I had the stereo thumping and was cleaning up the last few dishes from supper when I heard a pounding on the window. It was Mari, my best friend’s new wife, waving for me to come outside and shouting something I couldn’t hear through the triple-paned windows found in every house in Finland. She and Octavio had gone to the grocery store, and I wasn’t sure why she was seemed so excited to have me help carry in a few bags. I was still stuffing my feet in my shoes when she burst through the door.
“Come outside! Northern Lights!”
The three of us stood out in the street, focused on a greenish-white glow on the horizon. At first, it wasn’t all that impressive, and could have easily been mistaken for a patch of city lights or smoke in the distance. Then it began to shift, moving higher into the sky and becoming richer in color until a band of emerald green stretched overhead. Soon, a second batch of lights appeared, waves of white and red, and shimmering curtains that appeared to drop vertically out of the sky. Octavio and Mari eventually noticed the freezing temperatures and went inside, but I stayed, mesmerized by the dancing lights. It was the most spectacular natural display I have ever seen.
I actually saw the northern lights twice during my time there, one of the many blessings experienced during my six-week adventure in Europe’s northeastern corner. I was there, of course, to celebrate the marriage of Octavio Gonzalez to Mari Kaatrasalo. Many of you know Octavio, my friend from Hermosillo, Mexico, who has spent a considerable amount of time at our home in Massachusetts. Some of you also met Mari, who visited here in March. They had already had their civil wedding (an informal, justice-of-the-peace style signing of papers), as required by Finnish law, before I arrived, but the religious celebration was held the last week of October.
The bi-lingual ceremony was quite unique, and parts of it were even tri-lingual. I was especially thankful that both my parents were able to make the trip, and that Octavio’s mother and sister were able to come from Mexico. There was also a large entourage from Kosovo, where Mari had served previously.
I definitely enjoyed being Octavio’s best man, and watching my Dad officiate the ceremony with a Finnish translator was quite interesting. That said, seeing all the behind-the-scenes scrambling and Octavio’s butterflies made me grateful that I wasn’t the one getting married! I did have a few responsibilities, however. Giving the toast in front of over 100 foreigners was a little nerve-wracking but I’d like to think it came off all right. I also had to co-emcee the rest of the reception but Kaisa, Mari’s maid of honor, was an excellent translator and actually handled the bulk of the responsibility. Finnish receptions involve more speeches and presentations than we would usually see here, and the afternoon was great fun, although I sorely missed the dancing that is part of most American receptions.
There were plenty of other highlights over those 6 weeks including a 3-day camping expedition in the arctic wilderness, a weekend across the sea to the south in Estonia, and meeting up with more long-lost friends in Helsinki before leaving.
I never would have imagined that I would be in Finland, together with my parents, standing by my best friend’s side on his big day. I am so thankful that God has seen fit to bless him with something he has wanted for so long in the form of a wonderful Finnish woman. They will need our prayers as they adjust to being married. Finland turned out to be a really cool place, and its people, despite their cold reputation, were genuine and welcoming. I am thrilled to have been part of Octavio and Mari’s celebration and to have visited a new part of the world. I return home thankful for so much, knowing that many people, including myself, were richly blessed by this experience.
By Ian Bridgman