Denmark is the land of my heritage. My mother was first generation American and she spoke the Danish language as a child, served us many Danish foods, and shared with us many of the Danish customs and cultures she had grown up with. My mother’s father Peter P. Hendrickson left America to join the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young man; yet he loved his native land and the family and friends there very much. His wife, Kristen A. Mortensen, also a native Dane, loved her native land and taught her children about the land of their heritage.
My mother’s sister, Ruth Hendrickson Hadley, served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denmark in the 1950s, and my brother Gary Hansen served a mission there in 1961 to 1963.
Denmark is a land associated with the sea; nowhere in the country are you more than 47 miles from the sea. Surrounding Jylland, the part of Denmark that is connected to Germany, is an archipelago of 483 islands that make up the Kingdom of Denmark. Denmark, like much of Northern Europe, is wealthy, erudite, and liberal. Fewer than 3 percent of its people attend church, and Richard Andersen, a LDS Church Stake President in 1993 stated, “The Church’s biggest challenge in Denmark today is that we are an ungodly country.” Andersen blames the permissive laws passed in the 1960s. “Suddenly our country was affluent and wanted to show the world that our wealth gave us sophistication and understanding. So we passed laws allowing pornography, nudity on beaches, abortion on demand, marriage of homosexuals. Moral barriers fell all around us.”[i]
Gary’s mission in Denmark during those turbulent years was very difficult. During his two years there he baptized only one individual. One experience in Esbjerg, a fishing village about the size of Provo on the West Coast of Denmark, changed Gary’s attitude about his mission, Denmark, and life. He had been there three months and the missionaries had not taught a lesson or had not been received into a home. Gary and his companion wondered if they prayed and fasted more earnestly that maybe someone would listen to their message. They called the mission president for permission to fast; he gave them permission, but only for three days.
The first day of fasting was like any other; they tracted without success. The second day of fasting they continued to go door to door futilely. At the beginning of the third day of fasting, they knew their fast would end that night, yet that day was no different. That night they prayed long and hard and received no remarkable inspiration.
During the night Gary’s grandfather Peter P. Hendrickson (his mother’s father) appeared to him. Peter who had grown up in Denmark and given it up only to join the other members of the church in Utah stood at the end of Gary’s bed and told Gary that the only way he would ever be successful was to love the Danish people with all he had and to look beyond their harshness.
“Love the people,” he repeated. “Love the Danes.”
When Gary’s companion awakened the next day, the companion told of how he had seen the nameplate and bell of a certain home in a dream and felt that it meant something special.
The two companions prayed, then broke their fast. As they went out, they looked at the different streets carefully. Gary’s companion recognized the street he’d seen in his dream and they walked along it. Then he recognized the bell and nameplate. They had tracted out that area three times previously, but never stopped at the house. They rang the doorbell and a young woman came to the door. She allowed them to come in and talk to them.
Gary was transferred soon afterwards and he never knew what happened to the woman and her family, or whether they accepted the gospel or not.
But the experience with his grandfather changed Gary’s life forever. He loved the Danes whether or not they invited him in, or accepted his message. After his mission he promoted everything Danish and Scandinavian he could. He had an annual “Lief Ericksen” party on Columbus Day to celebrate that the Vikings reached America before Columbus. He served as president of the “Sons of Norway” (a fraternal organization representing people of Norwegian heritage–there isn’t a “Sons of Denmark” organization). His daughter went on a mission to Norway and married a family of Norwegian descent who are as staunch in their celebration of their Norwegian heritage as Gary is of his Danish heritage. He had a Danish foreign exchange student live with his family for a year, and he and his family have gone to Denmark several times. This fall he and his wife will return to Denmark as couple missionaries.
Unconditional love is the key in all relationships; true charity that is concerned with the individual and develops a closer association. It accepts a person as they are, and loves them anyway. It doesn’t complain that they are not Italians, or Mexicans (or whoever would be easier to convert), or that they didn’t accept the gospel right away and give up on them, but loves them despite it.
Elder Russell M. Ballard said in October 1988 General Conference address (and probably more recently as well), “I encourage you to build personal, meaningful relationships with your nonmember friends and acquaintances. If they are not interested in the gospel, we should show unconditional love through acts of service and kindness, and never imply that we see an acquaintance only as a potential convert.[ii] Or as my grandfather, Peter P. Hendrickson said, “Love the People.”
[i] Florence, Giles, “Sea, Soil, and Souls in Denmark,” Liahona, June 1993, page 36
[ii] Russell M. Ballard, “The Hand of Fellowship,” Ensign, November 1988,