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The “Gun-Powder” Man

The “Gun-Powder” Man poster

The Moody Church’s First Missionary

The members of The Moody Church have just been challenged for foreign missions. The story of The Moody Church’s first—and certainly most unusual—missionary provides a fitting climax to this challenge.

Called the “gun-powder” man because of his straightforward preaching and intense zeal for the lost, Fredrik Franson was born in Sweden 100 years ago. In 1869, when Fredrick was 17, the Franson family migrated to the United States and settled in Nebraska. Three years later Fredrik was afflicted with malaria, but a year in bed brought conversion and consecration to his young heart.

In 1875, following a period of Bible study and evangelistic work in Nebraska, Franson read in the papers about the great evangelist, D.L. Moody, his revival meetings, and his success in soul-winning. Going to Chicago in order to attend the meetings, he carefully observed the spirit and methods of Mr. Moody, and even helped lead inquirers to Christ in the after-meetings.

Franson became a member of The Moody Church, or Chicago Avenue Church, as it was then called, and retained his membership all his life. On August 4, 1878, he was set apart for full-time service and became the first missionary of The Moody Church. This is the way his commission read:

To Whom It May Concern”

The bearer, F. Franson, having won our confidence during the time he has been among us (he being a member of our church) and going forth now in evangelistic work, we commend him to the Lord’s people wherever his labors call him.

Signed: F.H. Revell
From Executive Committee
Chicago Avenue Church
Chicago, Illinois, August 4, 1878

Franson’s mission field was the world, in the true sense of the word. He preached in America, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Russia, and Poland. The writings Franson left behind and the testimonies of those who heard him to hasten to the ends of the earth with the good news of salvation. His firm belief in Christ’s soon return was the great motivating force in Franson’s life—a force which gave him an undying passion for the souls of men of all colors and climates.

On the first page of his Bible, Franson had written what an old warrior once engraved on his sword: “If I cannot find a way, I shall cut one,” and with the sword of the Spirit he indeed cut his way everywhere. His intense zeal for the lost can be seen in his leaping across benches and jumping from the gallery in order to reach souls in spiritual distress.

Franson proclaimed a “whole gospel” that was fourfold:

Come to Jesus for salvation,
Live in Jesus for victory and sanctified life,
 Work with Jesus through witnessing and soul-winning,
Wait for Jesus’ coming to take His own.

He literally started revival all over the world. And wherever his “gun-powder” preaching was heard, there was either a revival or a riot—sometimes both.

Standing in the open plaza of an Armenian town, Franson tried to preach to the crowd surrounding him. Knowing only a few Armenian words, he was greatly handicapped. But the earnest expression on his face, down which tears were streaming, and his hands pointed heavenward, spoke more eloquently than words the message of God’s love. Hearts throughout the audience melted and conviction of sin swept over the multitude. A revival started which resulted in the salvation of thousands of souls.

It was natural that counterfires of satanic opposition should be concentrated against Franson. Once while kneeling in prayer in a church in this country, he was surrounded by a half dozen women, who punctuated the insults they heaped on him by spitting in his face.

Franson was forced out of a town in Norway by a mob who yelled invectives at him as a preacher of hellfire. On the outskirts he turned, faced the mob, and said, with prophetic vision, “As I am now driven out of this town, so you will be driven out in a future day.” This prophecy was fulfilled 20 years later when a fire destroyed almost the entire town.

The revival fires kindled by Franson at home and abroad were not left to die out. The new converts were instructed in the fundamental teachings of the Bible and personal evangelism, and were organized into groups, societies, or churches. One of New Zealand’s first evangelical churches was organized in 1902, following a revival campaign Fanson held there.

Franson’s appearance as he traveled from country to country has been described in this way by another missionary: “He is small in stature, with a  face like Charles Dickens’, a happy countenance, expressive blue eyes, and a deeply religious nature. He is always praying—audible or inaudibly.

A Swedish journalist wrote: “As a flaming arrow Franson flew through the world’s many lands, kindling the fire of God’s kingdom here and there. He was a genius, and in learning languages he easily overcame the Babel confusion of tongues.”

Up to 1890, Franson’s chief interest had not been foreign missions. But in that year, while conducting a campaign in Germany, he heard Hudson Taylor’s fervent appeal for 1,000 new missionaries for China. The challenge stirred Franson’s heart, and he dedicated himself to securing at least 100 of that number. Returning to America with this new vision, he was soon gathering volunteers in short-term training courses, first in Brooklyn, and later in other cities. The first class opened October 14, 1890. Within 18 months, 97 missionaries had been sent out.

The secret of the success of the new recruits was certainly not in the thoroughness of their specialized missionary training. Franson’s course for volunteers, judged by modern standards, would be considered decidedly abbreviated. It took two weeks at the most. But these recruits did have success, and the secret of their success lay in the high spiritual standard their leader established. He is said to have asked applicants only three questions: “Are you saved?” Have you led a soul to Christ?” and “Are you willing to suffer for Christ?” The glorious victories those early missionaries won is proof that they answered the questions satisfactorily.

However, it was found that, effective as these pioneer missionaries were, better training resulted in better work. The spiritual emphasis was maintained, but longer periods of preparation were expected of the later candidates.

Before long, it became evident to Franson that he would need the help of a body of men of like vision to advise and care for the administrative work of the rapidly-growing organization. The new mission was incorporated and called The Scandinavian Alliance Mission, a name which it bore until 1949, when it was changed to The Evangelical Alliance Mission. The initials of the new name form “TEAM,” which has become a well-known designation for the Mission.

During Franson’s lifetime, the Mission sent workers to China, Japan, India, South Africa, Mongolia, and South America. Since Franson’s death in 1908, six more fields have been added: Pakistan, Portugal, Southern Rhodesia, the Tibetan Frontier, Indonesia, and France. To support its 550 missionaries, TEAM operates entirely on the faith principle, acting only as the distributor of the funds of the contributing individuals and churches, which represent many denominations. The Moody Church contributes support to seven TEAM missionaries.

Franson was instrumental in the organization of five other mission boards in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany. They are in existence today, having sent hundreds of consecrated missionaries to the ends of the earth.

On August 2, 1908, at the age of 56, fiery Fredrik Franson, the “gun-powder” man, went to be with the Lord. No wife or earthly children followed him to his last resting place, but a host of spiritual children all over the world mourned the departure of their spiritual father, counselor, or director. A great host of them followed the body of The Moody Church’s first—and most unusual—missionary to its burial place in Mount Olive Cemetery, Chicago.