Adventist evangelism in Norway was inaugurated by our enterprising Nordic pioneer John G. Matteson, who, sixty-eight years ago, conducted an effort in Oslo, the capital, and organized the first large Adventist church outside the United States. Today the membership in our four Norwegian conferences has reached 4,200 among a population of a little less than three million. About eighty churches have been established, twenty of them north of the Arctic Circle. Almost all our churches are located in cities and towns. Only in northern Norway has rural evangelism gained much lasting success, although plans are being made to bring the advent message to the valleys and fiords in other parts of the country.
Almost without exception all our ministers in Norway are active evangelists. Pastors, in the American sense, are practically unknown. Even conference presidents, who are usually elected because of their experience in practical evangelistic leadership, conduct public efforts almost every year. Teachers and editors are often given leaves for a year or more to engage in direct evangelism.
Institutional leaders frequently hold series of public meetings along with their other duties. During the war our retired ministers also went back into active public work. The oldest conducted a successful effort in the capital (population 300, 000), where evangelistic programs have been carried out almost every year since 1878.
Great stress is laid on fostering "evangelistic ambition" among our young people in school.
During the years just before the war broke out, our ministerial course was extended from four years (on the academy level) to six years (junior college), including Biblical languages and a strong program of field work. This move proved to be of providential advantage, as during the war years about thirty young men and women went out from the school into the evangelistic field as interns and Bible instructors.
Some of them enjoyed outstanding success even in their initial experiences. One young man went out entirely alone to a small village beyond the Arctic Circle, baptized thirteen men and thirteen women the first winter, and established a church school. Some of our young men had to flee the country into neutral Sweden, where they had the opportunity of doing successful evangelical work, too.
Our experiences in Norway seem to have demonstrated that efforts should not be too short.
Men's minds are not so easily convinced in old, conservative Norway, where for a thousand years state religion has been the dominant spiritual force. Ninety-six per cent of the population belong to the State Lutheran Church, which has a. stronghold on the individual, as well as on public life. Men's hearts are not always readily stirred.
Norwegians are stolid, reserved, and not given to demonstrations of sentiment. But when they take a stand they usually stay. Apostasies are infrequent, and we have no offshoots in Norway.
During the war our evangelists were confronted with an abnormal set of problems. The Nazi authorities attempted to steer all intellectual and spiritual movements into uniform lines, and frowned upon all peculiarities of thought and life. Although they were decidedly unsuccessful (nearly all Norwegians being rather unyielding individualists), these attempts were various and accompanied by many forms of pressure upon individual ministers and other religious workers. To attract public attention by large evangelistic meetings was a sure way to invite the suspicions of the Gestapo. A number of our titles and subjects naturally did not appeal to the Nazis, who thought they were building a new order to last for a thousand years.
Our most delicate problem was to keep our balance in the silent but relentless struggle between the Nazi authorities and the Norwegian "home front." Since our people could not take active part in the underground military resistance, this tended to create misunderstandings, as other religious groups were definitely lined up in these activities. Neither did we fully co-operate with the state church in her efforts to secure independence from the new Nazi state which the Germans were maintaining in Norway. Other nonconformists did. These and similar relations were often made. much of by our opponents. Where there is no free speech or press, rumors are more easily created than corrected. There was no surer way to neutralize the effects of our evangelists than to whisper doubts as to the attitude of the Adventists to--ward the country's fight for freedom.
Adapting Evangelism to Wartime Conditions
All during the war halls were hard to get, and even when secured they often could not be heated,. Housing shortages and government restrictions made it almost impossible to move workers from one place to another. Several of our preachers had to remain in the same place of labor for one, two, three, or more years in succession. Local transportation was also restricted. Evangelistic work for several years in succession in the cities and towns which so often have no larger population than five, ten, or twenty thousand, and sometimes less, demanded much ingenuity and a great deal of perseverance on the part of the worker. In one city with a wartime population of fifteen thousand, where ten efforts had been. conducted during the last thirty years, one of. our-younger ministers had to conduct public meetings week after week for three winters. In that city we are fortunate enough to have a small apartment at our disposal, and our workers have to be located where they can be housed. Some of the ministers and their families have sacrificed not only convenience and comfort but also their good health to reach people in communities where proper housing was not to be found.
One of our most widely known workers, T. S. Valen, was arrested during the war and kept in one of the notorious concentration camps for twenty-two months. He was brutally treated and starved almost to death. At times he succeeded in finding opportunity to gather small groups of prisoners for discussion of Biblical topics, but this "propaganda" earned him the most severe punishment when someone reported him to the guards. One of our evangelistic assistants in the arctic sections of Norway was brutally beaten by Gestapo agents as he was trying to travel among some of our small churches there. Our publishing house was raided several times, and even closed for a period. Our college was taken over by the Nazi forces for a time during the latter part of the war.
Agents of the Gestapo always attended our meetings. I do not think I gave one public lecture during the war years without someone connected with the Nazis being present. Notes were taken and reports were filed, and often our men had to come before the Gestapo officers to answer for their preaching. We do not know of anyone ever giving way on any principle, even under the most ominous threats.
The Norwegian workers and members are grateful to God for His miraculous care of the work in our country during the years of war and isolation. Our growth has been steady. Our organization has been kept intact. Our principles and beliefs have in no way been weakened. This is not the result of any exceptionally wise leadership, but the direct outcome of God's wonderful watchcare for His cause. And these experiences will better equip us, we believe, to face whatever difficulties may yet be in the future.