Early on the morning of September 12, more than 100 police in Shanxi Province blocked access to a special cemetery where Swedish missionaries were buried. According to a report by Bitter Winter, three Bulldozers moved in and demolished the grave site while arial drones flew overhead and monitored the destruction.
All 20 graves were destroyed. Greenery was planted overnight where the graves were, so that it appears as if the graves never existed.
Prior to the destruction of the grave site, all of the local villagers who lived near the graves were summoned to the local police station. Their phones were confiscated to prevent information leaks, or taking photos or videos during the demolition.
One famous Swedish missionary who had served in the area was Verner Wester. He and six of his family members were buried in the Chinese grave site nearly a century ago. In the 1920s, the village of Yuncheng was suffering from a deadly drought, so Verner collected $6,000 USD for aid relief and distributed 45,000 pounds of food to the hungry families, saving the lives of thousands of villagers. Verner was the first to develop scientific methods to identify famine victims and set up a “work relief” model to fix the city.
Verner was well known among the missionary community. According to a mission newsletter dated on 15 January 1911, Verner never had enough room at his church for all of the people who wanted to attend. He often hosted mission conferences and helped to train and send out evangelists.
Together with the other Swedish missionaries, Verner helped build 60 churches with over 6,000 members. They were also able to establish the Yucheng Hospital, which is credited with saving thousands of lives when the people of the area had no other modern medical facility.
Even today, Verner is still thought of as a hero to the locals. On May 7 of this year, the local newspaper printed a special story called “A Journey from Overseas: A Bond of Ten Decades – Swedish Missionaries in Yuncheng City” introducing how the Swedish missionaries preached the Gospel and served the people. It was released on the local Wechat page and this, no doubt, grabbed the attention of high up government officials.
A museum (pictured below) was started to show all of the things that the Swedish missionaries had done.
A few years ago, Verner’s granddaughter, Mick Lidbeck (pictured below in back row: middle) traveled to China with her husband Magnus to see what her grandfather had done. One of Verner’s students, who was 93 years old at the time, was so excited to receive the couple, but had passed away before they arrived.
This year, as respect for the Swedish missionaries grew, so did the government’s fear. All Chinese Christians with connection to family members of the Swedish missionaries have been put under surveillance. The destruction of the graves was most likely done to send a clear message – forget the history of the Christian mission work in China.
The 20 graves were all missionaries from the Swedish Mission in China (Svenska Missionen i Kina (SMK)), who had lived in China from 1903 to 1930. The Swedish mission group is now called The Evangelical East Asia Mission (EÖM). The Swedish Mission in China changed its name to The Evangelical East Mission in 1982, when several Swedish Asian missions merged together.
BTJ has reached out to one of the board members from Evangelical East Asia Mission for comment, but has not yet heard back.