Missouri Synod Undertakes Foreign Mission

In 1893, the Missouri Synod officially decided to undertake foreign mission. By then the Synod had been around 46 years. The fact that it took the Missouri Synod 46 years should not be construed to mean that the Synod was uninterested in foreign mission or that the people of the Missouri Synod were not “missional.” In the Missouri Synod’s original constitution, the second item reads, “The joint extension of the kingdom of God.” Koppelmann notes, “Thus the Missouri Synod became the first Lutheran church body in America to acknowledge mission work as a definite part of its program, rather than that of a society within the church.”

In the 19th century, church bodies (with the exception of Roman Catholics) for the most part did not do missions. Because of the lack of mission work by church bodies in Europe, various mission societies were formed in England, Germany, and Scandinavia. These mission societies sent missionaries around the world. Before the Missouri Synod formed its own foreign mission board, funds were collected for foreign missions and were sent to the orthodox Lutheran mission societies in Germany.

Between 1849 and 1868, there were 53 articles in Der Lutheraner, the forerunner to the Lutheran Witness on foreign missions. The Synod also was engaged in what became known as “home missions,” which included work among European immigrants, Indians, and “Negros.” In fact, the Missouri Synod had a shortage of pastors.

In 1893, F. Sievers wrote an article titled, “Shall We Not Begin Foreign Missions?” In his article, he wrote:

Is there not already a manpower shortage? Yes, but God might well make this even more severe if we refused to undertake this mission. Do we have men with the required gifts? Should ours be the only Church without such men when it is the largest Lutheran body in the world? Foreign missions cost very much money! They do, and God has given us enormously much money. Could we not do more with the same amount of money spent in home missions? Is that a fair measure? Those among whom home missions are carried on have some light available. The heathen have none! Do we not carry a double, even a tenfold, obligation to bring them the light?

At the Synod convention in 1893, the convention created a foreign mission board. The report to the convention read:

The Lord has His hour in which He moves hearts to agree to that for which He has sent His people. Until this hour has struck, no good work can be done by them. . . . For our Synod the hour is now come in which the Lord is directing us to a new activity in missions among the heathen. That for which individuals or small groups within our Synod have been sighing to God for decades, namely, that we might again have a mission of our own among the heathen, this it seems is being fulfilled in a most wonderful way. The Lord has newly warmed the hearts for missions among the heathen and shows us not only that the doors to the heathen have opened throughout the world, but has also poured into our laps the means for this new mission activity. Now one hears not only a few single voices among us that desire a genuine mission of our own among the heathen, but all synodical Districts have come into this meeting so that, besides other im- portant business, they might thoroughly discuss the establishment of the desired mission among the heathen. It is now a rather general desire of our Christians that a mission be begun in a heathen country. The General Mission Board brings this before General Synod as a definite resolution. Your committee believes that this desire should be heeded. 

The resolution passed. Soon thereafter the Missouri Synod had missionaries on the foreign field. After a failed attempt to send a missionary to Japan — in part due to war — the Missouri Synod turned her focus to India. The Missouri Synod went from India to Brazil and Argentina.  In 1936, missionaries were sent to Nigeria. After World War II, the Missouri Synod sent missionaries to Asia beginning with Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea.

The entire fascinating story on how the Missouri Synod began foreign missions in 1893 can be read in Koppelmann, Herman H. “Missouri Synod undertakes foreign missions.” Concordia Theological Monthly 22, no. 8 (1951): 552-566. The article is produced below in PDF.

— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations

Missouri Synod Undertakes Foreign Missions