III. LYDIA DELPHINA CHRISTENSEN

b. 13 Nov. 1887 Walnut, IA
d. 3 April 1967 Pasadena, CA
(Huntington Beach Hospital)
Entombed in the Mousoleum, Mtn. View Cemetery, Altatadena, CA

Methodist Missionary
Linguist

 

Many family members sent notes about Aunt Lydia's fascinating stories and the many mementos she brought as gifts.

 

LYDIA

From Ethel Christensen (Shutts) Swain

I cried because my cousin broke my Flora Dora China doll with kid body. His mother called me a cry baby. The doll was a German import, now listed in antique doll collections. Lydia gave her to me. Flora Dora is my first remembrance of Lydia, who went to India before I started to school. I recall the trunk standing in the kitchen, daily being filled with what she would need. The only thing that I remember is a brown plaid wool blanket that she bought from Darvich Joseph. (She brought the trunk and blanket home on her last trip.) Darvich Joseph was a Syrian peddler who used to make regular stops at our farm. He stayed over night and regaled us with wild tales of Syria. He liked us. He said mother would never lie to him about having pork and lard in his food.

The next thing I remember is the folks taking her to Wakefield in the Jackson to take the train on her way to New York for her destination — India to become a Methodist missionary. Everyone else was weeping, and I managed to squeeze out one tear. I did not understand why everyone felt so emotional, for someone was always going to Wakefield to take a train for some place.

The next time I saw Lydia was Christmas, 1918, after WWI ended on November 11, 1918. I was in the fourth grade in Cedar Falls. What a wonderful homecoming. Ezra and Alta were there. I think Harvey's ship was still bringing troops back from France. Mother, Father, and Esther had arrived after Thanksgiving to our beautiful new house with a lot of new furniture. (Agnes and I had come in August, so I could start the school year, and she had entered ISTC.) What treasures Lydia brought me—among many things were a Kimono, shoes, and an umbrella — and a doll— from Japan.

Lydia graduated from Harlan High School at sixteen with high marks. Harlan had the only high school in the county. She stayed with her Petersen grandparents until Grandma broke her hip while going out on the back porch to get kerosene for her stove. Mother left her family to care for her until she died a few weeks later. After this Lydia went to room and Board with a widow, Mary Fourschau, who was a good friend of mother's. She and her family were at our farm frequently. The children were the same age as the Christensens.1 Grandpa Petersen was a great story teller and used to sit long hours on the outside steps telling her stories. Esther and I regret we didn't get more about those conversations. Lydia recalled that once they were watching the stars and grandpa wondered whether there was life on those planets. Life at sea had given him time to speculate. Lydia was a great favorite with Grandpa. She was a good listener. He was a kindly old gentleman. Grandma was the realist. She did not want Lydia to play with those terrible American kids, so when the old folks took their nap, she slipped out and played, but she always got back before they woke up!

After finishing high school, Lydia got her teacher's certificate and taught at sixteen years old, first in the country school where her brothers and sisters attended and then other rural schools in Iowa and Nebraska.

Lydia taught German and Latin in Thurman High School, Thurman, Nebraska and Bancroft, Nebraska. She was always gifted in languages — Danish (Anna, Petra and Lydia learned English in first grade), German, Latin, Greek, French, some Arabic and Sanskrit, Hindustani, Urdu, and Hindi, and Pakistani. She took Spanish so she could speak it on her Mexican trip after she went to Robincroft. She had work at Dr. White's Bible School in New York, where one course in linguistics taught her to make any sound in any language in the world. Even in Cedar Falls when she was home on furlough, she went to ISTC with me for a term. We took beginning typing together — and yes, she took an advanced German course from a professor who was teaching me beginning German. Every noon, we ate our dried beef sandwich for lunch!

In Harlan she lived near an Evangelical minister, Rev. Charles Pickford, who greatly influenced her. A lifetime friend was his daughter Ethel, for whom I was named. I do not know whether Lydia belonged to the Harlan Danish Baptist Church. I think she did. She told me once that she did not agree with the Danish Baptist doctrine of "closed communion." 2 Edna Bacon has a slightly different version of this; maybe both are correct.

