Friday, March 13, 2015

A Burning Heart

Erik August Skogsbergh had a burning in his heart to win souls for Christ. In 1876 the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Mission Association on the north side of Chicago invited him to come from Sweden and be their pastor. He had a powerful evangelistic ministry among the Swedish immigrants in the new land and soon became known as “the Swedish Moody.”

I (Scott) am thankful that Skogsbergh followed God's call on his life because of the impact he had on my great-great-grandfather and—by extension—on my own life. On November 12, 1876, A. G. Gustafson gave his life to Christ as one of many young Swedish immigrants who were touched by the revival in Chicago. His commitment to the Lord included sharing his faith with his family, and we who follow in his footsteps know that Grandpa Gustafson left a strong heritage of a burning heart.

Today I'm sitting in Chicago just outside the loop reflecting on those who were here before me and those who will remain after. Joel and I came two weeks ago to visit David, establish Joel as a resident of Illinois and start looking for work for him. During the past few days in this city, I couldn't help but wonder when I might be walking some of the same streets that my great-great-grandfather knew when he was here. Only 700 yards from this apartment is the site where, in 1871, The Great Chicago Fire began to smolder in the barn of Mrs. O'Leary. I'm not sure when A. G. Gustafson first arrived in Chicago, but the fire was only five years before his conversion. Could he have been here then? Might he have walked past this very property to observe the damage from the two-day blaze? Eventually, the burning in his own heart proved to be equally as productive as the destructive power of those flames.

Wes Gustafson
Although I haven't found A. G.'s name inscribed on the streets of Chicago, I did find his imprint on the life of a man near here. You see, A. G. had a grandson named Wes who gave his life in ministry. He was a missionary to China and a pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota among other places. When I was visiting a supporting church an hour from here, an elder of the church casually mentioned his spiritual mentor, Wes Gustafson. After comparing notes we confirmed that my relative and his pastor had been the same person.

God has allowed Skogsbergh's burning heart to be passed to A. G. Gustafson, to most of the Gustafson family, to his grandchild (Wes), and through Wes to others whom his life has touched. Seeing the effect that can be produced through the generations has renewed in me a desire to fan the flames burning in my own heart.

Those Who Will Remain
On Wednesday I'll be leaving David and Joel behind in Chicago and returning to Ecuador. I sense a burning in their hearts that makes me proud. I pray that they will leave an impact on this city and everywhere else they might go. Their impact will likely not be as visible as that left by Skogsbergh and certainly not as rampantly destructive as the Great Chicago Fire. Nevertheless, if they fan the flames it will no doubt be just as powerful as the impact left by Wes in the life of a man who now serves as elder of a church. May God put men and women in their path who need the holy fire they can spread. And may God give me tremendous opportunities to do the same in Ecuador.

Quite obviously, Mrs. O'Leary's barn is no longer here. I've been past the site several times this week and even stopped once to look at the monument. But even more prominent than the monument is the new building that now occupies the property—the Chicago Fire Academy. About two hours ago I saw some firemen in training—learning to rescue people from a tall burning building. One might say they were fanning the burning flames of a passion to rescue people from destruction. Let's also look for ways to fan our own passion. Let's look for opportunities to turn the ruins of life into a holy burning fire to reach other souls for Christ.

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