137 Years of Neukirchener Mission

Highlights from each decade

1880 – 1890

Alongside his work in the orphanage he had founded in 1878, Pastor Ludwig Doll recognised that there was also a need to send out missionaries. Hence he began in 1880 to teach and train the first five missionary candidates. Since the orphanage itself was not spacious enough to accommodate this work, a separate building was needed for the mission. Pastor Ludwig Doll was able to buy a public house in the village centre of Neukirchen for 10,500 German Marks (paying an initial deposit of 500 Marks; “This is the Lord’s doing, and He will supply the rest.”) After renovating the building, the mission moved into its new premises on 16.2.1882. The inauguration ceremony for the mission building took place on 27.8.1882. This was the official start for the Neukirchener Mission. Georg Müller from Bristol, then 77 years old, preached in the morning. In the afternoon there was a celebratory event in the mission building. During this event, Ludwig Doll reported on the progress of events thus far.

Pastor Doll died on 23.5.1883 aged 37. Julius Stursberg took over as the new director of the mission. The same year, conversion and extension work was carried out on the mission building. The meeting hall (“Ludwig Doll Hall”) was built in 1888. The first Neukirchener Mission missionaries left Germany in 1884 and travelled to Java and Egypt.

In 1849, Elise Yohana Le Jolle – a Dutch lady – had begun preaching the gospel to the workers on her plantation in North Central Java (the Dutch East Indies). As the work expanded, she requested missionary support from Ermelo, a Dutch missionary church, and later made the same request to the NM. In 1888, the Dutch missionaries and the missionaries from the NM joined together on Java to form the “Salatiga Missionary Alliance”.

The NM missionaries in Egypt felt that their principles were compromised by this alliance with the Ermelo missionary church. As a result, they sought a new mission field, and travelled on to what was then German East Africa (now Kenya). In 1887, they set up a mission base on the banks of the Tana River, and began to evangelise the Pokomo people.

1890 – 1900

Expansion of the mission work in the Java and East African mission fields. Reports tell of “slow growth” on Java (by the end of 1891, a total of 606 persons had been baptised). Many of the villages were very closed. The missionaries looked after Javan orphans. In Salatiga, a work was begun amongst the Chinese. They were much more open than the Javan Muslims. Several were converted as time went on. A Chinese evangelist was appointed. A new work was started up in the large port town of Semerang.

In 1893, the Pokomo people decided to abandon their occult practices and become Christians. The first converts were baptised.

1900 – 1910

Inspector Stursberg died on Java during a mission trip. He was succeeded by Wilhelm Nitsch, who headed the mission for 40 years.

A mission was set up in Urundi (now Burundi).

The 1st World War put a halt to all missionary activities on the Tana River. The missionaries were deported to the British concentration camp in India. In Urundi, mission work was able to continue up until 1916. On Java, the missionaries faced setbacks but were not subjected to any restrictions, because the Dutch nation and their Dutch East Indies colony remained neutral during the 1st World War.

1910 – 1920

Inspector Stursberg died on Java during a mission trip. He was succeeded by Wilhelm Nitsch, who headed the mission for 40 years.

A mission was set up in Urundi (now Burundi).

The 1st World War put a halt to all missionary activities on the Tana River. The missionaries were deported to the British concentration camp in India. In Urundi, mission work was able to continue up until 1916. On Java, the missionaries faced setbacks but were not subjected to any restrictions, because the Dutch nation and their Dutch East Indies colony remained neutral during the 1st World War.

1920 – 1930

The Neukirchener Mission was not able to send out missionaries to the Pokomo people again until 1926. On arrival, they received a warm welcome. It became evident that an excellent foundation had been laid in the years preceding the war. Between 1914 and 1926, the number of baptised believers had more than doubled. However, there was still much work to be done.

It was not possible to continue the work in Urundi. Thus, with a heavy heart, the mission agreed to hand over the work to the Danish Baptist Church in 1927. Instead, however, an opportunity arose for the NM to enter a new mission field in West Tanzania. The Ginsberg family and Mr Kube were the first Neukirchener missionaries to begin working here.

During this decade, the work on Java progressed well. In particular, the mission was able to expand its educational and healthcare activities, and a boarding school was founded.

1930 – 1940

Initially, the mission directors were grateful for the peace and order that ensued when the National Socialists came to power. However, this was quickly followed by disillusionment. In 1937, the NM officially joined the “Work Group for Missionary and Welfare Associations”. This work group was loosely associated with the confessing church movement. In 1939, all missions were stripped of their charitable status, and the NM was forced to make back payments of tax for multiple years.

