Legacies of Light - David and Svea Flood
Of all the amazing biographies Stephen brings us in his "Legacies of Light" series, perhaps none will pull on your heartstrings like this testimony of faith. It's a story of a woman's endurance, a man's despair, and a Savior's incredible mercy. Meet David and Svea Flood.
David and Svea Flood were 20th century Protestant Christian missionaries who are known for their work in India. David was born in Sweden in 1892 and Svea was born in Sweden in 1897. They both grew up in devout Christian households and felt called to serve as missionaries from a young age.
David and Svea were married in 1920 and together they served as missionaries in India for over 50 years. They faced numerous challenges and setbacks during their time in India, but remained dedicated to their work and deeply loved by those they served. They established a mission called The Christian Mission, which focused on sharing the Gospel with people in India and providing education and medical care to those in need.
In addition to their missionary work, David and Svea were also active evangelists and spent much of their time preaching and teaching about the Christian faith. They were known for their powerful and inspiring message and their ability to touch the hearts of those they served.
Throughout their lives, David and Svea Flood remained deeply committed to their faith and their calling to serve others. They are remembered as courageous and selfless missionaries who dedicated their lives to spreading the Gospel and serving others. Their legacy lives on through the many lives they touched and the ongoing work of missionaries in India and around the world.
David & Svea Flood
In the early 1800’s, a Presbyterian minister by the name of Robert Murray McCheyne pastored . . . ever so briefly.
He served in what we would call a pastor/teacher role for less than 5 years, but would see some 700 people come to faith in Jesus Christ.
He used to tell other pastors, “preach to your people as if they are on the brink of eternity.” Robert died at the age of 29 from typhus.
Yet his ministry was so profoundly effective that Scotland was impacted for decades to come.
British expositor, John Philips, now with the Lord, wrote that several years after McCheyne had died, another pastor was deeply concerned that his own ministry was producing such little spiritual fruit that he decided to visit the church where McCheyne had pastored. He found a custodian busily at work and asked him if he could show him around. He did. The pastor asked him if he knew McCheyne and he said, “Yes” . . . in fact, he’d been the custodian when McCheyne was pastoring the church. He asked this elderly man if he might know some secret to the McCheyne’s fruitful ministry. The old man led the young minister into McCheyne’s former study and said, “I’ll tell you his secret – sit down there at that desk. Now, put your elbows on the table.” He did so. “Now, put your face in your hands . . . and now . . . weep . . . weep for God’s Spirit to bring about fruit . . . that’s what McCheyne used to do.”
John Philips, Exploring Psalms: Volume Two (Loizeaux Brothers, 1988), p. 478
The Psalmist wrote in Psalm chapter 126 and verse 5, those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed (get that picture in your mind) he who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
The immediate context of this Psalm is the return of Israel from exile – they’re tears are replaced with shouts of joy.
I find it intriguing that this concept of sowing and weeping and bearing fruit is picked up and applied by the Lord when He talks about the seed of the Word of God (Matthew 13).
Paul used the same analogy when he referred to planting the seed and God making it grow. (1 Corinthians 3)
And Paul would say that he wrote to the Corinthians and his letters were bathed in tears (1 Corinthians 2)
Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had taught them and ministered to them with tears and through trials (Acts 20:19; for three years I admonished you with tears – vs. 31).
Hey, you might love Paul’s fruitful ministry, but you might not sign up to cry over it for three years straight. I mean, wouldn’t that mean you need find another ministry? I mean, this guy never stops crying!
And when you put this in the context of the first century it’s really even more intriguing.
In the Apostle Paul’s day, the gods of the Roman and Greek Pantheon were unmoved by the human condition. They called this emotionally stoic quality in their gods, apatheia, from which we get our word, apathy.
The gods were emotionally apathetic – they were unmoved and unmovable.
So the recommendation to bear seed and minister the word with tears – to serve Christ with that kind of passion and emotion, that definitely isn’t like the gods, is it?
And think about it. Has it ever occurred to you that we never read in the New Testament that Jesus laughed – although by reading his sermons and offhanded comments, he had a great sense of humor – I believed He laughed often, but we’re never told?
And it wouldn’t be surprising to anybody to know that God the Son laughed.
But what would shock the first century world of the early church is that God the Son would cry – become emotionally involved with the human condition.
Turn to John’s Gospel and chapter 11; this is that great chapter where Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus, his step-cousin.
Lazarus has been dead for 4 days according to verse 17.
Look down at verse 33 where Jesus is standing near the tomb of Lazarus and John writes, He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
He’s obviously not emotionally apathea - apathetic!
