“Christian’s Conversion,” Tambuli, July 1978, 42
Missionary lessons are not always what convert people to the gospel. In the case of Christian Knudsen, for example, it took a long series of simple acts of kindness to bring him to the point of thinking seriously about becoming a Mormon. Born in Norway in 1856, Christian was 14 when his uncle returned to Norway from Utah as a Mormon missionary. He taught Christian’s parents and family, and they were baptized. But not Christian. He had been schooled in the religion of his country and found himself very bitter when all the rest of the family joined the Church. The following selections, taken from an account written later in his life, which is on file in the Archives of the Church Historical Department, tell how his experiences as a young man nearly 16 years old prepared him to accept the gospel. Minor changes in Christian’s spelling and grammar, as well as the omission of material not dealing with his conversion experiences, have been made to make his story read more smoothly.
In 1870 my mother’s brother, Mons Andersen, came over there to our home as a Mormon missionary. He brought local elders there, and they held meetings in our home. By that means Mother and Father were converted to the Church. Soon after, they decided to move to Utah. But it was not so with me. I was going to the parson’s school, and there we had tests to see what we knew about the Bible. The elders found fault with the explanation of the passages of scripture which I was quoting, so instead of me being converted, it made me rather bitter against Mormonism.
Then the time came when my parents sold our home and were going to Utah. But I had gotten bitter and did not want to go with them. So when they saw I did not want to go, they offered lots of inducement. Then I wanted to stay more than ever. I did not realize our home was sold and that there was no home for me to fall back on. The people who bought our home had moved in, and we had to stay with our neighbor the last night. I finally consented to go with them as far as Christiania (now called Oslo), the capital of Norway, a distance of about 90 miles. So on June 18, 1872, we left our home and started to go to Utah.
There were six of us in the family—Father; Mother; sister Agnete, 17 years old; myself, 15 years old; brother Mathias, 12 years old; and sister Christine, 8 years old. A man with one horse and a cart came and took our boxes which contained our food, clothing, and bedding, three in number. I tell you some of them were large, but finally he got them on. The rest of us had to walk, but that was no new thing in Norway. We had to travel about seven English miles till we came to an inland lake called Mijosa. There we boarded a little steamer and went a distance of about 45 miles to a place called Eidsvoll, the place where the constitution of Norway was framed. There I was struck with wonder for I had never seen a train before. I did not know what to think of it, seeing all those tracks and wondering how the train could get from one track to another. But we boarded the train, and away we went and were soon to Christiania, the capital city.
Now I must tell a little of what happened there. You remember that was as far as I had promised to go with them. From the station there we were taken to the headquarters of the Mormon mission in Norway, at Osterhausgaten No. 27. While we were there, they held a meeting in that hall, and my parents wanted me to go into the meeting. But I wouldn’t go in. You remember I said before that I was bitter. There was a lady there who saw that I did not go in. She said, “If it was my boy, I would whip him till the blood ran down into the heels of his shoes.” I heard her say it, but I thought she would have to be a good runner to catch me because I was a fast runner.
Now this is how they got me to go farther. They knew what I had said before I left home in Ringsaker, and my sister Agnete had said that if I didn’t go, she wouldn’t go any farther either. Father went out to a hat store and bought my brother Mathias and myself each a nice brown hat and gave them to us. He said nothing but looked sorrowful. When I saw my parents looked sorrowful, I remembered what I had read in the Bible: “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God gavest thee.” I consented to go with them. Then they cheered up, and I have never regretted it.
In a day or two we all boarded a little steamer for Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. Because I wasn’t a member of the Mormon church, I didn’t sing and feel as happy as the rest of them, but I could both hear and see they were so happy. I remember well one of the hymns: “Oh Babylon, oh Babylon, we bid thee farewell; we’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell,” (Hymn No. 344, “Ye Elders of Israel.”) Of course it was in Norwegian. We arrived in Copenhagen the next day after staying on the steamer all night. There was no place to lie down, so I crawled up on some sacks of grain and found me a place to sleep. While I was up there and had me a good sleep, my parents and some of the rest of them were nearly frantic. They had searched for me until they had given me up. They knew it was against my will to go, and they did not say so, but from the way they acted when I came down, they must have thought I had jumped overboard. It brought joy to their souls when someone told them they had seen me and that I was all right. They could not believe it until they saw me. If I had never brought joy to their souls, I did on that occasion.
