Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 4

Axel Karlson Part I: A Call to the Eskimos By Adam London When Axel E.

Karlson, a tall Swede with glasses, landed on the shores of Unalaklik (Unalakleet), he began to fulfill Gods call upon his life. Karlson had arrived exactly where God intended to use him. Axel E. Karlson was born in Rk, stergtland, Sweden, on September 15, 1858. Responding to the call to ministry, Karlson graduated from the Bible Institute in Kristinehamn in 1883. After graduating, Karlson and his friend, Adolf Lydel, went directly into the Mission field in Russian Siberia. Unfortunately, Russia closed their doors to Christian missionaries and demanded that Karlson and Lydel leave. When Karlson and Lydel refused to leave immediately, they were imprisoned. Though records are spotty, it appears Lydel spent only months in prison, while Karlson spent almost 3 years imprisoned in Moscow. Meanwhile, the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden began to hear a calling to extend their Mission further than Russia and into Alaska. In 1879 a Swedish explorer, A. E. Nordenskjold, returned home from Alaska to report that the time was ripe for missionaries to be sent to the Eskimo people. For 5 years that call remained unanswered, until 1886 when Karlson was freed from prison and returned to Sweden. Karlson and Lydel reunited and met with the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden. Karlson still had dreams of returning to Russia to minister to the people there. Upon hearing the call for missionaries to go to Alaska, Karlson thought that a Mission station in Alaska might be the perfect opportunity to see if there might be a back door into Russian Siberia. Shortly after Karlson had returned from Russia, he and Lydel were commissioned by the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden to minister to the Native people of Alaska. On August 6, 1886 the friends left for America. The two Swedes arrived in America and immediately began to look for a boat to bring them to Alaska. Finding that no boats would be leaving San Francisco until after the winter, Karlson and Lydel took the opportunity to learn a smattering of English and raise support for their Mission by traveling the country and visiting the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant Church of America. During the winter, Karlson and Lydel came to stay in Seattle for a time and befriended an Episcopalian minister named Henry Chapman who was responding to the call to Alaska made by Sheldon Jackson in 1880. The three kindred spirits quickly bonded and shared stories and dreams. When boats finally began traveling to Alaska, the trio quickly booked their journey north with a great wealth of supplies to keep them company. One of their first stops was at Yakutat. Lydel fell in love with Yakutat and the Native people there. Lydel told his friends, There is no need for me to travel any farther. There is plenty of work to be done right here. With those words, Lydel left the party and set up a Mission station in Yakutat.

Karlson and Chapman continued on to get as far north as possible. Finally, the boat arrived in St. Michael on June 25, 1887. Karlson, Chapman and their wealth of supplies set up camp in the village. The pair made a deal with each other; if God were to call one of them north, the other would go south. They did not have to wait long for that call. As fall was approaching, Karlson met a Native man who knew how to speak some Russian. That Native man was Nashalook, a young Eskimo Chief from the village of Unalaklik (Unalakleet). Nashalook and Karlson quickly struck up a friendship and Nashalook invited Karlson to go north with him to his village; Karlson said yes. Chapman then went south and set up a Mission station in Anvik. Years later, Chapman would end up visiting Karlson in Unalakleet and sharing in the ministry there. On July 9, 1887, Karlson left St. Michael for Unalakleet with all of his supplies, eager to meet the Eskimo people that God had called him to. However, six days into the journey from St. Michael to Unalakleet a severe storm hit the party and Karlson begun to fear for his life. In the midst of the storm the Natives tossed dogs and supplies overboard. When the storm finally subsided, the party went ashore to recover their dogs and what supplies they could. Setting out again, Karlson and Nashalook finally arrived in Unalakleet on July 16, 1887. Karlson was 28 years old when he set foot upon the shore of his new home. Karlson would call Unalakleet his home for all the remaining days of his life as he lived out the call God had given him to join in the work God had already been doing; ministering among the Eskimo people. For Karlson, his call had finally become a reality, and God was ready to move in a mighty way in Unalakleet and beyond. Axel Karlson Part II: By Adam London When Axel E. Karlson, a tall Swede with glasses, landed on the shores of Unalaklik (Unalakleet), he began to fulfill Gods call upon his life. Karlson had arrived exactly where God intended to use him. Karlson was only 28 years old when he came to live in Unalakleet in July of 1887. Though the Swedish speaking Karlson did not speak the Eskimo dialects and only a smattering of English, God had led him to the Unalakleet Chief Nashalook. Though the Eskimo speaking Nashalook did not speak Swedish or English, he did speak a smattering of Russian. Karlson also knew Russian, and thus a friendship was born. Nashalook had invited Karlson to come to Unalakleet, and Karlson accepted. Before leaving Sweden, Karlson had hopes of setting up a Mission station in Alaska to search for a back door to do ministry in Russia. However, shortly after Karlson arrived in Unalakleet, he quickly realized that his calling was to join in the work God had already been doing; ministering among the Eskimo people. God would later use the Mission stations in Alaska to reach into Russia, though not in Karlsons lifetime.