In fact, the verb translated – He became troubled – was used in the first century to describe a horse that was straining and breathing heavily as he pulled on his harness.
You could also translate it, to shudder.
Phillips translates it He was deeply moved and visibly distressed . . . And then of course you arrive at verse 35, where you read the shocking statement, Jesus wept!
God the Son is crying in that cemetery.
In fact, the tense of the verb could literally read, And Jesus burst into tears.
He joined the universal emotion of suffering over death and grief and the grave.
Now the Rabbi’s had been teaching the people in Jesus’ day that the soul of the deceased hovered over the body for 3 days, hoping to re-enter the body . . . but after 3 days it would depart to Sheol – or the place of the dead – the soul would finally be convinced that it had no chance of reviving and reentering the body.
And that’s probably why Jesus waited until the fourth day so that there will be no denying this miracle . . . Lazarus doesn’t somehow resuscitate from nearly dying, he’s going to be resurrected from the dead.
In verse 43 – notice – Jesus says with a loud voice – “Lazarus, come forth.” Literally, “Lazarus, here, outside.”
Augustine wrote in the 4th century that if Jesus had not called Lazarus’ name, everyone in that cemetery would have resurrected from the dead.
But notice . . . resurrection celebration followed tears of sorrow.
If you slip into the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus agonized in prayer over His coming crucifixion, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears (Hebrews 5:7)
Not just crying – this is loud crying. This is Claire Davey at 2:00 AM.
Frankly, we have no idea how often the burden Jesus carried made Him weep.
He – the true God in the flesh – both laughed and cried.
I wonder, what is it that makes you laugh? What is it that you cry about?
What is it that we want so badly that we shed tears?
- Is it over our own sin and failure?
- Shouldn’t it be for purity and integrity?
- Is it for the glory of Christ and the building of His church?
- Shouldn’t it be for the salvation of those who are lost?
- Have you ever wept for someone to be brought from death to life, spiritually?
- Is there someone in your life right now that when you pray for their salvation, tears come to your eyes?
Let me take some time this morning to introduce you to a young couple who illustrate Psalm 126:5 – bearing precious seed with tears – praying for a spiritual harvest to come – they’re a missionary couple from Sweden you’ve never heard of before – and I hope you never forget them.
It all begins in 1921.
David Flood, his young wife, Svea and their little 2 year old son left Sweden for the interior of Africa.
They traveled with the Erickson’s, another young couple they had served with in their local church back home; they sang in the choir together and Svea played the violin. They had comfortable lives, but they had committed their lives to taking the gospel to unreached tribes in Africa.
Months after preparations and raising support, they began hiking their way through the mountains of the Congo, to begin their ministry at some yet undetermined, unreached village.
To their surprise, one village after another refused them entrance, convinced that they would anger the village gods and bring them trouble from the spirit world.
After weeks of traveling by foot – literally hacking their way at times through the jungle – they were low on supplies and exhausted.
As they neared another village on the side of a mountain they prayed that this would be the location for their ministry and service for Christ.
But the chief in the village was even more hostile than all the others. He demanded that they leave.
Their biography reads, “They struggled to carry their supplies to the summit and after putting up their tents they knew they were too weary to set out again. So they decide to clear the brush and build mud huts, doing their best to reach these hostile villagers.
During the next agonizing weeks, which stretched into months, David and Svea Flood struggled with learning Swahili and, along with the Erickson’s, they tried everything they could to gain entrance into the village, but the chief only tightened his grip on his people.
Both couples would often gather together and weep and pray that God would open a door for the gospel. But no door opened.
Villagers were prohibited from going up that little mountain to visit the missionaries – only one little village boy was allowed to go up once a week to sell the missionaries chickens and eggs.
David was amazed at Svea’s insistence that while they might never reach the village – and never come close to impacting Africa – they should focus on this little boy.
So, every time this boy visited their camp, she showered him with love and attention . . . she took time to talk with him and they became friends. Months later, the other missionaries watched one afternoon as Svea knelt with this little boy and with tears streaming down her cheeks she heard him pray in repentance and faith believing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But he had to keep his decision for Christ a secret in the village, lest he never be allowed to return, or even worse.
To the other missionaries, their mission was a complete failure.
Eventually the Erickson’s decided to leave and return to an established mission station many miles away.
The Floods decided to stick it out, even though they battled malaria, difficult conditions – and no opportunities in the village below their mountain.
Sometime later Svea announced that she was expecting their second child. She was already weak with another bout of malaria and David feared the worst.
It was too late to travel through the jungles of the Belgian Congo without risking her life and the life of their unborn child – and so the baby would be born in their mud hut, on the mountain.
