In this post, we are going to discuss the History of the Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church centralized in four states in India – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bengal, and Jharkhand. There are five Dioceses – Dumka, Bagsarai, Suri, Grahampur, and Bongaigaon in this Church.
The History of Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church
The Church Founder Missionaries
a) Rev. A. Lesley
The Indian Home Mission to Santal originated from the Baptist Missionary Societies to the Santal’s work. One of the BMS missionaries Rev. A. Lesley stationed in the Raj Mahal Hills was the first missionary; known to have attempted to work among the Santal.
He studied their language, custom, and manners and visited Santal villages, and made some young convert. Unfortunately, Lesley compelled to leave India for health reasons in the year 1841.
b) Rev. R. J. Ellis
After 13 years, again BMS came in conduct with the Santals. Rev. R. J. Ellis of Suri did some preliminary work among the santal of Birbhum District, in the Southern part of Santal Pargana.
He had a strong wish to take up regular work among them. But in the year 1864, suddenly he transferred to another district.
c) Mr. E. C. Johnson
E. C. Johnson is the founder of the Baptist Mission to Santals. Johnson was an old military family, who choose the military profession as a career.
He took part in the Crimean War and later sent to India where he fought in the Sepoy Rebellion. Having undergone a Spiritual change in his life. He resigned from the military service and joined the BMS as a missionary.
So, the BMS sent him to Suri, as a missionary where Rev. R. J. was working at the beginning of 1865.
Johnson too became interested in the Santals and having studied their languages and made his headquarters at Belbuni, a Santal village lying some 14 miles north of Suri in the District of Santal Pargana.
There established a school for Santal Children and began touring the nearby village and preaching the Gospel. Johnson did not stay long in the Santal work.
A lion attacked him in the Amchua village of Nankar District on the 10th of February 1869. The lion injured him and brought him to the hospital at Rampur hat. His left arm had amputated and after that his missionary work ended.
d) Hans Peter Boerresen
He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1825. Shortly after his confirmation, he became an apprentice in a blacksmith shop. In 1852, he left Copenhagen, and settle in Berlin, where he found a well-paid job in a locomotive factory.
He spent all his spare time in further studies and became a very able mechanic. His wife, who was from a strict religious family, brought him in contact with the Rev. Gustava Knak of the Bethlehem Church in Berlin.
This Church, which was foreign-mission-minded, and inter-denominationally evangelical in creed; became Boerressen’s Spiritual home and the center for his religious activities. Though Boerressen always remained a member of the Lutheran Church, he declares himself to be a “no party man”, who was ready to co-operate with people of different church bodies.
Boerressen does not seem to have felt a particular missionary call. His wife, could not suppress her strong wish to go to the mission field, and after they had lost their three children in succession, her great sorrow again forces upon her the thought of becoming a missionary. Finally, in 1863, they offered themselves to the General Meeting as missionary candidates and were sent to India at the end of 1864, arriving in Barrakpur on the 6th of April, 1866.
e) Lars Olsen Skrefsrud
He was born on 5th February 1840 in Norway. His father was an efficient blacksmith and carpenter but spent most of his earnings on liquor. The family lived in great poverty, and the children sometimes even had to beg for their bread from well-to-do neighbors.
Lars had been trained as a mechanic in a local mechanical factory in Lillehammer, planned to go to Oslo, the capital, for further training, when things happened which threw a shadow over his forever.
He fell into bad company and was led astray. Soon he developed the drinking habit and became involved in several thefts, followed by imprisonment in Lillehammer and Oslo from the first of June, 1858, to the twelfth of October, 1861.
Lars Olsen Skrefsrud’s Christian life
In prison, he experienced a spiritual revival that led him to personal Christian faith. There he also made up his mind to become a missionary. After being released from prison, he applied to the Norwegian Missionary Society for Stavanger.
His application was rejected on the ground that the Society could not accept a man with a prison record. On the advice of an old leader of the Moravian brethren in Stavanger, Mr. S. Due, he left Norway and went to Germany, trusting that God who had called him would also eventually open the door to the missionary field for him.
He was accepted as a missionary candidate by the Gossner Mission, and after a short training program, he left for India in the month of November 1863. One and a half years later, his fiancée, Anna Onsum, the daughter of a well-known farmer in Faaberg, joined him in Purulia, and they were married on the twenty-third of May, 1864. Anna Onsum Skrefsrud died at Benagaria on May 5, 1870.
