We think that Irish monks came to the Faroe Islands before the Vikings. These 21 islands of the North Atlantic are in the middle of a triangle between Scotland, Iceland, and Norway. There the Irish brought their livestock to graze on the hills, and so called the islands foer (sheep) and ey (island) or Faroe.
The Norwegian chieftain, Guim Kamban, around 825 murdered most of those hapless Irish and drove the rest into hiding in the mountains. So whatever Christianity the Irish had did not get a foothold; neither did the Irish tongue. The Faroese language is of decidedly Norse origin, similar to Icelandic. But the Norse are not the chatty sort. Short on verbal communication, the broad ax and the hammer were the first Norse response to the gospel. A grim answer indeed!
Christianity displaced Norse idolatry around 1000 ad so that today, instead of fantasizing about going to Valhalla so they can fight all day and drink all night, the descendants of the Vikings give away the Nobel peace prize. It is the gospel that changed the Norsemen. We assume that most of that early evangelism came through imported Christian slaves brought over from Britain and Ireland.
Englishman David Clifford, reporting on a visit to the Faroes in 1980, wrote, “Would you believe it? There is still a country in this world where there is no unemployment and no strikes. Where there are no murders, no shooting and no guns. No mugging, no pornographic sales, no prostitution, and no drug addicts.” For years the Faeroese have had no police force.
The after effects of Christianity were only a monument to the past when William Gibson Sloan (1845-1914) came in 1866. There the Lutheran church practices infant baptism. So that, though there are true believers among the Lutherans, their doctrines of baptismal regeneration cut at the jugular of true evangelism.
The Islands’ peculiar natural beauty and rugged peaks are matched by the hardy people that fish from its shores. Their austere, rigorous lifestyle has made them a longsuffering lot who would not leap into any new ideology. Like Luther’s hymn, their spiritual views are “a bulwark, never changing.”
William Sloan of Dalry, Scotland, went to the Shetland Islands in 1863 as a Christian book salesman. At this time there were signs of an awakening. He gave out tracts, and preached wherever he found an open door, in church buildings and in cottage meetings. From Shetland fishermen, he heard about conditions on the Faroe Islands.
The Lord confirmed to William in his own spirit that he should fulfill his ministry in the north. When he laid the matter before his brethren in Motherwell, they commended him to the grace of the Lord for this service. So he returned to Faroe in 1866, visiting various places in the Orkneys and Shetlands on the way.
It was a return with a difference: Sloan was no longer depending on his ecclesiastical connection (because he had none!), nor on the sale of literature (although he still recognized its importance) to maintain him materially. He was depending entirely on the Lord for his support, both spiritual and temporal. He reckoned that the God who had saved him could keep him.
His fiancee, Jane Watson, broke up with him when he told her of his decision to live by faith. She wrote: “Now Willie, you know we have been holding correspondence for nearly seven years and we are just as far from attaining the wished-for end now than we were, I think farther, for you don’t seem to care for it. You are determined to stick to your present mode of living and I cannot sanction it. So the consequence must be that we cease to correspond…”
In 1865, he settled in Torshavn. If he thought the Scots were a stern lot, it was there that he faced Norse austerity. But in spite of the indifference and religious obstructionism, he labored for thirteen years with few evident results. One of the first converts, however, Elsebeth Isaksen, became his wife in 1881.
While evangelizing from door to door in a fishing village on the Isle of Sandoy, evening fell and he had no accommodation for the night. The snow was falling as he came to the last house on the street. From inside the people asked, “Who are you?” When he answered, they said, “No, we cannot have you in our home. The priest has told us you are a heretic.”
Finding a boathouse which was open at both ends, he bundled himself up for a long cold evening, praying “that he might survive the night.”
Meanwhile, the oldest daughter at the last home where William had stopped, looked at her parents and asked, “If a dog had come to the door, you wouldn’t have chased it away on a night like this.” Her parents admitted that she had a point, and so let her go to find the man and bring him home. She followed the prints in the snow to the boathouse and invited him home.
There he was given dry clothes and food. But Sloan was a bold man, and in spite of his tenuous status asked if they would let him read the Bible and pray with them. They agreed but “only from our Bible.” He sang beautifully, read and prayed, and they retired for the night. The bad weather persisted, so that he stayed with them several days, resulting in blessing for the girl and her family.
He had become acquainted with Thomas M’Laren, Rice T. Hopkins, and others. Mainly through their help, a small hall was built at Torshavn. At first only a handful met to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Sloan was joined by A. P. Macdonald from Scotland, and they shared the attic above the meeting room. In 1881, M’Laren visited and preached by interpretation. Later on, the missionaries were joined by Alexander and Christina Mitchell, who serviced there for nearly ten years before moving to Norway in 1899.
The work was getting on its feet at Torshavn, enabling William and Alex to branch out in the work. They toured other islands with the gospel in 1891. D. J. Danielsen of Solmunde, a native of the Faroes, worked the northern islands. Farmhouses became spiritual birthrooms, as the locals gathered to hear one of their own describe the gospel in the Faroese language. Christian meeting places began to appear as the blessing spread.
Sloan’s last message was on the Second Coming, September 2, 1914, in Ebenezer, Torshavn. One Faroese young man tells the sequel: “After the meeting, we followed him home. We often walked home with him. I had visited his home many times, and always he spoke to me about eternity, and of how much the Lord Jesus had loved me; but I only laughed at him and didn’t want to be affected by what he said. Although I attended the meetings it was just in order to please him. But Mr. Sloan used to say, ‘I trust, however, that I shall see you saved before I leave this scene.’
“Sloan habitually gave away tracts. On this evening, as his eyesight was poor, he saw what he thought was a man standing by the roadside, and approached to offer a tract. But it was only a pillar of stone! When I saw this, it was as if I had been struck by lightning. I thought, ‘You are just like that rock. Just dead, cold and hard as that stone.’ As I followed that old warrior of the Lord Jesus Christ to his home, it came to me with tremendous force how necessary it was for me to be saved, and how dangerous it is to harden your heart against the calling of the Spirit.
“Two days later, Mr. Sloan left to be with the Lord, but before he went home to Glory, he was told the great news, which brought joy to him, that I too, was saved and had found forgiveness of sins, peace and eternal life through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Material for this article was taken from:
David C. Clifford, The Faroe Islands, Interest, May, 1981
Fredk. A. Tatford, That the World May Know, West European Evangel, Vol. 8, Echoes of Service
Fred Kelling, Fisherman of Faroe, William Gibson Sloan, Leirkerid Publ.