Youngberg, Gustavus Benson, Sr. (1888–1944)

By Judson Chhakchhuak

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Judson Chhakchhuak is from Mizoram, Northeast India. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Religion degree with an emphasis in the New Testament from the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, the Philippines. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology degree from the Adventist University of the Philippines.

First Published: July 14, 2022

Gustavus Benson Youngberg was a pioneer Adventist missionary among the headhunters on the Tatau River of Sarawak in Borneo—the third-largest island in the world, which is now politically divided among three countries: Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia.

Early Life

Gustavus Benson Youngberg was born on July 14, 1888, at Beason, near Lincoln, Illinois, U.S.A.,1 to a Swedish father Stephen Aron Douglas Youngberg and German mother Mary Kief. 2 However, his parents moved to Minnesota when he was two years old.3 Gustavus had five siblings: Elmer, Mabel, Alfred, Ruth, and Steven.

Youngberg’s childhood was full of hardship: his mother passed away when he was four years old. His Aunt Tillie cared fro him until his father remarried. He suffered from his stepmother’s cruelty.4 Before he reached the age of 12, Gus fled home to work in a hotel. Nevertheless, Gustavus, without supervision, medical care, proper food and clothing,5 managed to complete high school in 1907 from a high school at Howard Lake, Minnesota.6

Education: Gospel Minister to Farmer

Gustavus, with his brother Alfred and sister Ruth with whom he had developed a special bond, enrolled in a Protestant theological college in St. Paul, Minnesota. Gustavus’ experience at Hibbing (Minnesota), where he was miraculously saved from accidental death, gave him a sense of obligation toward God and man. However, after two years of studying theology, he doubted his calling. He and Alfred discarded their idea of becoming a minister due to the superficiality of the theology students. Gus lost his trust in organized religion. He had no trust in churches.7

Youngberg decided to study agriculture at Minnesota State University in Minneapolis. He entered agricultural school with eagerness. For Gustavus, the earth was “wholesome, elemental, the sincerest thing he knew.”8 Gustavus, with Alfred and Ruth, graduated from the university in the spring of 1912.

Youngberg wanted to farm but did not have enough money to purchase farmland. So, he joined the public school in Moody County, South Dakota, as a teacher. The soil in this area was rich and good for farming. This renewed his ambition of being a top-notch scientific farmer.9

Conversion

One evening, a young Adventist colporteur named Evelyn Calkins approached Gus after school and tried to sell him a book, The Great Controversy. Evelyn’s insistence aroused his contentious spirit. Annoyed by her determination, Gustavus advised her to quit such a foolish waste of time and pursue a more profitable and suitable path for a person of intelligence like herself. Evelyn replied, “I will pray for you.”10

Youngberg was even more annoyed when, a few days after Evelyn met him, his school board requested him to allow the schoolhouse to be used for religious meetings. After Charlie Scriven, a humble farmer, explained persuasively about the meeting, Gustavus consented. But Gustavus did not intend to attend the meetings. However, his sense of responsibility struck him. He thought that if this religious group deceived his students, he would be held accountable. So, he decided to attend the meetings to find fault in the message.

A humble Adventist preacher, Clarence Rubendall, who obviously had little education, preached from the Bible. Even though Clarence made grammatical mistakes and stumbled over his sentences, Gus realized that Clarence neither twisted the meaning of the text nor read the text out of context. He invited Ruth and Alfred to attend the meetings. They, too, attended the meetings. The Adventist message began to reach Youngberg’s heart and comprehension. Youngberg then decided to live by and for the truth. He, with Alfred, was baptized in the spring of 1913.11

Marriage and Ministry

Gustavus married Norma Ione Rhoads (May 24, 1896–August 20, 1984), whom he met at an evangelistic meeting conducted by Clarence Reubendall in 1915 at Oldham,12 on the Christmas eve of 1916.13 Gus and Norma had their first child (Ruth) on August 20, 1918.14 On October 1919, after having been ordained to the ministry, Gustavus sailed with Norma and Ruth, his one-year-old daughter, for Singapore to begin his missionary career.15 The Youngbergs thought they were heading to Borneo, a place where they were initially assigned, but the committee voted that they would be staying in Singapore for an unspecified period.16 Upon hearing this news, Gustavus felt crushed. He did not want to work in a civilized city; he wanted to serve in a jungle where he could minister to the primitive tribes.17

