This blog continues Beth’s series of her journey through cancer, which was begun in Blessings through Burdens, part one and two. The blog continues in “The Work of Your Hands,” parts one and two. The following story was adapted from Aggie Hurst’s book One Witness, which is out of print.
At certain points along my life’s journey, especially in those portions involving cancer, I might easily have forfeited opportunities that God has instead used both to stretch and grow me and also benefit others. Ever so falteringly, I am continually learning to be grateful toward my wise heavenly Father, who so often overrules my wishes in order to fulfill the true desire of my heart: taking full advantage of opportunities to glorify Him!
Nearly two decades ago, I was immensely impacted by the true account of a seed sown by a tiny group of missionaries almost a century ago – missionaries who apparently lived by the words of this wonderful anonymous prayer:
I am willing to receive what You send, To do without what You withhold, To relinquish what You take, To suffer anything You inflict, To do what You command, To be what You ask me to be at any cost, now and forever.
Here’s what happened.
In 1921, two young couples from Sweden, the Ericksons and the Floods, gave up everything to lay down their lives for the Gospel, answering God’s call to Africa as missionaries. These four adults, along with the Floods’ two-year-old son, made an incredible investment in the Gospel as they journeyed from Sweden to the heart of Africa. As they sought God for direction, they sensed Him leading them to a remote region of what was then the Belgian Congo.
The families took a huge step of faith and followed His lead to the village they felt to be their divine destination. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were rebuffed by the village chief who would not let them enter his village for fear of alienating local gods. In response, the Ericksons and Floods built their own mud huts a half mile from the village and prayed unceasingly for spiritual breakthrough — seemingly to no avail.
Their only contact was with a young boy who sold them fruit and eggs twice a week. Svea Flood, a tiny woman of 4’8”, decided that if this was the only African she could talk to, then she would try to win him to Christ. And in fact, God enabled her efforts, and this African boy trusted Christ for personal salvation from his sin. There were no other encouragements. Only discouragements – big ones.
Malaria was next. It afflicted the little band of missionaries until the Ericksons were finally forced to return to the main mission station, leaving the Floods to continue alone as best as they could. Then, of all things, Svea became pregnant. When it came time for her to give birth, the village chief finally relented and let a midwife come to assist her give birth to a little girl.
But the delivery took a toll on Svea’s malaria-ravaged body, and seventeen days later, at age 27, she died, with her husband David at her side. Finding himself faced with overwhelming and unexpected circumstances, something inside the grief-stricken husband and father snapped. After digging a crude grave and burying his wife, he took his children down the mountain to the mission station and gave his daughter to the Ericksons, the other missionary couple. Feeling that he could not adequately care for a new baby and rear his son alone, David declared that he was going back to Sweden.
Sadly, in his grief, David accused God of what seemed to be circumstantially apparent – ruining his life. And with that declaration he left Africa, rejecting not just his calling, but God Himself.
Within eight months, both Mr. and Mrs. Erickson came down with a mysterious illness, probably poisoning by the locals; they died within days of each other. The tiny baby girl was turned over to some American missionaries, who eventually brought little Aggie to South Dakota, where she grew up. She then attended a Bible college in Minnesota, where she met and married a young man, Dewey Hurst.
Years passed. The Hursts enjoyed a fruitful ministry in the pastorate and became parents of two children. Eventually, Dewey became the President of a Christian college in the Seattle area. Here, Aggie became intrigued with the prevalent Scandinavian heritage of the area. One day a Swedish religious magazine appeared in the mailbox. As she flipped through it, a photo of a grave in a primitive setting stopped her cold. The grave had a white cross, and on the cross were the words SVEA FLOOD. Recognizing her mother’s name, but being unable to read Swedish, Aggie raced to the college to find someone who could translate the article for her.
The story was about missionaries who had come to an African village long ago… the birth of a white baby…the death of a young mother…the one little African boy who had been led to Christ…and how after all the white missionaries had left, the boy had grown up and finally persuaded the chief to let him build a small school in the village.
