Courage to Believe

“Courage to Believe,” Friend, Jan. 1972, 42

Courage to Believe

It was a bitter cold Sunday morning in Larsmo, Finland, as young Anders Johansson left his house to walk to church. He did not mind the cold weather because he was dressed warmly, and he enjoyed the three-mile walk to the small Baptist meeting place. Anders always felt good on the Sabbath because he liked to learn about God.

Suddenly a rock stung Anders’ leg; then another caught him on the back. He did not stop to ask questions, but immediately took off running across the field. The good feeling he had experienced only moments ago was gone.

Why do they throw rocks at me just because I belong to a different church, Anders wondered. I belong in this village just as much as they do—even if I do worship differently!

At this time Finland was under Russian rule and most people belonged to the state-controlled Lutheran Church. Like Anders, most of those who joined other churches often found themselves in trouble. The rocks really had not hurt him much, but how Anders wished that his neighbors in Larsmo would be tolerant of other religions.

While Anders was just a small boy, a young man living in Sweden by the name of Gustaf Wallgren became a member of the Church. Shortly afterward he was sent to Finland to work for the Russian government. Before leaving Sweden, however, he was ordained an elder in order that he might preach the gospel to the Finnish people and baptize them. Gustaf was undoubtedly the very first Mormon in Finland.

Late in the year 1875 missionaries were sent from Sweden to Finland. The Finnish government openly opposed activity in any church except the state-controlled church, and a law was passed forbidding people to stand and preach the doctrines of any other religion. In order to comply with the law, therefore, all of the missionaries proselyting in Finland had to sit down while preaching the gospel. Letters from these first missionaries report that this unusual preaching position went “well after we got used to it.”

Only a very few people in Finland dared to listen to anyone who talked of a new religion. Those who did were often hunted down, tried, and subjected to the most severe punishment possible under the law. One man who became a member of the Church was sentenced to 28 days’ imprisonment and allowed only small amounts of bread to eat and water to drink during the whole time of his solitary confinement.

In the summer of 1880 some Mormon missionaries from Sweden went to Larsmo, an island about fifteen miles long off the west coast of Finland. Because of government difficulties, they did not stay long. Before they left, however, Anders and his wife heard the gospel and were baptized. For a while they were the only members of the Church on that island.

Anders soon wanted to share the gospel with others, so he invited friends and relatives into his home to hear about the wonderful new religion. His father-in-law, the mailman, and some neighbors believed and asked to be baptized.

“I’m not sure if I can baptize you,” Anders replied. “I’ll have to go to the mission president in Sweden to see if I have the authority to do so.”

Since such a trip by boat was expensive, those he had been teaching helped contribute the money that he needed to go to Sweden, where he was ordained an elder.

At Larsmo, in July 1946, Finland was rededicated to the preaching of the gospel, and in 1947 this country opened her doors to those religions that wished to establish missions.

Not long afterward, the Finland Mission was organized. Now in 1972 there are 23 branches of the Church there.

Because of Anders’ courage in worshiping God in the manner he believed to be right, many of his children and grandchildren, as well as friends and neighbors, are now members of the Church. The first branch president in the Finland Mission was Anselm Stromberg, grandson of Anders Johansson Stromberg, the latter name being added when it became necessary for everyone in Finland to choose a last name.

Illustrated by Ronald Crosby