|Wilhelm Löhe: Man with a Mission
Welcomed by Chief Bemassikeh, the Indians built Edward Baierlin and his wife a wigwam to live in
until they got a cabin built. They built a trusting and loving relationship. It was here where Baierlein
quickly learned Chippewa and translated many Lutheran hymns, a 47 page catechism and a Bible
reader/spelling book into the Chippewa language during his five and a half year stay. He felt that the
mistake earlier German settlers made was to try and teach the Indians German instead of English.
Born Edward von Valseck into a Catholic family in Silesia, Edward Baierlein took his name, meaning
"Little Bavarian" after he became a Lutheran and his furious father disinherited him and forbade him
to use the family name any longer. On September 6, 1849, he was ordained and, to his surprise, was
sent as a missionary in America for the Ojibwa Indians in Michigan. Called Black Coat by the
Indians, he promised them two things at their first meeting: to teach the tribe about eternal life and
teach its children reading, writing and arithmetic, so they could read the Bible and no longer be
cheated by traders. He asked only that they send their children to his school and that they come to
church each Sunday, which they agreed to do.
He and his wife went to live in a bark hut with the Indians and ate Indian food and shared their own
supplies. He taught them some skills he knew, but didn't expect them to adopt white ways, a rare
attitude among missionaries. They were warmly accepted as tribal members. Most Bethany Indians
accepted Christianity and many settled on mission land. In 1853, Baierlein wrote: "The might of
heathenism is completely broken and only one family still lives according to the old customs, with all
the others either standing firm in the Christian faith, or else ready to become Christians."
The Baierleins introduced some customs unwittingly. For instance, they served treats such as coffee
and cake to celebrate the baptism of an Indian child and on one occasion, when they lacked food and
couldn't, the child in question died. Thereafter, the Indians believed that the absence of goodies at the
baptism was the reason, and began their own custom of ensuring a supply of treats. Deeply revered
by the Indians, but in poor health from Michigan's harsh climate, he was forced to leave after five
and one half years.
In 1853, Baierlein was called to go to India, and he and his destitute family sadly prepared to depart.
As they embarked in the canoe taking them away forever, his tearful Indian friends gathered and
sang a farewell to them, in German: "Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr." Baierlin ended up in India, the
original destination planned for him when he began his life as a pastor. He later wrote a small,
touching book of his experiences titled In the Wilderness with the Red Indians. It contains some of
his gentle poetry. He died on October 12, 1901. Work among the Indians here continued until 1855
when the U. S. Government opened a large reservation in Isabella County where Indian families
relocated when they found they would be alloted 80 acres each.
Note: There were other equally fervent German country ministers busy in the New World, and they
sometimes competed for the attention of the "savages", and it often led to disagreements. The
American Methodist Church established the German Methodist Church in the 1830s to minister to
the growing number of German immigrants in the United States. By the early twentieth century, it
was a financially productive and respected institution which thrived and ministered to from 60,000 to
70,000 German-Americans in 740 congregations by 1915. Ten German speaking conferences
existed, serving colleges and other institutions. One early travelling German Methodist ministers was
Peter August Moelling who wrote a small book called "Sketches of Travels" ('Reise-Skizzen in
Poesie und Prosa') in 1858, in which he gives his accounts of several ministers he encountered as
well as the various towns and cities he visited. The author occupied several pulpits from Texas to
Minnesota, preaching as he travelled all over the Eastern States and on to Indiana and Ohio, returning
to New Orleans by way of the river.
Moelling, in relating how he became a Methodist during his youth in Germany, explained that while
he was preparing for the Catholic priesthood at a Dominican monastery, he somehow received an old
copy of Joseph Schaitberger's 'Sendbrief'. He tells how furious the priests were when they found out
that he had read a "Schaitberg" and he then very touchingly reveals how profoundly the "dear little
book" changed his life, saying, "God be thanked that Schaitberger published his experiences, which
perhaps he did with prayers and tears that many souls might be awakened." The German Methodist
Church lasted for only a century before World War One anti-German hysteria resulted in all of the
German conferences being combined within the main body of the Methodist Church. Within 20 years
after the end of World War One, it was gone altogether.
and Baierlein, right
Pastor Wilhelm Löhe, 1808-1872, had a reputation as being intelligent and able, but too theologically
conservative and too politically liberal for the church politics of the day. He held at least twelve jobs
until he got his own parish in the provincial hamlet of Neuendettelsau in 1837. There, his career both
began and ended, for until his death he was "banished" to this small village by the church hierarchy.
