Merciless villains. Blood-thirsty pillagers. Violent arsonists. Savage barbarians.
When used to describe an entire people group, those words sound awful. Yet, those words are often used to describe the Vikings, that Scandinavian people group which terrorized the rest of Europe for three centuries.
To be a missionary to people like that would take courage. It would take a strong sense of call. And, it would take a lot of dedication, especially if evangelistic results were meager or even non-existent (which was the case). Indeed, dedication is something that certainly characterized Anskar*, a missionary whom many now call The Apostle to the North.
Born in 801 A.D. in what is now France, Anskar became a Benedictine monk. A series of visions or dreams gave him a clear sense of a missionary call. So, three years later, he went north as the pioneer Christian missionary to Scandinavia (the area today we know as Denmark, Norway and Sweden).
Over the next 30 years, the Vikings forced him out of Scandinavia at least twice. However, Anskar saw those events only as temporary detours. Both times dedication to his call had him soon making his way back to Viking territory. One fascinating bit of trivia about Anskar is that his name apparently meant “spear of God.” Was it just a coincidence that he was sent to warrior tribes?
Evangelistic work in Viking territory was not all that fruitful though, and so Anskar tried several avenues of ministry, including education and health care. He ransomed captives taken in Viking raids and campaigned against slavery while working to mitigate the horrors of the slave trade. A contemporary of Anskar who knew him well wrote that Anskar was “accustomed to working with his hands in the fields and in the forests and was able to endure long-continued fatigue and privation.”
Eventually, through Anskar’s preaching ability and holy lifestyle, he did see a few people become interested in the Gospel. A key leader or two leaned toward converting, but no Christ-ward movement developed among the general populace. At Anskar’s death, the Vikings immediately lapsed back into paganism. Even though he had built a church building or two, no viable congregations existed in Viking territory when Anskar passed away. Indeed, there is no record of even any lasting individual conversions. However, Anskar had been called to the inhabitants of Scandinavia and he dedicated his life to fulfilling that call.
More than a hundred years after Anskar’s death, the people in Scandinavia did embrace Christ. One Viking country, Denmark, went on to become one of the first Protestant areas to become heavily involved in world evangelism. There was no hint, however, of that possibly happening when Anskar was toiling away fruitlessly.
Anskar didn’t have success in the way we sometimes measure success today. But he was dedicated. And that’s the type of missionary God can use.
*Anskar’s name has also been spelled as Ansgar, Anschar and Ansgarius.
Talk about it
- What does the word dedication mean to you? What does it mean to be dedicated?
- Anskar was a missionary who felt called to the Viking cultures of Scandinavia. Yet, during his life he was driven out twice and only planted one small church. After his death, there was no fruit to show for all his efforts. How do you feel about that?
- In many of our modern cultures, our worth is measured by our productivity or achievements. What does Anskar's life say in answer to that?
- Have you ever worked hard on something, and then failed to see your expected outcome? How did you feel?
- What do you think God valued from Anskar's life?
- What does that say to us as we seek to be obedient to God's leading in our lives?
- Many times, missionaries can get discouraged when time passes and the results of their work fails to meet their expectations. How can you pray for missionaries in this context?