The Youngbergs spent a few months in Singapore, where they welcomed their second child, Robert Raleigh Youngberg, on May 12, 1920.18 They then headed to Borneo, where they had been initially assigned. 19 They arrived in Sandakan, North Borneo, in July of 1920.20 Gustavus had contracted malaria in Borneo, which had a recurring pattern of chills and fever. At one point Norma stated that she wanted to go home. Although Youngberg would not entertain such an idea, he conveyed his guilt for receiving a foreign wage for what a local worker could do, as well as at one-fourth of what he received.21 However, the Youngberg’s stay in Borneo was not, by no means, without fruit and cheerfulness: the third child, Rhodabelle, joined the Youngbergs on October 12, 1921.22 They also adopted a 15-year-old girl, Loi Khyau, as their daughter.23 In Sandakan, Youngberg, although criticized by some missionaries, always brought home the sick children and he, with Norma, would nurse them back to health.24

In late 1924 the committee sent Youngberg and his family to Sipogoe in the mountains of central Sumatra.25 Gustavus liked the Batak people—people in Sumatra. He felt that he belonged to Sumatra. He worked earnestly in the dispensary, treating and caring for different patients who suffered toothache and children who had been infected with worms—round-worms, pinworms, hookworms,, and others.26

The Youngbergs went back to Singapore and served at the Malayan Union Seminary where Gus took charge of the industrial department.27 Gustavus’ second son, James Rowland, whom Norma called her “revival baby,” was born in 1929 in Singapore.28 Soon after James’ birth, the General Conference sent Meade McGuire and his wife to conduct a revival meeting in Singapore. Upon hearing the message of righteousness by faith, a spiritual revival, which played a crucial factor in the Youngbergs’ mission work, took place among the mission workers. Gus’s experience of a spiritual revival led him to dedicate himself to the mission committee to send him to a front line, a hard place where no one else would want to go.29

Pioneering Works

Upon his solemn request and in accordance with the great need of the indigenous people, the committee sent Youngberg and his family to the west coast of Borneo to pioneer work among the Dayak tribes of Sarawak.30 The Youngbergs sailed from Singapore to Kuching, Sarawak, on January 4, 1930.31 After planning, praying, and scouting for eight months,32 Gustavus, on a February day in 1931, found a strategic place for a mission station on the bank of the Tatau River.33 Roger Altman named this new mission station Bukit Nyala, which means Hill of Light.34 On May 16, 1931, Gustavus, with his family, moved to Bintulu, a big fishing village at the mouth of the Bintulu River.35 Gustavus, with the permission of the mission and the government,36 set up a dispensary that was instrumental for contacting the people with the Adventist message.37 When the union, in March of 1932, decided to divide Sarawak Mission Station into two, Gus took charge of the North Sarawak Station, which comprised of the fourth and fifth divisions of Sarawak and the State of Brunei.38 In 1933 the Youngbergs welcomed their sixth child, Gustavus Benson.39

As his older children came to age, Youngberg decided that they should return to the United States.40 So, the Youngbergs left Borneo for the United States in July 1934.41 However, Gustavus could not resist the call from Singapore to return and pioneer the educational work among the Dusun tribe in British North Borneo.42 He accepted the call and returned to Borneo on October 26, 1935.43 After serving alone, without his family, for almost a year, Norma and his three younger children joined him on August 12, 1936.44 After fruitful works they returned to the United States in 1940.45

Less than a year of their return to the United States, the Youngbergs received a call to return to the field. However, the United States would not issue a passport for children and women going to Borneo, as it was considered too dangerous. Gus had to go alone. He expected his wife and youngest son to join him, but the tragedy on Pearl Harbor happened! The Japanese took over British North Borneo. Youngberg decided to remain in the field because many native believers found comfort in his presence during this difficult time.46

In late 1941 Colonel Suga ordered Youngberg confined to prison at Tanjong Aru army barracks. Gus, along with fellow prisoners, was shipped, in Kuching, to one of the hideous Japanese prison camps. The confinement did not stop Gus from his mission. He ministered and took care of the sick prisoners.47

In April 1944 Gus had a fever and an ulcer on his elbow.48 He had not received any letters from his family since December 1941.49 The Japanese officer told him that his family were all dead.50 On December 23, 1943, Norma received the final letter from Gustavus. Gustavus wrote, “weather is bad, gardens poor.”51 These words suggest that he had been treated poorly. Not long after, Gustavus died of septicaemia in the internment camp on July 17, 1944.52

Contribution

Gustavus B. Youngberg served in the Far Eastern Division for more than twenty-five years. He pioneered the work in different parts of Borneo. In 1948 the Adventist mission opened a hospital in Singapore and named it after Gus to honor his service for the church in Singapore and North Borneo.53

Sources

Altman, Roger. “A Faithful Worker in the Far East.” ARH, March 22, 1945.

