had been born to poor parents in Telemark, Norway, but upon learning
that he could get pastoral training in Minnesota, he came to the
United States at age 21 to study theology for four years (1883-1887)
at the Hauge Synod seminary at
Redwing, Minnesota and become a
1891, the tall, athletic Norseman, his sister Thea, and fellow
missionary Hannah Rorem boldly enter a land of sorrow and tragedy
coupled with charm and wonder, where their work of service, faith,
and love is sorely needed.
found a Lutheran mission and school in Hubei province and put their
lives at risk in many ways to serve God and bless China. They
also found romance, and Hannah and Halvor soon marry and become the
parents of a large family, in addition to caring for orphans and
teaching and rescuing many other children.
were great missionaries who loved and respected China. They learned
Chinese, studied Chinese culture, and adopted many Chinese customs
missionaries viewed them as heretics for not suppressing all traces
of ancient Chinese practices among their converts and not viewing
their Teutonic practices as inherently superior. But the Ronnings
felt that native practices should be tolerated as long as they do not
interfere with one's ability to worship God.
story of their lives and the lives of their descendants reveals much
about China and the role it now plays in the world.
will benefit from the account of the Ronning clan, though toward the
end of the book when the rise of Mao is described, some may be
bothered by the author's biases, which result in a not-very nuanced
account with Communists being described as refined saints while the
Nationalists are nothing but villains.
regardless of where you stand on such matters, the personal
experiences of the Ronnings around the turn of the century present a
gritty, granular, and touching portrayal of a life of faith in China
during some of its most pivotal moments.
book has much to say on the cause of Christianity in China. For now,
though, I wish to focus on the remarkable example of Halvor Ronning
in his life of faith, seeking to love the people of China even when
they made life difficult for him.
account that especially touched and surprised me happened as he and
his family had to flee China during the Boxer rebellion that began in
Boxers were a secret society, or a coalition of many secret societies
that had spread across China. A key theme of the Boxers was blaming
the ills of China on foreigners. They were certainly right in some
ways. The great evil of opium and the many concessions forced upon
China by the British and other nations were outrages.
the Boxers were not interested in distinguishing between helpful and
vile foreign elements. Their approach ultimately became rather
one-dimensional: "Kill the foreign devils."
source of so much of China's troubles, the Empress Dowager, a
concubine of the former emperor who through murder, conspiracy, and
brutality had seized power of China, exploited the Boxers to maintain
power and echoed the Boxers' call with an official government decree:
"Kill the foreign devils." It was an extermination order,
foreigners would be killed. The Lutheran missionary and his family
had to flee their home and mission in Fancheng, China. Friends
apparently bribed members of a related secret society, the Red
Spears, who brought a boat to bring the family down the river on the
way to Hankou, from whence they would reach Shanghai and then return
to Norway and then the U.S., before coming back to China when it
seemed safe again.
the family of Halvor and Hannah Ronning was getting into the boat
during the night with their children and three fellow missionaries
(Carl and Alice Landahl and Dr. Thorstein Himle), a group of Boxers
came running to attack. Here is an excerpt from pages 127-128:
the captain could pull up the gangplank and cast off, a gang of
Boxers came running toward the junk shouting, "Kill the long
captain tried to stop them, but they shouted, "Kill him too. He
is a secondary hairy one [one who helps the foreigners]. Kill them
all!" … There was no stopping the Boxers now. About ten
of them swarmed onto the boat.
commanded Hannah to hide the children. Himle took them below. Halvor
grabbed an oar from the deck and began to swing wildly. Carl found a
rope. Both men fought as never before, calling loudly for the Lord's
cooperation as they struck out savagely at anyone within their reach.
the deck, Hannah and Alice were terrified. Unable to find a place to
hide, Hannah squatted on the floor trying to hider Almah [her
daughter] under her skirt. "Oh, God, save us now!"
grabbed a sword from the wall and joined the battle on deck. Hannah
could stand it no longer. She took a wooden stool as a weapon and ran
out. "Guard the kids!" she called to Alice.
by the brawl on deck, she jumped on the cabin roof. Halvor and Carl
were standing back to back against the mainmast holding their own
against the Boxers, with Halvor swinging his oar and lashing out with
his foot, Carling whipping his rope like a Western cowboy, and the
good Dr. Himle thrusting his sword like a scalpel.
