Jacob Nelson Anderson 安得纯 (1867-1958) and 

Emma Marie Thompson Anderson 譚爱瑪 (1865-1925)

by Bruce W.N. Lo, 2011

Jacob Nelson Anderson and Emma Thompson-Anderson are the first commissioned missionaries sent to China by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They preached the Adventist message in China for 8 years from 1902 to 1909 before returning to the United States for health reasons.

Basic Biographical Data

Jacob N. Anderson was born on an 27, 1867 in Swerborg, Denmark; died Feb 23, 1958 in Lincoln, NE, and was buried in Mauston, WI, USA. Emma Marie Thompson was born on May 6, 1865 in Lone Rock Valley, Wisconsin, and passed away in 1925. 

Parentage: Father Neils Andersen (1827-1916) and mother Karen Andersen (1834-1906)

Marriages: On December 22, 1896, Jacob Anderson married Emma Thompson who died in 1925; in 1927  Jacob married Daisy B Shrade who died in 1941; four years later Jacob married Louise Stahnke in 1945.

Children: Three children with Emma:  Stanley, Elizabeth, and Benjamin.

Siblings: The three brothers, Jacob N. Anderson (eldest), Benjamin L Anderson (next), Hans P. Anderson (youngest) in total served over 100 years with the SDA church. Emma had two other sisters: Ida Thompson and Mabel Gertrude Thompson.

Education: Hacob had a Bachelor of Science degrees from Seventh-day Baptist College, Milton, WI, and a Bachelor of Theology and Master degree from the University of Chicago, IL.

Service: Served in China for 8 years:  1902 to 1909; Professor of Religion at Union College 1915-1924, 1934-1943; Professor at Washington Missionary College 1910-1915, 1924-1928.

Early Years of J.N. Anderson & Emma Thompson

Jacob Nelson Anderson was born on January 27, 1867 in Swerborg, Denmark. As a child, he and his other two brothers, Benjamin L. Anderson and Hans P Anderson, followed their parents Neils and Karen Andersen to migrate to the United States and settled in Poy Sippi, Wisconsin. It was there that they became Seventh-day Adventists.

Jacob obtained a B.S. degree from Milton College, a Seventh-day Baptist college in Milton, Wisconsin. He entered into the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wisconsin Conference, pastoring churches at Milwaukee and Madison, WI and also at Harvey, IL. He was officially ordained to the ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1899, at the age of 32. Two years later in 1901, he obtained a B.D. degree from the University of Chicago.

Emma Marie Thompson was born on May 6, 1865 in Lone Rock Valley, Wisconsin, just west  of Mauston, WI, where she attended the high school. She was gifted with good mental power, so at the age of 17, she began to teach at the public school at Mauston. Later in life she also extended her education at the University of Chicago and Nebraska State University. Through the influence of her parents, she became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church. At the age of 22 she was called by the church to the work of giving Bible readings and subsequently to serve as president of the Sabbath School Association in the state of Wisconsin for about 5 years.

On December 22, 1896, J.N. Anderson and Emma Thompson were united in marriage. To this union, they were blessed with three children: Stanley, Elizabeth, and Benjamin. While Stanley was born in the US, the two younger children were born in China. Both sons are doctors, Dr. Stanley and Dr. Benjamin N., and their daughter later become Mrs. Elizabeth Nicolas, all of whom settled in Burbank, CA area.

Since J.N. Andrews went to Europe some 20 years ago, the Seventh-day Adventist church was keen in spreading the gospel to different parts of the world. Jacob and Emma responded to this need and volunteered themselves to missionary service for the church. They were interviewed by Elder I.H. Evans, Chairman of the Foreign Mission Board during the 1901 General Conference Session. In April of 1901, the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church appointed J.N. and Emma Anderson as the first commissioned missionaries to  China. Emma's sister, Ida Thompson was originally sent by the Wisconsin Conference to go to Brazil as a missionary. Upon hearing that the Andersons were going to China, she requested to go with them, which the Church agreed. These three made history by becoming the FIRST official SDA missionaries to China.

