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Sverre Holth came to China in the 1925, and appeared first in Kelan in northwestern Shanxi. In 1927 he married Anne Elise Ødegaard (born 1899), also a missionary sent out by the Norwegian Missionary Society. In 1927 they had to evacuate the coast because of the danger of war in the area under the Northern Expedition's advance, but came back with great effort later in the year. His wife was seriously ill during that time, and had to be transported to a hospital in Taiyuan where she stayed for four months.
In 1929 Sverre moved to nearby location named Xingxian and worked there for many years, only interrupted by a brief evacuation in 1929 when there were clashes in the area between the Kuomintang forces and Communist guerrillas commanded by the Liu Zhidan in 1929. Sverre visited to Norway between 1930 and 1931. In 1930 in China, due to his theological studies, Sverre was crowned with the theological doctorate.
During the years in Xingxian he met the leading Communist general He Long several times from 1937, and the two became good friends. Their common interest for horses was also a contributing factor. There, he met the Canadian Dr. Bethune, whom for a short time was there to perform surgical operations on wounded communist forces. Also, they got on well with each other, though Holth regretted that this missionary had acquired so much Communist thought.
In December 1940, the invading Japanese parties present in the area raided and looted. When Holth tried to prevent a massacre of people who had taken refuge in his mission, he was stripped naked, taken outside in the snow and shot in the back and left to die with his three children watching from the window. Miraculously he survived and the bullet remained lodged in his back near his spine till the day he died. The Japanese suspected Holth of being a saboteur for the Communist general He Long in the Xingxian area. In early 1941 he had a weakened condition and fled westward over the Yellow River to Shenmue in Shaanxi province, where he created a new mission. After a few months, however, he then moved first to Yilin for six months and then south to Xi'an via Yan'an (where he met Mao, who was ill and a secretary greeted his party with a meal) and then south to Xi'an. Holth resided in Xi'an for three years. After a further two years in Chengdu in Sichuan, he traveled home to Norway for a break.
Soon after he was back in Chengdu, China, becoming the last Norwegian missionary who had to leave the country after the Communist victory. He was in the country until January 1952.
Sverre Holth, who had been ordained an Anglican priest in 1941, served as a priest in England in a year's time. Then he taught in Malaysia and Singapore from 1953 to 1964. He was professor of systematic theology at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, and canon of the Anglican St. Andrew's Cathedral from 1957. He was also a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School.
- Mencius. A brief outline of historical life and ideas, Shanghai, 1935
- Between the yellow and red, 1947
Translation work in sample
- Meditation and piety in the Far East: A Religious-Psychological Study,New York / London 1954, translation of parts of Karl Ludvig ReicheltFrom Convenience Types and shrines in East Asia
- Mahayana faith wake-up call, 1956, translation of theQixin warm
- ClassicsTaoism, 1989, with translation of, among other things, Tao Te Ching, Liezi, and parts of Zhuangzi