G. B. Youngberg Obituary, ARH, March 22, 1945.

General Conference Committee meeting minutes, March 28, 1935, 1563, General Conference Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. Accessed November 20, 2019. http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1935-03.pdf.

Innocent, G. G. “Youngberg Memorial Hospital.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1952.

“Malayan News Note.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, October 1936

“Missionary Sailing.” ARH, November 14, 1935.

Rubendall, Clarence W. “Rhoads-Youngberg.” The Northern Union Reaper, January 2, 1917.

“South Dakota Items.” Northern Union Reaper, January 6, 1920.

Wu, C. Y. “History of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Southeast Asia: Sarawak.” Southeast Asia Union Messenger, July-August, 1988.

Youngberg, Norma R. and Gerald H. Minchin. Under Sealed Orders: The Story of Gus Youngberg. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1970.

Notes

  1. G. B. Youngberg Obituary, ARH, March 22, 1945, 19.

  2. Norma R. Youngberg and Gerald H. Minchin, Under Sealed Orders: The Story of Gus Youngberg (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1970), 9.

  3. G. B. Youngberg Obituary.

  4. Youngberh and Minchin, Under Sealed Orders, 9.

  5. Ibid.

  6. G. B. Youngberg Obituary.

  7. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order 7-10.

  8. Ibid., 10.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ruth was baptized at the next camp meeting. G. B. Youngberg Obituary.

  12. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 13-14.

  13. Clarence W. Rubendall, “Rhoads-Youngberg,” The Northern Union Reaper, January 2, 1917, 5.

  14. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 19.

  15. Roger Altman, “A Faithful Worker in the Far East,” ARH, March 22, 1945, 12.

  16. “South Dakota Items,” Northern Union Reaper, January 6, 1920, 3.

  17. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 29, 42.

  18. Ibid., 36.

  19. Altman, “A Faithful Worker in the Far East,” 12.

  20. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 40.

  21. Ibid., 58.

  22. Ibid., 54.

  23. Ibid., 53.

  24. Ibid., 59-60.

  25. Ibid., 66.

  26. Ibid., 68, 80.

  27. Ibid., 88-89.

  28. Ibid., 91.

  29. Ibid., 94.

  30. Altman, “A Faithful Worker in the Far East,” 12.

  31. C.Y.Wu, “History of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Southeast Asia: Sarawak,” Southeast Asia Union Messenger, July-August, 1988, 8.

  32. Altman, “A Faithful Worker in the Far East,” 12.

  33. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 103.

  34. Ibid., 107.

  35. Wu, “History of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Southeast Asia: Sarawak,” 9.

  36. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 109.

  37. Wu, “History of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Southeast Asia: Sarawak,” 9.

  38. Ibid.

  39. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 132.

  40. Ibid., 136-138; General Conference Committee meeting minutes, March 28, 1935, 1563, General Conference Archives, accessed November 20, 2019, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1935-03.pdf.

  41. Wu, “History of Seventh-day Adventist Work in Southeast Asia: Sarawak,” 10.

  42. General Conference Committee, September 12, 1935, 1720-1721, General Conference Archives, accessed November 20, 2019, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1935-09.pdf.

  43. “Missionary Sailing,” ARH, November 14, 1935, 24.

  44. “Malayan News Note,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, October 1936, 8.

  45. Altman, “A Faithful Worker in the Far East,” 12.

  46. Ibid.

  47. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 165-168.

  48. Ibid., 168.

  49. Altman, “A Faithful Worker in the Far East,” 12.

  50. Youngberg and Minchin, Under Sealed Order, 167.

  51. Altman, “A Faithful Worker in the Far East,” 12.

  52. G. B. Youngberg Obituary, ARH, March 22, 1945, 19.

  53. G. G. Innocent, “Youngberg Memorial Hospital,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, June 1952, 2.

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Chhakchhuak, Judson. "Youngberg, Gustavus Benson, Sr. (1888–1944)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. July 14, 2022. Accessed May 25, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AD3N.

Chhakchhuak, Judson. "Youngberg, Gustavus Benson, Sr. (1888–1944)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. July 14, 2022. Date of access May 25, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AD3N.

Chhakchhuak, Judson (2022, July 14). Youngberg, Gustavus Benson, Sr. (1888–1944). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 25, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AD3N.