Courage and new beginnings

Going for what you want in life is not always easy, but it all comes down to taking those first steps and overcoming your fears. Olga, is an example of that.

She was only fourteen years old when she left her birth island to make her way into the world. My great grandmother Olga was a courageous girl and a brave woman, who didn’t go by the conventional rules of the time she inhabited.

Born in 1880, in a family who survived by farming and fishing on a small island in the Stockholm archipelago, she knew there was something bigger out there for her. During this time, the religous revivalism was surging over Sweden, and my great grandmother was one of many who felt the Calling. She was fascinated by stories of people going to far away countries to help those who hadn’t heard about eternal life, and how you could meet your loved ones once you hade lived a life dedicated to God. Probably, she was affected by the loss of her father at nine years old, a father she had loved deeply and whom she wished to meet again some day. ,

The advocates for this missionary branch also made a point of telling their audiences that had they once heard of the suffering, they were accomplices if they did not do anything to end it.

So, instead of donating money she did not have to the cause, Olga decided to do her part by becoming a missionary.

Of course, she had her doubts as to wether she was really called by God or not, but after lots of soul searching she came to the conclusion that she was. And she was called to China – of all places.

Said and done, now she only had to find a way to get there. At this time it was difficult for young women to go anywhere alone. First she had to get permission from her guardians, and then she had to get financing as well. For some time it seemed like she would not be able to go anywhere, and she worked as a housemaid in Stockholm, barely surviving.

When she was 19 years old, she found an ad in a paper asking for girls to come to Scotland and educate themselves at a household school. The organisation responsible in Sweden was Christian, so Olga decided to give it a try. She would learn English, and even though she already had knowledge about househould matters, she would see something else than Stockholm.

She convinced a friend to join her, and left for what was to become the start of her big adventure. Unfortunately, the household school was more like a correction camp, but she learned English (she was forbidden to speak Swedish with her friend at all times) and a couple of years later she managed to leave the school and get a position at one of the hospitals for the poor in Glasgow. Three years later, she was an educated nurse, speaking fluent English, and ready to leave for China.

I found this wonderful photograph, when I was going through old letters and pictures. It is taken around the year 1903, Olga is 23 years old. She is wearing her nurse uniform and she is dead serious.

She had been through so much already, had left all she knew, learned a new language, had to put up with horrible treatment and still, she made her way. And now, she was just one application letter away from making her dream come true and securing a position as missionary to China.

As I follow her way through life with the choices she made, I can’t but help admire her. Her courage gave her a very different life compared to if she’d stayed on as a house maid in Stockholm. She became a missionary in China and kept at it for over 40 years.

She didn’t know that her time in Glasgow would result in a nurse education. She didn’t know beforehand that she would be accepted as a missionary to China – single, female missionaries were not very common at the time. And she certainly didn’t know, that she would stay on for a lifetime, have her children there and bury her husband and a small son in Chinese soil.

Olga certainly is a strong example of why it’s so important to believe in yourself, and have the courage to take those steps that will lead you to your own version of life. She had nothing when she started out, she just did what she felt was right for her, no matter the restraints of the time she lived in.

As summer ends and many of us get ready to go back to work, school, or other activities, I find it empowering to think about people, who just like Olga, decided on what they wanted and went for it – no fear.

Or rather, probably a lot of fear, but the guts to do it anyway.

6 thoughts on “Courage and new beginnings

Add yours

  1. Her decision was all the more remarkable for being taken in an age when there was no readily available and reliable information about such far flung places as China. What faith she must have had!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! I think she was totally convinced that she could make a difference, and that she was needed out there. Something she probably didn’t feel being a housmaid in some rich Stockholm family.
      It is such a treasure to be able to read her letters – there are a few personal ones written to her daughter (my grandmother) and an abundance of letters written to the missionary society she went out with. Like the letters you are publishing on your blog (, they are amazing records of the time and society when they were written, and though sometimes difficult to decipher, well worth the time and effort.
      How much time would you say, you put on transcribing your letters a week?
      Do you also feel like you become part of their life, reading and writing about them? I do, and I love the fact that I get to know her (and other relatives) through her writing. It’s a true gift.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m very intermittent in my work on the letters, I wish I were more consistent! Quite often my uncle’s letters make me weep, not through their content but because he died so young- all the potential unfulfilled and the sorrow of those that loved him. So sometimes I just have to leave the work for a while and then return. His letters are easy to decipher though and I tend to dictate them.
        I’m so glad I have them, his life is opening up to me in a way I could never have imagined. It’s a great gift isn’t it?
        Perhaps people in your grandmother’s time had greater convictions and strength of purpose because there were so few of the ‘distractions’ of our modern age. Does so much choice and agency make us any more fulfilled or resolute? I look forward to your next post.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I completely understand the need to take a break. It’s very emotional. Good for you that he writes clearly! Some of the letters from Olga, are written with extremely small letters on very thin paper – it sure is a challenge! I am so impressed that you have been reading and rewriting the letters for such a long time and that you are still doing it. And yes, I too believe that these people could focus in a way we might not be able to do ourselves today with all the distractions around us.
        She had her missionary work as her number one priority. She did have children, but when they were old enough to go to school, they went to a boarding school on a mountain far away from her station, and they could not meet more than once or twice a year. Thus, she did have more time on her hands for her work, but missed out on being there with her children as they grew up. There’s always a price to pay, right! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. She must have had a very interesting life and obviously immense strength of character. I’m so glad you are sharing it, especially as she was a woman and had to navigate the restrictions that society placed on a woman’s self determination. Her children would have had a totally different childhood to her own, which is also very interesting. Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I really must finish my latest draft, but the sun is shining in the UK and so I am soaking that up whilst I can!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. And thank you! It’s wonderful to be able to have this dialogue! Having this in common – getting closer to our relatives through their hand written letters – is not that common, I would say.
    It does make those rainy autumn evenings that are coming, feel less dreary – we have interesting days ahead of us! All the best and catch those rays!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: