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Trail Markers A Newsletter of the Baptist General Conference History Center

March 2010

Volume 9, No. 2

Five Decades of Growth and Change 1952-2002

The First 100 Years

On August 13, 1852, Gustaf Palmquist baptized two men and one woman in the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Ill., and formed the first Swedish Baptist Church in America. It was a small beginning, to be sure. During the next 100 years, Swedish Baptist believers reached out to their fellow immigrants across the U.S. Men and women committed their lives to Christ and were baptized. Churches were planted from New York to Seattle. When the Baptist General Conference (BGC) met for their Centennial Celebration in St. Paul, Minn., in June of 1952, there were 366 established conference churches ministering to thousands of men and women in the name of Christ. In addition to the churches, the conference had established several institutions ministering to the aged and to children. It had developed a Christian college and seminary in St. Paul. And it had its own world missions board with more than 60 missionaries serving in overseas ministries. One hundred years from that first Mississippi River baptisim, Adolf Olson wrote Cenenary History, a chronicle of that seminal event and God’s faithful work in the years following it.

The History Center, the archives of the Baptist General Conference and Bethel University, is preparing a book to recount the mighty acts of God in the years since Adolf Olson’s original work. More than 20 writers from across the U.S. who have watched God at work through these decades have written chapters that tell of the work of God at Bethel in each of our regional districts, in our churches, at our national office, and throughout our world missionary effort. Those who read this book will praise God for what He has done. They will read of a small, immigrant fellowship of churches that embraced the task of telling the good news to the world. They will learn of hundreds of our brothers and sisters who have committed their lives to world missions. Because of this witness, there are now more believers in overseas churches associated with Converge Worldwide than there are in our U.S. churches. Readers will see how quickly the conference has become one of the most ethnically diverse religious denominations in North America. They will observe the blessing of God on our efforts to train Christian men and women to work and witness in this world.

The Next 50 Years

When will the book be available?

In 1952, the BGC was a small denomination still deeply rooted in its immigrant beginnings. Bethel was still growing and not yet nationally accredited. Our mission fields were in their beginning efforts. Fifty years later, the Baptist General Conference was a fellowship of more than 900 churches serving 200,000 people. Bethel College & Seminary (soon to become Bethel University in 2004) was one of the noted Christian universities in the country with more than 5,000 students. Our missionary staff had grown to nearly 200 missionaries serving hundreds of wellestablished national churches within multiple cultures.

The text of the book is complete and ready for printing. It will be introduced at the biennial meeting of Bethel University and Converge Worldwide in Denver, Colo., June 30-July 2, 2010. Churches or individuals may order the book through the Bethel University Campus Store (3900 Bethel Dr., St. Paul, MN 55112) or through Harvest Publications (2002 S. Arlington Heights Rd., Arlington Heights, IL 60005). Email orders may be placed at customerservice@ The cost is $20 plus postage. No books will be mailed before the Denver conference. continued on p. 4


The Brothers-In-Law, Adolf and Walfred by Virgil A. Olson The post-World War I period, from 1918-1945, was a time when the Baptist General Conference (BGC) changed from a rather small, Swedish, ethnic fellowship of bilingual churches, to a new type of fellowship, now truly American with a mission—to reach the nations for Christ Among the many who were agents of change in this post-war period were two men who played an important role in the history of the conference. One was my father, Adolf Olson, the other my uncle, Walfred Danielson. Both men were married to Larson sisters, Esther and Adolf Olson Ann. Let me present these two men as I knew them, especially their part in shaping the form and mission of the BGC. Walfred Danielson, perhaps like no other person, became the architect of the world mission expansion that took off in 1944 at a whirlwind BGC annual meeting. The delegates were first presented with a foreign mission program as it had been for decades, sending missionaries through the Northern Baptist Convention, later to take the name of American Baptist Convention. “No, we want our own foreign mission program,” some delegates demanded. When the dust had settled, the conference had voted to have its own foreign missions program. And the leader chosen for this new movement was Walfred Danielson. The clarion call, “We want our own,” did not suddenly arise on a convention floor. Swedish Baptists were independent; they were not joiners. Dr. Peder Stiansen, professor

