Above: The Jerusalem Cross
Image in the Public Domain
Meanwhile the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”
–Matthew 25:16-20, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)
JOHN CHRISTIAN FREDERICK HEYER (JULY 10, 1793-NOVEMBER 7, 1873)
Lutheran Missionary in the United States and India
BARTHOLOMAEUS ZIEGENBALG, JR. (JULY 10, 1682-FEBRUARY 23, 1719)
Lutheran Missionary to the Tamils
LUDWIG INGWER NOMMENSEN (FEBRUARY 6, 1834-MAY 23, 1918)
Lutheran Missionary to Sumatra and Apostle to the Batak
These three saints share the same feast day on the calendar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).
JOHN CHRISTIAN FREDERICK HEYER
“Father” John Christian Frederick Heyer (born Johann Christian Friedrich Heyer on July 10, 1793) was a dedicated missionary. He, a native of Helmstedt, Lower Saxony, was son of Fredericke Sophie Johane Wagener and Johann Heinrich Gottlieb Heyer, a furrier. Our saint, confirmed at Helmstedt in 1807, left Europe at a young age. His parents sent him to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where an uncle was a hatter and a furrier. Heyer studied theology at Philadelphia then, starting in 1815, the University of Gottingen, having taught at Zion School, Philadelphia, from 1813 to 1815. In 1816 he returned to the United States and became a licensed lay preacher. Three years later he married Mary Gash (died in 1839), a widow with two children. The couple had six children from 1818 to 1827. Heyer, ordained in 1820, was a missionary in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and other states for two decades. He founded congregations in states from New York and Pennsylvania to Missouri. Heyer, as an agent (1829-1831) of the Sunday School Union of the Lutheran Church in the United States, organized Sunday Schools. He also served as the founding pastor (1837-1840) of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the first English-speaking Lutheran church west of the Allegheny Mountains. And, in 1829, our saint helped to found what became Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Then a different mission field beckoned. Heyer learned Sanskrit then left for India, where he served from 1842 to 1845 and from 1847 to 1857 under the auspices of the German Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States. He was the first U.S. Lutheran missionary overseas. In India Heyer founded what became the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (constituted in 1927). Between stints in India our saint served as the pastor of St. John’s Church, Baltimore, Maryland, and earned his M.D. degree from the School of Medicine of the University of Maryland. Back in India Heyer worked from two locations, but mainly from Rajahmundry (now in the territory of the Church of South India), site of a mission statement the North German Missionary Society could no longer afford to maintain. He also built schools and hospitals.
In 1857 the 60-year-old Heyer returned to the United States. William Passavant (1821-1894) recruited our saint to undertake German-language missions in Minnesota, under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of East Pennysylvania. In 1860 Heyer founded the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Minnesota and Other States. He continued to work in the Midwest until 1869.
Heyer’s third missionary stint in India, under the auspices of the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America, from 1869 to 1871. He returned to Rajahmundry, where he reorganized the work of the mission station rather than transfer it to the (Anglican) Church Mission Society.
Heyer returned to the United States again in 1871. The following year he became the chaplain and house father of the new Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He continued this work until he died on November 17, 1873. He was 80 years old.
BARTHOLOMAEUS ZIEGENBALG, JR.
Bartholomeaus Ziegenbalg, Jr., had a shorter life yet left no less impressive a legacy. The native of Pulsnitz, Saxony, born on July 10, 1682, was son of Maria Bruckner (1646-1692) and Bartholomeaus Ziegenbalg, Sr. (1640-1694), a grain merchant. Our saint studied at the University of Halle before becoming, with Heinrich Plutschau, under the patronage of King Frederick IV of Denmark (reigned 1699-1730), half of the first Protestant missionary team in India. The two arrived at Tranquebar, a Danish colony, on July 9, 1706. He remained in India for most of the rest of his life, spending about two years (1714-1716) in Europe.
Zieganbalg’s time in India was eventful. He spent two short terms (a few months each) in jail–once due to a dispute regarding whether the baptism of the child of a Danish soldier and a non-Christian woman should occur in a Roman Catholic or a Protestant church and once because of a dispute with some Hindus who objected to the fact that he was converting other Hindus to Christianity. Ziegenbalg also argued with Brahmins about the poor treatment of lower-caste Hindus, established a Tamil printing press, and used it. Our saint, married in 1716, published hymnals, catechisms, and part of the Bible in the Tamil language. He also translated the New Testament (1708-1711; published in 1715) and the Old Testament through the Book of Ruth prior to dying on February 23, 1719, aged 36 years.