Lydia received her B. A. at Central Holiness University in Oskaloosa. There she met Edna Bacon. I believe Rev. Pickford was responsible for her going there. As a result, both Magnus and Agnes turned their lives around by attending this very rigid school. They met their spouses there and devoted their lives to Christian service. Esther also considers Lydia an early mentor in her life.

After reading Lydia's India letters, I find I cannot summarize her work adequately. Edna Bacon, who knew her intimately from college, India, and Robincroft can do that better. As a final token of her love, Lydia bequeathed Edna her fine bedroom suite.

I close with an appropriate excerpt from one of Lydia's letters, written in November of 1937 when she visited our family's ancestral homes:

"How I enjoy Denmark! And indeed I was proud of my ancestry and the history of this small but plucky little country, which is today, doing some things that make it a center of interest to people of other countries. I spent part of a day in the sea side town, Løkken, now a summer resort. It was here my mother lived for seven years before she went with her parents to America. Part of another day I spent in the country where father lived until as a young man of nineteen he went to America. How many things, heard in my childhood, became real as I walked amid these scenes of my parents' childhood. And at the same time I was learning much of life as it now is in Denmark; very much changed for the better since those early days."

Several have asked me, "Did Lydia have a sweetheart?" Yes, when she taught in a school near Allen, she stayed at a home where the son, a Ray Jones and she became very devoted to each other. He wanted to marry her, but she wanted to fulfill a long desire to be a foreign missionary. He could not understand why she made this choice. He never married. I think she was sorry she never had a husband and children, but could not have it both ways.

Of all the family children, I believe Lydia was loved by every one of us. The rest of us had our favorites and sometimes we rubbed each other the wrong way, but that was never true of Lydia and her brothers and sisters.

SHE WAS ONE GRAND LADY.

Ethel

Footnote 1.

Mary Fourschau and her descendents have been fictionalized by her grand-daughter, Julie Jensen McDonald, a well-known Iowa writer, in her trilogy, Amalie's Story, Petra, and The Sailing Out. This is fiction, but you should read it for what life was back in Denmark— before the family emigrated, and what life was like in Shelby County, Merrill's Grove, and Harlan up through the middle of this century. You will see what the boarding house was like where Lydia lived.

Footnote 2.

Esther and I attended a Danish Baptist Church in Copenhagen in 1921. It was communion Sunday. As the cup was passed, the deacon asked us, "Er De Baptister?" (Are you Baptists) Assured that we were, he served us.

From Rozelle La Favre Noulis

We remember Lydia's visits when she came home from India. She bought stamp albums for us and then gave us stamps from India and other places to get us started collecting. Her visits really made me want to travel to those places in India where she had been, many of which I visited in 1964.

Lydia - my Aunt by Rowenna Erbach

When all of the others were launching into mating relationships Lydia chose another way. Around our house, when I was growing up, was a post card from her (I wish I had it but I'm sure it is long gone) on which she had written, "Jesus is the fairest of ten thousand to my soul." It was the foundation for her life plans. Most of her life was in India serving as missionary. It was a real privilege for our family to have her and other relatives giving us first hand information about the far away places and what they were doing to serve God there. She used to bring us things from there and I still have the tiny seed elephant and some of the tiny doll furniture she gave me. I was very enthralled to think that she could speak several languages. She returned from the mission field to care for Grandpa and Grandma in their last years. She greatly enjoyed having the younger generation come to visit and share something of themselves with her in their play pattern and activities.

From Ralph Christensen

Sometime during 1926 or 1927 Aunt Lydia came from India to visit us in Swaziland. I don't remember too much about that visit but two things stick in my memory. Aunt Lydia worked in Bombay, India and she often spoke of the "bells, yells and smells" of Bombay. The other thing I remember was the earthquake. The earth rumbled and the house shook so that the dust from the poles and thatch roof came down on us. The kerosene lantern that hung from the poles was swaying back and forth. I got very frightened and ran to my aunt and climbed up into her lap.

