Danish Eyes: Reuniting Our Connections
Matthew O. Richardson
303H JSB – Brigham Young University
150 Year Anniversary Danish Mission Reunion
March 31, 2000
Several years ago, I heard a visiting professor discuss a theory that every human being in the world is separated by only seven degrees. This means, for example, that I can find a connection with an average worker in China through only seven links. I might know someone, who knows someone who visited Japan, who met someone that once lived in China, that worked in the same locale as...etc.
I think that within the Church, our connections are far closer than seven degrees.
Tonight we are “connected” together with far less than seven degrees. We are reunited tonight because of our obvious connections.
· Reunions – coming together; reuniting; social gathering of people who have interests in common. (from the Latin = again unite).
We have no doubt had a rush of memories of food, companions, friends, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Remembering dogs, upgangs, rejections, and exhilaration. Catching geese with a fishing pole and reeling them in, atypical baptismal ceremonies, beards on Bornholm, pastry addictions, osv.
We are gathered because we (everyone in this room) are connected with Denmark.
Why are we gathered tonight? What are our interests in common? Perhaps there are two that matter most.
I once had a friend in my ward describe a term called “cancer eyes.” After recovering from a bout with cancer, she said that she would never look at the world again with the same eyes. She felt she would always be more appreciative, understanding, and less likely to take things for granted. She called this “seeing the world through cancer eyes.”
In a like manner, every single one of us in this room has “Danish Eyes.” We view that world through eyes that have forever been changed because of the country, culture, and people of Denmark.
· The Christus in Visitors Center – 4-5 million visitors per year see a statue, yet I see Denmark, with a flood of memories of Vor Frue Kirke.
· My children sing: “Hojt paa en gren en krage” while hiking in the hills. Danish folk songs seem to be part of our family. My children think that all children sing such songs! Thus, they too have Danish eyes.
· I have a cynical attitude to anything made in America that is labeled: pastry, cake, or cream (and usually find a lecture coming about what real pastry is). How dare McDonalds sells a piece of cardboard covered with icing and call it a “Danish?”
· I still will not step on thresholds because a culture class in the MTC and
· I still feel guilty eating in public.
· Did you realize you would be preparing displays on Denmark for each of your children’s school world’s fairs for the rest of your parenting years (Grandparenting years?)?
· Language. Even after all these years, the language still remains part of us. While in Australia last year I eavesdropped on two swimmers from Denmark. As they critiqued the styles and physique of other swimmers, I got a kick out of saying “Pass Paa havd du siger!” as I swam off in the breaking waves.
· We have Danish flags on our Christmas tree. As well as candle lights, elves, heart-baskets, etc. We sing Danish songs and dance around the Christmas tree.
· Call my wife “skat” and she calls me ko, kylling, hest in return (I guess that it is time to expand my wife’s Danish vocabulary!).
· I remember calling my hard-hearted Texan relatives to repentance at a family reunion when they wanted to hear what Danish sounded like. It felt good to preach a call for repentance in the Bible belt in Danish. Only my Norwegian mission brother caught the hilarity of the scene.
· Some of us still find ourselves occasionally “sucking air in” as agree in conversations. I grew tired of people asking if I had asthma!
· I, like you, hear the announcement of a temple in Denmark with Danish eyes. I was moved, grateful, and joyful. I don’t know if any of the Danes were happier than I was.
We all share “Danish Eyes.” Thus, we are uniquely connected. But there is more to our gathering—our reunion.
Some may wonder the reasoning behind gathering a broad spectrum of missionary years. Rather than reminiscing over the experience particular to our experience in Denmark, we have begun our reunion with a larger, more important, connection.
· We weren’t merely tourists.
· We weren’t really exchange students.
· We weren’t historians (at least not very good ones).
· We weren’t linguists.
· We weren’t connoisseurs of cuisine (except pastries).
· Not all of us share Danish blood.
· In fact, not all of us actually served a mission to Denmark (although we have heard enough stories that one feels that they have not only served in Denmark but have lived there as well).
We are connected, however, because we served as missionaries (or are connected with those who have served)—called to serve in Denmark.
Therefore, Let us reminisce—and connect—in a broader sense.
· Peter Clemensen (Boston) was the first Dane baptized in the Church in the early 1840’s. Although he did not remain active in the Church, he remained faithful long enough to share the Gospel with a few others.
· Hans Christian Hansen (Danish Sailor in Boston) was baptized in 1842. Learning the Gospel from Peter Clemensen.
Hans Hansen moved to Nauvoo, met the prophet Joseph, and helped construct the Nauvoo temple. He is attributed as the first and only Dane to have seen the Prophet Joseph Smith alive. He wrote to his brother in Copenhagen.
· Peter Ole Hansen left Copenhagen to find out about the Church and in 1844 was baptized. He began translating the Book of Mormon with the support and excitement of Brigham Young.
At a General Conference 6-7 October 1849 several men were issued mission calls. Included in that group were Elder Erastus Snow (member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles) and Peter Ole Hansen. Both men called to serve in Denmark.
