Jante Law the key to why the Danes are so happy

Anything is possible in Denmark, says the founder of an international church, as long as you have family, friends and spirituality

Ravi Chandran is a family man, only his family stretches from his home in Copenhagen all the way to the far corners of the world. 

Born and raised in Singapore as the youngest of nine children, he founded the city’s International Christian Community (ICC) in 2002. Since then he has been a source of inspiration to expats coming to Copenhagen, especially when it comes to understanding the Danes.

Chandran, a pastor and business advisor who has two PhDs (theology and counselling) and also works as a counsellor in the field of reproductive health for the AIDS Foundation, started the ICC to provide a church where people of all denominations of Christianity and of all nationalities could come and socialise and praise the Lord. 

Now, eleven years later, it is still growing and has a strong relationship with the Church of Denmark.

How did you become a pastor?
When I was 17, I had this spiritual experience. That sort of became a turning point in my life. I started being active in the church – it was fascinating and I thought: “Okay, let me try to use my time to serve humanity”. I went to India, then Ghana, the Philippines, and eventually Uganda. There I stayed an extended amount of time, and it was in Uganda big things started to happen. It was in Uganda I met my wife Lillian.

What brought you over here?
It was never my intention to come to Denmark in reality. While in Uganda, about 20 years ago, I was planning to go to Wales to help a friend. I spoke to the church, but they suggested that I come to Denmark for what was supposed to be a very short period of time, but then I saw all these wonderful things here, in terms of potential, although I must admit that the weather and the culture was definitely a challenge!

How so?
Being a multilingual person, I’ve always felt comfortable travelling, but when I came to Denmark, it was the first time I felt “Wow, I can’t speak the language.” Of course Danes speak English, but when they spoke among themselves, I felt completely left out. So the first challenge I had was to learn the language. I wanted to master it, to be able to communicate, to be able to tell jokes, to be able to understand jokes – I wanted to socialise! What was attractive was that while it takes time to make friends, when you do make friends, you have them for life. People don’t put up a façade: what you see is what you get with the Danes. Thankfully we’ve always had good neighbours, and there were good schools, and we were very much part of the society, mingling with the Danes all the time. That helped me to understand the culture very quickly, and how the language fits with it.

What did you learn about the culture?
To understand the Danish, Jante Law was very helpful. Even if I still don’t comprehend it fully, it helped me to understand the Danes. It has some good aspects. It is humbling for a foreigner to be valued for the person you are. Here I do not base my self-worth on the things I can or have accomplished, but on who I am as a person. After 20 years I can look back and say I am a happier person because of this lesson. It is not surprising that so many happy people live in Denmark.

Why did you found the ICC?
When I was first invited to Denmark, it was to work with a church within a certain branch of Christianity. What was lacking in Denmark was a church where it doesn’t matter what denomination you are, or nationality. I told my wife: “I want to create this, I want to give it a go.”

What is your advice to expats? 
Don’t just wait for an opportunity to fall into your lap – create the opportunity. Do not be shaken by the language and the culture and the weather! Learn the language. Understand the culture. Try to find a way that you can contribute to the society here. If there are no jobs, be a volunteer. You can get involved if you want to!

How does it feel to be a role model?
I’m the same here, at work, in the church, everywhere, joking and laughing. My friends in the office tell me: “Your signature is your laughter; we hear you before we see you.” I think I am a role model by being myself. By being youself and enjoying it, you can go far. I think that the three things in life that are very important are to have some kind of a spiritual connection, whatever your convictions are. You’ve got to have a family. And last, but not least, you have got to have a friend, several if you can, but at least one good friend in life.

The ICC is based at Fredens Kirke (Ryesgade 68, Cph Ø) and its pastor – Ravi Chandran, the ‘Man of Laughter’ – preaches every Sunday at 10:30am. Find out more at www.getintouch.dk.