Arriving in China

On December 24, 1901, the three young missionaries, Jacob and Emma Anderson (together their 4-year-old son Stanley), and Ida Thompson, left their home in Wisconsin en route Chicago by train to San Francisco, CA where they boarded the ship, America Maru, for China. Their ship arrived at Hong Kong 香港 on February 2, 1902 during the evening. Later, Emma Anderson described their arrival with these words:

"The America Maru dropped anchors in Hongkong harbor just before sunset over the hills of Tang. The ocean liner has barely swung taut on her cables when she was surrounded by a swap of sailboats, house boats, sampans, and junks seemingly come out of the sea. Stateroom, saloons, and deck are well-nigh cleared of passengers when we finally lower ourselves and our hand luggage into a boat, and were rowed ashore, - not into China but to Hong Kong, a small island belonging to Great Britain, lying just off the south east coast of China."  (Anderson 1920b, p.16)

Abram La Rue, who had been in Hong Kong for several years, were supposed to meet them. But for some unknown reasons, they never met up at the harbor. What a challenge, alone in a strange land and did not understand the local language, the Andersons wondered what they should do next. 5 or 6 coolies pulled their rickshaws and surrounded the strangers. Jacob pulled out a piece of cardboard, and read out the address: "A. La Rue, 3 Arsenal Street". The coolies shook their heads indicating that they could not understand. Suddenly a new comer shouted, "Ah hi! Kwan Chong Kai!" and starting put the little boy and hand baggage in his vehicle. All the other coolies rushed to do the same. Jacob was not so sure, as what the coolies said did not sound a bit like the address that he knew. Just then a British seaman arrived, and confirmed that what the coolies said was the correct address, "All the chaps know Daddy La Rue!". He began to lead the train of 5 rickshaws to proceed to La Rue's residence. They stopped in front of a row of 3-story buildings. The guide directed them to enter into a unit on the first floor, where they waited for the return of the host Abram La Rue. In the meantime, a group of sailors from the Royal Navy steamship Terrible, came into the house to welcome the new American missionaries. They were British sailors who got interested in La Rue's message. Nearly an hour had lapsed when Abram La Rue returned, pushed open the house door saying, "Apparently they haven't come!". But much of his surprise he found the Andersons and Ida Thompson were waiting for him there. So he proceeded to formally welcome the newly arrived missionaries.

By early 1902, La Rue had lived in Hongkong for about 13 years doing mainly colporteur work and keeping an "open house" for the western sailors that passed through Hongkong. Shortly there after, seven of the shipmates from the steamship Terrible, with whom La Rue was having Bible studies decided to get baptized. Later on in 1902, 5 or 6 more also decided to join. The group of mainly western converts now formed the core membership of the Seventh-day Adventist church in China. 

Upon their arrival, the most urgent job for Jacob, Emma, and Ida was to find a suitable teacher to teach them the Chinese language. They used their first two year to learn the language, but at no time they neglected the purpose of their coming to China is to share the gospel with the Chinese people. The task of learning the Chinese language proved to be more challenging than they anticipated. Chinese words have 9 principal tones and several secondary tones, and each tone of the word may have different meaning. It seemed to the three American missionaries that "Chinese is never spoken, but always sung." In her book, Mrs Emma Anderson said, "It (language learning) was a hard experience; but we were happy in it. for it was bringing us nearer to the real China."

Adventistism Began in China (1902-05)

In October of 1902, Elder and Mrs Edwin H. Wilbur arrived at Hongkong. On December 1, they moved north to Canton (廣卅 Guangzhou), becoming the first American Adventist missionaries to base in mainland China.

Early in 1903, Elder Jacob and Mrs Emma Anderson were invited to visit Eric Pilquist in Henan, central China. Eric Pilquist was a worker at the British and Foreign Bible Society. He accepted the Adventist message in India and expressed interest to work for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which he did. On February 14, 1903, J.N. Anderson conducted the FIRST baptism for six Chinese converts to the Adventist faith. The next day, these six along with the Pilquists were organized by J.N. Anderson into the FIRST Seventh-day Church in mainland China. 

During this trip, J.N. Anderson was so moved by China's great need, he wrote a letter of appeal to the SDA Mission Board. The letter was read out to the delegates by Elder W.A. Spicer at the 1903 General Conference Session. As a result four doctors and two nurses arrived late in 1903 to join the Pilquists in Henan, central China. They were Drs. Harry and Maude Miller, Drs. Arthur and Bortha Selmon, Charlotte Simpson, and Carrie Erickson. J.N. Went to Shanghai to meet up with these six new missionaries, and took them via Hankou to Xinyang, Henan where the Pilquists were. The six medical missionaries started a clinic at Xincai (新蔡), Henan. This marked the beginning of the Adventist medical missionary work in China.

From Hongkong, J.N. Anderson made numerous trip into China mainland, particularly the southern provinces of Guangdong 廣東and Guangxi 廣西, where he visited many towns and villages. Fourteen months after arriving in Hongkong, the Anderson family moved to Canton to establish the church headquarter inside China, and J.N. Anderson became the Director of the China Mission. The three pioneer Adventist missionaries were happy that they now had realized their dream of making their home in Canton-China proper, since Hongkong, where they were before, was a British colony. Canton was regarded (and still is) as one of the most important metropolis of South China, being the center of political, commercial, and industrial activities. By the end of 1903, there were 12 foreign missionaries working in different parts of China, and the Adventist church was well established in this land of 400 millions people.

