On this day in 1915, Albert Andersson, a Swedish missionary to Chinese Turkestan (modern day Xinjiang), died.
Less than forty years earlier, several Swedish missionaries had settled into this Northern area of China, where they began a mission among the Uyghur people. The Uyghur people were a predominately Muslim people and the missionaries found the work slow and difficult. But the hardest part was not so much the heart of the people, but the missionaries themselves. Tornquist, the missionary who was the head of the station, realized that few of his missionaries were learning the language or understanding the culture. This was killing the work he was trying to get done. Towards the end of his ministry, Tornquist wrote to a friend that, “Of the 35 missionaries that have been working here so far, only three men and one woman have been fluent in the Chinese language.“ It was clear to Tornquist that something had to change.
The mission soon began to search for a man who had been living in mainland china and have a strong grasp on the language who could join their team and help them. Their searching lead them to Andersson, who had already been working several years in another mission. When he heard of the opportunity to work in the new mission, he gladly excepted the challenge. His ability to speak Chinese and his time already spent in China made him invaluable to the work being done there.
In 1903, they started their long journey to their new home. However, the boxer rebellion at that time was under way and they were delayed several times along the way. They would spend the next nine years among the Uyghur people, seeing great results. In 1912, Albert’s health broke and he was forced to return to Sweden, where he died three years later.
However, the work among the Uyghur people continued on. Lead by Tornquist, the mission would see several churches started and nearly thirty young Chinese and Uyghur men working alongside the missionaries. In 1948, Rachel O. Wingate wrote an account of the work being done in Turkestan. In her book, she refereed to the mission among the Uyghur people as “the most successful mission to Muslims ever carried out”.
The fire, aside from destroying £10,000 worth of supplies and equipment (Only five pieces of equipment were saved), also destroyed Carey’s massive polyglot dictionary, two grammar books, sets of type for 14 eastern languages, and ten whole translations of the Bible. These lost works accounted for countless hours of work.
Such a staggering loss would have drove many men to the point of quitting. And indeed it drove Carey to his knees and tears. But as Carey surveyed the ashes, he said:
In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him…The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value. We are not discouraged; indeed the work is already begun again in every language. We are cast down but not in despair.
Indeed, God did use this fire in his way. News of the tragety catapuleted Carey and his work into the center of attention of churches all over the Europe and America. In just fifty days, in England and Scotland alone, about ten thousand pounds were raised for rebuilding Carey’s publishing enterprise. So much money was coming in that Andrew Fuller, Carey’s friend and a leader of his mission in England, told his committee when he returned from a fund-raising trip, “We must stop the contributions.”
Within twenty years of the fire, Carey had rebuilt the press, expanded it, and had forty-four Bible translations being printed to distribute all over India!