Olof and Marie back in Bangkok

Let me introduce to you our Swedish priest Olof Olsson and his wife Marie. For many of the Swedes residing in Thailand since a long time, their faces are familiar. Olof was born in Örby, which is a part of Västergötland. This part of Sweden is also often called “Knallebygden” or “Sjuhäradsbygden”. A Knalle, is a kind of person , who is a practitioner in an trading activity.

Olof went to school in Kinna, a little bigger place than Örby, but close by. Here he graduated and after graduation, he did the military service in Karlsborg. He joked and said he landed in the “Weather section”. What he means about that you can ask him in privacy. He mentioned that he was a bit of the “bad guy”, not always agreeing to the military rules and therefore he was sent to this Weather section.

Since a very young age, Olof knew he wanted to become a priest, he tells.

“There were things I absolutely thought needed to be changed, so to me it was a kind of a “calling” and a challenge. Of course, the church rituals could be done in a more understandable and easy going way to attract more people”, Olof says. His goal was to make a difference . He started to study theology at the University of Lund in Skåne in 1981 and was graduating 6 years later.

He was a frequently visitor to the university library and here, one day, he met his future wife Marie.

Marie was born in Malmö and went to school in Lomma until she moved to St. Petri in Malmö, to enter high school and to get her graduation. She choose the same university as Olof and started to study several topics to become an assitant professor (adjunct). Religion and history were among the topics she studied and in 1984 Olof and Marie laid eyes on each other in the, maybe not the most romantic place, the university library.

Olof was finishing university and became ordained a priest one year before Marie finished her studies.

Olof started a service as a priest in Halmstad in 1986 and a year later, July the 3rd 1987, he and Marie tied the bond of the anthem in  Burlövs old church with only 2 witnesses by their side. One of the witnesses was the, at that time, Archbishop Martin Modeus, who was a fellow student of Olof.

When Marie graduated as a teacher, there were a lot of teachers looking for a job. Marie applied among thousands of other teachers for a job in Skåne and was lucky to get an employment in the nearby city Laholm, not too far from her darling.

In 1990 they decided to spread their wings and accepted a job as a “Tourist priest couple” on the island Gran Canary in San Augustin. They stayed for 2 years 1990 to 1992 before they returned home to Sweden.

This first employment abroad gave them “more taste” for living abroad. In 1995 it was time to pack the suitcases and fly to Bangkok. They, like so many of us, fell in love with Thailand and Bangkok, the warm weather and the friendly people. As they had no children, they decided to adopt and were lucky to receive 2 Thai girls through one local adoption office, Filippa, today 25 and Kajsa 24. They, at the same time, has  had Thai Pam in their lives, who is 40 + today and is counted as an extra daughter. Filippa and Kajsa are living in Halmstad and Pam in Landskrona.

Early on during  their stay  in Thailand, they found a small house with a garden, on Sukhumvit soi 33 in Bangkok, which they thought would be ideal as a “Swedish Church Community House” and they managed to sign a renting contract. Here they organised a lot of activities and events for the thankful Swedes, like the typical Pea soup evenings, the celebration of Santa Lucia and Valborgsmässoafton, (Wallpurgis fair evening) to just mention a few activities.

Unfortunately, years later during the time of their successors, it was no longer possible for the church and the community to keep this charming house.

After the first five years in Bangkok, Olof and Marie went back to Sweden again, but not for very long. Already in year 2003 they moved abroad again – this time to Brazil where they served in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro as well as Buenos Aires/Argentina. Here they spent six years before moving to Florida and Fort Lauderdale.

Between 2009 and 2014 they built the Swedish Church from scratch in Florida, a wish by SKUT (Swedish Church Abroad). This was an enormous challenge but a very thankful task for both of them. The Swedish community in Florida welcomed them with open arms. They look back on this memory with very positive thoughts.

“Florida was not at all what we had expected, we were so positively surprised”, Marie said.

By now the couple had been living abroad for 11 years and their daughters were growing up and wanted to go to school in Sweden, so in 2014 they decided to move home to Sweden.

After another five years in Sweden, the longest stay ever until today, the longing to travel hit them again and this time the journey took them to beautiful Rome. We are now talking 2019 and – if you ask Olof and Marie – Rome is indeed a city you must see before you pass away. As we all know, around this time the world had to face the Covid 19 pandemic and how it paralyzed most parts of the world.

Fast forward until today where in 2023 the Swedish community had the pleasure to welcome Marie and Olof back to the “City Of Angels”.

When I asked them about their biggest challenge over their many active years abroad, they look briefly at each other and answer; “Probably to create a Swedish active church community in Florida. We had the children and had to pick the right school for them, to find a place to live and feel safe and much more. We also faced quite a big challenge during our time in Sao Paolo, it was not so easy to start and build a Swedish Church there.”

Olof points out, that of course during all the years, there have been several challenges to face and overcome, some small and some bigger. There is also a huge risk with a job like theirs, the problem to separate the work from their private lives.  As a priest, you naturally want to be available 24 hours for your community.

Some specific “sunshine memories”?

“Yes, of course when we became parents to our lovely daughters and it went quick, Filippa came earlier than expected and we were maybe not 100% prepared. Another one was to be here in Bangkok and greet the Bishop Christina Maria Odenberg when she came to visit. She was the first female Bishop in Sweden and the first one to visit a church community abroad.”

Olof and Marie are not only here for us in Thailand, they also cover the whole Southeast Asia including Japan.  They have several tasks to fulfill. Every week they go to visit Scandinavians in jails, something they see as a very necessary and important task. “Those people really need us,” Olof says.

“We also have to find the Swedes and recreate the church community after the pandemic.  At some places, there can be many Swedes interested in the church activity, but at other places, there might be no interest at all.”

“The consular and diakonia activities are also of main interest. We are also here to create a bond between the other existing churches. In Rome e.g., we went to meet with representatives from all other churches,” Olof tells.

In the near future, Sweden will send 2 more people to assist Olof and Marie’ in their daily work, as it’s almost impossible for them to be everywhere and able to help people in need in a efficient way. You cannot help wondering, do they have any leisure time at all?

“Well, we sometimes might add a day extra when we are travelling to explore a country, but its rare,” Marie says.

They haven’t had much time to discover Thailand yet, but they have been to Koh Lanta and lately also to Kao Yai with its amazing National Park, a place they really liked. In the near future they wish to visit Hua Hin and meet with the Swedes living there and nearby.

Marie and Olof both love the Thai food, even the more spicy dishes and they find the people very kind and helpful and as most of us, they dislike the heavy traffic and the pollution and added the word “noise pollution” and it’s true, Bangkok is not a silent city, here is a lot of noise 24 hours.

When asking how long we will have the pleasure of Marie and Olof’s presence here in Asia, they answer;” approximately 3-4 years, at least  we hope so”.

It’s good to know that both Olof and Marie are dedicated listeners and they welcome everyone for just a cheerful talk or to meet and discuss maybe a problem or just anything.

“We are here and we both enjoy and feel happy to talk with anyone about anything at any time.” Olof says. “Personal chats” is an important part of our work here,”

People who would like to receive messages/ news, about the Swedish Church, just send an email to; Asien.kyrkan@svenska kyrkan.se

“We are looking forward to reach out to many more Swedes in Asia,” both Marie and Olof let us know. Time to connect!

About Agneta de Bekassy

Author at ScandAsia and blogger on other websites as well. Swedish influencer in Bangkok

View all posts by Agneta de Bekassy

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