hardly be overestimated.” of church history at Northern Baptist Walfred Danielson’s trail of misTheological Seminary and leader sion service before being anointed among the Norwegian Baptists, with the title of secretary of the chided Dr. G. Arvid Hagstrom, presiBoard of World Missions reveals his dent of Bethel College & Seminary, preparation for the new assignment. “Arvid, you Swedes, like us NorweNext the Minnesota Baptist Convengians, will soon join the American tion invited him to be its executive Baptists.” Hagstrom stiffened his secretary, a position he held when the back and replied, “Peder, the Swedes conference called him to direct the will not join the American Baptists new venture of world missions. in your lifetime or mine.” During those exciting years, I Adolf Olson, professor at Bethel was the pastor of Emerald Avenue Theological Seminary, taught classes Baptist Church in Chicago. Before in Baptist history and conference Walfred moved to Chicago, he would Baptist history. One theme Adolf often stay with us during the early insisted on was that the conference weeks of working at the conference must not give up its independence. office. And during The conference Baptists had a many an evening, special future. It must maintain Uncle Walfred its school, Bethel; the denomishared with his national papers, The Standard nephew the proband the Baptist Evangel; and lems and challenges the missionary programs. In of putting together the 1930s several seniors wrote the organizational their thesis on topics related to structures of the the conference and foreign misboard and commitsions, advocating an indepentees as well as adding dent foreign mission program. Walfred Danielson associate secretaries and staff. Next he Olson was also teaching courses in worked diligently to develop operamissions, and was the advisor to these tional principles and policies for the seniors in their research and writings. world missionary program. CandiThe young rebel pastors, as they were dates were applying. They needed called by some of the older pastors, evaluation, and if accepted for pioneer said the time had come to cut ties ministry, there would be the process with the American Baptist Foreign of orientation and deputation among Mission Society because of its sothe supporting churches. called inclusive policy that included The task seemed too much. I remissionary candidates who denied the member one evening, Walfred bowed virgin birth of Christ. his head with weariness, and began Adolf Olson, in his Centenary to weep. “This task is overwhelming. History of the Baptist General Conference, But God has called me. I believe God writes about the pivotal 1944 annual has laid His hand upon me for such a meeting of the conference. He wrote time as this.” that one of the important influences Two brothers-in-law, Adolf and for the 1944 action was the converWalfred—my father and my uncle. gence of many forces, including the These two men influenced the shapinfluence of the missions department ing of the Baptist General Conference of the seminary, “whose silent but poin launching out on a daring “Adtent influence in favor of an autonovance” to reach the nations for Christ. mous foreign missions program can 2

Writing A Centenary History by Virgil Adolf Olson “Adolf, can you move those big books off the dining room table? Walfred and Ann are coming here for dinner.” “Esther, I know the inconvenience. But, listen. In the Vecko Posten (weekly mail) for February, 1886, there is an article about the opening of the seminary at its new location in Stromsburg, Neb., and the seminary was called the Central Baptist Seminary.” “Adolf, it is now 1934. It is 18 years until the 100-year anniversary in 1952. Am I to expect that this room is going to be your research and writing center for years to come?” I was a senior at Bethel Academy. I remember the dining room table stacked high with bound copies of the Swedish newspapers Vecko Postena and Standaret (The Standard) as well

as other periodicals. In 1936, my parents built a new home on Pascal Avenue, close to the Bethel campus. The dining room once again became father’s work station for research and writing. Dad’s study was one of the two bedrooms in the rear of the house. Here, at his big rolltop desk, he wrote the manuscript in beautifully styled long hand. He did not have a typewriter, nor were there copy machines available. He copied line upon line of the articles from the newspapers. I believe it was in 1939 that Dad asked me if I would write two chapters, which would be in the final section of the book. Chapter 26 would be on “Youth Activities,” and chapter 27 would be on “Men’s and Women’s Organizations.” He pulled

out some boxes filled with pages of notes. “Here are all the materials that I have gathered,” he explained. “Go to it and write those chapters.” I was given a Remington Portable typewriter. My father insisted that I have the three extra Swedish vowels, “å,” “ä,” “ö” added to the type so I could type his letters written in Swedish. At the Centenary Jubilee meetings in June 1952, held in the Hippodrome on the Minnesota State Fair Grounds, Dad was honored as the author of this history. He also gave one of the main addresses at these meetings. He was presented with a check continued on p. 4

