Faithful Heroes: Hans Egede, Apostle of Greenland

Hans Egede

Hans Poulsen Egede, a Dano-Norwegian Lutheran missionary, is known as the Apostle of Greenland.

Hans Egede was born on January 31, 1686 to a civil servant in Harstad, Norway. His uncle was a clergyman in the Lutheran Church, who taught him and his grandfather was a vicar in southern Zealand, Denmark.

In 1704, he entered the University of Copenhagen where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Theology. He was ordained to the ministry in 1707.

He was married to Gertrud Rasch in 1707 and they would have four children together.

After hearing legends of the old Norse settlement of Greenland, he sought permission from Frederick IV of Denmark to search for the colony and establish a mission there.

With the assistance of investors the Bergen Greenland Company was founded. He departed with his family on May 2, 1721 and forty other colonists aboard The Hope {Haabet} and two smaller ships.

Hans Egede plaque

They arrived at Nuup Kangerlua, a small town in southwest Greenland, on July 3, 1721 and established the Hope Colony.

In his search for descendants of the old Norse colonists, he found the local Inuit people. He began to study their language and had to creatively find ways to explain the gospel to them. One well known example is that the Inuit people had no idea what bread was. He translated the Lord’s Prayer into “give us this day our daily seal” to help them understand.

By the end of the first winter, many of the colonists either returned hom or died of scurvy.

In 1723, he found the ruins and churches of the Eastern Settlement. By the end of the year, he had helped to establish a whaling station on Nipisat Island.

In 1724, he baptized his first child converts, who would later travel to Denmark and inspire Count Zinzendorf.

In 1728, a royal expedition provided supplies and Fort Good Hope {Godt Haab} was established. An outbreak of scurvy closed the fort.

When King Frederick recalled his military garrison, Egede, with the encouragement of his

Hans Egede statue in Copenhagen

wife and family, stayed in Greenland.

In 1733, another supply ship arrived with three missionaries and the money to establish another colony. The Moravians set up a station and eventually a string of missions popped up.

His wife, Gertrud, succumbed to an outbreak of smallpox in 1735. He carried her body back to Denmark for burial, leaving his son, Paul, to carry on his work.

He was named Superintendent of the Greenland Missionary Seminary in Copenhagen and in 1741 became the Lutheran Bishop of Greenland.

Hans Egede died on November 5, 1758 in Falster, Denmark at the age of seventy-two. He is regarded as a national saint of Greenland. He had a grandson and namesake, Hans Egede Saabye, that became a celebrated missionary to Greenland.

Several statues of Egede have been erected throughout Greenland and outside the Frederik’s Church in Copenhagen.

 

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