When we came to Copenhagen, Denmark, we waited there until there were about 300 that were going to Utah. Anthon H. Lund, who just before he died was the counselor to President Heber J. Grant, had charge of the company to Utah. We left Copenhagen to go to Hull in England over the North Sea. When we started, the weather was fine and there were the same joyful songs of the Saints as when we left Norway. Some even danced. But soon the mountainous waves began to roll. It was not long before some began to make haste to the side of the ship. Oh, didn’t they feed the fish! I laughed at them and wondered what was the matter with them. I tell you I didn’t laugh long. My turn soon came. But we arrived in Hull safe and sound, and there we boarded the train for Liverpool. We got there in about eight hours’ ride, and there we boarded the steamer Nevada for New York, North America.
It took us 14 days to cross the Atlantic. Some of the way it was very stormy, and I was seasick all the way. But we landed in New York safe and sound. There we boarded the train for Utah. In about four days we arrived in Salt Lake City, July 17, 1872, late in the evening. Before coming to the station the president of our company, Anthon H. Lund, told us that when we arrived at the station, a good many of us would meet relatives and friends, and some of them would take us home with them. But he said, “Do not let any of them take you home with them just then, for you will all be taken to a banquet. Instead, take them with you to the banquet.”
It was then about ten o’clock in the evening. The name of the house I did not know, but it was large enough for all of us to sit down at the tables at once. As far as I can remember, there were about 300 of us. They had all gone in but myself, for I did not think I belonged. I knew I was not a Mormon, though all the rest of them were. As I have told before, I was rather bitter. But Brother Lund came out and saw me a ways off. He came over to me and asked me where my parents were. I said they had gone in but I didn’t belong. He then took me by the arm over to the door and said in Danish, “Please go in. You are welcome.” So, of course, I went in. I tell you it was the best supper I had ever seen, all kinds of good things. When we got through with the meal, it was about midnight, but the tables were still spread and plenty of all kinds of good things on the tables. We were to go and help ourselves. It was all for us.
There was no one who called for us, so we stayed around in that hall till morning. I don’t know just what the rest of them did, but I lay down on a bench by the table and fell asleep. When I awakened, the sun was up and the rest were awake and busy. I didn’t wait for breakfast, for there was still plenty of food on the tables, and we were told that we were welcome to all and to help ourselves. I did so, and I surely had a good breakfast that morning as well as supper the night before.
Then came the time when we wondered what we should do in a strange land and a strange language. We heard them talk but did not know what they were saying. Finally someone came and told us in Danish to follow him. He took us to the old tithing yard. There were our boxes with our things in, both bedding and a little food. And there we stayed the next night.
During the day I thought I would go out and see the sights of Salt Lake City. It being summer time, the June apples were getting ripe, and I saw some apples which looked good to me. I could not ask for them; and if I should take an apple without asking for it, then it would be stealing as much as if I should take a dollar in money. But I saw a nice red apple lying under the fence, so I stooped down and took it and started off down the sidewalk. I had only taken a few steps when a man said, “Here, stop?” I thought he was speaking Norwegian for “stop” means the same in Norwegian. So, of course, I stopped.
But he went behind the house. I started off again, but I guess he saw me start. He looked round the housed and shouted “stop” again. I was frightened for I knew I had taken an apple without asking for it. I imagined he went to get a whip to beat me and I thought about what I would have gotten if I had been in Norway. But lo and behold, instead of that he had filled his hat with good, nice, red apples. I came back to the gate, and he handed me another apple and then another till I had my hands full. He told me something in English which I couldn’t understand. But he made signs to show me what he meant—to put them in my pockets, for I had large pockets in my coat. And he gave the whole hat full of apples to me.
