“And we want each one of you to show the same diligence…imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11,12).
I have today visited the grave of Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, in Benagaria, India, away in Santal Parganas. Skrefsrud died on December 11, 1910; I visited a week earlier and almost a century later.
By all accounts, this man was a saint. Converted at an early age, Skrefsrud was thoroughly gripped by the gospel of God. And the gospel impelled him to dedicate his life to sharing its amazing love. From 1863-1865, he served in the fellowship of the Gossner Mission in India. For a short while, he served with the British Baptist Mission. But in 1865, together with H.P. Borresen of Denmark, he founded the Santal Mission – committed to holistic gospel ministry among the Santal people of northern India.
Some years ago, I visited Skrefsrud’s boyhood home in Lillehammer, Norway. Now I have seen the bungalow he built in Benagaria. I took tea at a table that might have served him, long ago. I was shown his room and sat for a while on his bed. I visited the “Ebenezer stone” Skrefsrud raised on the property, and the church that he built for the earliest company of Santal believers. And just outside the church itself, lies Skrefsrud’s grave.
The World Mission Prayer League was founded, in a way, by this man. Skrefsrud visited Minneapolis more than 100 years ago, in 1894-1895. The result of his vision was the American Board of the Santal Mission – which merged in 1972 with the World Mission Prayer League. Since then, Skrefsrud’s history is our history. We are direct beneficiaries and heirs to this man’s passionate vision.
I felt many things while standing at his graveside. On the one hand, I felt, simply, very much impressed with his sacrifice, his single-minded dedication and resolve. I felt impressed with the wonderful result of his ministry – a Santal church that numbers today some 85,000 souls in India, and thousands more in Bangladesh. I felt a debtor. And I felt a steward, somehow, of Skrefsrud’s enduring legacy.
Skrefsrud was a man ahead of his time, in many ways. Long before modern conversations about “contextualization,” Skrefsrud opined: “It is the [unbelief] that we want to get rid of, not the national character. We will distinguish between Christianity and European forms of civilization; the first we will give them in their own vessels, and the second we will leave in Europe.” As Skrefsrud’s heirs, we have inherited a similar responsibility: to “get rid of” unbelief by the sacrificial sharing of the gospel; to “leave behind” our heavy European (and American) baggage; to aim at the creative expression of Christian allegiance in the cultural “vessels” and “national character” of the people we are called to serve.
You are a steward of this vision, too. If ever you have joined our fellowship in prayer, if you have cared for the extension of the gospel, if you have yearned for the peoples of India (or perhaps some other land), you are a steward of this same legacy. You may not have made your way to Benagaria. But you carry the legacy nevertheless.
Skrefsrud, of course, remains there in Benagaria. But the legacy continues. Where will it lead us next? Where will it lead you?