FIFTY YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP

by Edna Bacon

Lydia Christensen was in her senior year at college when I first met her. I was taking some special work following my work in Bible training where I had graduated in 1911. We had become very good friends and often walked and had long talks together.

On a Sunday night in the fall of 1912, in the college chapel, the speaker after giving his message said, "If there are any young people here tonight who have felt led to give their lives for Christian service, will you come forward and kneel as we pray." Lydia arose and stepped forward and told them of her long desire to be a missionary. She had never said anything to me about this, though she knew I had planned to go into foreign mission work. When I told her of my surprise she then told me that ever since she was twelve years of age, she wanted to be a missionary, but it seemed impossible for her as the Danish Baptist Church to which she belonged did not send out missionaries. I suggested she might join the Methodist Church and she said, "Could I?" I told her that I would go with her to the pastor of our Methodist Church in Oskaloosa where so many of us attended. That week we called on him. The result was that she came home having been put on a three month's probation in the church and at the end of the three months she was admitted into full membership. (One of her brothers recently said to me, "I wondered how she got into the Methodist Church.") Correspondence began with the W. F. M. S. ladies and having graduated in the spring of 1913, that fall saw her on her way to India.

After she had gone to the field, her letters shared with me many of the new problems she had to meet, the adjustments to be made, the inner heart problems, the questionings that arose. Her letters abounded in faith and a deep longing for a closer walk with God.

When I reached India in 1917, after a journey that took us three months, being delayed in Japan, P. I. and in Singapore, due to war, she was among the first to meet me. We had a wonderful week end together before I went in to Pauri where I had been appointed to study the language and live with a missionary who was alone in our mountain station. That summer she and two other missionaries, one of whom had been in school with us, came to us for their summer vacation. It was a wonderful summer and I learned much more about the work she was doing and of the questions that come to all new missionaries. It was hard to see her go so far away again but letters kept us in touch.

In the hills our vacations come in the winter when the schools are closed, so I went to Ghaziabad to stay with her until our annual conference would meet a bit later. It was my first experience in evangelistic work in the villages. In those days we traveled by oxcart, taking with us a number of small tents to help care for those who must go with us. Sometimes we pitched tents and stayed for a week or more, sometimes we had to move oftener in order to reach the people she wanted to see...I was learning much that would be a great help to me later on. Christmas came and we decided to go to Lahore. I had heard much about the Lucy Harrison Girls' School supported by my home conference and so wanted to see it. We had a week there, saw much of the beauty of the city, suffered with the cold as it was much colder than down country. I was to see more of that part of the country a little later on for she was transferred to the Punjab and I came to the plains but farther from her. But again the mails kept us in touch with each others work. Then when I moved to Bareilly, we were much nearer and I was to see much more of the Punjab. It was during one of those visits that I toured with her in Multan (Now not by ox cart, but by car) and saw some of the beginning of the educational work in Stuntzabad. Today they have a fine Co-Educational School, a Health Center with a missionary nurse in charge and with fine Indian workers to help her. What hath God wrought there! And Lydia had a real part in the beginning. Her love for the people was so great as was also their confidence in her. She understood them and their problems and nothing was too hard for her to help them. Bishop J. W. Robinson once said to some of us who were talking about the village work, "Lydia Christensen is the finest evangelist that our women have ever sent to this part of India."

She was a real linguist, had gotten knowledge of Urdu, Hindi and later Punjabi. She helped at times in our Language School for new missionaries and again in helping make a home for them at Rokeby while they were in school and where I could sometimes join her for a week as she went to prepare for opening or closing and those were always days of precious fellowship. Days of retreats with other missionaries and also of other denominational missionaries helped enrich our lives.

Then her days back in this country caring for both parents until they were called Home. Back again to an India greatly changed. I came home in 1946, before the partitioning took place, but her letters told of the days and nights of great anxiety, when their lives were not safe, of the loyalty of her Indian friends, and finally they were no longer able to enter Pakistan and she was cut off from her friends in that part, but kept on with her work on the India side.

