Have you heard of Kiruna? Probably not…but you should!
This past Christmas my mother and I traveled to Sweden. We decided to stop in Kiruna, then go chase the northern lights in Abisko, and head down to Stockholm. This adventure was a little winter wonderland get away in a hope to reconnect to each other and to share new experiences.
Now to give you some background on Kiruna. Kiruna is northern Sweden’s largest city. The municipality is located just near the Arctic Circle. It is home to approximately 24,000 people (as of 2014 stats) and encompasses 6.4 square miles. To give you some perspective it is smaller than Salisbury, North Carolina or Seaside, California. Okay so what?
Well Kiruna houses the largest mining company in Sweden. Loussavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) is a government-owned mining business that is the primary business in this city and produces vast amounts of iron ore that ships all throughout Europe and Asia. The municipality, its people, and surrounding townships thrive on the LKAB’s mining and production. The properties and infrastructure of Kiruna, however, are situated on top of the iron ore deposits. The mining threatens the sustainability of the city. In response to LKAB’s mining expansion, the mining industry will transform Kiruna and move the city back two miles. LKAB planned to pay houses and businesses affected by the move by building new houses and paying the family the cost of the house plus 20%. Now this one move doesn’t seem too bad…but it will happen again, and again, and again until the iron ore depletes.
Kiruna is a city on the move. It exemplified continuous change.
It’s interesting how Kiruna’s residence adapted their lives to accommodate this lifestyle of never being settled. The houses are adorable, however often unkempt because residents foresee that they will soon move. The people of Kiruna are independent and rugged. Since they live in such a harsh landscape that goes from maybe two hours of sunlight in the winter months to twelve hours of sunlight in the summer, there is not set pattern. The people must adapt, the residents must be willing to remain flexible. This mindset also produced an innovative spark in everyone, hoping to do something new and to remain on their toes to integrate and try new things because everything is temporary.
Kiruna’s church was another symbol of the continuous change. The church was built between 1909 and 1912 by LKAB’s founder to serve as a community center. The church is nondenominational and you will not see one image of Christ throughout the church. On the outside of the church you will note that there are large statues that peer over the rooftop. I thought these statues were saints, but I was quickly corrected by my tour guide. He explained that these figures were actually sculptures of Kiruna town-folk and project images of different emotions. Additionally, the church and its clock tower were built to resemble the Swami (the indigenous peoples of Lapland) huts. It is incredible how inclusive the church is. Although it resembles a Christian place of worship, it is so much more. It embodies the necessity of community, of working together…just like mining…to support the town and one another.
So what can we learn from Kiruna?
- Materialism is an unnecessary luxury, everything we think we own is not actually ours. We do not need things, houses, goods to be fulfilled. Instead, we simply need each other.
- Hard work pays off. If you stick to the task, like continuous work that is required in iron ore mining, you will be rewarded. Maintain faith in your capabilities and know that if you work hard you will be rewarded with fulfillment.
- Community is more than friendship or religious calling, it is an idea of togetherness and support. Attempt to maintain openness to thoughts and be welcoming to those who may come in and out of your life. Just as Kiruna’s church doors are always open and welcoming to any visitor.