Gradually, one by one, that young man had won all of his students to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and they in turn gradually won their parents to Him. Even the village chief had become a Christian! The article testified that to date, there were over 600 believers in that one African village – all because of the merciful ministry extended through the sacrificial witness of David and Svea Flood.
Aggie’s story does not end with the translation of this magazine article, however. For the Hurst’s 25th anniversary, the college sent Dewey and Aggie to Sweden, where she was reunited with her father, David. Unfortunately, he had spent the years trying to assuage his heartache and dashed hopes with alcohol. Aggie found her 73-year-old father lying ill in an apartment strewn with liquor bottles.
However, upon seeing Aggie, David began to cry and told her he had never meant to give her away. She assured her dad that it was all right, that God had taken care of her. At that, he flew into a rage: “God forgot all of us!” he stormed. “Our lives are like this because of Him!”
Aggie put her arm around David and told him she had a little story to share with him, a true one. She began, “You and Mama didn’t go to Africa in vain. Mama didn’t die in vain. The little boy you won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus Christ. The one seed you planted just keeps growing and growing!
“Today there are 600 people serving Jesus because you were faithful to the call of God in your life! Papa,” Aggie reminded him, “Jesus loves you. He has never hated you.”
Aggie’s aged father looked into his daughter’s eyes, and slowly began to relax and talk with her. By the end of the afternoon visit, David had repented and come back to embrace the God he had so long misjudged and resented. Dewey and Aggie enjoyed some wonderful times of fellowship with him before returning home to the states. And a few weeks later, David Flood entered eternity with the Lord.
The account has one final chapter. While in London, England, the Hursts happened to pass by a meeting hall and noticed that a religious service was taking place – an International Conference on Evangelism, as it turned out. Aggie slipped into the meeting and listened as a report from the nation of Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) was being given by the Superintendent of the National Churches, representing some 110,000 baptized believers. He spoke eloquently and passionately of the Gospel’s spread in his nation. After that session, Aggie approached the speaker and asked if he had ever heard of her parents, David and Svea Flood.
“Yes, Madam,” the speaker replied. “It was Svea Flood who lead me to Jesus Christ years ago! I was the boy who brought food to your parents each week before you were even born. In fact, to this day, your mother’s grave and her memory are honored by us all. You must come to Africa to see, because your mother is the most famous person in our history!”
In time that’s exactly what the Hursts did. Upon arriving, they were greeted by thousands of cheering villagers who had come to know Christ.
What an illustration of the fruit born of the Flood’s tenacious yet humble obedience to God’s plan almost 100 years ago. Their lives and testimonies still bear vibrant missionary witness for Christ and the truth of John 12:24 “…unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Both Svea’s testimony and God’s truth certainly influenced my heart long before the crisis of cancer arose in my life, demonstrating His wisdom and magnificence in what He permits in the lives of His own, so that His great glory might be supreme. Isn’t that the ultimate purpose of the life-journey of a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ?
When I heard this amazing account of the Floods almost 20 years ago, I was in a fairly calm time of life, abundantly thankful for the One and only Son of God rescuing my soul. I was soundly impacted about living more devotedly for Christ in the way Svea Flood had lived, willingly reaching just one other soul for Christ should that be God’s plan somehow in my life. God ignited my soul with the powerful impact of Svea’s testimony of limited contact with the lost that she, David, and the Ericksons were all burdened for – and how God intended their lives, although brief, to bring a rich, fruitful, and eternal harvest.
Living in remote northern Wisconsin at the time, I began to pray for the Lord to use my life to advance His kingdom and promote eternal gain — the only type never lost or left behind. I began to seek Him more diligently in both personal time with Him, in His word and corporately through the preaching of the Word and Bible studies. I began asking Him to make me more effective in actively sharing the Gospel and discipling the children within my home, as well as others. We thought we would remain in this small community in northern Wisconsin indefinitely.
God, however, had other plans.