Andrew and Vera Nelson.

Photo courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives.

Nelson, Andrew Nathaniel (1893–1975) and Vera Elizabeth (1893–1984)

By Mamerto Matildo Guingguing II

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Mamerto Matildo Guingguing II

First Published: November 14, 2020

Andrew and Vera Nelson were Adventist missionaries to Japan, China, and the Philippines.

Early Life, Education, and Marriage

Andrew Nathaniel Nelson was born December 23, 1893, in Great Falls, Montana,1 to Swedish immigrant parents, Anders Alexander Nelson and Gustava Oberg Johnson.2 His father joined the Seventh-day Adventist faith through baptism in 1907 and his mother by profession of faith the same day. Nelson spent his childhood years in Great Falls until 9 and later settled in Seattle, Washington, at 1208 Shelby Street till age 16. Elder W. W. Stewart baptized him in April 1911 while Andrew was a freshman at Walla Walla College where he had come under the positive influence of his roommate, Joe Hall.3

Nelson obtained his basic education at Broadway High School in Seattle. He proceeded to Walla Walla College and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in languages, with a minor in the Swedish language in 1914. He finished his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in 1928.4 Among the languages, Nelson was proficient in were Swedish, German, Chinese, and Japanese. Before his missionary activities, he trained himself in the areas of Bible instuction, literature evangelism, teaching, nursing, accounting, and institutional management.5

In 1918, Andrew Nelson married Vera Elizabeth Shaff (born January 27, 18936). He had met her while working as an assistant to Pastor S. N. Rittenhouse in the Western Washington Conference. Vera, who had just graduated from a nursing course at Portland Sanitarium, was sitting in the main tent alone on a Sabbath morning. Just then Andrew heard a voice saying, “That is the girl you are going to marry.”7 The couple had three children: Richard Andrew, and the twins Donald George Philip and Dorothy Gertrude. All were born in Tokyo, Japan.8

Ministry

In 1914, after Nelson graduated from Walla Walla College, he received a call to serve at Forest Home Academy as a science and math instructor and the dean of the boys’ dormitory. A year later, he became the principal of Seattle Junior Academy, a ten-grade church school at Oriens, Seattle.9 In 1917, the Western Washington Conference appointed him as the education superintendent and Young People Missionary Volunteer Society secretary when G. C. George left to take a position in Nebraska.10 Nelson also served as the district assistant for evangelism.11

During the quadrennial session of the General Conference in 1918, the Nelson couple received a call to work as missionaries in Tokyo, Japan. He assumed the directorship of the Kyushu Mission with A. B. Cole as secretary and treasurer.12 B. P. Hoffman, C. W. Flaiz, and W. A. Spicer ordained him to the gospel ministry at Gotemba, Japan, in August 1919. Nelson also served as a teacher and manager of Japan Junior College and studied the Japanese language at the same time. From 1922 to 1923, he became president of the college.13

Nelson next served as the education superintendent and Missionary Volunteer secretary of Japan Union Mission for a year.14 On September 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake hit Tokyo, Japan,15 that took the lives of more than 140,000 people including 40,000 missing. Nelson witnessed the devastating effect of the earthquake while working as an evangelist in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan.

In 1924, Nelson returned to Japan Junior College and served as the president until 1936.16 Aside from that responsibility, he also assumed the directorship of the Hokkaido and Tohoku missions.17 In addition, he participated in the construction of the Kobe Church and Treatment Rooms. He supervised the Japanese young men from the boys’ school at Naraba who helped in the project while he and other union officers worked in finishing the inside of the building, thus saving hundreds of dollars. When the construction concluded, Nelson invited four young newly baptized members to take part in the medical work since they had nurse’s training from Japanese hospitals.18

The Japan Junior College was like a lighthouse in the Japanese community, radiating the knowledge of Christ both to students and the community around. Despite persecution by their parents, the young people who accepted the gospel message persisted in their faith, continually read the word of God in hiding, and prayed fervently for their parents to know the truth.19 In 1933, the Nelsons went on furlough to the United States, and A. N. Nelson pursued every opportunity to observe educational systems and interview educational leaders so that he could apply their strategies in Japan.20

From 1936 to 1940, Andrew Nelson served as the president of the Japan Union Mission (JUM) and his wife, Vera, as the secretary of the Home Commission.21 With the help of Nagai, her secretary, Vera worked to strengthen Japanese homelife.22 Besides his other responsibilities, Andrew represented the union to councils and meetings.23

After his term as president of JUM, he went to Shanghai, China, to serve as the president of Oriental Home Study Institute and as education secretary. He only stayed for one year and returned to the United States to be the dean of Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University).24 However, the position was brief as the U.S. government requested his services during the war in the Intelligence Service during which he translated Japanese into English.25 Nelson recommended his son, Richard, to work alongside him. Both father and son labored in Washington, D.C.26

The years 1941 to 1945 marked World War II in the Pacific Region.27 In 1942, American missionaries were summoned to return to the United States. Foreign church leaders had to return home and turn over leadership to local people.

