India Evangelical Lutheran Church

Membership: 65,000
Ordained Ministers: 167
Evangelists: 22
Teachers: 615
Congregations: 350
Preaching Stations: 290
Communicant Members: 13,860
National Staff (total): 825

India's National Annual Per Capita Income: $310 

This Tamil-speaking church is the fruit of the first foreign missionary enterprise of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which began working in India in 1895. Four German missionaries who left the employ of the Leipzig Mission in India over doctrinal differences were offered appointments by the Missouri Synod. They included C. M. Zorn and J. F. Zucker, joined in 1893-94 by K. G. T. Naether and T. F. Mohn.

The latter two were the first commissioned missionaries of the Missouri Synod, supported by MELIM (Missouri Evangelical Lutheran India Mission). Naether, in Tuticorin (1895) was soon joined by his former colleague, J. M. Kempff, who was now running a plantation. G. O. Kellerbauer, who had come to India in 1893 as Leipzig missionary resigned and joined Naether in March 1895, at first in Krishnagiri and later in Barugur. Mohn began work in Ambur in the adjoining North Arcot District about forty-five miles from Krishnagiri on the road to Madras. These men were joined by the fourth and last recruit from the Leipzig Mission field, R. Freche, who worked in Vaniyambadi, about fifteen miles west of Ambur.

Others who followed included Albert Huebener in 1900 and John Forster and George Naumann in 1902. Huebener moved to the Tamil language area in and around Nagercoil (400 miles from Krishnagiri) in 1907, soon joined by his brother G. Huebener, T. Gutknecht, and H. Nau. Mr. G. Jesudason, private secretary to a British officer, and a member of the congregation in Nagercoil, became a teacher and evangelist. After some years of diligent work, a theological seminary became operational at Nagercoil (in 1924).

A third field was started on the Malayalam-speaking west coast near Trivandrum in 1912. Henry Nau was the prime mover in this shift to Trivandrum. He left for furlough in early 1914, yet before he left, F. R. Zucker, J. C. Harms, and O. Ehlers (1913) joined the work in the Malayalam area.

In 1912 the Loch End Compound in Kodaikanal, at an elevation of 7,000 feet, was purchased for $9,000 and was developed into a retreat centre for missionaries in the hot season. Two double residences were constructed; an additional building was erected with funds supplied from the Walther League in Milwaukee. In 1932 Mt. Zion Lutheran Church was dedicated in the Kodaikanal hill station. In 1933 a two story stone school building, Koene Memorial School -- the gift of Mrs. M. S. Sommer -- was erected near the church. Kodaikanal is now the site of an international school serving many missionary families and others.

J. J. Williems arrived in India in 1913; when the First World War broke out, he was interned and repatriated. Also in 1913, Miss Louise Ellermann arrived to conduct a small dispensary in Barangur.

In 1916, MELIM began to serve another group of Christians, in Vadakkangulum, about sixteen miles from Nagercoil. After twenty-five years, the MELIM church had grown from nothing to 1,681 baptized. Sixty-eight schools served 2,637 children. Missionary manpower had grown to seventeen by 1914, dropping sharply to eight in 1919 because of the World War.

Sixty missionaries came between 1920 and 1930. By 1930, there were 7,170 baptized members. During the 1920's two doctors and six nurses came to India to serve in the medical work of MELIM. Angela Rehwinkel kept the medical work in existence for over thirty years.

Work among Muslims began in 1924 under Adolph Brux, who had completed a doctoral degree in Arabic studies in 1923, but little progress among Muslims was made until after World War II. Work was resumed in Vaniyambadi in 1951, with Henry Nau and Ernest Hahn.

Fourteen new missionaries came to India between 1931 and 1940, less than enough to replace those who left mission service in the same period, yet baptized membership doubled in that decade.

In Wandoor, forty miles from Calicut in north Kerala, H. Otten set up reading rooms and a dispensary which later developed into a full scale medical institution, Karunalaya Hospital, with a branch dispensary at Malappuram, where another station had been established in 1954. Another mission station was opened at Krishnagiri in 1955, and later others in the southern area. Indian pastors and other workers immediately joined these ventures. In addition to the missionaries, a total of seven IELC pastors were engaged in this ministry -- the largest single commitment to Muslim work by any denomination in India. Through intensive involvement in the activities of the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies, these workers provided leadership and training for this work in the wider sense in India.

Work followed in Wynad and Bombay in the 1950's. Through the efforts of W.F. Bulle, the medical work of Angela Rehwinkel was enhanced, and the Bethesda Hospital was transformed into a superior medical institution. With help from the Lutheran Women's Missionary League, Bethesda Hospital was expanded and a new hospital, Karunalaya -- the Malalam equivalent of Bethesda, "House of Mercy" -- was established in Wandoor, a station of the mission to Muslims.

In 1924, Concordia Seminary opened in Nagercoil with three missionary professors and seven students. Four years later the first class was graduated as evangelists. Two were ordained the same year -- all but one of the others were ordained later. In 1959, under the leadership of M. L. Kretzmann, the seminary was affiliated to Serampore College, thus enabling the recognized degree of Licentiate in Theology and Bachelor of Divinity and beyond.

By 1928 an Indian evangelist was stationed in Colombo, Ceylon. In 1952 the field of this mission was extended to include Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

The India Evangelical Lutheran Church was formally organized on Jan. 8-9, 1958.

Note:  The Malabar Mission Circule is an integral part of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church, and is supported in North America by the Malabar Mission Society


The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, edited by Julius Bodensieck for the Lutheran World Federation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1965): Lutheranism in Asia (Vol. I, pages 116-120) by James F. Scherer.

Statistics are as currently reported by LC-MS.

Much Cause for Joy -- and Some for Learning: A Report on 75 Years of Mission in India, by Herbert M. Zorn (Missouri Evangelical Lutheran India Mission, Malappuram, Kerala, 1970) 

NOTE:  The information on this page was prepared the late Rev. Dr. Oscar Sommerfeld, MMS Board Member,
and was last modified August 10, 2000.


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