The 100th Anniversary of the Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic

Sep 15, 2023

Adapted from an article by the Rev. Dr. Mark Nygard, by Bishop Michael Rinehart

On April 8, 1923, four American Lutheran missionaries were lowered off a packet boat, the S.S. Asie, unto the deck of the riverboat that would take them to Douala, Cameroon. They could not have imagined what awaited them: presenting papers to colonial authorities, hiring porters to carry many supplies up-country, walking 26 days unarmed through the bush to find a starting place, learning two languages, and finally settling down in a village called Mboula. The American missionaries were Adolphus and Marie Gunderson, newlyweds from Wisconsin and Iowa, and Anne Olsen and Olette Berntsen, Lutheran deaconesses from Brooklyn. Many others followed. These were ordinary laypeople with a strong sense that being embraced by Jesus Christ was the only ultimate reality in life.

Within a matter of years, they were joined by local believers. The proclamation of the gospel tugged at the heartstrings of their new neighbors, and on December 11, 1932, the first baptisms occurred: Daniel Alim, Pierre Kayin, Barthelemy Kantou, Paul Sanda, Philip Audu, and Andre Garba. These newly baptized followers of Christ later became the Cameroonian church’s first pastors.

The following month, two of these six were already sharing their faith as missionaries in what is now known as the Central African Republic. By 1990, the number of African pastors in Cameroon alone totaled 46, and since then, the number in the Cameroonian and Central African churches combined has grown into the hundreds, ministering to parishioners who total in the hundreds of thousands. These ordinary lay people were simply riveted by the Good News of a loving Savior who had given himself completely for them.

This is an international mission story that should not be forgotten. Earlier this year, July 7-9, a centennial celebration was held in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, because of the backlog of visa requests in the complexity of US customs, Pastor Ngoe Joseph, president of the church in Central African Republic, and their women’s president, Francine Yaimann, were unable to attend. We were represented by Carolyn Jacobs and Charles Short, members of our Gulf Coast, CAR Team.

In November, the centennial celebration will be held in the Central African Republic. The church has requested the presence of the bishops of the three synods that have companion relationships with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Central African Republic: the Gulf Coast Synod, the Eastern North Dakota Synod, and the Western North Dakota Synod. We will also be represented by Veronique Eberhart, a member of our CAC Team, who is fluent in French.

This October, just prior to the celebration, would you be willing to remember the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic in your congregation’s prayers each week? Would you be willing to take a special offering for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Central African Republic? Among the many projects of this church that we support, we would also like to raise $35,000 to help build a school.

As we travel, we covet your prayers for us, and for our colleagues in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic. We give thanks for the family of believers that has committed itself to following through on that daring start of 1923. We hope that the celebration will be a fitting tribute to those who have gone before us in the work and to those who continue the work today and remarkably difficult conditions.