Three Christian Friends

Hello all! It’s time for a palate cleanser, where we take a break from studying what God will do in the future and look back to what He’s done in the past. In this post, I felt the Lord directing me to share this story of how the early American settlers tamed the wild, wild west by bringing the Gospel message to an uncivilized land. I pray it will inspire you to keep your light shining!

Three Christian Friends

By Karen Thompson

Not too long after I became a Christian, the believers in my small hometown asked me to share with them on a Sunday morning the next time I came home to visit my family. I began to pray about what the Lord would have me share with them. Each time I prayed, I had a most unusual memory pop into my mind. It was the memory of my high school history teacher, Mr. Wilcox, telling us in class about his college thesis on the history of the founding of our small Scandinavian community. He told us he donated his thesis to the town library to make it available to anyone who wanted to read it. That thought wouldn’t leave my mind. I realized the Lord wanted me to read that thesis.

The next time I returned to my hometown for a visit, I was eager to make a trip to the library to check out Mr. Wilcox’s thesis. When the librarian retrieved it for me, I quickly sat down at one of the available study tables and flipped open its cover. Filled with curiosity, I wondered, What does the Lord want me to see in this thesis?

As I skimmed each page, it wasn’t long before something caught my attention. It was a section titled, “Three Christian Friends.” It was a section that talked about the experience of certain settlers in a new and foreign land. The Homestead Act, effective January 1, 1863, made it possible for European settlers to obtain free land in the United States. This motivated many Scandinavians to leave their homeland and travel to America for the opportunity to become land owners.

What caught my eye was the story of how three Christian friends made their faith in God a priority in their new home in what they called “the wild west” in America. Mr. Wilcox included the story of these three Christian friends in his thesis because of their unique contribution to the newly budding community. There was Johannes Monson, along with his wife and four kids, who left Norway and first settled in Wisconsin. In 1872, he and his family left Wisconsin and traveled to Nebraska in a train of ten covered wagons to a settlement on Shell Creek. Then there was also Christian Simonson, along with his wife and three children, who left Norway in 1871 and eventually settled in Nebraska as well. Christian’s lifelong friend, Nels Wick, came along with them. Nels Wick and Christian Simonson took homesteads side by side and near the homestead of their friend, Johannes Monson.

Faith was of great importance to these Scandinavian settlers. Mr. Wilcox wrote, “Every family had its Bible, Scandinavian hymn book, and books of catechism, as well as books of devotional ritual.” Unfortunately, there were no organized churches. Remember, it was the wild, wild west. As a result, the only ministers available to these settlers were traveling clergymen. An infrequent visit by one of these clergymen was met with great anticipation. There was much activity planned around their visits. “Marriages were performed, children baptized, and services were held over the graves of those who had died since the last pastoral visit.”

They needed and desired a more consistent way to observe their faith, rather than having to wait for intermittent visits from traveling clergy. Mr. Wilcox described the moment that gave birth to the area’s first church. “One day in the summer of 1873, Christian Simonson, Johannes Monson, and Nels Wick were cutting corn on Johannes’ land. As they rested in the shade of a corn shock, they conversed on the matter uppermost in their minds, which was how to preserve the Christian faith for themselves and their children in what seemed to them the wicked, wild west.” (The area was, indeed, dangerous. The Pawnee, Omaha, and Sioux Indians also lived in the area. Due to frightening incidents with the Sioux Indians, soldiers were stationed in the area.) “The three young men were very much in earnest and wept together when they considered the possibility of losing the treasures most dear to them. But they did not only weep, they decided to do something about it. So it was proposed and they agreed to meet on Sundays, alternately in the different homestead dugouts for devotional services. Many other families joined in the plan and thus was formed a large group of men and women devoted to the uplift of the land. The services consisted of praying, singing, and reading from Lutheran devotional books. After the services, the children were instructed in the catechism and the Bible. This plan of religious service continued for many years and is one of the outstanding features of pioneer life on Shell Creek.”

Shell Creek Lutheran Church was organized in 1874. They didn’t yet have a minister, so Johannes became its first president. Nels Wick was secretary, and Christian Simonson was treasurer. The first building they met in for services was the school house. Then in 1882, they purchased a blacksmith shop and converted it into a chapel. Finally in 1888, they built the beautiful church building that still stands today.