On Java, the churches founded by the Neukirchener Mission grew increasingly independent.

Missionary work on the Tana River gained momentum once again; however, Islam also gained an increasingly strong foothold in the area. The missionaries focused strongly on helping the Pokomo churches to be more independent (church code, simple structures)

In the Uha region, three additional mission stations were founded alongside the original two in Shunga and Kalinzi (later Matyazo).

1940 – 1950

Once again, all mission work was brought to a halt by the 2nd World War. In many cases, missionaries were deported to prison camps or expelled from their country of service.

  • In Java, Dutch soldiers transported the missionaries to an English prison camp in India,
  • while in Africa, the missionaries were captured by the British and taken to a prison camp in South Africa.

The churches on Java survived without outside help.
The Pokomo churches were supervised by the Methodist church.
In the Uha region, the churches were overseen and supported by the Anglican church.

After the war, in 1949, some of the former Salatiga churches joined to form the GKJTU (Christian Church North Central Java).

The Pokomo churches were divided. Upriver, some wanted to stay under Methodist supervision, while downriver, the churches wanted to become independent again. Up until 1968, this latter group was not recognised by the state, and was regarded as a schismatic and isolated group of churches. In 1967, the 2200 Christians who attended these churches joined the Africa Inland Church in Kenya.

1950 – 1960

Missionary Wilhelm May was able to travel to the Uha region in 1952. Once again, it became evident that it would not be possible to work autonomously here as they had done before the war. From this point on, missionary work was only possible within the framework of the Anglican church. Missionaries who preferred free church style now teamed up with the Africa Inland Church Tanzania (AICT). The first to arrive was Gottfried Borchert, followed somewhat later by three further missionaries (Senk, Oerter and Christa Pommranz) who began working in various branches of the church work.

1960 – 1970

In 1967, the NM entered a new mission field in Peru. Gerhard and Ruth Otto were the first missionaries to arrive, followed three years later by Herbert and Erika Poganatz.

The NM was also able to send out missionaries to Java again – Renate and Ingo Garthe, and Margit and Klaus Seidlitz.

In cooperation with the Anglican church, the Muckenhaupts and Ilse Pommranz were sent to Tanzania in 1965. They were followed in 1966 by Mr and Mrs Mahn, who served in Tanzania for more than thirty years. By 1970, four more workers had joined them on the field. In 1966, two further couples (Feisel and Schneider) joined the AICT.

1970 – 1980

In 1974, the NM joined the EGfD (Evangelic Society for Germany).

In Matyazo, work began in 1966 on three large buildings for the children’s work. These officially opened two years later. Elfriede Müller moved from Shunga to Matyazo with 25 children. At both locations, the medical work expanded greatly.

1980 – 1990

In 1984, a fresh start was made in Indonesia. This was due to internal problems in the GKJTU which resulted in a new church leadership.

In Peru, the work expanded with new workers and new tasks: 200 radio programmes every week, literature (with their own printing shop) and Bible correspondence courses with 8000 participants.

In the AIC in Tanzania, missionary Feisel expanded the literature work by opening numerous Christian bookshops, and also started up a radio work.

New mission fields opened in Belgium and Italy (church planting).

1990 – 2000

Missionary work in Peru receded on account of terrorist attacks by the Maoist group “Shining Path”. Many mission societies recalled their missionaries. However, the NM missionaries made a conscious decision to stay. The local population welcomed this decision.

In Tanzania, Matyazo Hospital expanded so much that 3 families of doctors worked here during this decade for up to 4 years each, alongside numerous unmarried doctors. In the Uha region, the number of missionaries grew steadily to a team of 16. The churches grew strongly in numbers. In the last twenty years, more than 40 large churches have been built, each seating 600 to 1600 people.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the former East Bloc countries opened up for missionary work. Latvia, Ukraine and Slovakia became new mission fields for the NM.

In 1997, the Mission Committee and the Evangelical Church of Uganda – supported by the German Missionary Doctors Team (DMÄT) and “Ready to Aid Mission” – accepted trusteeship of the Rehabilitation Centre for physically handicapped children in Namutamba (Uganda). The first female colleagues travelled out in 1998.

During this decade, the NM was headed by three different directors.

More to follow…

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