A few years ago, 42-year-old Norwegian citizen Johannes Solberg visited Serbia thanks to his friends. Fascinated by its hospitality, culture and tradition, he decided to adopt the Orthodox faith.  He and his wife Lucia are raising their six children in the spirit of Orthodoxy, even going as far as to build a small church on their property!

A theologian by education, Solberg wanted to visit our country and see, as he called it, the other side of the medal. His journey to Serbia and visit to Kosovo and Metohija have changed not only his spiritual beliefs, but also his professional career. Namely, Solberg has a farm of mangulica pigs native to Serbia in southeastern Norway, near the Swedish border.

“We experienced a great deal of hospitality and enjoyed rich historical testimony in Serbia. I was astounded by how much the Serbian people have fought and how many great sacrifices they have suffered to preserve their faith. There is a big difference between reading about events in books and experiencing these cultural monuments and holy sites in a very concrete manner. By that I especially mean the journey through Kosovo and Metohija, where we could clearly see the traces of Serbs being persecuted and oppressed. What actually affected me the most in that context is the moment when we crossed the so-called border between Serbia and Kosovo. I suddenly felt as though I was in an entirely different world, with Arabic names, large hotels, mosques… it was shocking to me to see how aggressively they were trying to erase Christian culture. It made me incredibly sad,” recounts the Norwegian.

On the other hand, Solberg is careful in choosing his words when trying to convey a certain joy he had experienced in monasteries he visited in Kosovo and Metohija with Serbian families. What can be seen at a glance and what he felt while surrounded by monastery walls showed him the fascinating difference between that which survives out of faith and that which is imposed, and that is what he took as the most significant impression from Serbia.

“I have several good friends from Serbia, who mean a lot to me. Our family belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church. I am, therefore, interested in the history of Serbia, not just as a professional field, but also on a personal level. I also believe it is important to research and experience culture, people and history. The Norwegian “truth” about what went down in the so-called Balkan wars is significantly colored by its own membership in the NATO. I feel a strong urge to see for myself and find out what really happened. My eldest daughter, then 17 years old, went with me on my trip to Serbia. I also want to expose our children to different perspectives to those that we are being served in the media in our country. I was especially happy to be invited to hold a lecture at the University of Niš, and at the same time I had the opportunity to visit wonderful people and holy sites in Serbia. I have chosen this path professionally and privately and I am very satisfied,” said theologian Solberg.

He and his wife Lucia met when both of them were16 years old. They both come from good Protestant Christian families.

“At that time, our experience was that the Lutheran Protestant church community, to which we belonged, had lost its footing regarding moral issues. Endless debates were being fought about gender issues and the position of homosexuals within the church and similar issues. In addition, the Lutheran Protestant Church in Norway is strongly connected with the state and organized according to democratic principles. While I was studying the history of Christianity, I had first considered Roman Catholicism, however my wife Lucia helped me in a good way to ask critical questions about the Roman Catholic theology. There were several points in their doctrine that had become impossible for us to accept. After several years of searching, we finally encountered the Orthodox Church, and thank God for that! Being an Orthodox Christian is, of course, a challenge, but we firmly believe that this is the correct faith and church of Christ and that God is showing us that every single day,” said Solberg to Novosti.

Johannes and Lucia are parents of six: their youngest, Andreas, is a year old, Cecilie is 4, Sunniva is 4, Olaf is 15, Petra is 17 and Maria is 20 years old.

“Thank God, all of our children are believers and active participants in the gathering and the liturgy. We are living to see that children can get stronger and lead each other on a good path when there is a lot of them. It was important to us to always take our children to church. As parents, we always prioritize going to church, which the children see and mimic. Apart from that, we also practice prayer at home. We believe it is most important to pray for children, and teach them to pray. We also teach them to fast from a young age, in order for them to experience the benefits of living in a rhythm between fasting and the holidays. I would also like to add that, since we took up Orthodoxy, we have a place to pray and icons in every room in our house, explained the theologian.

Over the past five years, with the help of good Serbian friends, a small church was built on their property and it is a source of great joy to them when, apart from themselves, our people who live and work in Norway attend the liturgy there.

“I would like to emphasize how important the Orthodox faith is in Norway, it is important that we have a basis in the Christian teaching from an Orthodox country. It is probably difficult to live a Christian life in an atheist and secular society, without finding strength in the perspectives of a strong spiritual culture. The Serbian people can look back on the hundreds of years where their faith was passed down through the most difficult of circumstances. Orthodoxy is young in Norway, most of us have converted from Protestantism. For that reason we need good spiritual leaders, but also a relationship and contact with the home base in Serbia. I would like to express my gratitude for being part of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as an indispensable part of the Serbian people,” said the Norwegian at the end of the conversation.

He is planning and looking forward to his next visit to our country, as he believes that he will have new spiritual experiences. On the other hand, our people like to stop by his property, some go to pray in the little church, and others to help with the pig husbandry. They are proud to see that there are people in Norway who have recognized the beauty of our country and its qualities, and that in the country where they have chosen to live they met people who love Serbia and with whom they can, especially around the Christian holidays, share joy and convey to them some of the customs related especially to the most joyful holiday, Easter.

The Beginning With 25 Black Mangulica Pigs

The family also has professional ties to Serbia — at their farm, the land of their ancestors, they raise mangulica pigs. They went into this business four years ago, and according to Solberg, apart from being interested in the Serbian history, he was also impressed with the Serbian food.

“I have a friend who imported some pigs from Austria and Hungary, including the black variety of the mangulica pig, which is native to Serbia. I later met a chef who wished to start a relationship with me to sell the mangulica pig meat in Norway, particularly to restaurants. So I bought 25 black mangulica pig and bred them. We also have red-and-white mangulica pigs in the litter. Along with my chef friend, we have founded a society for mangulica pig breeders in Norway, to ensure healthy and good genetics, and the aim is for all breeders to organize here. We currently have around 200 pigs at the farm and we deliver meat and sausage to several restaurants, as well as some retail outlets. This breed produces fabulous quality meat, and the demand is increasing,” said Solberg.