Marie Monsen—Norwegian Cross-Cultural Worker to Henan
WCIU Journal: Women in International Development Topic
September 01, 2016
by Yalin Xin,
One of the cultural tendencies of the Chinese is the emphasis on the past—historical figures and events. The experience and wisdom of an authoritative person in the past often serve as great reference for the present. This is naturally reflected in how Christians in Henan remember Marie Monsen. Obviously the Spirit of God can make use of the cultural traits for his own purposes when we look at Marie’s life and ministry in perspective of the dynamic Word of Life (WOL) movement. In conversation with believers about the history of the WOL church, Marie Monsen is often and commonly mentioned with appreciation and respect, as someone who dedicated herself to cross-cultural Christian service in central China as well as a role model in ministry that has had significant impact on the WOL movement. She is part of the story, and continues to be remembered as the spiritual mother of the Christian faith tradition in Henan.
Who was Marie Monsen? The Norwegian Journal of Gender Research has this to say about Monsen,
One prominent Scandinavian woman missionary who became a successful religious authority in her own right was Marie Monsen (1872–1962) in the Norwegian Lutheran Mission. Her Christian calling and personal religious experience legitimized her own roles as a preacher for men as well as for women and children in China, and as spiritual counselor for male Christian leaders (Okkenhaug 2004).
Marie Monsen was born and grew up in Bergen, Norway. Her mother was among the advocates in the popular movement led by Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771–1824), which inspired women in ministry and an evangelical missionary movement (see Soltvedt 1999, 1-4). Marie responded to the missionary call and joined Norwegian Lutheran Mission (Det norske lutherske Kinamisjonsforbund, later called Norsk Luthersk Misjonssamband) (Mikaelsson 2003, 121). She went to China in 1901 and was stationed in Nanyang, Henan Province. She engaged in educational ministry there, running a girl’s school and training Chinese Bible women. In the later part of her time in China, because of evacuation of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) from Henan due to social and political instability, Marie Monsen travelled extensively in Northern China, preaching in churches and organizations, instrumental in “instigating a religious awakening among missionaries and Chinese church leaders” (Mikaelsson 2003, 125).
Marie Monsen was regarded as the catalyst for the famous Shantung Revival that swept multiple cities and counties in Shantung Province and sent its ripples back to Henan Province where she had served in the previous years. She was known for her insistence on confession of sins and born-again spirituality, which left a long-lasting mark on the spirituality of Christians to whom she ministered. Leslie Lyall acknowledges the spirit-empowered role Marie played in the revival,
The pioneer of the spiritual “new life movement,” the handmaiden upon whom the Spirit was first poured out was Marie Monsen of Norway. Her surgical skill in exposing the sins hidden within the Church and lurking behind the smiling exterior of many trusted Christian—even many a trusted Christian leader—and her quiet insistence on a clear-cut experience of the new birth set the pattern for others to follow (Lyall 1961, 21).
According to Deborah Hsu, a leader of the WOL movement, one of her great aunts came to faith through Marie’s ministry. She would often share with Deborah about how Maria Monsen, empowered by the Spirit of God, led revival meetings and ministered among women in Nanyang. In her ministry, Maria placed great emphasis on the confession of sins from the people to whom she ministered. After each revival meeting she would talk with members of the congregation one by one, checking to make sure that he/she was saved and finding out those who only pretended to be saved by imitating others in their confessions. Marie stressed what she called the experience of “suffering from the disease of sin,” that someone, on hearing the message of the gospel, felt it spoke to the heart and became troubled by it, which led to confessions, repentance and the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Hsu 2009).
Marie Monsen’s influence went beyond the Chinese Christians she ministered to in the early part of the twentieth century. Her spiritual DNA was passed on to generations of Christians in central and north-eastern part of China. What’s more, Marie was recognized as one of the most important female figures among the cross-cultural Christian workers in Norway. Her ministry embodied “an unusual blend of feminist commitment, religious fervor and educational zeal … Marie Monsen’s career is a demonstration that spirituality is a sphere open to be negotiated by women, provided they have the charisma or the type of religious experience that is acknowledged as valid and reliable also by the powerful men in their organization” (Mikaelsson 2003, 123).
Hsu, Deborah. 2009. Interview with Author in Los Angeles, California.
Lyall, Leslie T. 1961. Historical Prelude. In The Awakening: Revival in China, a Work of the Holy Spirit, ed. Marie Monsen, 17-21. London: Lutterworth Press.
Mikaelsson, Lisbeth. 2003. “Marie Monsen: Charismatic Revivalist—Feminist Fighter.” Scandinavian Journal of History 28, 121-34.
Okkenhaug, Inger Marie. 2004. “Women in Christian Mission: Protestant Encounters from the 19th and 20th Century.” Kilden (Web Magazine). Special edition of Kvinneforskning (Journal of Gender Research in Norway). Article published January 30, 2004. Accessed June 21, 2015. http://eng.kilden.forskningsradet.no/artikkel/vis.html?tid=54092&within_tid=54080.
Soltvedt, Susanne. 1999. “Hans Nielson Hauge: The Influence of the Hauge Movement on Women of Norway.” UW-la Crosse JUR, Vol. II: 1-4.