Shalom Lutheran Church of Alexandria would like to invite area readers to share in Pastor Grant Aaseng’s “Norwegian Adventure.”  Shalom will begin running videos previously shown on a popular Norwegian reality television program beginning July 1. The eight episodes will be shown on four consecutive Thursdays with the exception of July 22, the week of its western barbecue.       Pastor and his daughter Marit had both seen the ad in the Star Tribune, a casting call for the show, Everything for Norway.   Grant thought, “That would be fun” and then kind of shrugged it off. His daughter, Marit, a Jefferson High School senior said, “Dad, you meet all the requirements; you’ve never been to Norway, you are of Norwegian ancestry, you don’t speak Norwegian, and you are within the right age range. You qualify in every way and would be perfect for the show.”
A visit to Norway had always been on Grant’s “bucket list,” so he thought, “Well, this could be a neat father-daughter project.”   Marit went right to the internet and downloaded an application, and her dad filled it out never dreaming that anything would come of it.     Applicants were also required to make a video in which they would introduce themselves.  Alexandria was a perfect location for an introductory video, and it also was opportune timing as Marit had just borrowed a video camera from the library to shoot a vignette for her Spanish class. Timing was also on his side, as participation would require two to six weeks, and the church had just approved a leave for a sabbatical.      Grant began his introductory video by cross-country skiing up to “Big Ole.”   From there, he went inside the Runestone Museum and told of its famous runestone that led to Alexandria’s claim, “The Birthplace of America.” He concluded his video with pictures of his home with its many Scandinavian artifacts, (trolls, plates, needlework) and featured his family singing, Jeg er Saa Glad, the only Norwegian Christmas carol that they knew.     Later he received an e-mail informing him that they had liked his video, but requested him to  provide more information about his fore bearers. They also informed him to be prepared to fly to Chicago for a further interview and a screen test.     After the 200 videos that were forwarded to Norway, he was informed  he was one of 10 that had been picked to be contestants on the show. When those 10 contestants were finally gathered together, Grant looked around and thought.  “What a crazy mix of characters this is, and as a pastor, I am a character among characters!” Upon leaving, the participants were warned to not try to learn to speak Norwegian or do any research on Norway.       One of the show’s big promotions was to find the contestant’s Norwegian roots, and soon after Grant arrived, they showed him the valley where his ancestral family had lived. The show was also meant to be entertaining, and the fact that some contestants really knew nothing about Norway and experienced a kind of culture shock lent the comic element.     The contestants were divided into teams of five and given amusing tasks to complete and races to run. The winning team got to go off and “do something fun” while the losing team had a run-off competition, “a kind of a punishment,” a contest that finally led to the elimination of a contestant.     The two teams’ first challenge was to act like a Norwegian teenager which was “the biggest stretch” for Grant at age 53.  The next oldest was a woman from Dawson at 50, then a contestant who was 42, on down to the youngest who was 23. Teenagers, in a rite of passage upon completion of high school, traditionally participate in a society called “Russ,” in which students donned  red or blue baggy pants and challenged each other to wild and crazy dare-devil competitions with the goal of winning a Knut, a token that was like a trophy.  Grant participated in most of the dare-devil challenges but declined a few that he felt were offensive. Later, he was surprised to receive e-mails from Norwegians who appreciated his willingness to not take himself too seriously, to be one of the people.  One called him “the best pastor in the world!”     Grant’s team lost by only one point, and the winning team got to march in the Syttende Mai parade for the king wearing bunad, a traditional Norwegian costume valued at $5,000.        Most were pretty envious, but Grant was delighted when he found that the loser’s challenge was to be given two hours in which to learn the Norwegian national anthem and sing it solo at a neighborhood celebration. His father and his father-in law had been members of the Norwegian Men’s Chorus in Minneapolis and they sang it at the beginning of every concert. He had always wanted to learn it.     In his group was an opera singer from Chicago, a Harlem actress, a 330 lb. Viking wrestler from Minneapolis, a fashion designer from Fresno, and Grant.  The fashion designer lost, and it was just as well because she was the one that had the most reservations about being there.     The next day they actually went to Grant’s ancestral  farm where the challenge was to run up the hill and herd cattle back down while keeping them from stampeding and going the wrong direction. In addition to this, they had to drive a tractor through an obstacle course and finally, had to learn and sing a Norwegian folk song.  Grant’s team won and their reward was to go rafting over some of Norway’s most famous rapids which were close to his ancestral farm.     The next competition was a race paddling an authentic Viking ship down in a beautiful fjord.  Grant’s team won, not surprising since the 330 lb. Viking, who was on the other team, broke his oar. This time their prize was to go rappelling over two waterfalls.  The losers had to chase down a chicken and slaughter it.     Their next contest was to go north of Oslo and participate in a back country challenge.  The first part was to row across a lake against the wind.  This time Grant’s team had the Viking wrestler sitting in the front of their canoe and they went not more than one paddle beyond the shore and tipped over because they were so top heavy.  Next the wrestler sat in the middle and again swamped the canoe.  Sportsmanlike, the other team allowed them a third start, and Grant’s team switched out the wrester for the opera singer who had been granted “immunity” from this particular competition.  This time Grant’s team beat the other team to the far shore where they had to gather wood, start a fire with a flint, and boil water. After that, they had to run a course of about a 1 ½ miles. When they got back, the other team was still trying to start their fire. The team that lost had to shovel out an outhouse.     Perhaps the most thrilling contests and also the scariest were in an area above the Arctic Circle, north of the mainland of Norway.  The teams had to use orienteering skills to find the camp, and when they camped overnight, they were given guns and were told that they were to take shifts guarding the camp from polar bears. (Later they discovered that there were no bullets in their guns!)     The next day began with a cross-country ski race, and Grant was the only one on his team that knew how to ski.  Obviously, his team lost, so Grant had a run-off competition against the Viking wrestler.  They had to race by dog sled to rescue a victim buried in avalanche ice using a beeper to locate a beacon from the site. To manipulate the beeper, Grant had to take his outer gloves off and his hands became numb.  He kept digging and digging and almost gave up, but then he thought, “What if it were a real person? Would I give up?  The thought rejuvenated him, and after digging five feet down, he finally found what was about a 70 pound dummy, hauled it out, and raced the dogs back. His competitor, the big Viking, predictably broke the handle of his shovel almost right away, but he was so big and strong that he just grabbed the short handle of his shovel and dug away.  In the end, the Viking beat Grant and that meant Grant had to go home.     Contestants were not allowed contact with their families during the competition, so Grant felt ready to go home.  Before he left, he asked one of the directors why he had been chosen as one of the ten among all the hundreds that applied. He was a little surprised by the answer he got, “You were our first choice!  You were really proud of your Norwegian heritage, and you made us feel good!”     Grant expressed the regret that his family hadn’t experienced Norway, and to his surprise, he had been home only two weeks when he was informed that his family was to receive a free one week trip courtesy of the Norwegian Geological Society!     Pastor Aaseng will host a viewing of the program at Shalom Lutheran Church, 800 County Rd. 44 NW on July 1, 8, 15 and 29 at 7  p.m.  The videos will be shown in two 45 minute segments with be a social time and a chance to hear comments from Pastor Grant. A concession stand will be offering treats (including Norwegian foods)  for guests to purchase, and there will be a  free-will offering.  (Warning: Norwegian television is a bit looser than American television, so there will be behavior and language that some might consider offensive.  Consider it “PG 13”).  While there is some Norwegian narration, the action takes place in English with Norwegian subtitles.)