Common heritage

Danish, American members celebrate roots

ESBJERG, Denmark — With music and speeches, Danish and American Latter-day Saints celebrated their common ancestral and spiritual heritage at a fireside Sunday evening Aug. 5.

Crowds of spectators watch dancers at Esbjerg docks as ships begin trek.
Crowds of spectators watch dancers at Esbjerg docks as ships begin trek. Credit: Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

Held at the Esbjerg Performing Arts Center, in connection with Sea Trek 2001, the event featured performances from artists who are providing entertainment for Sea Trek dockside activities, including Enoch Train, a group of studio musicians who play stylized versions of LDS hymns and folk music, and T Minus Friday, a group of LDS youth formed for Sea Trek.

In a special appearance, Tomas Ambt Kofed, the young Danish actor who portrayed the Savior in the Church's motion picture, "Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd," performed "Bring Him Home" from the theatrical musical "Les Miserables."

President Eryk Ryttersgaard of the Aarhus Denmark Stake conducted the meeting and thanked the Sea Trek Foundation "for what they have done to bring the Church out of obscurity here in Denmark," an allusion to Doctrine and Covenants 1:30.

In an interview following the program, President Ryttersgaard said: "We are grateful for this event because it's bringing focus on the Church in wide circles here in Denmark. We face a lot of misinterpretation, misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about the Church, and this is a way to break down the walls [that inhibit communication]. Sea Trek comes just at the right time, because our temple is being constructed in Copenhagen. This will help to make the Church known and thus will make it easier to invite people to the temple open house."

Tove Bisgaard, Aarhus stake director of public affairs, characterized Sea Trek as a gift to the people in Europe and particularly in Denmark, a means to help make the public aware of an even greater gift, that offered to them by Jesus Christ.

"When I was baptized in 1975, we were about 4,500 Church members in Denmark," she noted, "and we still are. We have tried to share the gospel but it's difficult . . . But in the last couple of years, we have seen many signs that things have started to change."

Tove Bisgaard presents flag of Denmark to DeAnn J. Sadleir, co-chairman of Sea Trek.
Tove Bisgaard presents flag of Denmark to DeAnn J. Sadleir, co-chairman of Sea Trek. Credit: Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

In the past 150 years, she said, 15,000 to 20,000 Danes left to build up the Church elsewhere. "Now, today, 150 years later, these Danes have influenced so many people and so many of their descendants; you come back here with Sea Trek to make the Church visible to so many more Danes. And we welcome you to our coasts. We are so grateful that we are blessed with the fruits of our ancestors' great sacrifices."

Sister Bisgaard presented a Danish flag to DeAnn J. Sadleir, co-chairman of Sea Trek, to be conveyed to the people of Alpine, Utah, in appreciation for a sculpture that was unveiled in Rebild, Denmark, last year in connection with the sesquicentennial of missionary work in Denmark. The sculpture, by Alpine resident Dennis Smith, depicts a family of emigrants about to depart from Denmark. She also presented an American flag, a gift from Denmark's Rebild Society, which fosters Danish-American relations.

Among speakers at the fireside was Poul Erik Ilskov, first counselor in the bishopric of the Fredericia Ward. His mother, Georgia, is American, and his father, Hans Otto, is Danish. While serving a mission to Denmark in 1963-64, she lived in the basement of Poul's grandmother's house in Esbjerg. There she met Hans Otto, and later they were married.

"He is out of two pioneer stocks," Hans Otto said of Poul, "the Danish who stayed and the Danish who emigrated. Brother and Sister Ilskov are serving as family history missionaries, helping visitors find their ancestry on Church computers set up for that purpose at Sea Trek dockside activities.

And Poul is sailing on part of the Sea Trek voyage.