They took over the house of the Wilbur's, because the Wilbur's needed to return to Hongkong due to health reasons. Mrs Anderson described the condition of their home in Canton in these words:

"The building itself was a gray-brick structure of two stories. The dwelling was above and the lower floor is intended to be a chapel. But the chapel street door was shut and padlocked with a heavy iron clasp and staple. How that empty room with its closed door spurred us into diligent study.....

At the rear, connected with our premise stands the "old chapel". This was the spot where Huang San Tsuen came instruction from the Bible, after those remarkable visions in which he believe himself to have been called to destroy all idle worship our of China. From this old chapel, he went forth on that mission which, from a small beginning of reform in his own family and among his own kinsmen and neighbors, later developed into the Taiping Rebellion. ..... It was of interest to us that, following only the Scriptures as their guide, the Taiping adopted "Ten Heavenly Rules" as their moral standard of conduct, observing 'the  seventh day as their day of worship, and of praise to God. Our small training school for young men was after a time opened in the 'old chapel', where the Taiping leader had been taught." (Anderson 1920b, p.40)

In the spring of 1904, Ida Thompson, Emma's sister, established the first Adventist school in Canton, called the Bethel Girls' School. This name was chosen because Thompson was supported by the Wisconsin Conference of SDA, and that the intermediate school in Wisconsin Conference was called "Bethel School". This was indeed a bold move, as at that time the prevalent  Chinese custom is to regard sending girls to schools as wasteful because they soon will be married out from the parents' family to the husband's family. However, the school proved to be a good means of attracting new converts for the church.

In 1905, Benjamin L. Anderson (Jacob's younger brother) with his wife Julia, arrived at Hong Kong from the US to join Jacob and Emma as missionaries to China. They were sent by the church to Amoy (known today as Xiamen) in the Fujian province to open up new territories in the southeastern part China.

Consolidation of the China Mission (1906-1909)

1906 marked a significant year of the Adventist Church in China, because in the spring of that year, Elder Anderson ordained the first Chinese national minister of the SDA Church. His name is Nga Pit Keh (郭子颖) who came from Amoy or Xiamen (厦門), the neighboring province of Fujan (福建). Shortly after that, other Chinese members also joined the missionaries in spreading the message of the Adventist church. That year, J.N. Anderson's younger brother, B.L. Anderson and his wife, Julia, also accepted a call to go to China. The couple landed in Amoy in March 1906 and established the mission headquarter in the small island, Ku Lang Yu, just off Amoy on the coast of Fujan province.  

During his China years, J.N. Anderson kept a fairly good account of the early days of the China Mission in his diary. When he returned to the US in 1909, he shipped these records prepaid. But when he tried to pick up the trunk in San Francisco, the company wanted to be paid again. J.N. refused and the records were lost. The only dairy that survived covered the period from 1906 to 1907 and these records are now housed in the Heritage Room of the Library of Union College, NE. From these records, we can get a fairly good picture of the situation in China Mission during those years.

(This section needs expanding to provide

more details on the progress of the

Adventist message in southern China)

By 1906 when the diary begins, there were 21 Seventh-day Adventist missionaries in China - some of whom are stationed in central and north China. Here is a brief summary of some of the places that were mentioned in the dairy, and where the China Adventist churches or congregation were formed...

An interesting episode in the diary relates to a trip that J.N. and Dr. H. Miller took in February of 1906, where they travel to a place called Kai Fung Fu 開徍府, in Henan province, and found some 50 or more decendants of the Chinese Jews. Figure 11, taken by Miller, shows two Chinese Jews standing in front of a stone stele with Chinese inscription commemorating the founding and rebuilding of the Jewish synagogue at Kai Fung Fu some 50 years previously.

During all these years, Mrs. Emma Anderson stood by her husband, not only fulfilled her role as a support missionary wife and mother, but also helped kept the books for the mission as well as Sabbath School works. But the manifold burdens in a foreign land proved a great strain on her health. In 1909, Jacob and Emma Andersons and their family returned to the United States.

Post China Years

After returning to the US, J.N. Anderson taught Biblical Languages and Religion at Washington Missionary College (Now Washington Adventist University), Washington D.C. from 1910 to 1915 and again from 1924 to 1928. From 1915 to 1924,  he joined Union College, Lincoln, NE as Professor of Greek, Hebrew and Mission. He returned to Union College again, from 1934 to 1943, becoming Professor Emeritus in 1943. His contribution was so valued by the Adventist community in Lincoln, NE, he was affectionately known as the "Grand Old Man of Union College". His portrait at Union College is shown here as Picture 1.

