stand facing the sun for a few moments just to feel the warm rays on my face. My new companion thought I was nuts.
To this very day, as every new winter approaches, I recollect the feelings I experienced that winter in Norway. I hope I will never forget the lesson I learned.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read, "And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one. And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one. And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world." (D&C 76:96-98)
I believe that the Lord allowed me to taste, in a very small way, the glory of the telestial kingdom. Though it is referred to as a kingdom of glory, the glory of the telestial kingdom is minimal at best. In reality it is cold, dark, lonely, and long. Having had the opportunity to experience that darkness I know beyond any doubt that there is nothing in this world that should draw anyone from the promise of celestial glory. I know that there is only one kingdom I will strive for.
The comparison of the glories of heaven to that of the sun, the moon, and the stars, is accurate. There is only one glory that fills with warmth, brightness, peace, and hope. That is the glory of the celestial world. The glory of the Father, "which surpasses all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion." (D&C 76:114)