Remembering our history

Twenty Years in the Wild West

Despite violence, health issues and sleeping in open fields at night, A.A. Anderson persevered to share the gospel.

That's what Free Church pioneer Anders August Anderson called his riveting autobiography. Born in Sweden in 1855, Anderson worked on the family farm until he was 11 and had to go get a job. Over the years, he worked as a farmhand, stone cutter, shepherd and road builder. While blasting with dynamite one day, he was struck with an intense headache, returned to his bed and had a unique conversion experience—committing his life to the Lord.  

Like so many of that era, Anderson got "America Fever" in 1882 and immigrated by ship, arriving in New York City just in time for the fireworks on July 4. He continued to Chicago and connected with the "Free Mission," joining the church in Englewood on the south side. As he grew in his faith, Anderson became aware of God's call on his life to be a pastor and began short trips to speak in Swedish communities—first in Wisconsin, then Minnesota and then on to the Black Hills of South Dakota—each time returning to Chicago between trips and attending the annual Free Church conferences in different places.

This photo shows a Black Hawk, South Dakota church built in 1888, planted by A.A. Anderson.

Anderson truly became a "circuit-riding preacher," traveling about by horse, later in a two-horse buggy and occasionally by stagecoach. Such traveling pastors lived on the offerings from the churches, often only a few dollars. Once he and a colleague pawned their watches to buy train tickets and some food. But they saw souls saved in the various Swedish settlements, miraculous healings and many new churches planted. 

At times dealing with injuries to his horse, dog fights during church services, attacks during various uprisings and repeated attacks of "appendicitis," Anderson persevered, frequently sleeping at night in open fields as he would travel. He usually traveled with young pastors that he mentored for ministry. In 1891, he oversaw ministry in Montana, Wyoming and Utah, and after years of traveling alone, God blessed him with a wife and five children. 

A.A. Anderson later became Financial Secretary and Secretary of Missions (essentially “President” before they began using that title) for the Swedish Free Church, working in Minneapolis. He was one of the real pioneers of the EFCA, whose ministry was greatly blessed by God. His short autobiography is well worth reading. 

Tom Cairns

Tom Cairns is the archivist for the EFCA. A physician who worked for 19 years in Congo, Tom later served as director of international ministries for the EFCA mission, now known as ReachGlobal. Since retirement, Tom enjoys sharing stories about the history of the EFCA, answering questions from our churches and helping the churches with their own stories. He also uploads our historical books, photos and documents to our archive website. Tom’s great desire is to bring glory to God as we celebrate the history we have in the EFCA.

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