These men dedicated their lives to see that this ministry not only continued but thrived. Christian Simonson served as treasurer for 54 years! During hard times, Mr. Simonson contributed sacrificially to save the church land. About Mr. Simonson, Mr. Wilcox interviewed an elderly woman about her experience as a young person in the church. She said, “In Sunday school, we were instructed by a kindly old man, a little hard of hearing, by the name of Christian Simonson. I remember him sitting in one of the front pews of the church with the little children sitting as close to him as possible, while with one hand cupped to his ear, he listened to them recite their catechism.”

As I read about the faith of these three Christian friends, I was overcome with appreciation for their spiritual contribution to the community. They made God to be priority in their lives, and they wanted to make sure their children were raised in a community that also made God its priority. In fact, the church was established before the township was made official. As the decades passed, the church had services every week and was never without a pastor. Each generation took up the work of the ministry when those before them passed on.

I grew up next door to Shell Creek Lutheran Church and its parsonage. At the time of my reading Mr. Wilcox’s thesis, it had been over 100 years since the founding of the church. After I had become a Christian, someone told me that the pastor’s wife of Shell Creek Lutheran Church was overjoyed upon hearing of my salvation. Unbeknownst to me, she had been praying for my family for years. I’m confident her prayers were prompted by the many fights and arguments she had to have heard amongst us five siblings! I would describe our family dynamic as loud and uncouth. We were… unpolished.

I remember my one and only experience I had with that church. The pastor’s daughter was a born again, Spirit filled missionary. One time, she came home to visit her parents when I was a new Christian. She had learned about the small group of us high school girls who met weekly for Bible study. She invited us to meet with her in Shell Creek for a Bible study and prayer meeting. Though I grew up next door to the church, it was my very first visit inside Shell Creek Lutheran. I don’t remember her name, so I’ll just call her Violet. Violet began our meeting with a short Bible study lesson. After the lesson, we stood up and held hands in a prayer circle and began to worship the Lord and pray. Violet ministered to a couple of us with a word of knowledge. In fact, she had a word of knowledge for me.

I was a silly person and I constantly laughed. For some reason, I got it in my head that God needed me to be a serious person. So I stopped laughing, stopped telling jokes, stopped being silly. I became a “serious” Christian. Because, don’t you know, being a Christian was serious business. I didn’t tell anyone I was making this change. Well, the Lord gave Violet a word of knowledge for me. She told me, “The Lord doesn’t want you to change your personality. He made you the way you are for a reason. He wants you to be joyful!”

Well, I was utterly shocked. I didn’t tell anyone that I was trying to alter my personality. How could she have possibly known that? At that time, I didn’t know about the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1st Corinthians chapter 12. It was my first exposure to the word of knowledge in operation.

While we were standing in a prayer circle, all of a sudden, I heard a thump, thump, thump. I opened my eyes to see that the other young girls had fallen to the floor. Only Violet and I were still standing. I was confused and wondered why they were on the floor. What just happened? Afterward, Violet explained to us about people “falling out” under the power of God. Some people call it being “slain in the Spirit.” It’s when the presence of God comes upon people and they fall over when His power comes upon them. While they are “out,” God ministers to them in a powerful way. Many people come out of it having been transformed in some way. It was an experience none of us girls knew anything about. Needless to say, this lovely young missionary made a very big impact on us. Violet exposed us to a part of God we knew nothing about. Her time with us at Shell Creek Lutheran Church was life changing.

Let Us Run With Patience the Race That Is Set Before Us

Back to Mr. Wilcox’s thesis… When I finished reading Mr. Wilcox’s thesis, the Lord began to minister to me what He wanted me to share with my fellow believers at Sunday service. When Johannes, Christian, and Nels birthed the first Christian church in our small Scandinavian community, He likened them to the first runners in the Olympic relay race carrying the lighted torch. When it was their time to leave the earth, the next generation after them carried the lighted torch until they too were to hand it off to the next runners. What the Lord impressed upon my heart was that we are all in a sort or spiritual relay race. It is the responsibility of each generation to continue the race, to never allow the light to go out. It’s a responsibility He wants us to not only understand but to embrace.

I was reminded of Hebrews 12:1: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” I wondered if Johannes, Christian, and Nels were part of the great cloud of witnesses, watching the race they started in our small community. Were they excited at what they saw or disappointed? I imagined them cheering us on as we continued the work they began, hoping we would never let it die out.

There’s an old saying about races: “Nobody remembers how a race starts, just how it ends.” What will be said of us? Did we win our race? Did we cross the finish line? Or, God forbid, did we give up and let the lighted torch burn out?

“So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours” (1 Corinthians 9:24 Amp.).


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© 2017–2023 End Time Mysteries a.k.a Karen Thompson. All rights reserved.

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