My grandmother Edna was born in China in 1913. One of her first memories was from the journey she made with her family when she was three years old. She used to tell me about it. Discovering how my great grandparents spent their time out of China is quite interesting. Travelling took so long back then and it was not certain they would reach their destination. Still they travelled and took whatever happened in their stride. This trip did not turn out the way they had planned – but it seems they made the most of it.
In 1916, Olga and Nils were to leave China for Sweden in order to have some vacation and reconnect with family. They had not been back in Sweden since they left to become missionaries. Neither of them had been back for eleven years and were surely looking forward to seeing their loved ones again. Olga had also given birth to her second daughter, Linnéa, just a month before their departure, so what could be more suitable than having time off the daily struggles to care for their little ones?
But they were not only going to Sweden. Nils and Olga had decided to spend a year or so in America, as Nils had friends there. He had emigrated to America in 1905 and stayed four years before finding his calling to become a missionary in China. Nils wanted to see his friends and at the same time take the opportunity to study at the Bible Institute in Los Angeles. Olga was also to take some Bible courses and of course care for their two little girls.
When Nils arrived in America in 1905, he first stayed in Chicago and then moved to Kingsburg in California. Apparently many Swedes lived in Kingsburg, so he probably felt at ease there. By 1921 the community was even nicknamed “Little Sweden” as over 90 % of the population was Swedish-American. Today, Swedish festivals are still held there and the water tower looks like an old Swedish coffee pot. Not to speak of the town logo – a typical Swedish Dala-horse 🙂 Read about the town here and here.
In December 1916, Olga sent a letter to the missionary paper Sinims Land. She described how they were all healthy and had made new friends in Los Angeles. Olga went to a meeting with like-minded women and was even given a donation of 8 dollars that she could send to a fellow missionary in Tungchowfu in China. That way, they could hire a Bible woman for a few months during spring. Olga described that she might be in America, but her heart was still in China and she worried about her colleagues and the mission.
She is proud of her husband. He is working hard and succeeding with his exams.
“It’s Christmas time and Nils has a fortnight off from his studies at the Bible Institute,” she writes
She seems very satisfied, and she can even take Bible classes herself – every Friday evening from 6-9 pm. Between 1 200-1 300 persons take the classes with her, so it seems to be a very popular possibility with much appreciated teachers like Dr. Evans and Dr. Torrey.
“We have such excellent teachers! One of them, Dr. Evans, is a master. He almost surpasses Dr. Torrey himself, even though he is a former disciple of him. I once heard Dr. Torrey say about him, that he was the best bible teacher he knew, and that is no small matter.”
This is one of the more enthusiastic greetings, Olga has sent so far. She is not someone who used many superlatives and she usually did not praise others. She must have been very impressed and perhaps also taken with the very different lifestyle they most likely enjoyed in America.
Two prominent preachers
Dr. Torrey seems to have been a well travelled man. He preached in many english speaking countries and even visited China before 1905. Nils and Olga had probably heard of him from their fellow missionaries in China and chances are Nils had already heard him preach during his previous time in America. Read more about Dr. Torrey here.
Dr. William Evans was an associate dean of the Bible Institute in Los Angeles between 1915-1918, and had previously worked at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago together with Dr. Torrey. Though my great grandmother was so impressed by Dr. Evans, there is not much biographical information to find about him online, but it seems he wrote a few books on the subject of the Bible and sermons.
No passage to Sweden
After Nils had finished his studies, the little family planned to visit Minneapolis and Chicago and then take the boat from New York to Sweden in the beginning of April 1918. But they could not find any available cabin as the WWI was raging in Europe and no passenger boats dared the journey over the Atlantic to Gothenburg. Nils and Olga had to stay with friends in Chigaco during the summer and fall of 1918. Nils went on a shorter missionary trip to a couple of states during August and September, after which they returned to China. Now they knew they would not see their family in Sweden for many years to come. It would in fact last until 1927 before they could visit Sweden again.
Of course, the whole family had to adjust to being back in China. They had gotten used to a more comfortable lifestyle in America. Olga wrote in Sinims Land upon arrival in China and described how they had endured a stormy trip from America to Shanghai after having spent Christmas in Yokohama. After five days at the China Inland Mission head quarters in Shanghai, the family took the train to Honanfu.
“It was very unpleasant on the train after having come from America. There were so many people and we could not even get a seat. We travelled in third class and the smell of opium and tobacco made me dizzy. After two days of travel we reached Honanfu and stayed with our dear friends.”
I remember how my grandmother told me she forgot a lot of her Chinese during these years in America. Instead, she learned to speak English and when they came back to China, she had to relearn a lot of Chinese in order to play with her old friends at the missionary station.
Usually, the missionaries would send their children back to Sweden once they turned 7 years old. But my grandmother Edna would not have to do that. When she was ready for school, a Swedish school had opened on the mountain of Jigongshan. By going there, she could see her mother and father a bit more often – at least most summer and winter holidays.
Reaching the destination
As a result of the cancelled trip to Sweden, my grandmother Edna had never been to her “home country” when she finally arrived in Stockholm in 1927. She was 14 years old, and would not go back to China again. The next time she saw her parents in Sweden, she was a grown woman of 23 years. Somehow she adjusted to life in Sweden – and of course she was in good company. My grandfather Rudolf soon came to stay in the same missionary home, and became the love of her life.