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Missionary Imprisoned for Civil Infraction, 1910

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 27, 2009

Carl Kjar (sometimes Kjaer; 1887-1946), the Deseret-born son of a Danish father and a Swedish mother, was called as a missionary to Norway, arriving there in May 1908. A year later, he was stationed at Haugesund, a town of about 6,000 on the southwest coast of Norway. The Haugesund branch, of which Elder Kjar was president in 1910, had enjoyed relative success, with 16 having been baptized there in the preceding few months.

Norwegian law required that before a citizen could join a minority religion, he had first to withdraw officially from the state church. Elder Kjar was arrested and charged with responsibility for having violated that law in the case of two small girls – one the daughter of Mormon parents, and thus never enrolled as a Lutheran in the first place; the other a child whose former pastor had refused or neglected to follow through on the request made to have her membership withdrawn.

Elder Kjar was given his choice of punishments: payment of a cash fine; imprisonment under routine conditions for twelve days; or imprisonment under harsher conditions, including solitary confinement and a bread-and-water diet, for four days. Elder Kjar chose the last option, the sooner to return to his duties as branch president. He served his term from the night of March 8 through the afternoon of March 12, 1910.

A partial account of his imprisonment, recorded soon after his release, follows, beginning with his interview by a prison chaplain:

I could not keep my seat when the priest said that the Mormons were not Christians. I told him about my dear mother, who is now dead, taking me on her lap many times, when I was only four or five years old, teaching me that Jesus is the Son of God, and about his atonement, and that it is only through him that we all can be saved. Addressing the pastor, I said: “these lessons I’ll never forget, as long as I live. Let me tell you, pastor, that my mother was a Mormon, and I was born over in Utah. Now, don’t you ever tell anybody that the latter-day Saints don’t teach Christ and him crucified, for so you tell a falsehood.” He bowed his head as if ashamed. “Why,” said I, “if there are any people who believe in Jesus it is the Latter-day Saints.” I explained authority, revelation and priesthood, telling him about the restoration of the same, etc. I made him a present of the Fundamental Principles of the Gospel, by apostle Orson Pratt, which he accepted and promised to read. We parted after an interview of about forty minutes. when the elders previously visited this man he in almost every case had refused to take our tracts, but now he accepted a good book.

After the priest had gone, the jailer and one of the police came down, and wanted to know what the priest had said to me, and I had another conversation with him. After they had left, a woman prisoner next to my cell, who had overheard my lecture to these officials of the prison, soon began asking me questions concerning Mormonism. She read aloud, as I dictated to her from the New Testament, thus following through from one principle to another until the jailer returned. Our conversation lasted about two hours. She knows more about Mormonism now, and she said it was her intention to investigate further, and try and live a good life hereafter.

The next morning I noticed a small crack in the partition (the walls being double). I folded up some tracts and a book and forced them through this crack to a certain prisoner, who had advised me to send for the priest. I signaled to him first, and he gladly received the tracts. I also gave the jailer two books, which no promised to read.

Before making up my bed on this last day, I put two small books under the pillow, hoping that they might do good to some one.

Friday and Saturday were hungry days for me. I had lost my appetite and had only eaten two slices of bread, but drank considerable water. Saturday evening, at eight p.m., sharp, I was released, went to the home of one of the Saints and ate a good, hearty meal. On Sunday night our little hall was so overcrowded that I think we will have to hire a larger one, if it keeps on thus.

My name appeared in the newspapers, and the whole affair was explained in the Haugesund Avis on Saturday. The editor of that paper is a very good friend of the Mormon missionaries.

Monday I made a revisit, or rather a “first self-invitation” to the prison, with an armful of books. I asked permission to have an interview with the chief, and was shown into his office. he took me by the hand, and I thanked him for his kindness and friendliness. He looked down at the floor and replied, “ingen aarsag,” (no cause). I then praised the force of men under him, and especially the jailer, for his zeal in performing his duty. he thanked me for the kind words I spoke about his men. I then made him a present of a Book of Mormon. He took it, hurriedly looked it over, and then accepted it with a “thank you,” and gave me his hand.

I next made my friend, Judge No. 2, a present of the same book. He took me by the hand and thanked me. the other judge received a Voice of Warning, and the jailer The Fundamental Principles of the Gospel, while every policeman, and even the marshal who arrested me, received some kind of book. not one refused to accept my books, and all were as polite as could be. I imagine that this is the first time the judges and prison officials have had any prisoner return, after serving sentence, to thank them for their kindness. We have gained many good friends through this occurrence. I feel very happy and never felt the spirit of God in such a degree as when I was addressing that priest in the prison; it burned in my breast like fire. The Lord was with me while in jail, and I knew that his guardian angels comforted me, for I could feel their presence.

I’ve learned many lessons through this experience. I love my Savior, the gospel, and the opportunity I have of being an ambassador of the same, better than ever before. I love my home in Zion, my dear loved ones there, my fellowmen, freedom and liberty. I feel I have done my duty, and would be willing again to go through the same ordeal, if thereby I could bring one honest soul into the fold of Christ.