Back to America some time again among her loved ones and then after a few years, her arrival at Robincroft. How good it was to be together again. Busy at work in the church here, keeping in touch with the field, and then at last stricken by illness from which she did not recover. April 3, 1967 was the end, for me, of a beautiful friendship of almost 55 years here on earth but to be renewed in Heaven. She was a loyal friend and my life is infinitely richer for having known her. Many others would say the same.

MEMORIAL SERVICES FOR LYDIA CHRISTENSEN

by Floyd B. La Favre (her brother-in-law)

These are some of the details connected with the funeral. According to the arrangements which Lydia had made some years ago, the services were held in Turner and Stevens' Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Pasadena, California. The hour was 3:00 P. M. Thursday, April 6, 1967.

Word had gone out that friends might send contributions for a missionary memorial in lieu of flowers. The floral tribute from the immediate family rested on the light blue casket - a large spray of pink carnations, red roses, and white stock, bearing a ribbon with the words: BELOVED LYDIA. At the right was a large floral piece with Easter Lilies and white gladioli from the Rev. and Mrs. J. Hunter Smith.

The organ music consisted of a quarter hour of appropriate hymns and melodies played by Vearle Gruger; and as the minister took his place the music turned to the much-loved hymn "How Great Thou Art!: Dr. Claude A. Smith of the First Methodist Church conducted a brief and beautiful service of Scripture, prayer, and appreciation. He spoke of Lydia's long life of loving Christian service to her parents and other members of her family, to the people of India for many years, and to the sick and shut-ins of Pasadena in her retirement years. Then he walked down to the foot of the casket and continued the service with Psalms 23 and 121 and the Committal. As he concluded, the organ pealed out the strains of "The Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's MESSIAH, and the people in the chapel stood in praise to the Christ where grace and power had again triumphed in life and death. I can bear witness that Lydia had faced the end of her earthly life with Christian courage and complete resignation to the Father's will. To the very last she was doing something for relatives, friends, and the nurses who cared for her.

The casket was opened briefly for viewing at the end of the service. My daughter Rozelle and I represented the family at the private entombment in the new mausoleum of Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.

The relatives and Miss Edna Bacon (close friend of Lydia for over 50 years) were invited to the Prouse home in Duarte for fellowship and buffet supper following the memorial services. Those present were Agnes La Favre (sister), Ezra Christensen (brother), Ethel Shutts (sister), Edna Bacon, Judy and Ross Dill, Mrs. Veryle F. Heupel (sister of Mrs. Harvey Christensen), Floyd La Favre, Barbara and Howard La Favre, Marilyn and Gerald La Favre, Rozelle and Zon Noulis, Mrs. Betty O'Brien, and Rose Marie, Maynard, Karen and Alan Prouse.

Friends who attended the service include Rev. J. Hunter Smith (whose sister Grace Pepper Smith was a close missionary friend of Lydia in India), Mrs. Laura Ruth Dobson, Rev. J. E. Brecheisen and two couples from the Pacoima EUB church, three ladies from the First Methodist Church of Pasadena, and thirty-three ladies from the Robincroft Rest Home in Pasadena. Among those were Miss Mabel Metzgar, who was for many years the Director of the Robincroft Home, and Mrs. Helen L. Wittman, secretary to the Director.

Contributions for the Missions Memorial were given by relatives, friends, and churches in California, Iowa and elsewhere. The New York office of the Methodist Board of Missions, Women's Division will divide this money equally between two fields where Lydia spent most of her life as missionary. It will be sent to Miss Helen E. Fehr, Stuntzabad Health Centre Chak 135/16L, Stuntzabad via Mian Channun Dist. Multan, W. Pakistan, and to Bishop Mangal Singh, Delhi, India. The total, not yet known will be above $200.00.

Total was - Sent from Robincroft $104, here $115, total $219

Floyd B. La Favre

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