The Missionaries’ works of Northrn Evangelical Luthern Church
While Johnson was occupied with the establishment of the Santal work in Belbuni, he became acquainted with the Danish missionary, Mr. Hans Peter Boerresen, and his Norwegian colleague, Lars Olsen Skrefrud. They had both come out as missionaries in the Gossner Mission and had worked a short time in Purulia among the Coles and Hindus. Certain divergences between them and the senior missionary in Ranchi, the Rev. Fr. Batsch, had forced them to leave the Gossner mission at the end of 1865. They were now in search of a new field for missionary work and when Johnson invited them to come and work with him among the Santals, they readily agreed.
Though Johnson was very eager to secure the services of Boerressen and Skrefsrud, it also had its difficulties. Johnson was a Baptist missionary of BMS, while Skrefsrud and Boerressen were Lutherans. Johnson immediately wrote to the BMS, proposing that the Society should accept them even if they had not received adult baptism. His intention was that they should work only as an evangelist under his direction and that all Church matters should be left to him to decide. He also anticipated that both of them even would soon receive adult baptism. Though Skrefsrud changed his view regarding adult baptism and was re-baptized in the Lower Road Chapel on April 5, 1868, the BMS found it impossible to accept them as missionaries in their work, mainly because of financial difficulties.
Inauguration of Santal Mission
Johnson and his two colleagues have decided to work together among the Santals, set about to find a suitable place from which they could work. After a long search, Johnson and Skrefsrud selected a side twelve miles west of Rampur Hat, a station on the Loop Line of the East Indian Railway.
It was the top of a sloping hill where the three villages Chitragadia, Benagaria, and Kuamul joined. The countryside around was scattered with Santal villages.
Skrefsrud and Johnson, who on finding and determining the place erected on it a memorial of heaped stones, consecrated it with prayers, and sang: “Here, I raise my Ebenezer: Hither by thy help I come.” Thereupon they named the plateau Ebenezer, the name later given to the station itself.
Foundation of buildings
On September 26th, 1867, they started to dig trenches for the foundation of the first buildings, and this date has since been celebrated as the birthday of the Mission. At the end of 1868 two fairly large-sized bungalows, a Schoolhouse which also was used for service, a boarding house for school children, and a house for School teachers were ready.
From the very beginning, regular Sunday service was held in the Santali and the Bengali languages. The audience consisted of school children, school teachers, the workers hired to erect the boardings, and occasional visitors.
First covert members
In November 1868, the first coverts for baptism were four boys in the boarding school. Three of them were baptized on Easter Sunday, March 28, 1869; they were Raghu, Jogot, and Siram.
On December 19, 1869, Sunday the other four were baptized, three young boys, and one old man. In the afternoon the same day, the small congregation gathered around the Table of the Lord for the first time, and thereafter a congregational meeting was held.
The first Santal Church was formally established. Skrefsrud accepted the pastorship of the Church for the time being until a suitable Santal pastor could be appointed and several visitors were present on this occasion.
Baptism of Matru Pargana and Narayan
Up to 1874, the work progressed slowly, because there were opposition leaders Matru Pargana and his brother Narayan, who was the village master (manjhi) of Benagaria. Matru called a meeting and they decided in council that they would meet on a certain day and drive the missionaries away. They would also expel the Christian Santal converts and make them out-cast. But before this took place, the Magistrate arrived and arrested Matru Pargana on charges brought against him or earlier offenses. Matru returned from jail some eight months later in broken health. He sought several Santal medicine men in order to regain his health, but to no avail.
Finally, he was brought back to Benagaria only to await death. Then Skrefsrud went to him, prayed for him, and gave him some medicine. Shortly afterward Matru became well, and then his attitude towards the missionaries and the Christian changed completely. On January 19th, 1873, he received baptism and some days later also his brother Narayan became a Christian. Until 1st January 1873; the Christian community numbers was 285 and was organized into seven small congregations.
Skrefsrud’s work during the Famine
There was a famine in 1874. People were not getting food and drinking water. This year Skrefsrud dug the ponds in Benagaria by santals people. The workers had got money because of work. Skrefsrud preached Gospel daily one hour before the work. At the end of this year, 1592 people were baptized and Christianity spread to more than 144 Villages. So, Skrefsrud appointed several part-time evangelists among them Surju, Hindu, Jogot, Bunsing, Ragda, Chand, Kuar, Siram, Dukhia. On April 9, 1876, there was first two pastor ordinate in Benagaria Church; one was Siram Soren who went Assam for his ministry and passed way there, another was Surju Murmu from the village of Dhorompur passed way in 1914.
At the close of 1877, the church numbered some seven thousand members baptized and nominal, that is including the children of Christian families. The majority of these lived in Nankar, but after the mass movement, considerable numbers lived in the Sultanabad district, and scattered Christian families also found in Jubdi and other Districts.
