Today I taught a lesson to the deacon’s quorum at church. The topic of the lesson was “What covenants did I make at baptism?” I had been really busy this week and sadly didn’t get to preparing my lesson until Sunday morning. I was struggling to figure out what to talk about when I had an inspiration from the Holy Ghost to share a story about my ancestor Christian Hans Monson who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Norway in the 1800’s I have always loved this story and I wanted to share it with my deacons as an example of someone who kept his baptismal covenants. I thought it would be a good story to tell but I was completely unprepared for the way that I was touched as I shared this story to these young men today. As I was sharing the story, I was overcome by gratitude for what this man had done for me in choosing to join the church. The spirit filled the room as I recounted his story of conversion and of his courage in standing up for what he knew to be true. I admire and respect this great man and hope to live in such a way as to honor his name.
I wanted to share his story here for you to enjoy. This version actually originally appeared in The Friend magazine in 1976 and you can find the original here.
Christian fingered the key in his pocket as he walked toward the jail. It had taken months of study and prayer before he had finally decided to use that key for something more important than just opening the jail door so he could carry meals to those who were held there as prisoners.
Almost all the men in the jailhouse were Mormon missionaries. Many of them had sailed into the Port of Frederikstad in a pilot boat they had fitted up and named Sions Löve (Zion’s Lion) so that they could easily travel to coastal areas of the Scandinavian Mission, then including all of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.
At first Christian hadn’t paid much attention to the missionaries, for he was busy learning the catechism so he could correctly answer any questions he might be asked by the priest at the confirmation service that was soon to be held for prospective young members of the Lutheran Church. He was not concerned about the fact that almost as soon as any Mormon missionaries arrived in Frederikstad they were arrested.
Lutheranism was the national religion of Norway and missionaries who taught other doctrines were promptly jailed, some for only a few weeks, others for many months. During this time they frequently were taken to court and almost forced to renounce their religion and declare allegiance to the national church of Norway. Refusing to do so, they were then returned to their quarters.
Christian worked for the warden of the jail who instructed him to heckle and be as unpleasant as possible to the prisoners when he carried meals to them. This seemed like fun until one day a young missionary said, “Why do you talk and act as you do? Remember that so persecuted they the Christ and His followers in Bible times.”
The startled boy asked him to explain what he meant, so two of the elders began talking about the gospel and gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Every night as Christian studied for his confirmation examination, he also studied the Book of Mormon, comparing it with his Bible and the Lutheran catechism. As the truthfulness of the restored gospel became more and more apparent to him, Christian prayed to know what he should do. Since no answer came before the confirmation date, he purposely failed the examination and then made application to take it again in six months.
Thinking back over his months of prayer and study, Christian knew what he must do. He finally decided to use his key to the prison to let the two missionaries out of jail long enough to go with him to a nearby fjord so he could be baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Afterward the three walked back to the jailhouse where the elders returned to their room and Christian turned the key in the lock to their cell.
Because of the persecution toward members of the Church throughout Norway, and also because he knew how angry his father would be, Christian did not tell anyone of the thrilling event that had taken place on that cold winter night of 1852. He knew he would not be able to make his stern father understand what he had done. He tried to talk with his mother but she would not listen. When the next confirmation service was held, Christian honored his application and appeared for his examination with the other prospective young Lutherans.
“Do you believe in God?” was the first question asked by the priest.
“Oh, yes,” Christian answered quickly.
“Can you describe Him?” was the next question.
“I know He is a Being with body, parts, and passions,” Christian replied. “I also know He does not sit on the top of a topless throne. I know our Heavenly Father is good and kind, that He sees, hears, and answers prayers. I know we are made in His image as was His Son Jesus Christ.”
The priest was surprised by this description but continued with the examination, becoming more and more amazed with the answers Christian gave. As the boy glanced at his father he could see that he was very upset. Finally, the priest said angrily, “You answer as if you belonged to that sect known as Mormons.”
“I do,” Christian said, “and I’m proud of it!”
At this declaration, Christian’s father arose from his seat near the front of the Church and rushed up the aisle and out the door, striking his cane hard against the floor with every step he took. Confused and embarrassed, Christian’s mother followed her husband, and their son was abruptly dismissed.
Christian went home wanting to talk with his parents, but he was afraid of what they would say. Having carried his usual armful of wood into the house that night, Christian was piling it near the fireplace when his father came into the room. At the sight of his son who he felt had disgraced him, Christian’s father struck him with his cane and then began to beat him. At last, panting for breath, his father laid the merciless cane on the table.
“Oh, Father,” Christian said quietly, “it feels good to be whipped for the gospel’s sake.”
At these words, the father became even more furious. He picked up stick after stick of firewood and hurled them at Christian. When the wood was gone, he opened the door and shouted, “Get out of my house. I never want to see you again!”
Bruised and bleeding from the beating and the wood that had been thrown at him, Christian dragged himself out to the barn where he threw himself upon the hay. Late that night after her husband was asleep, Christian’s mother noiselessly tied a little food and a few of his belongings in a handkerchief and went out to the barn. Tearfully she treated her son’s injuries as well as she could.
“Why, oh why, did you do this thing, Christian?” she pleaded heartbrokenly.
“Because I had to, Mother,” Christian replied. “I have studied and prayed and I know this is the only true Church. I tried to tell you but you would not listen to me. I cannot deny what I know, Mother. If I did, it would be to deny Jesus Christ, our Savior, and I cannot do that.”
“If, as you say, you know this is right, my boy,” his mother told him, “then you must stand firm. But oh, how my heart aches.”
When the first streaks of dawn appeared in the sky, Christian’s mother crept back into the house. Christian picked up the little bundle she had brought to him and started walking down the road. As he passed his house he breathed a good-bye to his parents, for he knew he would never see them again.
Christian Hans Monson didn’t know where he would go or what he could do. “But I have a testimony,” the fourteen-year-old boy said to himself. “Whatever happens, I can never deny that. And I know that because of my testimony, all will be well.”