· 11 May 1850 – Peter O. Hansen arrives in Copenhagen.
· 14 June 1850 – Erastus Snow, George P. Dykes, and John E. Forsgren arrive in Copenhagen and meet with Peter O. Hansen.
“The Spirit of the Lord seemed to lead me to this city, to commence my labors. From my first appointment my mind rest upon Copenhagen, as the best place in all Scandinavia to commence the work, and everything since strengthened my convictions.” Erastus Snow, One Year in Scandinavia, p.5.
· 21 July 1850 – The first public meeting was held at Peter Beckstrom’s (Store Kongensgade in Copenhagen).
Many asked to be baptized yet Elder Snow held them back for more experience. In a dream/vision he was that he mustn’t hold them back.
· 12 August 1850 near Osterbro (by Langelinie opposite Kalkbraenderut (Lime Kilns) Erastus Snow baptized Oleurich Christian Monster (he later immigrated to Utah and died 1884).
15 people were baptized that day. Eleven more Saints were baptized four days later (16 August 1850—including Knud H. Brunn [the first Danish Lutheran to be baptized—the rest were Baptists]).
· 14 August 1850 – All newly baptized members were given the gift of the Holy Ghost.
· 18 August 1850 – Three daughters of Hans and Eline Dorthea Larsen of Christianshavn were blessed.
· Within two months the Elders baptized 26 persons.
At his first-year report, Erastus Snow reported:
· 300 members.
· 2 Branches.
· A Danish Book of Mormon.
· Portions of the Doctrine and Covenants in Danish completed.
· A Psalm Book.
· A pamphlet “En Sandheds Rost” (Voice of Truth).
Of the converts in the first year:
· 53% of the Converts came from Jylland.
· 37% of the converts came from Copenhagen (Sjaelland).
· 10% of the converts came from Fyn.
By 1900, Denmark had 23,533 converts (1055 missionaries).
During 1900-1963, Denmark had 8,078 converts (3687 missionaries).
1852-1860 – 3750 Danes came to America (This number is all Danish emigrants).
· Of the 3,750 Danes, 2138 were LDS and on their way to Utah (57% of all Danish emigration were Saints).
1860s – 46% of emigrating Danes were Saints
1870s – 2,388 Saints came over.
1890 – The Church started discouraging the Saint of emigrating.
Of the faithful (those who were active) Saints in Denmark (1850-1905) 74% emigrated to the United States (Utah). (1905 – 1963 = 45.9% emigrated).
I used to muse as a missionaries in the early 1980s, “What would Denmark be if all the early Danish converts would have remained in Denmark?” Now knowing better, I wonder, “What would the Church have been like without the Danish converts coming to Utah?” Phone books filled with Sorensens, Nelsens, Petersens, Pedersens, Hansens, Jorgensens, etc.
The Danes served a fruitful purpose beyond the borders of Denmark.
Those missionaries serving during 1850-1900 were often called the “harvesters.”
The missionaries serving after 1905 started calling themselves the “gleaners.”
I have often heard missionaries of late refer to themselves as “sowers.”
Yet consider George Q. Cannon’s comments:
“The world is being benefited by the preaching of these young men who are going out continually to the various missions throughout the earth. They may think themselves that they are not doing much good; but no man can teach these divine principles that the Lord has revealed without their having their effect upon the human family. I am a great believer in the idea that no seed of truth is ever sown unsuccessfully. It will find a lodgment in some heart, and it will remain there. It may not germinate immediately, but the time will come, either in this life or in the life to come, when it will sprout and bring forth fruit.
“I believe, therefore, that the Elders, in going forth and bearing testimony that this is a divine work and that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, though they may think they do not accomplish very much, they do, in my opinion, do a great work, and some time in the great future it will be seen that their labors have not been fruitless. Although men and women may not have been converted or baptized, nevertheless the labors of the Elders will contribute to their salvation and their redemption (22 January 1989, MS 61:115; also in Gospel Truth, p. 338).
Whose salvation? “Their.” The Danes or “the missionary him/herself.”
The greatest conversion I saw during my mission was…my own.
There is value in returning – to connections that have in a very real way defined us.
When discouraged I connect with my Danish Missionary Grandfather who, like me, struggled in the early days with the language.
· Understanding (language).
· When I wonder if I’ve “done any good in the world today,” I remember “har hand do lagt paa Herrens plough, Da see dig ej tilbage.” I have since learned to not look back and forge forward with faith and conviction.
While for some of us, we have discovered we have had better years than those “best two years (1.5 years) of our lives,” I can honestly say my Danish years were the “best years for my life.”
I see life through Danish eyes and Missionary experience and conversion.
Therefore, I honor those who were part of my Danish heritage. I honor my ancestors who joined the Church in Jylland, and came to Utah during the “harvesting” period. I honor my Grandfather, returning as a missionary under Andrew Jensen in the early 1900’s. And, in a very real sense, I honor each and every one of you. I pay particular tribute to my mission presidents who guided and directed my labors in Denmark.
I bore frequent and fervent testimony in Denmark as a missionary. I still believe and I still Know.