Lady Samaritan

The teenage newcomer girl sobbed her heart out. The pillow was drenched in biter, salty tears. “I am so hungry. My stomach hurts. The only food I have had today is a White Castle hamburger and a cup of coffee.  My ragged gingham dress can’t last much longer and my shoes are all worn out. ‘Kjare Gud!’  And I thought money grew on trees in America.”

Marie, called Maia in Norway, could have appealed to the church for help. She did attend church, but she didn’t know she was supposed to ask for anything. The church people didn’t seem to notice the hunger in her eyes, her ragged dress or worn-out shoes.  Food stamps.  Welfarism. Public relief. She had never heard of them. But if she had she wouldn’t have bothered about them anyway.  She was God’s girl, and she was a Viking. She was going to make it and make it she did.

She worked her way through high school selling magazines on the streets of Minneapolis. During college days she washed pots and pans in a restaurant and edited the well-known Norwegian magazine NORDVESTERN. The Norwegian immigrant girl topped the honor roll both in high school and college.

Marie wanted to make a great contribution to her adopted country. “He that saveth his life shall lose it,” was one of her favorite sayings. She believed with Jim Elliot, martyred missionary to the Aucas, that, “he is not a fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Marie sold magazines in the back yards of Minneapolis. She sold hundreds of them in the Gateway area, and around Chicago and Franklin Avenues. It was on these streets that her life’s work was born.

She was a follower of Has Nilson Hauge, the Billy Graham of Norway, and she knew that her contribution to the city of Minneapolis would have to be a spiritual contribution. In the slum areas, now called inner city, she had looked into the eyes of hungry children, seen the tears of unwed mothers and listened to the sad plight of the poor. She had been hungry herself. She would preach the Gospel to the poor. She would offer them a new life to live, not a check to take to the tavern. She would come with the Gospel in one hand and material help such as food, clothing, lodging and yes, shoes in the other hand. She would help them to help themselves.

Marie loved books and school. Back in the old country she learned Luther’s catechism by heart. She could recite whole chapters from the Bible and recite Terje Viken, and the Ancient Mariner equally well. She still reads a book a week. But Marie was not a visionary. She knew that working with the poor would almost require the wisdom of Solomon. She knew she would have to be “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.” She listened to the great wisdom of Dr. W. B. Riley, and though she knew she would never be a Dr. Riley, she would gather some of that wisdom. She would go to a theological seminary. The fact that most of them were open only to men didn’t bother Marie. She is somewhat of an enigma. She is a Lutheran. Marie has a bachelor of divinity degree from a Congregational seminary, and for many years was a parish worker in a Baptist church. She can be a Christian Lutheran, a Christian Baptist and a Christian Congregationalist at the same time.

Marie came from one of the most beautiful places on earth. She was born on the Sognefjord, near the famous Jostedals Glaciers. Hundreds of American tourists visit that area every year. But Marie’s cravings for beauty were not as strong as her desire for higher education. And at that time Norway did not offer higher education to poor orphans. Marie’s parents died when she was little and she was raised by her grandmother. She was considered an oddity as a child. People called her “den galne unge,” the crazy kid. They thought she talked to herself. But Marie was in the company that they knew not of. She hasd memorized the Sagas, the poets, the Bible writers. She was walking down the road with Bjornson, Ibsen, Wergeland, and even Abraham and Moses. One day on her way to the grocery store she was reciting the Ten Commandments. She liked to play with words. She shouted across the Sognefjord, “Du skal ikke bedrive hor.” “Though shall not commit adultery.” Marie was too young to know what the words meant, but the people knew. They thought some new Hans Nilson Hauge had come back. They peaked around and whispered “den gaine unge,” “the crazy kid.”

The Haugeans, a pietist group in the Lutheran Church, were strong in Sogn. Their preaching of salvation now appealed to little Marie’s desire for reality. She walked up to the well-known Ludvig Hope, then a young man, and told him she was giving her heart to the Lord. The young Hope smiled, put his hand on her head and dedicated her to the work of the Gospel. “This little girl is going to move mountains,” he said. She stood there in wooden shoes, ankle length dress, and long blond Norwegian hair. She felt she could move “Helvetesberget,” (Hell’s mountain) near her home.

And Marie did move Hell’s Mountain. “Some may prefer to live within the sound of church and chapel bell, but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell,” So said C.T. Studd, the well-known missionary. Like C.T. Studd, Marie established her mission station, the Minneapolis Revival Mission, often called the Marie Sandvik Mission, within a yard of hell. Thirty years ago, before the church had heard about the inner city, the ghetto, or social concern, she was concerned for the drug addict, the drunk, the unwed mother, and the child in need. Long before the Great Society declared the War on Poverty, she was feeding the hungry, housing the stranger, and offering new life to the poor. She faced the question marks of ministers who thought it inadvisable for a young woman missionary to contact alcoholics, prostitutes and criminals. Churches sent women missionaries to savage areas of South America and Africa, but questioned the idea of a woman missionary in their own city slums. Marie was 30 years ahead of her time.

Marie lived dangerously. Once a gun was pointed at her by a drunk soldier who had gone berserk. He used the phone in the mission office to call his girlfriend he found she had married another man. He took his revolver from his bag and pointed it to his head. He was going to shoot himself, he said, so the girl would hear it over the phone. “Drop that gun,” said Marie. Then he pointed the gun at her. “Get out of here or I will kill you,” he screamed. “In Jesus’ name, drop that gun,” Marie thundered. He did.

Marie has been chased by drug addicts with switch blades. One day while visiting for vacation Bible school, she had a pot of urine poured on her head from the third floor of the tenement. She has been cussed and discussed.  But, most of the time, she has been affectionately called “Little Mother” or “Little Sister.”

The news media has often referred to Marie as, “Lady Samaritan of the Slum”, “Little Sister of the Poor”, “A pioneer in the City Mission Work”. The mission has been written up in many magazines and newspapers such as The Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Sunday Tribune, The Morning Tribune, Minot Daily News, New Rockford, North Dakota, Transcript, Lutheran “Evangelize”, The Baptist “Today”, Power Magazine, Morning Glory, NorskUngdom, Minnesota Posten and “Aftenposten”, Oslo, Norway. “Fiskerjenten,” the fishing maid from Norway, who so often fished on the Sognefjord, is now fishing on the Fjords of humanity. She is catching the lost, the confused, and the helpless, bringing them to the shores of safety.

Reprinted from To the Slums with Love, 1983