Ziegenbalg, unlike Heyer, cooperated across denominational lines. He considered missionaries of the (Anglican) Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) his partners, not his rivals.
Ziegenbalg contended with challenges in his work as a missionary. There were, of course, hostility from Hindus and competition from Roman Catholic priests. The weather–the heat and the wind–were physical challenges. Racism, cultural imperialism, and ethnocentrism on the part of colonists, who looked down upon Tamils and did not want to grant them access to colonists’ congregations, were other obstacles. Ziegenbalg had to found a Tamil congregation, the Church of the New Jerusalem, in fact. He recognized the fact that the church in India needed to be Indian, not European. This was not obvious to many Europeans in India at the time as well as later, but it proved to be correct and prescient.
At the time of Ziegenbalg’s death his legacy consisted of two church buildings, a seminary, and about 250 baptized Christians, plus the products of his printing press. That legacy has grown to include the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (constituted in 1919), with roots in his missionary efforts.
LUDWIG INGWER NOMMENSEN
Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen, born on February 6, 1834, became the “Apostle to the Batak” on the island of Sumatra, in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). His mother was Anna Nommensen and his father was Peter Nommensen. The native of Nordstrand, North Frisia, Denmark, had overcome, partly by prayer, the inability to walk in 1846-1849, after a horse cart crushed his legs. From 1857 to 1862 he prepared to become a missionary under the auspices of the Rhenish Missionary Society, which sent him to Sumatra.
Nommensen worked among the Batak people. He arrived in 1862. By 1865 he had converted about 2000 people. Many of these individuals, who had to leave their homes and villages, resided in the Village of Peace, which Nommensen had founded. Meanwhile, Nommensen translated the New Testament; he completed that task in 1878. he also married Margarethe Carolina Gutbrod (died in Germany in 1887), his first wife, in 1866. The couple had six children, two of whom died in the Dutch East Indies–in 1868 and 1872.
Nommensen’s success as a missionary attracted both friendly and hostile attention. In 1878, during a conflict between certain natives and the Dutch colonial government, he functioned as a translator for and a consultant to the Dutch colonial army. Our saint’s purpose was to protect Christian villagers, who, like Dutch colonists, were targets of certain Batak potentates. Many of the Batak people came to perceive Nommensen as their protectors against Dutch influences. He also survived attempts to kill him.
Nommensen, much like Ziegenbalg before him, was a translator and writer. He translated the New Testament into Batak, for example. He also translated Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and wrote a book of Bible stories as well as a series of booklets. He also wrote about 40 articles for mission journals.
The missionary, who relocated on Sumatra in 1885, remarried seven years later. He and Anna Magdalena Christina Harder (died in 1909), had at least two children. Our saint built up an indigenous church that, as of his death on May 23, 1918, had about 180,000 members, 34 indigenous pastors, 788 teachers, and 500 congregations. The Batak Christian Protestant Church became independent in 1931.
I like the coincidence of celebrating the lives and living legacies of these three pioneering missionaries on the same date as Sts. Willibrord and Boniface, also apostles to unchurched populations. The reason for the coincidence is the death of Father Heyer on November 7, the Feast of St. Willibrord on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. I also notice that Nommensen was a native of Frisia, an area evangelized by Sts. Willibrord and Boniface. He owed his faith partially to their missionary endeavors. And others, of course, owe their faith partially to his work or to that of Heyer or Ziegenbalg.
That faith we give away which we take with us to Heaven. One might not travel to a remote location and risk martyrdom; that is not God’s call upon the life of everyone. To share one’s faith, however, is a mandate for all who have faith in God in Christ. However and wherever God commands you to do this, O reader, may you do so.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 4, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF ALFRED TENNYSON, ENGLISH POET
THE FEAST OF FREDERICK WILLIAM FOSTER, ENGLISH MORAVIAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR
THE FEAST OF JOHN BROWNLIE, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS
God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servants
John Christian Frederick Heyer, who made the good news known in the United States and India;
Bartholomeaus Ziegenbalg, Jr., who made the good news known to the Tamils in India; and
Ludwig Nommensen, who made the good news known to the Batak on Sumatra.
Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel,
so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of your love,
and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59