Sven Ljungholm & Kathie (Ljungholm) Bearcroft
BOOK BACK COVER
A colorful Salvation Army display took place for the first time along Petrograd’s (now St. Petersburg) Nevsky Prospekt on Easter morning April 1917. To the stirring tune of “Rouse then Soldiers, Rally ‘Round the Banner” a band of twenty Salvationists, led by Swedish SA Colonel Karl Larsson playing his concertina, marched to their Sunday morning meeting. 450 Russian nationals out of thousands of spectators along the route, were induced to join the merry band in a celebratory Easter morning service.
This was a day to rejoice! The Salvation Army had been unofficially at work and growing in the Land of the Czars since 1913 and ‘very unofficially’ even 23 years before then. However, its activities were severely restricted until the March 1917 revolution extended religious freedom to all.
In less than one year a contingent of Swedish SA officers descended upon Petrograd as reinforcements. Included were Adjutants Otto and Gerda Ljungholm assigned to the training college, and who after the commissioning of 18 Russian officers in September 1918, were assigned the daunting task of ‘opening fire’ on the recently designated Russian capital of Moscow. Following the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Vladimir Lenin, fearing possible foreign invasion, moved the capital from Saint Petersburg back to Moscow just six months earlier on March 5. The Kremlin once again became the seat of power and the political centre of the new state. However, a short five years later, by 1923, the Soviet Communists had totally proscribed the work of The Salvation Army from all Russian soil.
Three quarters of a century years after Adjutants Otto and Gerda opened fired in Moscow their grandson Sven and his wife Kathie, re-founded the work in the exact same building and public hall as his forbearers, after first re-‘opening fire’ in Leningrad five months earlier,. They along with four other pioneers from Norway and Canada were under orders from General Eva Burrows.
Initially, unlikely candidates to pick up the mantle, Sven and Kathie were living a comfortable upper middle class suburban existence in suburban New York City when a mid-life turning point changed the course of their lives.
Not unfamiliar with the Army as they were both children of the regiment with roots in the USA Central Territory, their first appointment was to revive the fledgling New York Central Citadel Corps. Sven who had been a travel industry entrepreneur, president of an airline and executive of a major tour company with corporate offices on Madison Avenue and Kathie who owned her own bookkeeping business, quickly put their leadership skills to work.
The corps was soon thriving with increased Sunday attendances of upper Manhattan Eastside yuppies who volunteered in the soup kitchen, street people who couldn’t read until the Ljungholms created a reading/graduate program and local Salvationists who wanted to be involved in the innovative programs at the newly revived corps. Their work was featured on all national television networks, CNN, CBN, the New York Times, WSJ and even the BBC and TV specials in Russia, Sweden and the UK.
In 1991 when the call came from General Burrows to re-open the work in Leningrad, the Ljungholms dutifully mustered up. A few months later, following a productive pioneering period in Leningrad, they set out for Moscow with $200 in their pocket, two cartons of Russian Bibles, a SA flag and the address of a ‘borrowed’, uninspected two room abandoned apartment in which to set up their battle headquarters. Within another year they had been instrumental in raising an Army of several hundred uniformed soldiers in three corps, two operational centers in two Russian Ministry buildings, and a thriving social services program including 41 soup kitchens and ground-breaking work among prisoners until ordered to ‘open fire’ in Ukraine and MoldovaUntil now much had been lost in the SA’s early history regarding the sacrificial contribution of Swedish Salvationists to this endeavor. The only book written on the subject by Karl Larsson in 1937 (then Commissioner) titled “Ten Years In Russia” had never been translated and published in English. Dr. Sven-Erik Ljungholm’s riveting read in “Return to Russia and Beyond” Volumes I and II brilliantly bridges that gap. Daryl Lach, SA Journalist and Historian