A. Richard Peterson was serving his third mission – his second as mission president in Norway – when he was forced to leave that country in 1939. He and his wife returned to Norway early in 1946 to resume their labors. He reported the condition of the mission and the Saints in Norway in 1948:
Instructions form Salt Lake City to evacuate all missionaries from Norway as rapidly as possible in 1939 prompted a feeling of great concern in the hearts of all who were able to discern the true significance of such an ominous sign. It was with trepidation that Sister Peterson and I turned our backs on the land of Norway where we had so joyfully laboured in the cause of truth. Not for ourselves did we tremble but for those we were leaving behind. Impending disasters, all of which had been foretold, were soon revealed in the epoch making acts of aggression which rapidly engulfed the world.
Six heart-breaking years ensued, bringing us reports of the manner in which Norway, the country we knew and loved, was being overrun by an unscrupulous oppressor. Appreciation of the proud and insuperable spirit which characterises the Norwegian people made us realise that they would never submit themselves to subservience and oppression,. We prayed that the righteous would be preserved from needless suffering.
Anxiously expectant, Sister Peterson and I landed once more on Norway’s shores February 6th, 1946 rejoicing at the first glimpse of the familiar, rugged coast we knew so well. We were accompanied by our daughter and son-in-law, Brother and Sister George R. Kasteler, their thirteen month old son, and Elders Einer M. Johansen and Olaf Vogeler.
Marked changes were immediately apparent, but we had not expected the people in general to be so well dressed as they were. Clothing was of surprisingly good appearance. This condition was not due to an abundance of clothes but rather to the resourcefulness of the wearers. An article might be used reversed; a shirt-tail often had a promising future as a collar, being replaced by a cloth of another color. These and innumerable other ingenious improvisations certainly merit the admiration of any practical-minded person. Yes, material exigencies and destruction were present, but they were attended by that indomitable determination which has enabled this hardy country to weather triumphantly the many vicissitudes that have marked its history.
Virtuous qualities are often tempered by privation and suffering. Such being true in Norway among our Saints, the Church enjoyed prosperity during the entire period of hostilities, making a story rich in faith-promoting incidents. Missionaries were called from among the Saints and laboured faithfully under severe conditions,. People were converted and baptised; meetings were regularly held and well attended, even though property was wrested from the Church by the “victors for the moment.” Ever ready to ascribe all honour to the Lord, the Saints recorded this incident in the Mission History, dated May 7th, 1945, which indicates the prevailing attitude: “We have been without communication with Church headquarters in Zion for a period of three and one-half years. But we have not been without communication with our Heavenly Father, and He has helped us through it all.” Also, “… We are now looking forward to hearing form other occupied countries and from our own dear church.” Other happenings, which show that the Lord had a hand in events here are found in the same book. The following was written shortly after hostilities commenced: “Our thoughts were recently carried back to the time when President Peterson was compelled to recall the elders from the city called Steinkjer. Early this month (April, 1940) the city was completely destroyed by the Nazi aggressor.” Another entry was made shortly after: “In the year 1936 the Lutheran Dean of Kristiansund N., Pastor Grasmo, officially declared to the inhabitants of that city that they should not provide shelter for the Mormon missionaries. His injunction was heeded by the city’s populace, and the missionaries were forced to leave the town. In doing so they cleansed the dust from their feet as a testimony to what had happened. Now, once again, the destroyer has accomplished a thoroughly work. Not a single house has been left standing. Complete destruction!”
As has been the case since the beginning of missionary activities here in Norway, we encountered bitter opposition from civil an state-church authorities after our return. Unhallowed charges and accusations were again hurled vehemently at “those Mormons.” The avowed purpose of this resistance was, “to protect the Christian people of Norway, a Christian people of irreproachable merit, from unscrupulous spiritual-invading heathens.” In many sectors of the world the fruits of our labours have shown the people that we are indeed worthy to bear the appellation “Christian.” It is hoped that in the future our motives will be understood here, enabling us to loosen the grasp of an immutable prejudice that hardens the hearts of the people.
Upon our return to Norway in 1946 influential civil and church dignitaries recruited the support of the Norwegian press to effectively arraign us publicly so that permanent permission to reside in the country was denied when our three-month visas had expired. Months of involved applications and incessant denial of permission to remain, during which time we were without permanent ration cards, necessitated our seeking the aid of the American Embassy and later Utah’s Senator E.D. Thomas. Finally, after eighteen months, the Alien Office issued the long sought “permission for residence permit.”
Our precarious position at this time did much to reduce the effect of our labours, and other missionaries experienced the same great difficulties in entering the country. Constant opposition from the press coupled with the resultant unfavourable public opinion still continue to hamper our efforts. Our prayers are that we will yet be able to penetrate that shield of ignorance which forbids the light entrance to their understanding.
Even though opposition is great, though City Councils have discriminated against us to the extent of requisitioning property we had purchased to keep us from using it, though clergymen continually warn their congregations of our supposed evil intentions, though men of influence seek to oppose us in every way, we are moving forward, taking courage in our conviction that our adversaries stand incapable of defeating the Lord’s purposes. And so, the gospel of Life pursues its destined course, resplendently clothed in folds of eternal truth, having withstood falsehood from time immemorial.
Eighty-six full time missionaries now carry our message to the most remote sectors of Norway. Novel and faith-promoting experiences testify convincing that there is still divine purpose and intervention in this work. In Hammerfest, which claims the distinction of being the world’s most northerly incorporated city, the elders report a most significant occurrence. Prior to the retreat of the Germans the city was burned to prevent the Russians from occupying it. The story reads much the same as the previous ones. every building was burned to the ground – except one! This particularly building, a tiny chapel situated adjacent to the burial grounds, somehow escaped. Several days previous to the destruction fo the city the town’s church records had been transferred to this already incommodious establishment. This act proved to be the salvation of the records. Had they remained in their original place of storage, the city church, a seemingly safe retreat, they would have been reduced to ashes with the rest of the city. They are the type of books invaluable for genealogical research that we are seeking the world over.
The recent establishment and reopening of thirteen new branches, the organisation of a new district, with plans for another, the arrival of many missionaries, and the general progress of our work prompt optimistic expectations and rejoicing in our hearts. We are led to a humble and grateful acknowledgment that the Lord is supporting His servants int his work, enabling finite man to transcend his own capabilities – teaching us to love, to pray, and to work.
“Indeed, ‘tis a prelude to eternal life.”