IN 1900, a nationalist uprising in China, the ‘Boxer Rebellion’, had seen many foreign missionaries slaughtered. Suspicion and fear were everywhere. Even so, Marie Monsen travelled alone to the Henan province in September 1901, to work for the Lutheran China Mission Association.
Soon after her arrival, a bad fall left her unconscious and concussed for a number of days. Then came bouts of malaria and doctors thought she would die, but God spared her for 31 years of fruitful service.
Two things marked out her ministry as different from most other missionaries. First, her devotional life. She had an uncanny sense that the Lord was directing her, speaking clearly in words that seemed almost audible. She sensed that God intended to move powerfully in China, and she prayed fervently for 20 years until it began – a revival that is still continuing and is being called “the biggest revival in history”. In order to serve God better, she remained a lifelong celibate. She also endured severe trials with fortitude and trust.
Then, courage. She was fearless, travelling hundreds of miles through bandit-infested territory to share the gospel. Once, the ship she was on was captured by pirates. She was no respecter of persons: she would tell church leaders to their face that they were hypocrites! A present-day house church leader writes: “She didn’t speak smooth words to impress the people. Instead, she brought fire from the altar of God.” She took the emphasis off the human wisdom so prized by Chinese, and showed each person they were individually responsible before God for their own inner spiritual life. For this she was greatly loved, and church leaders saw her as ‘mother in Christ’.
Monsen was bold enough to say no to prospective baptism candidates on occasions. She cared nothing for numbers, but wanted to be sure each person had left the way of destruction and truly encountered God. ‘Don’t gather unripe fruit’ was a maxim of hers.
In his best-selling book The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun tells of how Chinese believers were incredulous to find that Marie Monsen’s grave in Norway was unmarked. So in 2001, 200 Christians met together at Marie’s new memorial headstone in Bergen, Norway to honour her life.