Elder Kjar returned safely home following his mission, and moved from Salt Lake City to Idaho, where he married in 1912. He later moved to northern California. He was called in 1927 as the first bishop of the Sunset Ward, San Francisco Stake. He died in San Francisco in 1946.



12 Comments »

  1. The original Bookslinger.

    Comment by ESO — April 27, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  2. Good read. Do you know if there were any convert baptisms from this event?

    Comment by Steve C. — April 27, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

  3. Wow – what a great account. I was struck by two main themes in Elder Kjar’s account. One, that he never seems to have been “unrighteously proud” of his experience. He eschews the typical persecution vocabulary, only once referring to the event as an “ordeal,” and that a relatively benign term. Instead of drawing parallels to others’ prison experiences, he seems to have viewed it as a useful, but insignificant event. What a soul!

    Which brings me to the other point that stood out: Elder Kjar was obviously bold and unafraid, and his zealousness in sharing his witness and the literature is remarkable. But that one line about the co-prisoner really seems to get to the essence of who he was. After his two hour conversation, the woman prisoner said the expected and possibly obligatory response that she would be interested in learning more about the Church, yadda yadda. But then, she says something more, and it indicates that she must have had some sort of change of heart: “[S]he said it was her intention to . . . try and live a good life hereafter.” To me, the fact that the woman prisoner’s heart was softened during their conversation, and above and beyond his strong defense of doctrinal points, is evidence of Elder Kjar’s Christianity.

    Thanks for this.

    Comment by Hunter — April 27, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

  4. Ha! ESO, Bookslinger came to my mind, too!

    Steve, I don’t know of any followup to this, although, of course, once somebody is on my radar, I’ll recognize the connection if I ever run across one. Wouldn’t that be one of the best stories for someone to tell today when people compare notes about how their families joined the Church? “Well, my great-grandfather jailed a missionary/talked to a missionary through a prison wall/found some Mormon pamphlets under his pillow when he was sent to jail.”

    Thank you, Hunter. As you so often do, you look deeper into the story than occurred to me. You have a way of lifting something out of the realm of “interesting anecdote” and raising it to the level of “gospel principle.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 27, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  5. [blush] I’m flattered by the comparison, though I think Ardis’ main tie-in is the recent event of the immigrant missionary being arrested/detained in Cincinnati at the end of his mission, for being an undocumented/illegal immigrant.

    It was also reported over at T&S, that the missionary was preaching to a fellow inmate, and the fellow inmate was relocated as a result.

    I was going to copy/paste Ray’s comment here, but I’ll leave that to Ardis.

    Elder Kjar, and the Cincinnati elder, join a list of notables, including the Apostle Paul, the Prophet Joseph, and many ancient prophets and missionaries, who were imprisoned for, essentially, preaching the gospel, and thereby are given more opportunities to preach.

    Comment by Bookslinger — April 27, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

  6. That is, of course, what reminded me of Elder Kjar’s story, Bookslinger — the image of an apostle or a prophet or an elder preaching the gospel in prison is such a powerful one, recalling the work of the Savior while His body waited in the tomb, when He initiated the preaching of the gospel to the spirits in prison. “For the works which ye have seen me do, that shall ye also do.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 27, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

  7. Thank you, Ardis. These stories are so poignant to me, especially as I read of people complaining about and leaving the Church for such more trivial excuses. Truly Elder Kjar’s heart was right with God.

    I don’t want to threadjack this excellent post, but from what I know of the young man who was jailed recently, I have no doubt Elder Kjar is looking on with a smile on his face. I don’t doubt this good man is doing all he can to share the Gospel wherever he is, to whatever extent he can.

    Comment by Ray — April 27, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

  8. What an awesome story! Thanks for posting this. It gives me chill bumps.

    Comment by Tatiana — April 27, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

  9. “Chill bumps”

    You mean “goose bumps,” right? [grin]

    Comment by Hunter — April 27, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  10. “Goose bumps” to you and me in the West, Hunter, but maybe they have a different name in Tatiana’s South. (My Alabama grandmother regularly surprised me with twists like that.)

    Thanks, Ray and Tatiana, for your recognition of the story.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 28, 2009 @ 6:30 am

  11. Y’all in the West just talk funny. “Chill bumps” makes far more sense. :)

    Of course, living in Tennessee, I’ve heard both, but I never made the connection that it might be regional thing.

    Ardis, I like this story. Thanks.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 28, 2009 @ 8:51 am

  12. Heh! When my grandmother came to Utah and started teaching elementary school in a mining camp — where I don’t suppose fine manners and tact about things like accents were everywhere encountered — my grandmother worked hard to learn a new language. Her reasoning, given years later, was “If I was going to teach those little heathens, I had to learn to talk like them.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 28, 2009 @ 9:08 am

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