Ivan V. & Edith Drotts Larson – Missionaries to China

Ivan V. (2/20/1889–3/7/1973) and Edith Drotts (b. 6/15/1888) Larson were appointed to the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 11, 1919. They had been married almost four years at the time and had one adopted son, Elmer, then age 5. Later, they conceived two biological children, Ivan, Jr., b. Oct 9, 1925, and Elizabeth, who died on March 2, 1940, at the age of 17 from complications after surgery to remove a brain tumor . Such suffering followed most, if not all, of the missionaries of that day. Ivan, Sr., was baptized at the age of 9, in 1898, at Calvary Baptist Church in Hannibal, MO. Edith, 12 in 1903, was baptized at Swedish Baptist Church, in Kansas City. Swedish Baptist Church was later renamed Broadway Baptist Church and supported the Larson’s throughout their missionary career. This is the same Broadway that was voted out of the SBC in 2004. Given the progressive “journey” of Broadway in the last half of the twentieth century, certainly the Larson’s would have supported the expulsion. Contemporary events aside, Ivan and Edith were stationed in Shantung, China with the North China Mission from 1919–1951, when after a brief stop in the Philippines they finished their missionary careers with five fruitful years in Taiwan, both retiring March 1, 1959. Their son, Ivan, Jr., wrote amicably of them both. He recalls his father’s gentle encounters with the elderly men in a village. After beginning the conversation “there would always be a crowd of interested listeners standing around listening to the conversation. Frequently, what had begun as an apparent casual conversation would be extended into an evangelistic preaching service.” Of his mother, her recalls the Spirit of the home she kept as well as her heart for lost women and their education, “[she] felt that the necessity for Christian Education in connection with the preaching of the gospel to the Chinese women could best be met by having a school for girls.”

Beginning in 1931, Ivan (I.V.) began reporting on the fruit of the Shantung Revival. In a letter to Dr. T. B. Ray, he reports on a spirit revival flowing out of meetings led by Miss Marie Monsen:

We have had a very good year, in some ways. The greatest event that occurred was our revival upon both these fields, Laichow, and Laiyang. Miss Marie Monsen, came and helped us with these meetings. There were quite a few restorations, and a goodly number of good, old-time conversions. We certainly thank and praise the Lord for thus smiling upon us. The revival has begun, and we trust that it shall go on, during the coming year.[1]

The above report pales in comparison to Larson’s station report for the year 1931 and another letter to Dr. Ray in January 1932. Miss Monsen is not mentioned in either of these documents. Rather, Mr. Larson himself was the speaker! In the Station report, Larson refers specifically to a set of meetings that began on December 2, 1931. He calls those nine-day meetings “epochal”, “a regular old-fashioned Holy Ghost revival!”:

It was marvelous to stand by and see the Holy Spirit working upon the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, deeply convicting them of sin and bringing them into relationship with the Redeemer. At times people came under deep conviction even before I finished speaking; at other times I did not get started before people came rushing up to the front, bitterly weeping over their sins and wishing to confess them.[2]

For most of the report, Larson includes a story of a teenager who had a two-hour long vision that led to the conversion of a man at the meeting. She said that in the vision she had been to heaven and recounted the following:

She said that the entrance was a great, beautiful, massive gate. Jesus met her just inside. He wore a massive crown and a beautiful white robe. He gave her a golden crown, a white robe, and a pair of beautiful shoes.

Jesus showed her His cross and the implements which were used when He suffered the agony of the Cross. He then led her over and showed her three massive golden thrones, arranged in tier-like form. He showed her a number of smaller thrones and crowns. She saw some tables upon which were piled the exquisite gifts. She asked what these might be, and Jesus answered that these were prizes. He led her to the River of Life, the water of which was clear as crystal, and offered her a drink. She refused to drink, however, saying that she would have to return to earth again, and if she drank of this water, she could not do so. Being offered fruit from the Tree of Life, she refused to eat, for the same reason.

She was shown the Book of Life and allowed to turn its pages. There she saw the names written down. Under some names there was a clear page; under others there were recorded sins. Some names had a whole page of sins recorded under them. After coming out of her trance, she saw a man standing near-by. She cried out: “Oh, Mr. —, you have sinned a great deal! You must go to the Lord Jesus immediately and cry out to have your sins blotted out.” This man had a glorious conversion during our meeting, and I am sure that this girl’s vision had quite a bit to do with it.[3]

Stories such as these were not uncommon during the Shantung revival, but even a cursory reading here shows why some Baptists were disturbed by the stories. Before dealing with these issues, it is important to note the respect the missionaries, such as Mr. Larson, showed towards the native Christians. He concludes his report thusly:

When the believers themselves get on fire with the Gospel, they will become “flaming evangels.” I am happy to say that I am sure that our workers are not “hirelings” but real preachers of the Word. May the dear Lord increase their number upon every field.[4]

In Mr. Larson’s letter to Dr. Ray, he also mentions the role of the Holy Spirit in the revival: “On the night of the second day, the fire of the Holy Spirit fell.”[5] The issue of the filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit characterizes part of the theology behind the revival, from later letters, it will be seen that the revival, whether intentionally or not, displayed a Keswick view of Christian sanctification.