It made such an impression on me that I never have forgotten. I had taken one, and instead of a beating he gave me a whole hatful. I have told you before I was rather bitter, but I am frank to say with this and the welcome to the festival the night before, the bitter feeling had all left me. It preached a better sermon than anything I could think of. A good act speaks louder than words.
I went back to the old tithing yard where I met my parents and brother and sisters. Of course I was so happy that I had some apples to give them. They wondered how I had got them. They knew I had no money to buy them with, and so they said, “You have been out stealing.” I said, “A man out in the city gave them to me.” They said there must be better people here in Utah than there were in Norway. I began to think so too.
My Uncle Mons Andersen had said to us that we must go to his folks in Lehi. That same evening a fisherman was going past Lehi and said he could take two of us. So Mother and my brother Mathias went with him. Then someone would come after the rest of us. The train could not take us there for the track was then only laid to the Point of the Mountain. So the rest of us stayed in the tithing yard till the next day. All that day no one came. But the next day, July 20, 1872, a man by the name of Mathias Petersen from Lehi came for us in a brand-new wagon. Happy were we. We came as far as this of Sandy and stopped overnight. The next day, this being Sunday morning, July 21, 1872, we arrived in Lehi.
Now I must say a little about Sunday, July 21, 1872. As I said before, we camped overnight on the state road this side of Sandy. It was a beautiful morning, and time came for us to have something to eat before starting. There were five of us in all, and we had some baked wheat bread. There was a farmhouse some distance away, so Mathias Petersen, our driver, went over there to see if he could get some milk to go with the bread. He soon came back and a lady with him with a pan full of sweet milk. It was my first night camping out and my first meal of wheat bread and sweet milk. I shall never forget how good it tasted to me. I was overjoyed. Oh, how good I thought that lady was to bring us that good milk! I don’t know if she was a Mormon or not. But at that time I thought all the people in Utah were Mormons so, of course, I thought she was. So it was another step to me to gain a little better feeling for Mormonism.
About 11 o’clock we drove up to the home of Mons Andersen, and out came Sister Christine Andersen to bid us welcome and put her arms around us one by one and kiss the rest of them. When my turn came, that was something I was not used to, so I didn’t know what to do. For some reason I didn’t run away. A host of neighbor children and aged folks came around us and shook hands with us. I guess they bid us welcome, for I could not understand a word of English. The children were at Sunday School but soon arrived home. They also kissed us welcome, and by that time I was kind of getting used to it. But they surely made us feel at home.
There was another striking thing that helped me on my way toward investigation. It was just when lots of fruit was ripe, such as strawberries, gooseberries, and early apples. Those who have met Sister Andersen know what a loving disposition she had. She said, “Go out and help yourselves.” If it had not been for her loving way, I could barely have thought she meant it. But she surely did. It was something different to what it was in Norway. I was getting closer to joining the church.
Now I hadn’t had time to think of what to do to earn a living in a strange land with a strange language. On Friday morning, July 26, 1872, there came a man to the house of Mons Andersen who wanted a boy to help him in the field. His name was Peter Petersen. My wages were $8.00 a month. I worked with him 20 months. I must now tell a little that happened in that time. It was customary at that time that newcomers should be rebaptized. So Peter Petersen’s wife, Karen Larsen Petersen, told me, “There will be baptisms today. So you must hitch up the horses and take these people down to the mill pond to be baptized. And you must be baptized too.” I told her I would be glad to take them down, but I was not ready for baptism yet.
That coming winter I started to go to school so I could learn a little English. I had also gone with Mons Andersen’s boys to Sunday School. Eischa Pack was the teacher at that time. They were reading in turns out of the Bible; but when it came my turn to read, Brother Pack would read my verse, and there was not even a moment wasted. I was glad although I could not understand what they said. Yet I got to enjoying Sunday School. Sister Karen Larsen Petersen became sick and died on February 7, 1873, and that ended my schooling at that time. But I learned enough so I got into the Third Reader.
Now I had been studying the gospel and praying about it. I knew Jesus’s answer to Nicodemus as we find recorded in the third chapter of John: “Except a man is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” [John 3:5] So on August 30, 1873, I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Mons Andersen and confirmed by Abraham Lossee in Lehi.