The young native boy who’d become a Christian carried the news back to the village and the chief surprisingly allowed one of the women to serve as a midwife.
By the time the baby was due, Svea Flood was desperately weak with malaria and high fever. With the help of the midwife, a little girl was born, and Svea whispered that she be called Aina (ah-ee-nah), a classical Swedish name for girls.
17 days later, Svea Flood died.
Hopeless and filled with bitter rage, David dug a crude grave for his 27 year old wife and wondered how he could possibly care for his little boy and now a sickly little baby girl?
He decided to leave. He hired men from the village and he left that mountain for good . . . bitter and angry . . . he was finished with the ministry, he was finished with the gospel, in fact, he was finished with God.
As far as he was concerned, God had taken the life of his young bride and God had wasted their time and their ministry had been nothing less than a tragic mistake.
The problem was, returning to Sweden was a monumental task – David knew that he had no one to feed or care for his baby girl.
The Erickson’s however had been unable to have children and David offered them the opportunity to adopt Aina. They were thrilled at the chance and agreed.
With that, David took his son and left the station – never to return again . . . in fact, he never even looked back.
Before Aina turned 1 year old, Joel and Bertha Erickson had their food poisoned by unbelieving natives and within days of each other, they both died.
Aina was once again without parents. She would soon be claimed by another missionary couple and raised as their own daughter on that mission compound.
A few years later, Aina and her adoptive parents left the mission field of Africa for good and eventually settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Aina would later write that she became known as the daughter of a missionary who died on the mountain, rescued by missionaries who were poisoned and, become, as her biography title would later reads “A girl without a country.”
Eventually, Aina attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis and married a godly young man who entered the ministry.
Decades flew by. Aina had no information about her father. She knew very little of her past. She knew her parent’s names of course and their homeland of Sweden, but that was about it.
She hardly had time to think about it . . . with a husband and a family and a busy ministry; in fact, her husband, Dewey Hurst became the president of a Bible College in Seattle, Washington.
Then one day, unexpectedly, a Swedish religious magazine appeared in their mailbox at home. She had no idea who had sent it, and of course she couldn’t read the Swedish language. But as she turned the pages, one photograph arrested her attention. It was a picture of a small white cross planted in the earth over an obvious burial site –and on the cross was the name, Svea Flood.
She jumped in her car and raced to the home of one of the college professors who was Swedish. She translated it for Svea as she read the article about missionaries who came across a village in the Belgian Congo and came across this burial plot and took a picture.
They began to ask about this gravesite and found out that it was a missionary who’d died shortly after bearing a little girl; then the article mentioned that the missionary was able to lead a young villager to Christ.
The article continued, that sadly this missionary team never learned that the little African boy went on in time to gain permission from the village chief to build a school.
Gradually, this now mature young teacher, taught the village children the Gospel of Christ and all his students came to trust in Jesus as well. And they then led their parents to the Lord and even the chief became a Christian.
Now that village has 600 believers and vibrant church.
Aina couldn’t believe the news. She began to cry and thank God for letting her learn the truth of her parents and their sacrifice and the harvest of spiritual fruit.
Now I could put a period here and we’d have a wonderful illustration of bearing precious seed with tears, right?
But there’s more to this . . .
For their 25th wedding anniversary, the Bible College gave the Hurst’s a vacation in Sweden, where, among other things, Aina could search for her father.
It wasn’t difficult to find his family – David Flood had remarried, had 4 children, but his wife had also died.
Now, as an old man, he was wasting away as an alcoholic and professed agnostic who dared anyone to talk to him about God.
After an emotional reunion with siblings she’d never met before, Aina brought up the subject of seeing their father.
They weren’t too optimistic about the idea – he had little to do with any of them . . . he was a bitter old man. But Aina insisted.
So they told her, “Look if you do see him, whatever you do, don’t talk about spiritual things . . . whenever he hears the name of God, he flies into a rage.”
Aina was determined to see him and she eventually made it to his little apartment – the door was answered by a housekeeper. Inside his room there were bottles on every window sill; the table was covered with more bottles.
And in the far corner – Aina she wrote in her autobiography – was a small, wrinkled old man lying on a rumpled bed, his head turned away.
Diabetes and a stroke had further crippled him and confined him to this one room for the past 3 years.
She writes, “I walked over to his bed and took his head and said, “Papa . . . it’s Aina.” He turned and looked at me and immediately began to weep, “Aina . . . I never wanted to give you away.”
“It’s all right, Papa,” I said, “God took care of me.”