Mission station in Dumka Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church
The Missionaries were turning their attention to these areas, secured land for a new station in Dumka. Dumka was the headquarters of the civil administration of the district of Santal Parganas, and though very few Santal lived in Dumka.
It was an important town with its courts and departmental offices. The CMS had a missionary living there for some years, and Boerressen and Skrefsrud feared that this Society might build a permanent station in Dumka if they themselves did not occupy it.
Then a permanent station built in Dumka on 21st November 1879. As there was no missionary to place in Dumka, Pitho Soren placed in charge of the station, first as a catechist, and from 1884 as an ordained pastor.
Establishment of a new Colony in Assam
Skrefsrud and Boeressen laid great stress on working through indigenous personal. Still, the great expansion of the work in Santal Pargana after 1877 and the establishment of a new Colony in Assam called for a larger missionary staff.
During Boeressen sojourn in Europe, two new missionaries had arrived in the field, C. B. Sofeldt, and John Sundberg. But they stayed a very short time. When Boeressen arrived back from Europe in January 1878, he brought with him a Danish pastor, M. C. Jensen.
Skrefsrud on his return from Europe in November 1883 brought two missionaries with him; Rev. Johan A. Pahle and Rev. Oscar Berg, both Norwegian pastors. Three missionaries served during this same period as superintendents of the Assam Colony.
The first one was Mr. Wilken Arendrup, he died on his way from the Colony to Dhubri while seeking medical aid on 16 August 1882. The second was Count Carl Moltke, who had come to India as a tourist and visited with the missionaries at Ebenezer, prolongs his stay in the country.
And he was superintendent of the Colony until he finally left India in May 1885. The next was Mr. Halfdan Bahr, who had married one of Boeressen’s daughter. He was the leader of the Colony from 1889 until 1896 when he died and was buried in the European cemetery in Dhubri.
The Trust Deed of 1880 (Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church)
During the controversy with the BMS, the mission revealed the weakness of the legal position. Then Boeressen and Skrefsrud held the poverty in their own names on behalf of the mission.
Skrefsrud advised by his barrister, proposed to set up a deed of trustees for the property with the power to appoint other trustees as well as their chosen successors. After some correspondence with friends in the homeland, the Trust Deed executed on the 3rd of June 1880.
The Trust Deed secures the property of the Mission, present, and future, for the Christian Santal Church. It further secured unrestricted and unlimited power for the founders of Mission as Managers, to lead the work according to their own wish and will, and in time, to transfer the management to their own selected successor.
The primary aim of the Trust Deed was, once for all, to secure the property of the Mission in a legal way for the Santal Christian Church.
Change of Name and Management
An annual report appears to have printed from the very beginning in 1867 of the Indian Home Mission to the Santals. The name later changed to the santal Mission of Northern Church to indicate that the support which entirely India; to begin with, after a few years of was being subsidized by a group of friends in the Churches of Denmark, Norway, and America.
These “home base” of the Santal Mission have steadily been growing and consist now of well-organized Mission Societies direct by the home Board in each of these countries. A great many groups and individuals together with a number of permanently appointed “home works” are now responsible for the work of the Santal Mission in the homelands.
Two sessions of the Maha Sabha the Church, formally established in 1950 under the name of Ebeneser Evangelical Luthern Church; which changed to Northern Evangelical Luthern Church.
Evangelistic work of Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church
With the arrival of the many new missionaries, almost all the stations established by the pioneer missionaries who occupied in addition to new stations.
In santal parganas
Benagaria is the central station for Nankar District. Belbuni started a place for Santal’s work in 1890, and it constructed a new out-station as Jithia and Itor. Rev. Kakbo murmur served as a pastor until his death in 1933.
The Missionaries’ in charge of the district during the period 90-923 were M. A. Pederson, M. Johne, H. P. H. Kmpp, and R. Resenlund. Now the Nankar district knows as Dumka district. Basitkundi is the central station for Sultanabad District.
The station under Basitkundi: Simolduhi, Hatimara, Sapadoha, Haripur, Chandpur, and Kakjol and Sibu Besra, Munising Hasda, and Dhunu Kisku served as pastor. There didn’t have missionaries placed in this district during the period.
Chondorpura is the principal station in the district of Jubdi and between 1917-1924, Ofstad was in charge of the district; Boding was the in-charge in Dumka and as well as Maharo, Korea and Dhorompur were Congregational work; in the years between 1911-1921 some two hundred members baptized at Kaerabani, and station leader during the period was R. Rosenlund and Johannes Jensen.
