The journey from Örebro to Malmö pulling a caravan was long and slow. We had departed around 11.30 in the morning last Friday, the thirteenth of April, had stopped for lunch quite soon only to discover we had left Isak’s insulin supplies at home. Thankfully we were able to phone Maria’s dad, who had the day off work, to get the things from home and drive to us, rather than us dragging the caravan back to Brickebacken. We sat outside McDonalds just north of Askersund and waited in the Spring sunshine; the kids were happy in the playground. Starting again we drove south down the eastern shores of Vättern; from Jönköping the motorway turned southwest to cross the forests of Småland, finally emerging on the flat farms of Skåne. We finally reached Helsingborg and the sea at the southern tip of Sweden as the day was fading into evening; across the straights we could see the low, dark coastline of Helsingør on Denmark and further south the cityscape of Copenhagen was visible beyond the water.
It was a brilliant clear blue evening as we continued southward for the final 50km run into Malmö, past the steepled skyline of the university town of Lund. Skåne feels different to the rest of Sweden, wider, more expansive, more populated than the vast tracts of forest which we had driven through all day. The houses look more Danish, and the landscape feels somehow more continental, almost as if we were driving across Holland. The farms are scattered with the huge white wind turbines – modern windmills – that are so common in Europe on flat, windy land. There are one or two around Örebro, but there were dozens, probably hundreds, of them on the fields and coastline of Skåne, and they were clearly visible across Öresund along the shores of Denmark.
Malmö was visible as a low urban sprawl on the horizon, except for two striking landmarks. One was the Öresund Bridge, Europe’s longest bridge which for a little more than five years now has linked Sweden and Denmark, providing an easy alternative to the car and train ferry which nevertheless still plies many times a day between Helsingborg and Helsingør. We first drove across the bridge back in July 2002, when we were on our summer holiday from the Anastasis. We had borrowed a car from Dutch friends and had driven from Rotterdam across Holland, Germany and Denmark en route to Örebro and ultimately Orsa.
Then the bridge was quite new, an extraordinary feat of engineering linking Sweden to the continent in a way which was set to change the demographic of this corner of Sweden. Suddenly it became possible to work in Denmark while taking advantage of the cheaper housing across the sea in Sweden. Skåne was Danish hundreds of years ago, but was fought over and won back by Sweden. The new bridge link has made at least this southern tip around Malmö once again feel the Danish influence growing stronger. Although Danish is only one of the multitude of languages spoken in and around Malmö, which has become a mecca for immigrants and has been called the most cosmopolitan and multicultural city in Sweden. It is certainly one of the fastest growing, even if it is still only the third biggest city behind Stockholm and Gothenburg.
The other landmark which immediately caught the eye as we gazed south, and which was certainly not there the last time we drove past Malmö in 2002, was a pencil thin and rather odd looking structure which rose unexpectedly above the otherwise rather uniformly low level skyline of the surrounding city. I wondered what it could be and Maria quickly told me that it was a new apartment block recently constructed and notable because it “twists” as it goes up. It was only when we got back to Örebro the following week and I was talking to my brother Stephen on the phone that I discovered that this too is a marvel of modern architecture and engineering. He had seen a model of the structure in an exhibition in New York a few years back and he remarked that it was one of the things in Sweden which he longs to see. It is called the “turning torso.”
It was almost dark by the time we found the Litchfield’s house. The freeway circles around the city before climbing westward onto the bridge over Öresund. We took the last exit before leaving Sweden, following the signs to Limhamn, and quickly got lost in a maze of new housing developments on the southern side of the bridge approaches. There were completely new apartment blocks everywhere, as many unfinished as finished – testimony to the demand for housing which has exploded since the bridge construction. Quinton and Susanne live in a somewhat neglected house on the Limhamn skutbana – shooting range.
