One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

My great grandmothers Olga and Dagny were both alone when they travelled back to Sweden after having spent their entire adult lives in China being missionaries together with their husbands.

Olga’s husband Nils passed in ileus, in 1942 (age 61) and Dagny’s husband Robert died from heart disease in 1930 (age 62). They were both buried in China together with a few of their children, who had passed away young.

As missionaries hadn’t been welcome in China during various periods of time, the graves of Robert and Nils were demolished and no longer to be found.

In a previous blog post I wrote about an initiative to recreate theirs and other missionaries’ gravestones. Together with the gravestones, the Chinese “Church of Christ” in the region, put together a small “museum” where they showed pictures of the missionaries’ time in China and described the work they had done and what effect it had on the society – with medical care, schooling, work opportunities etc. I then wrote that I would like to go there to see this museum and the area where my relatives spent so much time of their lives – but as I also wrote, life might take another turn until then.

And now it has.

By chance, I learned that the small museum and the new gravestones have all been destroyed and thus there is nothing left to visit.

Government Orders to Destroy Swedish Missionaries’ Gravestones – Morning Light Association (

Such sad news, but at the same time, not very unexpected. Let’s hope this small flicker of light sparks again sometime in the future.

Later in her life, Dagny wrote about returning to Sweden from China on her own, and how hard it was to say goodbye:

“After my husband’s funeral, the Christians came from far away to show their compassion and to comfort me. They were themselves grieving their missionary, whom they had had amongst them for so long.
The journey to Sweden, that my husband and I had planned, was now postponed, but our luggage was already underway over the river.
My three children in Hoyang were about to go to the coast for some well needed rest. Dagny-Edla (Dagny’s daughter) and I decided to go ahead in the company of Verner Wester. Martin and Wilhelm where due to join us after having visited Hancheng and seen to our help there for the summer.
I didn’t want my departure to be known, so that people would not gather at the station – it would have been so hard to say goodbye to them all. I loved them so much and was very attached to them.
The city leaders came to say goodbye and offered me money as a departure gift. I was very touched, as they had just been through a period of severe hunger. I thanked them for this generous gift, but gave it to the parishes in Hancheng and Hoyang so they could buy a new church bell.”

It seems Dagny was very tired of leaving. Leaving people she loved, loosing loved ones and travelling long distances. She writes:

“The journeys will end one day. When we stand before our last trip, we do not need any luggage. Only the deeds we have done, shall be tried by the master of the vineyard.”

She never visited Robert’s or her childrens’ graves again, after having returned to Sweden. As we all do, we keep our loved ones in our hearts after they have passed, we tell about them, sometimes we write about them and we pass on photographs and memories of them – that is how they live on. And that is how Robert, Nils, Olga and Dagny all will live on – though so much time has gone by since they left this earth. And that, to me, is a beautiful and comforting thought.

When they were young… Robert, Dagny and my grandfather Rudolf.

12 thoughts on “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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    1. Hi Brad! Yes, such a shame – especially because they worked so hard putting everything together and they seemed so happy to make this museum part of their village history. But it’s like you say – history is what it is, and it stays that way no matter what. I hope you’re having a nice summer!😊

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Hey Thérèse,

    My name is Noah, I’m from the Netherlands and today I was looking into my geneaology and found out that my grandmother’s grandfather is Robert Bergling (her name is Birgitta Bergling); so your great-grandfather is my great-great-grandfather 🙂 The funny thing is that my father is literally that man!! He looks exactly the same haha. The picture in the other blogpost also look exactly like my father. I can’t add a photo here, but if you want to see it you can give me your email. It’s so funny hahaha, my whole family, including my father, laughed so hard when they saw the picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey! That’s really great! I would love to see a photo of your dad and add to that part of the family tree! So your dad and I are second cousins (my dad and your mother were cousins, if I’m not mistaken?) Did you search for Robert online or how did you come across my blog? 😀


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