When American pastor Brian Gerard won the Swedish reality show “Allt för Sverige” (or “All for Sweden”), he didn't collect a lump of cash or a new sports car. Instead, he got to meet his Swedish relatives for the first time, and learn about the people he is a descendant of.
“I think that changes the whole nature of the show, because we're competing against each other to be sure, but, how do you begrudge someone who's getting to meet their family?” Gerard asked in an interview with The Christian Post on Monday.
“I mean, you can begrudge someone who won the $50,000 or $60,000 you didn't win ... [but] the show had a very different feeling about it, because we all wanted each other to learn and know who we are and what we are and so it changes the whole dynamic when it's about family.”
“All for Sweden” took a group of Americans, all of Swedish descent, with the aim of reconnecting them to their family's culture and history. Christer Åkerlund, the producer of “All for Sweden,” told the Courier-Journal that Gerard was picked for the show from a pool of about 4,000 applicants.
The show, which was filmed from the end of May through the beginning of July, showed participants as they competed in challenges that relate to Sweden's culture and history. In each episode they would square off in a team challenge, and the members of the losing team would then compete against one another in an elimination challenge.
In one team challenge, the show's participants had a rowing race in authentic replicas of viking long boats. In some of the individual challenges, the contestants had to do things like start a fire using a piece of stone and metal or catch Swedish meatballs using only their mouth.
Gerard was joined by 200 people at First Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., on Sunday when the show's finale aired and his congregation got to celebrate his reality show stardom. They gathered together each week and watched all eight episodes of the reality series at the church.
In the town of Åtvidaberg, after winning the competition, he met the Lyons – relatives from his maternal grandfather's side of the family who to this day live near the place his great grandfather once lived.
"To walk on the land, to touch the houses, to hug the necks was amazing. It was just amazing,” he said of the opportunity to explore his roots. He still communicates with his newly relatives, he says, and has since been contacted by other Swedish relatives as well.
While in Sweden, Gerard learned the powerful story of how the vicar of one church made a major impact on his great grandfather's life. His great grandfather, Karl Johan Algot Svensson, was raised in poverty. As was the custom of that time, whenever he and his family attended church they were forced to sit with other people who shared their economic situation.
After experiencing years of unequal treatment, however, Svensson entered the church served by vicar Josef August Sandström, who opposed divisive practices and allowed the boy to sit wherever he would like. Gerard says Sandström's message to his great grandfather was, “You can sit next to the guy who owns the land you work on because, in the eyes of God, he is no more valuable than you are.”
This kind of equal treatment impacted Svensson, who became a minister in the U.S. and, in the 1940s and '50s was “absolutely fierce in his devotion to equality in the church” and “tolerated zero racism,” according to Gerard.
That same desire for equality has been passed down to Gerard, whose 11-year-old adopted son, Ethan, is African-American.
When Ethan was a baby, and Gerard was serving a church in Montgomery, Ala., some people in his congregation called Gerard a “n**ger lover” and Ethan “a little n**ger baby.” Gerard said the show also explained, however, how his adopted son helped change the opinions of some of those people for whom the “seed” of racism was deeply rooted.
Gerard and his wife, Carrie, also have a biological son, Graham, who is 7 years old.
After he returned from Sweden, Gerard says he preached a sermon on reclaiming the Sabbath, and told his congregation the importance of taking time to connect with family, worship God, celebrate what they have, and to “take a break from chasing what we don't have.”
"The trip was really good for me in forcing me to live in the moment. Because, when you're on a trip like that, it can be gone in an hour. You want to soak it in. It really forced me to focus on living in the moment and absorbing and celebrating every minute that we have,” he said.