Ministry in Unalakleet had a very rocky start. Although Karlson may have been the first white man to live amongst the Natives, he was certainly not the first white man to have contact with the people. Karlson remarked that when he arrived, alcohol and gambling were already an epidemic among the people. When Karlson arrived without any alcohol, many under the bondage of that vile drink became angry and some even threatened him. Additionally, the local shaman saw him as a menace and tried to gather people to oppose Karlson. Nashalook, fearing for Karlsons life, put Karlson under house arrest and moved him from home to home so that the drunks did not know where he was. Finally, after 3 months, Karlson and Nashalook felt that it was safe for Karlson to come out of hiding. Karlson went to work in building himself a log cabin; the first of its kind in Unalakleet. Communication with the Natives was always a struggle for Karlson. There were 3 dialects being spoken in Unalakleet at the time, and only a few knew any Russian. Furthermore, Karlson had been recruited by the American government to teach English, a language he barely knew, to the Native people. At some point during Karlsons travels, he had been made known to Reverend Sheldon Jackson, the Presbyterian who doubled as the first General Agent of Education in Alaska. Jackson had a vision to see all the state of Alaska reached for Christ, splitting Alaska into denominational regions. Upon hearing of Karlson, he quickly recruited him. Jackson was so ambitious that in an 1888 report to the state, Unalakleet was listed as one of the newest locations of a school building (even though a building had not yet been built!). The first school house was a wood cabin that was brought up from San Francisco. Karlson used a white sheet and coal from the fireplace as a chalkboard. Between Swedish, English, Russian, and 3 Native dialects, the language barrier for Karlson almost seemed too hard to cross at first. However, God is ever faithful and the Gospel message could not be stopped. In the beginning Nashalook helped translate the story of Christ to the people. However, not long after Karlson had settled in, he was given an unexpected cabin mate that would further break down the language barrier. Uyarak (which means Rock), was about 12 years old when Karlson arrived. Both his parents had died (his father murdered before his eyes). Nashalook knew that Karlson had plenty of supplies for the winter, so he brought the orphan Uyarak to stay with the Swede. Uyarak was the first of many orphans who would come to live in the Covenant Childrens Home. Uyarak went on to become one of Karlsons first converts, sled-drivers, and interpreters. Uyarak became known as the Paul of the Eskimos and was a great evangelist, preacher, and writer in his own right. Other Native workers essential to spreading the gospel early were Stephan Ivanoff and Frank Kameroff. Before snowmachines and four-wheelers, Karlson traveled in the winter by dog sled and at times in the summer by horse. Yes: by horse. In fact, Karlson kept many animals that were strange to the tundra: cows, goats, chickens, and pigs. Karlson even kept some dogs as pets. (It was unusual for the Eskimos to keep pets, but it was not unheard of; Stephan Ivanoff kept a cat).

Karlson also gardened quite extensively and grew a great many potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and turnips. In addition to his imported means of survival, Karlson also embraced the Eskimo subsistence lifestyle. He was an avid hunter, fisherman, and gatherer. He took regular steam baths and also participated in the Eskimo feasts and festivals (the ones that were not lead by the shamans). On more than one occasion he even prescribed seal oil for those that were sick. Karlson was the first of many missionaries in the region, but he was not alone for long. August Anderson arrived in 1888, David Johnson, N.O. Hultberg, and Hanna Svenson arrived in 1891, and O.P. Anderson came shortly after them. Hanna would go on to marry Karlson. On April 24th, 1894 Hanna saved a new born baby girl from certain death as her mother could not care for her. The couple adopted the baby and named the girl May and raised her as their own. Karlson preached the Gospel message in combination with the message of freedom from superstitions. He took the Gospel as far away as Wales, Selawik, into the interior, and every village in between. Despite the vast area covered by his ministry, Karlson did not offer a watered down Gospel. Converts had to study several months to a year just to be Baptized. Karlson funded the ministry largely through his own personal wealth, given to him in gold by many travelers he gave hospitality to. However, to his credit, Karlson never left his post to strike it rich. On January 15, 1910 Karlson went home to be with the Lord after suffering a suspected burst appendix. Karlson was buried in Unalakleet. Karlsons Eskimo name was Isregalik, which means one with glass eyes (glasses). Isregalik is still honored today as a handful of Eskimos have been named after him. Hanna moved back to the Lower 48, but was later buried in Unalakleet beside her husband. Hanna had told her friends, At the resurrection morning, I want to be together with my Eskimo friends. Someday all who have faith in Christ will also be able to meet with these good and faithful servants.