Tall ships in Lerwick Harbour, July 2023

Journeying Through Faith and Culture in the Shetland Islands

A Spiritual Voyage

Tall ships in Lerwick Harbour as seen from a departing ferry, July 2023

Scalloway and Lerwick Harbour, ShetlandWilfred Masih

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm glow over the rugged landscape of the Shetland Islands, two devoted Christians embarked on a mission trip that would forever leave an indelible mark on their hearts. Pastors Wil Masih and Weiers Coetser led this spiritual expedition, venturing to the enchanting lands of Scalloway and Lerwick Harbour. Pastor Wil travelled over first from the 24th to 29th of July 2023, and Pastor Weiers joined him for two days during the week.

Their mission was following on from an earlier trip in the month of May led by Pastor Anthony Kent. They had been invited back by a friend that they made on Shetland, who had been impressed by the work the outreach team had done during their trip in May.

This time, the two pastors were not only going to explore the uncharted territories of the Shetland Islands but, more importantly, their goal was to immerse themselves in the vibrant local culture while celebrating their faith through the lens of the "Up Helly Aa" and Tall Ships Race Festivals that were both taking place during this week of high summer in Shetland.

The "Up Helly Aa" celebration, held on the 25th of July, was a spectacle that stole the hearts of the visitors. The jubilant procession and fiery tradition of carrying burning fire torches on the streets and setting alight a replica Viking ship ignited a deep sense of community and camaraderie among the islanders. As he witnessed the revelry pastor Wil Masih was moved by the spirit of unity and togetherness that transcended cultural boundaries, affirming that faith could indeed bring people closer, even amidst diverse traditions. The fire festival, which is inspired by the Islands Viking past, is among the biggest annual celebrations in the Shetland islands accompanied by traditional Shetland music which can be heard throughout the night.

Scalloway, with its rich history and charm, offered a glimpse into the past, a tale of resilience and faith that resonated with the two pastors. They found themselves humbled and inspired by the courage and unwavering belief of the locals, who had endured the test of time while holding on steadfastly to their traditions and heritage.

Their interactions with the residents of Scalloway became an exchange of stories, a beautiful tapestry woven with threads of faith, love, and hope. A chef who had a theological background was intrigued by the Adventist Church and wanted to know more. He shared episodes of his faith journey with inspiring stories of building friendships in community gardens in Taunton (County Somerset) and helping with homeless projects and mental health initiatives. Now he was in Scalloway, enjoying the exquisite natural beauty and close-knit community. Every morning he would belt out Christian hymns as he prepared breakfast in the kitchen for the guests. He invited the pastors to visit him again with the promise of whale watching from his boat.

As the days unfolded, the pastors found themselves drawn to the heart of the Tall Ships Race Festival, held from the 26th to the 29th of July in Lerwick. This maritime extravaganza brought together not only majestic vessels from distant shores but also a diverse array of souls seeking solace in shared beliefs. The pastors were elated to discover 'Churches Together' in the Shetland Islands, an assembly that united Christian communities from various Christian traditions, during the festival. In this harmonious congregation, they realized that despite geographical boundaries, they were all bound by a common thread of faith. The pastors made numerous connections with Shetlanders. They engaged in many meaningful conversations. Almost everybody who they encountered remembered the media coverage of the outreach event in May, which involved literature distribution and cycling up and down the Shetland Isles. This second visit felt like an opportunity to continue building on this earlier impact event, and to deepen relationships, which will continue in the months ahead.

On the final day of the festival, it was heartening for Pastor Wil to be a part of the "Blessing of the Sails" worship held on the morning of Saturday 29th of July. As the melodious hymns and Christian songs led by worship groups from different churches reverberated in the air from a giant stage that had various popular artists using it earlier during the week, he felt an overwhelming sense of spiritual harmony.

The prayers offered for the safekeeping of the 37 ships from different countries for their onward journey mirrored the prayers whispered in their hearts for the well-being of their fellow travellers on this journey of faith called life.

Amidst the maritime grandeur, the pastors also found joy in mingling with the locals and experiencing the essence of the Shetland Islands culture through the festivities. The rich tapestry of local music and art was a testament to the islanders' strong sense of identity and pride in their heritage. As the pastors connected with the people, they discovered that faith, in its purest form, transcends language barriers and unites souls under the benevolent gaze of a transcendent God.

Throughout the mission trip, the pastors reflected on the teachings of Jesus, who exemplified the essence of love, compassion, and understanding. Their encounters with the islanders reinforced the significance of being accepting and embracing of others' beliefs while standing firm in one's faith. They learned that the true essence of Christianity lay not in preaching from the pulpit, but in living the teachings of Christ with an open heart and an open mind.

As they bid farewell to the Shetland Islands, the pastors carried with them memories that would forever be etched in their souls. The journey was not just a pilgrimage to a distant Island; it was a pilgrimage of the heart, a quest to discover the beauty of humanity through the lens of faith and culture.

The mission trip to the Shetland Islands allowed these devoted Christians to witness the magnificence of the human spirit, the unyielding faith that withstood the test of time, and the power of unity in diversity. It reaffirmed their belief that faith was not confined within the walls of a church but extended to every corner of the world, embracing every heart that sought solace in the divine.

As they prepared for their return journey back to the mainland, the pastors carried the essence of Shetland Islands in their hearts - a beacon of hope, a testament to the transformative power of faith, and a reminder that a spiritual voyage could lead one to discover not only distant lands but also the depths of their own soul. And as they navigated the waves of life, they knew that the memories of this mission trip would forever be a guiding star, illuminating their path of devotion and service to all humanity.

It is the desire of the two pastors that the tale of their voyage inspires many more Christians to embark on their own spiritual journeys, to explore the beauty of faith in diverse cultures, and to discover the unifying thread that weaves together the tapestry of humanity. For, in the end, it is love, acceptance, and compassion that truly define the essence of Christ’s teachings, and the Shetland Islands have bestowed upon these two pilgrims a treasure trove of timeless wisdom and boundless grace