In the first issue of the Alliance magazine (The Word, the Work and the World, January 1, 1882), the C&MA’s founder, A. B. Simpson, made reference to Mongolia having as many as 15 million unsaved souls. He concludes his glance at missions by asking, “How long?” How long before these unreached people would be introduced to the gospel? Although the C&MA didn’t officially go to what we know today as Mongolia, also referred to as Outer Mongolia, until 1997, we had missionaries stationed in Inner Mongolia, now northeastern China, as early as 1895. It had taken only 13 years to reach this far-off land since Simpson’s plea.
The first C&MA missionary to Mongolia was a Swede, Frans August Larson, stationed with his American wife and two small daughters in Kalgan, a border town south of the Great Wall of China. The morning of June 11, 1900, after hearing of an impending attack from the Boxer rebels, Larson hid his family in an oxcart and escaped with them north through a gate in the Great Wall. The Boxers were part of a peasant-based movement intent on destroying anything that hinted of foreign domination, including Christianity. As a result, more than 32,000 Chinese Christians and several hundred missionaries died. The C&MA lost 21 missionaries and 15 children in the massacre.
After meeting up with other fleeing missionaries at one of his mission stations, Frans was able to secure 20 camels, 19 horses, multiple carts and enough food to lead six Americans and 17 Swedes through 1,000 miles across the desolate Mongolian steppes to safety in Russia.
The acquisition of the resources to support the large group was a miracle itself. Just before the Boxer Rebellion, Larson had been working with the British vice-consul of Shanghai to lead an archaeological expedition into Mongolia. Because of the uprising, the trip was postponed, so the financiers agreed to loan Larson the money and animals reserved for the expedition. Had the exploratory trip not been set up, it would have been impossible for the missionaries to gather the resources they needed to escape.
The large caravan eventually made it to the Russian border. Remarkably, only one child died during the grueling trek. The Larsons spent the next four cold months living in a log cabin while Frans worked in a gold mine to earn enough money for his family to travel by rail to St. Petersburg and then by boat to Finland, Sweden and finally New York. Despite their long ordeal, the Larsons stayed in the United States for only a short time before they felt the pull in 1902 to return to Mongolia’s rugged countryside. In 1939, forced to flee from Japanese advances, they left Mongolia after working there for more than 40 years.
—Jenn Whiteman and Patty McGarvey, C&MA National Archives