The Ice Age did its bit to drive farmers of the 19th century in southern Sweden away from the homes of their forefathers. When mighty glaciers ground their way from the north, they pushed boulders southward as if each ton of stone were a pebble. Eventually the mountains of ice suffered a slow, melting death in the next age—global warming. What had been the frozen, bulldozing front edge crept backward leaving the earth of tiny Blekinge County imbedded with truck-sized monuments of that long ago era.
In the 1100s, when the Vikings turned from seafaring to farming, the men in Blekinge turned their strength and wiliness toward a battle against boulders. Soil was the victor’s prize—land to be plowed if it was the farmer who won.
Even now, there are fields—if an expanse can be called a field when scattered through it are outcroppings that, like icebergs, are nine-tenths below the surface—fields that would make you think the rocks have won the soil there. But the determined farmer won’t concede. He leaves his tractor in the barn so it won’t be knocked apart by crashing into the immovable enemy. Instead, he curves his way between the barriers with his scythe to cut hay for his animals.
The glacier did its damage by delivering stones to Blekinge before it retreated. Then, as if that weren’t enough, the earth continues its own effort to squeeze out the pieces that were ground deep under its skin. So when a field seems finally cleared, it’s not final at all. Every planting season there are more rocks available to make taller the miles of stone walls dividing fields. But a stone wall can go only so high, and once a barn is raised or a foundation is laid, all the rest are rolled onto growing piles of discarded rocks in a corner of the farm.
Some time in the 1800s Nils Nilsson began to farm in Kåraboda, a cluster of three or four farms in the Parish of Kyrkhult in the county of Blekinge. Or maybe it was Nils, his son. Even if you’d never met him or his family, you would know his father was named Nils, because his full name was Nils Nil’s Son—Nils Nilsson, that is. And since his father was also Nils Nilsson, that means there was an earlier Nils. Perhaps there have been Nils Nilssons since almost the beginning of time.
After a while, all of Nils’ sons–including Nils Nilsson– had left for America, except Sven Nilsson, who farmed the rockiness with his father until, in 1891, Sven hoped there might be a better way, so he went to an auction and bought himself a new coat and a blanket (Johanna Maria still needed the one they slept under together), and he sailed to America to prepare the way for his wife Johanna Maria Karlsdotter and their five children. In 1893, she and the children joined him in Minneapolis. Ester Svensdotter (=Ester, Sven’s daughter), 3 years old, was the youngest. In America, they became the Nelson family, Swan, Johanna, Esther and the rest.
At first, Swan worked as an unskilled laborer in Minneapolis— until 1900, when he’d saved enough to buy land in Bogus Brook, Milles Lacs County, Minnesota. His years of labor in Minneapolis allowed him to return to the farming life he’d known in Sweden, except that the Minnesota soil was fertile and rocks were fewer and smaller.
So the Ice Age did its part in bringing little Ester Svensdotter to Minnesota, where she became Esther Nelson, grew up, found 1st Swedish Baptist Church and Jesus, and was sent by the church to Sichuan, China as a missionary from 1924 until 1951.
God works in mysterious ways. He knew how that Ice Age glacier would affect Sven Nilsson in 1891, even before the first Nils Nilsson was born.