Plans for a Larger Work
Adventism in the Trans-European Division
By David Trim
John G. Matteson, first Adventist missionary to the territory of what is now the Trans-European Division (TED), arrived in his native Denmark in May 1877.
John Matteson was born in Denmark in 1835; in 1854 he emigrated to the United States, where he became an Adventist in 1863. Before the end of that year he wrote to the official church journal, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, urging that the Adventist message “be carried to the ends of the earth.”1 He was ordained and started working for his fellow migrants, translating Adventist tracts into Danish and Norwegian, and beginning a new journal, Advent Tidende (“Advent Herald”). By the mid-1870s many of the 800 Danish-Norwegian Seventh-day Adventists were regularly sending the Adventist publications in their own languages back to family members in their homelands, raising awareness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church within Scandinavia. Matteson himself increasingly yearned to work in his homeland, not just among those who had emigrated from there.
In May 1877 his dream came true; for the next 11 years Matteson poured himself, body and soul, into the work. He maintained an unrelenting schedule of travel and preaching; started a journal,Tidernes Tegn (“Signs of the Times”); began a publishing house; and even wrote some of the hymns for an Adventist hymnbook in Norwegian, which he published. Sadly, by 1888, Matteson’s health was broken and he returned to the United States, where he died in 1896. But by the time he departed, conferences had been organized in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway; and in 1901, the Scandinavian Union, including the Finland and Iceland missions, was organized.
As Matteson worked in Scandanavia, another emigrant to the U.S.A.-turned missionary to his homeland, William Ings, arrived in England in May of 1878. Ings had been sent to work under J. N. Andrews in Switzerland, but during a two-week holiday with relations in England he won two people to the Sabbath. His success prompted the General Conference to assign a missionary to Britain: they sent J. N. Loughborough who arrived on December 30, 1878.
Loughborough was one of the most experienced and prominent Adventist leaders and a very successful evangelist in North America. But he found the British, masters of an empire “on which the sun never set,” prejudiced against what they perceived as an imported American sect. Not until 1883, just before he returned to the USA, was the first Seventh-day Adventist Church in Britain organized, with 19 members. The next year a journal, Present Truth, began publication.
Ellen White worked in Europe from 1885 to 1887, and spoke at the first Adventist camp meeting outside North America, held at Moss, Norway, in June 1887. Ellen White made three separate visits to Great Britain and was eager for Adventism to take root in England, for she saw the potential of a strong base in the heart of the British Empire. Sharing her vision, American Adventists sent their best and brightest to lead the work in Britain, among them S. N. Haskell, E. J. Waggoner, and W. W. Prescott.
In 1929 the European Division, which had its beginnings in 1909, was divided into three new divisions: the Northern, Central, and Southern European divisions. The Northern European Division (NED) included Poland and vast stretches of the British Empire in West and East Africa. In 1951 the division was reorganized: French colonies in West Africa were short-term, and the Netherlands permanent, additions. In 1971 the other two European divisions were merged as theEuro-Africa Division, but the NED remained distinct, albeit adopting a new title: the Northern Europe-West Africa Division (NEWAD), reflecting the fact that only the West African territory remained of the African mission fields. NEWAD reverted to the title NED after its two West African unions were reassigned in 1980. The division had its final change of name when it became theTrans-European Division on January 1, 1986. Its territory has spanned from Greenland in the west to Pakistan in the east, and from north of the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia, to south of the equator in Tanzania. The sheer geographical extent and cultural variety has been unmatched elsewhere in the world church.
A Passion for Mission
Adventists in the TED’s European territory have always been characterized by a strong desire to take the gospel “into all the world.” One result was openness to trying new methods.
For example, when the British Conference was formed in 1898, it elected a woman, Edith Adams, as secretary-treasurer; and in Finland, right from the start, women “played an active role in evangelism and in other areas of church work.” In the 1940s and 1950s Elsa Luukkanen conducted evangelistic campaigns across Finland in which “hundreds of people were converted and a number of churches established.”2 With the election of Audrey Andersson in 2010, the TED became the first division to have a woman as executive secretary.
Furthermore, European Adventists had, and still have, a tremendous passion for foreign mission. Barely had the British Union been formed in 1902 before it accepted responsibility for mission in the extensive British colonies in East and West Africa. In 1906, when the Scandinavian Union was only 5 years old, its leaders volunteered to evangelize Ethiopia. But progress in Africa was slow. At its very first meeting the NED committee resolved “to make every effort to carry the Advent Message to the many millions . . . in the fields where our work is represented. The unwarned millions make their pathetic appeal and . . . we must certainly lay plans for a larger work.”3 At this point 3,202 of the division’s 24,228 baptized members (13.2 percent) were located in Africa. In 1980, 87,389 of NEWAD’s 128,644 baptized members (67.9 percent) were in the two African unions—God has honored the missionary passion of that NED committee!
While Christianity’s decline in Europe is to be regretted, the transformation of our church in Africa is to be celebrated, for its growth and self-sufficiency are things the early missionaries wanted and for which they would praise God. Yet in celebrating expansion and progress, it is vital to remember how much is owed to those early missionaries from Europe, whose willingness to face privation, isolation, and tropical diseases for which no cures were then known, was heroic.
In spite of prejudice, war, secularism, indifference, financial difficulties, theological controversies, and other challenges, the third angel’s message has taken root in European soil. When the Swedish Union was organized—the first union formed in the TED’s territory—there were 4,079 Seventh-day Adventists in Europe: around one in every 62,600 Europeans. At the end of 2012, there were 82,769 church members in the TED—approximately one per 2,500 people in the total population. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is in Europe to stay. With its continuing passion for mission it may confront new challenges with faith in the God of its history.
1 Review and Herald, Nov. 10, 1863, p. 191.
2 Hugh Dunton, Ronald Strasdowsky et al., eds., Heirs of the Reformation: The Story of Seventh-day Adventists in Europe (Grantham, Eng.: Stanborough Press, 1997), pp. 32, 96.
3 NED Winter Council, 1928, minutes, pp. 3, 6, 7.
David Trim is director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research for the General Conference.