Historical Overview of LCMS Missionaries
In 1894, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) established the Missouri Evangelical Lutheran India Mission (MELIM) organization to send missionaries to India. A year later, the LCMS called former Leipzig Mission missionaries, Rev. Theodore Naether and Rev. Thomas Mohn to serve near the city of Ambur. They became the first LCMS missionaries to serve in a foreign mission field.
In 1912, work expanded to the city of Trivandrum and eleven additional missionaries were sent before the start of World War I. MELIM did not send missionaries during WWI, and repatriated nine of the seventeen missionaries. As WWI drew to a close, MELIM celebrated twenty-five years of service and nearly 1,700 baptized members.
Throughout the course of the twentieth century, the MELIM work waxed and waned through WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII. During that time the work of MELIM included not only German and American missionaries but also local leaders such as Rev. Jesudason, who was ordained as the first national pastor on March 13, 1921. He served until his death on November 11, 1955.
On January 8-9, 1958, The India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) was formally established, and one year later the IELC became a partner church of the LCMS. Support from MELIM and the LCMS continued as they deployed over thirty additional missionaries over the next two decades.
Education and Theological Education
Early missionaries started schools for children, many of which served the poorest families in the community. By 1920, MELIM had established sixty-eight schools serving more than 2,600 children. By 1930, MELIM had established sixty-eight schools and a high school, Concordia High School in Vadakangulam.
In 1924, Concordia Seminary in Nagercoil was established with three missionary professors and seven students. Four years later, all seven of the students graduated from the evangelist program. Two of the students were ordained the same year, and four others were ordained later.
The first MELIM medical ministry began in 1913, when Miss L. Ellerman was sent to Barangur to open a dispensary. In 1921, the medical ministry expanded as Bethesda Hospital opened in Ambur. In the 1950, medical ministry was expanded once again. By 1959, Bethesda Hospital was recognized a superior medical institution.
In 1955, Rev. Henry Otten set up reading rooms and a dispensary in Wandoor as part of the outreach to the Muslim people. By 1959, the reading rooms and dispensary had developed into Karunalaya Hospital with the financial support of the LWML.
Witness to Muslims
In 1924, Dr. Adolf Brux established the outreach ministry to Muslims. The outreach efforts were short lived. It was not until 1952, when Rev. Henry Nau and Rev. Ernie Hahn began work in Vaniyambadi, the outreach ministry to Muslims was restarted. By 1955, seven IELC pastors joined the LCMS missionaries in the outreach efforts after receiving training at the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies. At the time, this was the largest commitment to Muslim outreach by any Christian denomination in India.
Today, the IELC boasts 764 congregations, 114,600 baptized members, approximately 65,000 communicant members and 120 active pastors, along with more than 80 schools and three hospitals.