On August 9, 1945, U. S. President Harry S. Truman announced the surrender of Japan after the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan.28 One month after the war, the U.S. government sent Andrew Nelson, his son Richard, and Francis Millard to join General Douglas Mc Arthur in Japan.29 The American authorities assigned them to the civil information and education sections of the American military headquarters in Tokyo. The Adventists took it as an opportunity to reorganize the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Japan Union Mission.30

In 1946, Nelson received a commendation for meritorious civilian service from the office of the Chief of Staff of the War Department of the United States of America. He had produced the Japanese-English Technical Terms Dictionary which greatly helped the U.S. military personnel during the war. He worked in the U.S. Army as a civilian research specialist.31 The entire United States of America had only 60 people fluent in the Japanese language, and ten percent of them were Seventh-day Adventist missionaries.

After the war, Nelson became president of Philippine Union College.32 Also, he served as the chaplain at the New Bilibid Prison in Manila where he baptized several Japanese prisoners of war.33 In April 1950, Nelson set out on an expedition with Wilton O. Baldwin, the Far Eastern Division secretary, to look for a new school campus in the province of Bukidnon in the southern part of the Philippines. It would serve as an extension of PUC. Along the way, they met the Valendez family, who happened to be Seventh-day Adventists. Inviting the church leaders to Sabbath services the next day, the Valendezes pointed them to a place of refuge where they used to spend their days hiding during the war. The site, at an elevation of 2,000 feet, had a magnificent view, a healthful climate, a waterfall that could generate power for the campus, and a stream that could provide water.34 By the end of 1951, FED approved the purchase of the land, and Mountain View College was born. Nelson was its first president until 1952.35

Returning to Japan, Nelson became the home missionary secretary of JUM36 and in 1954 also assumed JUM’s secretary position37 while heading the religious liberty department38 at the same time. Nelson trained laypeople to join in evangelistic series using the Japanese version of Training Light Bearers.39 He also met the wives of the Japanese war prisoners in Bilibid Prison, Manila who had committed their lives to God. They were thankful for his service to their late spouses and showed interest in the gospel message.40

On May 1, 1958, Nelson returned to the Philippines to serve as dean of PUC. He remained until 1960 and then went back to his homeland in the US41 after giving more than 40 years of service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Under a new new administrative regulation that returning missionaries after age 65 were to stay in their homelands, Nelson was granted permanent return status. The couple made a stop in Japan where his eldest son, Dr. Richard, was stationed. While in Tokyo, the NHK-TV weekly program called “My Secret” interviewed him. Fifteen former prisoners of war in Bilibid Prison, Manila, came to greet him.42

Later Life

In 1962, A. N. Nelson produced the Nelson’s Modern Reader’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary. Soon the most authoritative dictionary in its field, it became the standard for many schools and universities all over the world. Since 1972, he had been on leave from Loma Linda University to South China Adventist College in Hong Kong. They were invited to attend the Annual Council in Singapore. During a Sabbath afternoon meeting, he received the Medallion of Merit, the highest award given by the General Conference department of education. In 1973, he wrote a book Food for Everyone in partnership with Jacob Mittleider, an international agricultural consultant.43

Andrew and Vera Nelson were invited to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebration at Japan Union College on May 2-5, 1975. He delivered his last sermon in Japanese to a congregation of about 1,000 people honoring the college’s golden anniversary. The school gave him a plaque in honor of his contribution to the institution. On the evening of May 7, he attended a social gathering with members of the student staff whom he had worked with and held in high esteem. Later that evening, he had a massive stroke and never regained consciousness. He died on May 17, 1975.44 Vera Nelson died August 21, 1984.45

Legacy

Andrew and Vera Nelson lent their time, energy, and talents to the missionary program of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Japan, China, and the Philippines. Their commitment to the gospel in Japan paved the way to the establishment of the Adventist message and education in the country. The founding of Mountain View College, which became one of the Adventist educational institutions that sent out the greatest number of missionaries to all parts of the world, is a testament to his missionary spirit.

Sources

“Appointments–Biennial Term.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1953.

Baldwin, W. O. “Challenging Educational Opportunities. Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1950.

Borja, B. R. and M. V. F. Borja. “Mountain View College.” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Accessed, January 16, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=EATM&highlight=mountain|view|college.

“Division News.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, February 5, 1938.

“Home Missionary Department.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1, 1938.

“Items of Interest.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1950.

Millard, F. R. “Japan Union Mission.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, March 1948.

