Missionary Father

Elmer Danielson

Reflections of Elmer Danielson

In 1941 Elmer Danielson was serving as a missionary pastor in central Tanzania, eagerly awaiting the arrival of his wife Lillian and their six young children, Zamzam passengers. Because of war-time travel complications, Elmer had returned to Africa without the family the previous year. Now he rejoiced to know they were on their way to join him in Tanzania. But, as day by day and then week by week went by, and there was no news of the Zamzam, Elmer's concern grew and grew. Where was his precious family? Why had he not heard from them? Finally came the news -- the Zamzam was lost, presumed sunk, with no hope of survivors.

Through the years which followed, Pastor Danielson often recalled the awful morning of getting news of the sinking and then the miraculous news that his family had survived. In April, 1979 he wrote the following reflections in a letter to his six children:

"... Let me share a few of my reflections, as I marvel that all of you are alive on this earth.

"I remember the early morning at that little gold mine, when I was given the news. It was simply unbelievable. Here was a mystery I laid before God -- we had separated, I to Tanganyika, leaving you children with Mother in Lindsborg -- because in our heart-rending search for God's will during those dark days, we believed we should make this sacrifice for our Savior's sake and His work. We had inner peace. But now -- not to lose my whole family, and in such a cruel way!

"I reflect on how God gave me extra-ordinary things to do those two first days, protecting me from despair. I never at any time doubted the love of God for me and for us!

"I had been called Sunday afternoon to see a young dying Scotch gold miner -- something which only happened then. I sat with him all night -- the only time I have done that in Africa.

"I got the news (of the sinking) early Monday morning from Stan Moris, a doctor friend -- and I was surrounded from the beginning by understanding and kind friends of all kinds, though we lived far apart from one another.

"I had the baptism of an infant baby on Tuesday morning in the home of a young South African couple. They were the only whites at the mine. He was sick in bed with malaria. This is the only time I have had a baby's baptism under such unique circumstances. It was like a bolt of Jesus' love from heaven while in my own heart I wondered if all of you were already in heaven.

"That whole Tuesday was filled with the unusual -- all to bear me up!

"At noon (Tuesday) young Mac, the miner, died. Stan and I had to take his body and transport it to the main mine, Sekenke, 25 miles away.

"There was the preparing of the burial message for a large attendance of mainly men, of all races, nationalities and religious background. I spoke on Jesus and the widow of Nain, which tells of Jesus' compassion for the sorrowing mother, and Jesus' power in raising her son back to life and returning him to his mother.

"It was miraculous the way news filtered in about the Zamzam.

"As I helped a German dress Mac's body for burial, he told me very unconvincingly that he had heard over the German radio (he should not have been listening -- it was war-time) that at least some of the Zamzam passengers were safe.

"When I finished giving the message, and was walking, following the coffin to the outside, a visiting Belgian director of the mine took ahold of my sleeve and said he had heard over the French radio that Zamzam passengers had been landed in French territory. As I walked along, I could only think of French West Africa, and that it was impossible for all of you to have escaped death.

"The culminating miracle of help that day happened around 9:15 that night in the home of the chief engineer and his wife -- fine Christian people. We came from the grave-side to their home to say 'hello' to Mrs. Marshall. She had helped nurse young Mac, and was so broken-up by his death that she felt ill, and didn't come to the service. In fact, she was in bed. As soon as we saw her, she asked us to turn on the news from BBC in London. She, too, was deeply disturbed by the Zamzam news. We told her it was too late as it was just about 9:15. That news to East Africa was broadcast at 6 pm to 6:15 pm from London, and was our only contact with the outside world. I personally had no radio.

"Mrs. Marshall so insisted, so just to please her, we tuned in ...and I will never forget. There were a few words of the next-to-the-last item, and then, strong and clear, came the last item: 'It has been confirmed by the Vichy Government that 140 of the 142 Americans on the Zamzam are safe, and have been landed at St. Jean-de-Luz in occupied France. Good night.'

"We drove from Sekenke to Kiomboi late that night -- and my heart was lighter, but still disturbed. But God's mercy, over against the evil of men, was showing through! I wondered who those two were -- and it seemed so long before that mystery was cleared. (Two injured Americans had been left on the warship.)

"...Marty and I sent a cable to Marty's sister and Mother in Lisbon... Finally, about two weeks later, came Mother's beautiful cable, telling me all of you were safe -- and well.

"My heart overflowed with thanks to God our Father for His miraculous saving and His great mercy to me and to all of us..."

You may see and hear Elmer Danielson tell a brief version of this story in the video, Zamzam, A Missionary Odyssey, starting at about 19:00.