We wondered why they had chosen that unusual location, but it was not so much a question of choice but of provision. In a difficult housing market it had turned up unexpectedly at the right time, and they could clearly see God’s hand in it. The house is quite big, but was never finished, and now is to be demolished to make way for more real estate. However, a dispute over the ownership of the land and the house has meant that the proposed development cannot proceed until legal issues are resolved, and so the house was empty and unattractive because of the short term of the lease that was offered. A perfect solution for the Litchfield family until they are established and can find a more permanent dwelling. However, with a three month lease there is an element of uncertainty for them as they face the future.
Quinton and Susanne, and their four children, Charlie, Tom, Jade and Max, moved to Sweden from Australia before Christmas to plant a church in Malmö. It will be connected with CCC (Christian City Church), a pentecostal denomination founded by Phil Pringle in Sydney back in the eighties. Susanne is Swedish, originally from Norrland, so Skåne seems almost as foreign to her as it does to Quinton and the kids. We first met Quinton and Susanne in Örebro before we were married, must be fifteen years ago. They, like us, had a background in YWAM, having met in Hawaii, married in Sweden, but later decided to settle in Australia. Now they have come back with a vision for a church which will take years to establish. Right now they have literally just arrived, modern day missionaries in a materialistic, secular, post-Christian society, surrounded by a multitude of people groups from which they will build a new congregation of followers of Jesus.
The shooting range is hardly used now and will be swallowed up by new housing. The house was for the caretaker, but had been empty for a year before the Litchfields moved in. Upstairs was never finished, although there is a staircase and windows in the roof. Quinton is busy insulating and lining the roof to provide more space, since downstairs there are only two bedrooms. He is the ideal person for the job, being a carpenter. He recently found paid work by approaching some men working on a house site nearby and asking about employment. They offered him a job there and then, and he started work a week or two later. It has the added benefit of providing cheap access to materials for the little construction work of his own at home.
My purpose in coming to Malmö was to attend a Mercy Ships board meeting. Our old friend Ingvar Haraldsson, who we met on the Anastasis back in 2001, is the current director of Mercy Ships Sweden and Malmö is his home town. The office of Mercy Ships is officially in Gothenberg where Emmanuel Hyllerud, the office director lives. Emmanuel was also on the Anastasis when we were there, and he has continued to work for Mercy Ships Sweden since he left back in 2003. However, he will soon finish his work for Mercy Ships and so the office, which is not a physical structure but rather an occupation, will revert to Malmö where Ingvar, the only remaining Mercy Ships Sweden employee, lives. Up until now, Emmanuel has been the office. From this summer onwards, Ingvar will be the office.
After our night in the caravan in the Litchfields garden we woke to a sunny and warm Saturday morning. Quinton drove me into the city to Ingvar’s apartment, where the meeting was due to start at 11am. I spent the rest of the day there, and Ingvar drove me back to Limhamn when the meeting was over at 5pm.
Ingvar’s apartment is in an old building on Mariedalsvägen, a road which runs back from the seafront towards the city. Opposite his flat is a large park, Marie Dals Park. Susanne had said when we sat around the dinner table the night before that in Malmö you meet people by going to parks, of which there are many in Malmö, but of course the cold of winter had until now prevented them from such activities. Now Spring had arrived, Malmö was taking on a whole new character. From Ingvar’s balcony we could see that there were people everywhere, walking together, sitting on benches and chatting or reading the paper, lying on the grass with eyes closed, their faces turned upward toward the bright spring sunshine.
Ingvar’s apartment was old and airy with high ceilings and big windows, tastefully furnished, with thick dark patterned rugs on the floors and walls covered with paintings and family photos. A big, old, heavy table was covered with food for our pre-meeting lunch, and the conversation was a mixture of Swedish and English, since Clem, our chairman, speaks no Swedish and mine is still fairly basic. There were six of us there, Ingvar, Clem, Emmanuel, myself, Bo-Christer Jansson, the father of another of our old friend’s from the ship (Kristina) and a young woman by the name of Emelie who is a law student in Lund and who had been nominated by Emmanuel as a prospective board member. She did not stay for the meeting, but we had the opportunity to meet her and for her to get a feeling for what Mercy Ships Sweden is all about.