Minchin-Comm, D., and D. N. Oster. An ordered life: The Andrew N. Nelson story. New York: Trafford On Demand Pub, 2010.

Nelson, A. N. Service Record. Southern Asia-Pacific Division Archives, Silang, Cavite, Philippines.

Nelson, A. N. “The Home Commission in Japan.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1, 1938

Nelson, A. N., “The Japan Junior College.”Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1932.

Nelson, A. N., and F.R. Millard. “With A.N. Nelson and F.R. Millard in Japan.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1646.

“News Notes.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1934.

Obituary of Vera Elizabeth Nelson. Pacific Union Recorder, May 13, 1985.

Peck, R. W. “History of Our Medical Work in Japan.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1932.

Piper, J. F. “Educational and Young People’s Work in Western Washington.” North Pacific Union Gleaner, August 23, 1917.

Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1916, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1946, 1953-1956.

Sorensen, Chris P. “Veterans All.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, February 1960.

Van Dolson, L. R., “Tokyo Voice of Prophecy Evangelistic Campaign.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1955.

Watts, D. E. Sunrise In Her Heart: A Filipino Freedom Fighter Finds Faith and Forgiveness. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Graphics, 1997.

Notes

  1. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record. Southern Asia-Pacific Division Archives.

  2. D. Minchin-Comm and D. N. Oster, “An ordered life: The Andrew N. Nelson Story” (New York: Trafford Publishing, 2010), 4.

  3. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record.

  4. Ibid.

  5. D. E. Watts, “Sunrise in Her Heart: A Filipino Freedom Fighter Finds Faith and Forgiveness” (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Graphics, 1997).

  6. Obituary of Vera Elizabeth Nelson, Pacific Union Recorder, May 13, 1985.

  7. D. Minchin-Comm and D. N. Oster, “An ordered life . . .”

  8. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record. . .

  9. Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1916), 66.

  10. J. F. Piper, “Educational and Young People’s Work in Western Washington,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, August 23, 1917, 5.

  11. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record.

  12. Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920), 163.

  13. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record.

  14. Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1922), 111.

  15. Joshua Hammer, “The Great Japan Earthquake of 1923”, May 2011. Accessed, December 26, 2021, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-great-japan-earthquake-of-1923-1764539/.

  16. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record.

  17. Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1924), 132, 133.

  18. Roby W. Peck, “History of Our Medical Work in Japan,Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1932, 6, 7.

  19. Andrew N. Nelson, “The Japan Junior College,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1932, 7, 8.

  20. “News Notes,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1934, 8.

  21. “Home Missionary Department,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1, 1938, 9.

  22. A.N. Nelson, “The Home Commission in Japan,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1, 1938, 8.

  23. “Division News,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, February 5, 1938, 8.

  24. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record.

  25. A.N. Nelson and F.R. Millard, “With A.N. Nelson and F.R. Millard in Japan,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1646, 2, 3.

  26. D. Minchin-Comm and D. Oster, An ordered life . . .

  27. World War II. Accessed, January 25, 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/world-war-ii-history

  28. "Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," accessed, January 25, 2022, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki.

  29. F. R. Millard, “Japan Union Mission,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, March 1948, 4, 5.

  30. “A. N. Nelson,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946-1950).

  31. Ibid.

  32. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record.

  33. D. Minchin-Comm and D. N. Oster, An ordered life . . ., 1-3.

  34. W. O Baldwin, “Challenging Educational Opportunities,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1950, 1, 2.

  35. Benedicto R. Borja and Ma. Venus F. Borja, “Mountain View College,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, Accessed, January 16, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=EATM&highlight=mountain|view|college.

  36. “Appointments–Biennial Term,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1953, 8, 9.

  37. Andrew Nathaniel Nelson Service Record.

  38. Seventh-Day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958), 102.

  39. L. R. Van Dolson, “Tokyo Voice of Prophecy Evangelistic Campaign,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1955, 3.

  40. “Items of Interest,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1950, 3.

  41. Chris P. Sorensen, “Veterans All,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, February 1960, 2.

  42. D. Minchin-Comm and D. N. Oster, An ordered life . . .

  43. Ibid.

  44. Ibid.

  45. Obituary of Vera Elizabeth Nelson.

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Guingguing, Mamerto Matildo, II. "Nelson, Andrew Nathaniel (1893–1975) and Vera Elizabeth (1893–1984)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 14, 2020. Accessed June 19, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6AV5.

Guingguing, Mamerto Matildo, II. "Nelson, Andrew Nathaniel (1893–1975) and Vera Elizabeth (1893–1984)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 14, 2020. Date of access June 19, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6AV5.

Guingguing, Mamerto Matildo, II (2020, November 14). Nelson, Andrew Nathaniel (1893–1975) and Vera Elizabeth (1893–1984). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 19, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6AV5.