Dinajpur and Malda of Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church
In 1910 Boding visited Dinajpur on his return trip to Santal Pargana from a visit to Assam. This visit was a great encouragement to the Christian there and initiated a new era in the Dinajpur-Malda Mission. The Ebenezer Association for the work in Dinajpur and Malda had hitherto taken of the work there, and it has been in a special way the work of the Church.
With the re-organization of the whole mission administration after the death of Skrefsrud, the Dinajpur-Malda Mission quietly passed into the hand of the mission; and Santal played the rule. There’s a place in Dinajpur-Mlda where the Santal Church showed that; they were able to lead and to develop the new work on their own.
It did not doute a great setback in teaching Church independence and self-support. Rev. Jalpa Soren was in charge of the Dinajpur District for the whole of this period. The services held in fourteen places and four schools were in operation.
A large percentage of Christians had taught themselves to read and to write. The Upper Primary School in 1919; when the Mission celebrated its quarter centenary jubilee to build a station and Church in Rautnagar, which dedicated in 1930. During 1910-1920 it reported that 1067 baptized from the non-Christian community.
If we study statistics for Dinajpur-Malda for this period, we find that quite a number of the Christians disappeared from the congregations. This was mainly due to emigration to Assam and partly due to desertion from the Church over to the Catholics who had opened several stations in these districts during this period.
The Assam santal Colony of Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church
The establishment of the Assam Santal Colony is an outstanding achievement, with far-reaching consequences for the Mission and the Church. Skrefsrud did not abandon the thought of a Santal colonization outside the district of Santal Parganas.
Through Dr. Graham, Skrefsrud to put in contact with high officials in Assam. And the final result that a tract of some thirty square miles of land given to emigrating Santals about thirty miles North of Dhubri, the sub-divisional headquarters of the Goalpara district.
On behalf of the Santal Skrefsrud made an agreement with the Assam Government for the settlement. On the Eight of February 1881, Boerressen arrived with the first settlers’ forty-two families in all.
Arriving at the Southern border of the Colony area, they assembled under a huge tree near the market place Dingdinga, sang hymns of praise, and thanked God for His wonderful mercy and guiding care.
They named the Village Takurpura, the Village of God, and for some years to come this village remained the headquarters of the Colony. The people divided themselves into five villages and were soon busy reclaiming the jungle and building their houses.
As soon as the Colony founded, a Church building and School built in Takurpura. Siram Soren, assisted by some elders were responsible for the Christian work in the entire Colony. Siram arranged and started daily devotion in every village of the Colony.
He preached gospel outside the Colony among the Boros, the Rajbongshis, and the Mohammedans. In 1888, Siram pastor had the great joy of baptizing the first Boros families, and the same year he also baptized a Rajbongshi and a Garo family.
Outside of Colony
Thousand of Santals had settled in this time outside of Colony (barhe hasa). Some evangelistic work had done among these Santals by evangelists from the Colony. With the arrival of Holger Winding in 1918, the work really took shape in organized congregations.
In 1922 there were churches and regular Sunday services held in the following places: Bhodeaguri, Kochugaon, Mandari, Gossaegaon, Kolabari, Amlaiguri, Hogdalbari, Atiabari, and Golajkora.
Twelve elders were working and few teachers in a couple of village schools; and between 1919 and 1923, some 667 persons baptized from the non-Christianity community and 160 children of Christian parents also baptized.
Among the Bodo (Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church)
The work among the bodos developed from the Santal Colony. Siram Pastor showed great zeal in bringing the Gospel to the Bodos; as some Boros had also allowed settling inside the Colony.
In the autumn of 1887 Skrefsrud spent some weeks among the Boros in Barhe hasa. He visited a number of villages, and this time he also selected Rajadhabri Tekla for the first Boro station. He brought with him Dorkanto and Sitaram to studied Benagaria and later Ratia and Dabaro.
Among the Bodos progressed slowly during the first years; in 1914, 125 Bodos had became Christians. In the 1920 Dokanto and the Rev. Gausdal together published a hymn book in Boroni contanining fifty-six hymns. In 1922 five small congregations, with four elders and 180 Christians had organized in Barhe hasa.
Among the Bengali (Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church)
In 1913 it reported that a Rajbonsi worked among Bengali speaking people inside of Colony. In 1917, Mr. Satsaran Sen appointed a preacher among the Bengalis.
There were then some Bengali families living near Dingdinga. The following year a small church built in Pauspur in the Mornai Tea Garden. Mr. Jacob Biswas later became the leading person in the work among the Bengalis.
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