A history of commitment and self-sacrifice
The daughter of pioneer Adventist missionaries to Greenland follows in her parents’ footsteps in a renewed effort to bring the three angels’ messages to the largest island in the world.
July 3, 2021, marked 300 years since Hans Egede, a Danish-Norwegian Lutheran minister, traveled to Greenland to bring Christianity to this cold and extensive region in the far north.
Then 67 years ago, in 1954, another courageous and dedicated Christian minister, Adventist pioneer Andreas Nielsen, set foot on the island. He was sent by the Northern European Division to share the gospel message with the people.
Nielsen began his ministry by visiting Amon Berthelsen in Sisimiut, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) north of Nuuk. Berthelsen and his son had been introduced to Adventism through literature that fishermen from the Faroe Islands had distributed, and they began keeping the Sabbath. Later that year Berthelsen was baptized.
REACHING THE PEOPLE
Nielsen and his wife, Aase, and their two children settled in Greenland’s capital city, Nuuk. They visited Nuuk residents in their homes, and Pastor Nielsen also traveled by boat to places along the coast to tell as many as he could about Jesus.
Soon after Nielsen’s arrival in Greenland, the tract titled Look Up (Ardlorit in Greenlandic) was translated and distributed throughout the island. The books Steps to Christ and The Great Controversy were also later translated. These books and other Adventist literature were sent to many remote places and helped to break down prejudice to the gospel. Nielsen became known throughout many regions of Greenland.
NO ROOM AT THE INN
When the Nielsens first arrived in Greenland, opposition from the Lutheran State Church was severe. On one occasion, when Nielsen and a fellow minister, Ernst Hansen, arrived in Ilulissat, in western Greenland, they learned that the rural dean of the Lutheran State Church in Nuuk had sent a letter of warning to the residents against the “heretics.” When their baggage had been unloaded from the boat, they went looking for lodging, but no one would take them in. They couldn’t even find anyone willing to let them stay overnight in their outside shelters.
As it grew dark, the only option left to the two ministers was to set up their tent in an area swarming with hundreds of wild dogs. Thankfully, one Greenlander finally took pity on them and invited them home. “It could be fatal to stay there overnight,” he told them.
As Nielsen traveled throughout Greenland, he built friendships with several people with whom he could stay whenever he was ministering in their area.
In 1954 the Northern European Division financed the building of a house for the pastor and his family in Nuuk. A clinic and church, also financed by the division, were added and dedicated in 1959.
Nielsen and his family ministered in Greenland for 10 years and led several people to Jesus and to join the Adventist Church. Other pastors and clinic workers followed and helped to grow and preserve the church. They also created good will among the people.
Unfortunately, after about 40 years of mission in Greenland, economic challenges in the local union resulted in the discontinuation of paid pastoral work on the island. In 1998, the church-owned house, clinic, and church were sold, but the Adventists that remained in Greenland still had a spirit of mission. In the years to follow, contact with the church in Denmark was maintained through the annual Ingathering campaign, visitation, and letters.
THE WORK CONTINUES
The daughter of pioneers Andreas and Aase Nielsen, Elsebeth Butenko, who lived in Greenland as a child and later served twice on the island as a physiotherapist, longed to continue the mission work that her parents had started. In the summer of 2019 she traveled from her home in Denmark to Greenland with a large supply of Ellen White’s book Steps to Christ printed in Danish and Greenlandic and began going home to home in Nuuk, visiting the residents and giving out the books.
In 2020 her husband, Tony, a pastor in Denmark, joined her. The couple added The Great Controversy and a Greenlandic translation of the children’s book Jesus: Bible Truth for Children, by Ruth Atwood, to their toolkit.
When Tony had to return to Denmark to care for his churches, Elsebeth stayed on in Nuuk, distributing books through the end of December. She then had additional copies of the books printed, and in the new year she relocated to Sisimiut, where her father had baptized the first Adventist convert.
Elsebeth was encouraged to learn that several families still remembered her father. She has reported many encouraging stories of how she and her husband and their books have been well received by Greenlanders. Bible studies have been initiated, friendships developed, and plans are being made to develop a website to help further the mission on the island.
The population in Greenland may be small, but through active witnessing efforts empowered by the Holy Spirit, many precious souls may be won for the kingdom.
To read more about the history of the mission work in Greenland, go to https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=CCS5&highlight=david%7Cdown.
Greenland—Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenlandic—is a beautiful island country with snow-covered mountains, icebergs, and curtains of colored lights occasionally visible in the night sky. In summer the landscape is carpeted with green plants and tiny flowers. It’s located between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Greenland is the world’s largest non-continental island. Only about one fifth of its territory—an area about the size of Norway—is ice-free; the rest is covered by an ice cap. A population of about 56,000 people, almost 90 percent of whom are Inuit, live there today, primarily on the southwest coast.