Trailmarkers gives special honor to extraordinary editor Alvera Mickelsen! As an undergraduate student at Wheaton College, Alvera took a course in Christian journalism from Carl F. H. Henry, former editor-inchief of Christianity Today, and was propelled into a life of meshing faith and words. She went on to complete a master’s degree at Wheaton and Northwestern University, while working at the magazine Christian Life. She then became a part-time writer and editor for the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society and a professor of writing and journalism at Wheaton College. Alvera arrived at Bethel when her husband, Berkeley, became a theology professor at Bethel Seminary in 1965. Three years later she began a teaching career of her own there, which shaped many men and women who went on to work in journalism and publications, including Holly Donato, former Bethel director of publications.

“Alvera has been one of the greatest influences on my life, as a journalist and as a woman seeking to serve God,” says Donato. “She not only patiently honed my writing, but she practically drafted this shy farm girl into co-editing The Clarion student newspaper, which really launched my career in broadcast news, and eventually, corporate communication.” The two reconnected in 2008 to collaborate on communication pieces honoring the legacy of President Emeritus George Brushaber. In addition to teaching, Alvera wrote junior and senior high material for David C. Cook Publishing; edited the Family Bible Encyclopedia; edited her husband’s books on Biblical interpretation; and co-published works on the role of women in the Scriptures. In 1987, Alvera helped found Christians for Biblical Equality, which continues to champion the 3

giftedness and calling of women in the church of Jesus Alvera’s early days at Bethel Christ. Alvera has edited Trailmarkers since its inception in 2002. And although she turned 90 last April, she continues to energetically spread the news of what God has done over the years at Bethel and in the Baptist General Conference. Note: We’re sorry to override your editorial authority in this issue, Alvera! Some secrets are necessary, however, as is honoring you for correcting grammar, writing interesting stories, helping people to accurately understand the teachings of the Scripture, and especially, editing Trailmarkers!

A Note from the Director

One of the privileges of serving as director of archives is receiving personal correspondence from a number of our supporters. I recently heard from Edna E. West, daughter of conference pastor, colporteur, and home missionary A.G. Sandblom (1868-1956). Remarkably, Edna turned 105 in 2009! She reports that she continues to play the piano, read her Bible and devotional books, and dictate letters to family and friends. Edna lives in a care facility in Kerrville, Texas, “striving on as He wills.” Photo: A.G., Edna, and Anna Sandblom, 1908. Anna Jacobson Sandblom was A.G.’s second wife. Edna’s mother, Elin Lindblad Sandblom, had died when Edna was just 20 months old, shortly after the birth of her second child, Evert Emanuel. Elin and Evert died within a few days of each other in December 1905, with Elin passing away on Christmas Eve.

continued from p. 1 This book will help us remember the great things God has done through the men and women of the Baptist General Conference over these last 50 years! We celebrate God’s call to join Him in the work that He has set before us. And we celebrate His clear blessing on the ministries of Bethel University and Converge Worldwide. continued from p. 3 for $500 for his work. In all those years, I never heard him complain. He was so proud to be a Swedish Baptist. It was a labor of love. The history received excellent reviews, and was often referred to as a model of excellent historical writing. In 1960, I presented the book to the prime minister of Sweden, who was very interested in the Lasare Baptists in his home territory. Dad’s book made it to the library of the Swedish Prime Minister’s country estate, Harpsund. And so this history has had a life of its own.

Steering Committee of the Friends of the Baptist General Conference History Center: James Spickelmier, Chair; Diana Magnuson, Archivist; Alvera Mickelsen, Editor, Trailmarkers; Stan Anderson; Marlys Arenson; Richard Burton; G.William Carlson; Gwen Forsline; Jonathan Larson; Dwaine Lind; Marv Lindstedt; Mary Jo Monson; Virgil Olson; Rich Sherry; Flossie Winquist

 The Baptist General Conference History Center is housed and supported by Bethel University. 

“Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that...we might have hope.” Romans 15:4 3900 Bethel Drive St. Paul, MN 55112-6999

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Trailmarkers Spring 2010  

Five decades of growth and change, writing a centenary history, and more.

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