He stiffened suddenly and the tears stopped and he spat out, “God . . . God forgot us all; our lives were ruined because of Him. All that time . . . all our efforts . . . all our suffering and tears . . . and only one little boy . . . and then I lost your mother.”
“Papa, I’ve got a little story to tell you. You didn’t go to Africa in vain. Mama didn’t die in vain. That little boy that came to Christ grew up to win that whole village to Jesus. And now today, 40 years later, there are 600 people in that village serving Jesus Christ because you followed the call of God in your life.”
He turned slowly around until his eyes met mine – hopeful eyes, longing to believe what I told him . . . longing for the turmoil of his life redeemed in some way.” “Papa, it’s a well-known story now . . . we have a great God.”
The tears returned . . . he began to talk. By the end of that afternoon, the kindness of God had brought him back to repentance and restoration of fellowship with the Lord.
Aina and her husband eventually returned to America . . . a few weeks later, David Flood went home to heaven. Aina would learn later that in the final hours of his life – in his delirium – he had begun speaking in Swahili.
Now I could l put a period here and we’d have a wonderful illustration of Psalm 126:5 about sowing the gospel with tears for a future spiritual harvest . . . but there’s more to this . . . would you like to hear it?
Let me give you a final chapter . . .
A few years later Aina and her husband attended a world evangelism conference held in London. Several leaders representing denominations and associations of believing churches throughout Africa were there giving reports.
One report was given from the nation of Zaire by the Director of a national church Association in the Congo region.
He spoke eloquently about the spread of the gospel in his country. He said, “We have 32 mission stations; a fully staffed, modern hospital; several large Christian schools – and our churches now have 110,000 believers.
Afterwards Aina rushed forward to ask him some questions – one in particular.
I’ll let her speak from her own writing, “Sir, could you have met a young missionary couple by the name of David and Svea Flood? They built their mud huts on a mountain side overlooking a village.” “Yes madam,” he replied, “I knew them well. I used to sell them chickens and eggs . . . it was the missionary, Svea Flood, who led me to Jesus Christ.”
He asked, “And who are you?”
“I am Svea Flood’s daughter, I was born on that mountaintop.”
He immediately embraced me and as he held me and swayed back and forth, sobbing from the depths of his soul as he said, “I have wondered so often whatever happened to that baby girl whose mother died while trying to reach my village with the gospel.”
He then looked at me and said through tears, “You must travel back to my village – your mother is the most famous person in our church history.”
Aina agreed . . . and after months of planning, Aina and her husband made the long journey back to the place of her birth.
They eventually arrived at the mission station where she had been given by her father to the Erickson’s – the missionary couple who had worked with her parents for some time.
This was the outpost where she’d lived as a toddler, playing in the dirt with her African friends, learning her first words in the Swahili language.
Eventually they arrived at the village her parents had cried out to God to reach with the gospel. Only this time, there were hundreds of villagers waiting along the dirt road . . . . as they came into view, the villagers began cheering and singing . . . they had built arches across the village entrance covered with flowers for her reception.
Aina writes, “After many hugs and greetings, eventually, the pastor of the village church led me up the hill followed by hundreds of believers; and there, at the top of the hill was a flat place beneath a grove of trees. The pastor pointed to it and said, “That is where your parents mud hut once stood . . . and that is where you were born.”
He then they walked a few steps until they came to a simple grave; over it stood a tall beautiful palm tree, overlooking the entire valley below. Marking the grave was that small wooden cross – and written on it, Svea Flood (1896-1923).
I was standing where my mother had one day knelt with a little boy . . . I now knew the meaning of harvest of joy that came from sowing seed with tears.”
The pastor opened his Bible, quieted the villagers, lifted his voice and read one line from Psalm 126, verse 5. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Excerpted from Aggie Hurst, Aggie: The Inspiring Story of a Girl without a Country, (Access Publishing, 1986)
Jesus knows what it means to weep. Jesus knows what it means to suffer loss. Jesus knows what it means to sacrifice and sow seed that doesn’t seem to bear fruit.
But God knows the end of the story . . . for your life – for the life and ministry of Life Church in Charlotte . . . when He one days shows us how it all fit together and how His purposes were fulfilled in final triumph . . . when all tears will be turned into eternal, never ending joy.
And so, Father, lead us to cry with patience . . . and trust in your final outcome. Lead us to weep over eternal things . . . lead us to sacrifice our time and treasure for a spiritual harvest . . . give this church opportunity for the gospel that can only be explained by Your hand . . . and even when it’s difficult and challenging and stretching and testing . . . remind us that nothing is wasted . . . cause us even now to praise You and trust you today . . . and with joy to anticipate our future with you . . . amen.
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