Early Keswick Theology and the Pentecostal Movement are distant relatives. Both arose out of an amalgam of various holiness/perfectionist movements and both emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit, though Pentecostalism moreso on both accounts. Thus, it is not unreasonable that the missionaries were accused of excesses, even of abandoning the historic Baptist tradition. In 1933, Rev. T.L. Blalock of China and Rev. G. L. Winstead of Tennessee started circulating allegations of a “departure from the historic faith, as held by Baptists, of several of our missionaries in North China.”[6] They also accused the Mission of allowing Church of God and/or Pentecostal missionaries speak in Baptist churches or their meetings. This very same letter is found in all of the missionary correspondence files of the regular missionaries in North China at the time. Mr. Larson took these charges seriously and issued a rebuttal:

I beg to state that neither Mr. Kelley nor any other Pentecostal worker has ever been invited to hold meetings on either of our Laichow or Laiyang fields. Moreover, we have no intention of ever having such workers on these fields. I also beg to state that no Pentecostal worker is responsible for “starting the ball rolling” on these fields, as charged by a certain party. The revival at Laichow and Laiyang was not brought in from without, but was the direct work of the Holy Spirit, in answer to our prayers.[7]

Much more than a rebuttal, this letter further elucidates the sense of deep spiritual ownership felt by the missionaries toward the revival. He does not refute the fact there they may have been “some tendencies of an extreme nature”, but he affirms that he personally “never believed the doctrines peculiar to the ‘tongues movement’” and that the missionaries “have been able, by the help of the Lord, to lead those affected into a sane and safe standpoint; and to a clearer understanding of the Bible teaching, and of our Baptist teaching and practice.”[8] He also indicates that the practice of “praying in concert” antedated the revival, as other missionaries will also attest. Still, to further support the conclusion that a Keswick understanding of Christian holiness was behind the revival, Larson states “Souls are continually being converted, and many are finding the secret of a joyous and victorious life in Christ” (emphasis added).[9] The emphasized language is Keswick language. Larson’s response was quite amenable to the board; for them, “the matter rests”.[10]

While the opposition to the revival was laid to rest, Larson’s later correspondence indicates that the “infilling of the Holy Spirit” remained an important trait he was looking for in quality co-workers. In a letter to the Board, when asked to inform certain donors to the FMB of the worker named “Mrs. Yü” whom they were sponsoring, Mr. Larson is hesitant to endorse workers who have “yet received the fulness [sic] of the Holy Spirit.”[11] The problem lay that there were more than one “Mrs. Yü” on their field, rather there were three. Of the first he states that she “was a very faithful worker; and on fire for the Lord, after her infilling with the Holy Spirit. She was a very good preacher; and, contrary to good Southern custom, in some sections, at least, she can preach as effectively to men as to women.”[12] Of the second, “She is also a Spirit-filled woman, and a great personal worker.”[13] Toward the third he could speak to her conversion, but not to her Spirit-filling, as mentioned above. Interestingly, the above-quoted sentence was marked out in pencil, demonstrating that the Board was sensitive to avoid expressing the filling of the Holy Spirit in the same manner as the missionaries.

In May 1935, the Larson’s went on their second furlough. When they returned in 1936, they were stationed elsewhere in North China, at Tsingtao. Their labor still bore fruit, but they no longer mention the revival in their correspondence. Mrs. Larson returned to the US in 1940 along with many of the women and children in North China. I.V. was not so lucky. He was interned by the Japanese and repatriated in 1942. The Larson’s returned to Tsingtao in 1945 and 1946, respectively, until they were forced to leave China, like many million others at the outset of the Communist takeover of the country. As mentioned at the beginning, they completed their missionary careers in Taiwan.

Other Sources:

Larson, I. V. “Rejoicing in the Lord.” Home and Foreign Fields 16, no. 1 (January 1932): 30.

[1]Letter from I.V. Larson to Dr. T.B. Ray, January 21, 1931, Laichow, Shantung, China.

[2] Laiyang Station Report 1931, I.V. Larson.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Letter from I.V. Larson to Dr. T.B. Ray, January 6, 1932, Laichow, Shantung, China.

[6] Letter from Charles E. Maddry to Rev. & Mrs. I. V. Larson, October 20, 1933, Richmond, VA.

[7] Letter from I.V. Larson to Dr. Charles E. Maddry, November 29, 1933, Laiyang, Shantung, China.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Letter from Charles. E. Maddry to Rev. I. V. Larson, January 2, 1934, Richmond, VA.

[11] Letter from I.V. Larson to Miss Ford, July 23, 1934, Laiyang, Shantung, China.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

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