The meeting was fairly predictable and we achieved the things we needed to. Mercy Ships Sweden is basically a fund raising body to support the work of Mercy Ships International. Since the departure of Mercy Ships from YWAM four years ago the Swedish branch of Mercy Ships, like every other branch, has been gradually working towards a new identity and a new way of functioning. This has been slow partly because of the confusion and uncertainty arising from the departure of the organisation from its parent, YWAM and what that means. International leadership has not mapped out a clear pathway into the future, and Mercy Ships Sweden, like Mercy Ships Australia, has found itself in something of a confusing place as it has tried to re-invent itself. Gradually, however, the goals of the leaders have filtered haphazardly down to the national offices, and now, after all these years, Mercy Ships Sweden, like Mercy Ships Australia, is becoming established. It has been an interesting journey in Australia, and it is challenging to be part of the same process in Sweden, where Mercy Ships has an even lower national profile than there.
The meeting done I returned with Ingvar along the waterfront road to Limhamn, under the Öresund Bridge, and to the Litchfield’s house. Ingvar was keen to meet Quinton so he was glad of the opportunity to drive me home. Ingvar seems to have a multitude of contacts in Malmö, especially in the Christian world, but also through his involvement with Rotary and also his previous professional work as a lawyer. He had heard about Quinton and Susanne’s plans to plant a congregation in Malmö, indeed he had been praying for them with friends at their weekly prayer meeting only a few days before, so he was keen to put faces to the names.
We ate roast lamb for dinner, the first time we had done so since we arrived in Sweden. It was a real Australian roast dinner, a memory of former times. The kids watched TV and we sat talking late into the night.
The next day was Sunday, but rather than heading off to church we headed into Malmö to see some of the sights. There was a chilly breeze blowing off the sea, but the sun was out, and there were many people on the waterfront. We drove back the same way we had driven the day before, but rather than turning right toward Ingvar’s we turned left past the maritime university into the area of Malmö called Västra Hamnen, which sticks out into the Öresund. In the middle of Västra Hamnen the Turning Torso dominates the surrounding docklands, an area which must have formerly been industrial but which is gradually being covered with a crowd of residential and commercial building development. Nothing except the Torso seems to be more than four or five stories high. The Torso itself rises to about forty-five stories as it twists up to the sky. The base of the building is a simple circle surrounded by a shallow moat a few metres wide. There is a pathway across to what appears to be the only entrance, a glass door set in a wall of windows beyond which was an empty lobby. The building appears to be residential, but we saw no-one entering or leaving. We didn’t take much notice of the building, since our goal as we walked past was actually a playground which the kids had spotted over the road in the midst of a large grassy field.
From the playground looking back the Torso is an imposing sight, a marvel of modern architecture. The base appears to be narrower than the top, but it is an optical illusion caused by the twist. The windows are all slightly crooked, and presumably the internal walls also lean at a slight angle. There are huge diagonal struts which seem to hold the building together. It must be rather odd to live in a building like that, but the views from the top must be spectacular.
While the children played we sat on the grass and soaked up the sun. We snacked on crackers and cheese and fruit and drinks. Later we made our way back to the car and drove into the old town. There we did not much more than wander around on cobbled streets between the Sunday shoppers and the city buildings, old and new. Malmö looked like a lovely city, but the children were getting tired after a day of wandering, and were glad to get back into the car and head back home for a barbecue.
Our experience of Malmö was thus short lived. The next morning we packed up the caravan and headed off for Öland. But Malmö has become more than just a location on the map for us. Now when we hear the name Malmö we think Litchfields, church planting, building development, Ingvar, Mercy Ships, the sea and Denmark beyond, and, of course, the Turning Torso and the Öresund Bridge. I am sure this will not be our last visit…