In 1920, J.N. Anderson's wife, Emma published two books based on their experience in southern China. The book With Our Missionaries in China was published by Pacific Press, while the book A'Chau and Other Stories was published by Review and Herald Press. Both books are well-loved by those who are interested in the gospel work in that great country of China.  Emma Anderson, who had been battling with health issues since the days of China,  passed away in 1925. Two years later 1927, J.N. Anderson married Daisy B. Shrade, a Sevethn-day Baptist from Wisconsin. She too passed away in 1941. In 1945, he married Louise Stahnke of Lincoln, NE. It was in Lincoln, NE that he spent his remaining years.

J.N. Anderson showed great love for China even after he returned to the US. While he was teaching at Union College, a great portion of his income was used to assist students from China. Many of these students returned to China to take up the work of the Chinese Church, continuing to uphold the gospel torch ignited by this courageous missionary couple, J.N. and Emma Anderson. 

After retirement, J.N. Anderson continued to live in Lincoln, NE with this third wife Louise Stahnke and was active in the Adventist community in Lincoln. He died on February 23, 1958 in Lincoln, and was buried in Mauston, WI.

Figure 1:  A portrait of J.N. Anderson as Professor at Union College, NE

Figure 2: Mrs. Emma Thompson-Anderson


Figure 3: J.N. and Emma Anderson and their children with brother Benjamin and wife standing behind

Figure 4: J.N. and Emma Anderson's three children: Stanley (right), Elizabeth, and Benjamin (left)

Figure 5: JN Anderson and Chinese members in 1905(?)

Figure 6: Taken 1906 near Canton Adventist Church. The boy on the left in the second row  in front of Emma Anderson's son Stanley is A'Chu, whose name Emma used for one of her books.

Figure 7: Chinese missionaries at a workers' meeting in Shanghai in 1907. Elder and Mrs JN Anderson (with child) are seated at the center.

Figure 8: Girls in the Bethel Girl's School, Canton

Figure 9: JN Traveling on wheelbarrow in China 

Figure 10: A page from J.N. Anderson's Dairy of 1906

Figure 11: Photo taken in 1907 by Elder J.N. Anderson and Dr. Miller of two Chinese Jews posing in front of a stone stele commemorating rebuilding of the Synagogue 50 years ago.

Figure 12: SDA Mission Chapel, Tsoam Chow, Fukien Autumn 1908 NP Keh WC Hawkin IH Evans JN BL Anderson Evang Tan Khi T Ang Chhun Tan Chheng Tek

Figure 12: Three missionary brothers at 1954 Lincoln, NE, SDA Convention: J.N.(left), B.L.(right), and H.P.(center) Anderson

Figure 13: The book, With Our Missionaries in China, by Emma Anderson published 1920

Figure 14: The book, A'Chu and Other Stories, by Emma Anderson published 1920

Figure 15: J.N. Anderson's collection of Chinese coins now housed in Heritage Center, Union College Library, Lincoln, NE.

Figure 16: Headstone of Jacob Anderson's grave at Mauston, Wisconsin,USA


Anderson, Caren (2012), Collection of family photos and private communications, Los Angeles, CA.

Anderson, Emma (1920a), A'Chu and Other Stories, Review & Herald Pub. Association: Takoma Park,Washington D.C. Available online:

Anderson, Emma (1920b), With Our Missionaries in China. Pacific Press Pub. Association: Mountain View, CA. Available online:;size=50;view=image;page=root;seq=1.

Anderson, Emma (1892), Personal Diary of 1892,  Union College Library Heritage Room Collection. A vailable online:

Anderson, J. N. (1906) Personal Diary in China, January 1906 to September 1907, Union College Library Heritage Room Collection. Available online:

Dick, Everett, Obituary of J.N. Anderson, Central Union Reaper, Vol 27, No.18, p.10, May 6, 1958.

Morrison, H.A, Obituary of Emma Anderson-Thompson, Advent Review & Sabbath Herald, p.23, December 24, 1925.

Onsager, Larry (1984), J.N. Anderson's China Diary, The CORD, Spring 1984, pp.22-24.

Onsager, Larry (2012), Unpublished manuscripts on J.N. Anderson

R&H, Obituary of J.N. Anderson, Review & Herald, p.26, April 24, 1958.

Union College, Jacob Nelson Anderson Collection, Heritage Room, Union College Library, Lincoln NE. Retrieved August 3, 2012.

Last update 10/3/2012 by B. Lo