Kari Elizabeth Aarsheim Harbakk – 1940 to 2014

chnt-MMAP-mdNorwegian honorary citizen of plural cities in China had to give up her life. Mrs. Harbakk was often called China-Kari. She loved life and China and helped many orphans in China to get a new home in Norway. But there is much more to tell about her. (Kari Elizabeth Aarsheim Harbakk – 1940 Aug. 16th – 2014 Nov. 15th)
Eli Kvakland and Emil Kristoffer Aarsheim (photo of their biography published by Norwegian Mission Society in 1979), the parents of Kari, both went to Republic of China as missionaries for different Norwegian missions. They first met Autumn 1938 attending a course in Beijing, China.
Then Eli went back to North Manchuria and Emil to his work in Cha Har province. One year later they married in a German church in Beijing and both settled down in the winter cold Cha Har as missionaries for the Norwegian Mission Alliance.

In 1935 Dr. Kristoffer Fotland of the same mission reopened Edvard Gerrad Memorial Hospital in JiangJiaKou, more known in Norway those days as Kalgan, at the border to Inner Mongolien.
In August 1940 the Aarsheims went to the hospital to give birth to their first child. Eli rode a donkey for three days to get there from ChaHar. It was a warm August day when Kari was born, assisted by Dr. Fotland.

From 1942 and until Japan´s capitulation in 1945, the Aarsheim family and approximately 50 missionaries were detained at the hospital. During these years Kari got 3 siblings. Other Norwegians, Berly and Arnulf Solvoll, became parents at Jiang Jia Kou, so Kari had someone to play with. But their two first children got dysentery and died in 1944.

The journey to Norway was fatiguing. The Aarsheim family went through a war-torn China by foot and in open cattle wagons, before they through Shanghai managed to get to London on board a stuffed troop-carrier, alongside 5000 other war-weary soldiers and civilians. The journey ended in 1946 when they finally saw the Norwegian shoreline. The family moved to Stavanger, where Kari went to school until 1952 and the parents felt drawn to go back to China.

Meanwhile Mainland China had a new government that did not allow the family to enter. So the journey took them to Taiwan that still is Republic of China.

Kari and her 3 siblings joined Morrison Academy in Taichung. As graduate student in 1959 Kari did the entire artwork for the yearbook, The Morrisonian. (Photo from Carolyn Chandler Smith)

The photo above shows the graduating class of Morrison Academy in 1959. From left Millie Nelson (Samuelson), Kari Aarsheim (Harbakk) and her sister Inger Aarsheim (Burns), and Barbara Breeden (Jesse) modeling their chi-paos (Chinese dresses). (Photo from Carolyn Chandler Smith).

As high school in Norway did not accept graduate students form foreign schools, Kari travelled with her younger sister Inger to USA that same year to study at St. Olaf College.
In 1963 Kari got her bachelor in English literature. The next year she then spent teaching at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis before she went to Norway to visit her parents whom she had not seen for 6 years.

This journey back to Norway marked the start of a new era. She met a young theology student named Ernst Harbakk. During the summer 1966 the two were married.

Less then two years later she was on her way back to Taiwan as missionary together with her husband, but also with their first born daughter, Kristin, with them. Not long after, they were blessed with a second child, Inger-Terese.

After an ended language study, the family was transferred to HongKong where Kari and Ernst served the Norwegian Mission Society, Swedish Church Mission and the Nordic Christian Buddhist Mission for almost 20 years.

The time in HongKong was a rich time. The family grew from four to eight members. Sunniva and Rolf-Emil were born in HongKong, while Thomas was born in Vihn Long in Vietnam and Kristian in Nanjing.

Kari was from the start an active participant in missionary work. The work with children and education programs was closest to her heart. Her efforts in this area gained the acknowledgement and respect from her Chinese co-workers. When the mission started working with Vietnamese refugees. Kari poured her heart and soul into these projects. Kari founded the idea of using old, outdated, double-Decker buses as mobile schools and nurseries in the refugee camps of Tuen Mun and later in Kai Tak and Argyle Street. They stood the test of time and aided the work amongst the refugees in years to come.
The Aarsheim family lived from 1983 till 1992 up in the Shatin mountain at the Tao Fong Shan center (photo) of the Nordic Christian Buddhist Mission. It was founded by the Norwegian Dr. Karl Ludvig Reichelt and has a beautiful environment where the children felt at home and where they never wished to move away from. Despite this, it was also a time filled with turbulence and conflicts. The children noticed very little of this, largely due to the fact that Kari managed to shelter them from the troubles of the world at large. In the meantime, she was also a fantastic hostess for the thousands of guests who travelled from near and far to this place. This was also the time Kari started communications with the newly founded Amity Foundation in China, which needed over sea partners to contribute with development and financing of the program activities.

When the family moved to Norway for good in 1992, Kari was appointed as project leader of Aeropagos (new name of the Nordic Christian Buddhist Mission) where her responsibilities included developing collaborative relationships with the Church of China by initiating and supporting diagonal projects through the Amity Foundation.

In her role as project leader Kari established, among other things, work for the deaf and similar measures to improve the education possibilities for the mentally and the physically handicapped, and also managing to get support arrangements for orphans. Kari developed the project model she perhaps is best known for: “Mind and Body”. They consist of three components: clinic, women centers and schools. In total, Kari was responsible for the completion of almost 70 Mind and Body projects.

Kari has gained great recognition for her work in China. In Norway she received the King´s medal of Merit in 2009 and the Children of the World- award in 2005 with a check of 100000 Kroner. The money was used to finance a new school in a poor village near the border of Inner Mongolia. (http://www.idag.no/aktuelt-oppslag.php3?ID=15887).

In addition, Kari was awarded several prizes and honors in China. She is also an honorary citizen in Shandnong, Ganzu, at least 10 cities all together. She is rightfully referred to as China-Kari, as she was titled by a newspaper headline a few years ago.

Kari and Ernst adopted a son from China when living in HongKong. In 1988 Kari was asked by Verdens Barn (The World´s Children) and later also Adobsjonsforum (Adoption Forum) to be their midwife when it came to reaching adoption agreements with China. Her knowledge of the Chinese language proved particularly useful, and since 1991 several hundred parent couples in Norway have her to thank for bringing their adopted children home.

Many people attended the funeral at Farsund Chapel on November 25th.

– Every day, she lavished us with love and wisdom, and she was always there for us, her children said. – We learned so much from her. We learned to appreciate the little things. She thought us to see the beauty in nature and in each other. She is responsible for our love of China and the reason Asia is a part of our life and will always be a part of our identity. This love was given to her from her mother and passed on to us. We are passing this love on to our children, and because of that mamma will always live on. Mamma loved life and wanted us to love it too. She took such great care of us and never thought about herself. Even when she was at her sickest, she never complained and only cared about how we were doing.

Mr. Geir Yeh Fotland – Taiwan National Correspondent NORWAY NEWS.com
Email: – geiryeh@gmail.com, or news@norwaynews.com