Boxer looked up and saw Hannah atop the cabin. "Ai ya! More
smashed him on the head with the stool. He rolled back on the deck.
this point, Hannah mistakenly thinks the captain and his crew are
about to turn on Halvor and attack him with spears, but, after she
smashes another Boxer with the stool and looks again, she realizes
they are coming to help him.
thank G--," but her prayer was interrupted by a fresh volley of
stones being hurled from the shore. Halvor was hit full in the chest
and fell to the deck on his back, feet up. Two Boxers leapt on him.
By this time, Chester and Nelius [young sons of Halvor and Hannah]
were on deck, eager to join the fighting.
later Chester recounted the events: "One fellow landed, stomach
down, on the soles of Papa's two feet and found himself suspended in
air. Papa launched a quick kick and catapulted the surprised Boxer up
and over the railing into the river on the deep side.
know, very few Chinese can swim. He let out such a scream of horror
that the other froze in their tracks. Papa jumped up and with a save
yell dived off the rail into the water after the Boxer. We thought he
was going to drown him."
I read of the man in the river screaming in terror, I thought, "Ah,
there's the key! Knock them all into the water. Do it now while they
pause to look over the edge of the boat!"
bless him, that wonderful saint, Halvor Ronning, had a different idea
that shows me who he really was. He was not a Viking seeking to
destroy his enemies, but a man of God who loved even those who wanted
to ill him.
of pushing more Chinese men into the river as the turned to watch, he
dove into the dark river and went below, seeking for the dying man
who moments earlier had tried to kill him.
the battle was forgotten. Boxers, rabble, sailors, and missionaries
almost tipped the junk by running to the side of the deck to look.
There was no visible trace of either the missionary or the Boxer —
only a flurry of ominous bubbles.
was about to dive in after Halvor when two heads appeared. Halvor,
swimming on his back, had his left arm clenched around the Boxer's
neck. He towed him ashore. The Boxer looked dead.
including Chester and Nelius, ran down the gangplank. Dr. Himle laid
the Boxer face up and applied artificial respiration. There was total
silence. Minutes seemed like hours.
Boxers crowded closer, encircling the missionaries. "They are
surely killing him. They really are devils. This proves it."
"What are we waiting for? We have them now! Let's kill them!"
some joined in heaping scurrilous abuse on the missionaries, no one
lifted a hand against them. Instead they waited, watching the doctor
suspiciously. The suspense seemed endless. The missionaries knew that
if Himle failed to resuscitate the man, they would all be killed.
rolled down the doctor's face as his hands attempted to press and
pull. The mood of the crowd was dangerous. "Keep calm"
whispered Halvor as he put his arms around Hannah and the children.
mob was losing patience. With evil looks, sinister innuendoes, and
threatening gestures, the Boxers left no doubt as to what there were
intending to do. They began to discuss how they should put the
missionaries to death. "Build a fire," cried one. "Roast
them!" "No, no," shouted another, "They should be
beheaded like common criminals."
are they talking about, Papa?" asked Chester in alarm.
calm, my son. God is with us."
the Boxer moaned. "He lives!" cried Himle. This was the
second time he had brought a Chinese patient back to life. Tears and
sweat rolled down his face. The missionaries gave thanks to Jesus
Christ, but the Boxers quickly took credit.
lives! Now you see," cried the head Boxer. "We are
invulnerable. We can live forever. This proves it!"
Halvor and the missionaries, this was obviously a miracle from God,
and they gave thanks. Reminding us why miracles on their own do
little to convert, the Boxers claimed this miracle was proof of their
invulnerability, not recognizing the source of the miracle they had
the distraction created by the revival, the captain, crew, and
passengers were able to get back on board and cast off, their lives
a remarkable man Halvor Ronning was. What a remarkable woman Hannah
was. I'll share more about her later. China was in their blood and
they would come back again, ready to sacrifice everything once more
to bless the lives of many.
just finished this book, I feel that Halvor and Hannah Ronning are
family members. How I admire them and look forward to meeting them
someday. God bless them for their service to China. May we learn from
their love and willingness to serve. They understood that every soul
matters, that every human being is a son and daughter of God, not a
in The Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, bdcconline.net.
(son of Halvor who became Canada's ambassador to China), Wikipedia.com.
"China Mission: The Chester Ronning Story,"
a 1980 film by Tom Radford for the National Film Board of Canada (www.nfb.ca).
You will learn much about the lives of Chester's parents in Part One of this well-made documentary, though there are some distressing photographs not suitable for children.
Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his
LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on
the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton,
Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra.
He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.
He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent
Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.
Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering
Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US
patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications.
Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.