From 1830 to 1870, millions of Germans emigrated, many of them from poorer parts of Frankonia,
and most headed for America. The younger people in some villages were leaving almost daily in
search of riches. This was a subject of grave consternation to Loehe, and he blamed it partially on
the rationalism which was popular among Bavarian Lutheran ministers whose sermons substituted
enlightenment for the gospel. The church was ruled by Bavarian law, and as such, the Catholic king
was the leader of the Lutheran Church! The King's interest was to prevent the church from being a
revolutionary hotbed and this led to restrictive measures. Mission circles and similar "subversive
enterprises" were banned, and this relegated church activities largely to Sunday services only. Loehe,
a lion in the pulpit, made their Sundays worth it with his intense, heartfelt sermons.
Bavarian farmers were so motivated by his services that they would to walk all day Saturday in order
to hear him preach on Sunday. Some people even moved their entire family across Germany in order
to listen to him preach. Loehe wrote down many sermons only after he had preached them, not
before, as he preached from the heart and was not bound by a manuscript. With his powerful voice,
piercing eyes, imposing physique and use of graphic personification, his preaching was likened to that
of Martin Luther. His sermons appealed to "both the simple farmer and the learned scholar" and
people came away from them with "a feeling that they had been confronted by God" in contrast to
the rationalistic preaching common in his day. Meanwhile, other events would sway his direction.
Lutheran minister Friedrich Konrad Dietrich Wyneken traveled through the American Midwest in the
mid-19th century, meeting settlers everywhere who felt the loss of pastoring. While other churches of
the day were trying out missionary work, the Lutherans, especially in Bavaria, were not. Wyneken
was alarmed to find German settlers who hadn't heard a sermon in years, and "tearfully begged (him)
to stay with them awhile." In 1841, Wyneken returned to Germany temporarily and wrote a plea for
help in the newspapers called 'The Distress of the German Lutherans in North America' describing
the spiritual plight of the German emigrants in the states who lacked churches and pastors. to baptize
children, teach, counsel, visit the ill or bury people. His plea would not go unheeded.
Feeling the compulsion to help, Loehe published an article in a church periodical asking for help.
Wyneken returned to serve in Fort Wayne, Indiana (where he later helped form the Missouri Synod
and became its second president). Beginning in the spring of 1841, several young men responded to
Loehe's letter. They expressed willingness to go help the settlers with their skills and occupations, and
in the summer of 1842, he sent these young people to America at his own expense.
Loehe called them Nothelfer ("helpers in need") and trained them to be "emergency pastors." He still
had no theologians, but many more young men followed. 185 had been sent by Loehe's death in
1872. Loehe paid for many of them himself and he was always trying to raise money.
Loehe established a network of cooperating parishes throughout Germany and in 1845 published a
"letter from the home country to German Lutheran emigrants" signed by 946 people, including 350
theologians. Loehe would finally be able to train 22 pastors for work in the United States. Loehe
founded the Missouri Synod along with C.F.W. Walther, and also a Lutheran seminary in Ft. Wayne,
Indiana as well as Columbus, Ohio and Trinity Seminary, the Saginaw area colonies with a mission to
the Native Americans and Dubuque, Iowa, where he is considered the father of Wartburg
Seminary*. His fiery preaching inspired over 1,000 missionaries to go to at least three continents.
Loehe encountered strained relations with regional authorities from 1848 until 1852, and many
within the Lutheran denomination regarded him as narrow-minded. He even considered leaving the
church at one point. Yet he had vision. Loehe is probably best known as a founder of social
institutions and the mission department in Neuendettelsau he created. In recent years there has been
a sudden recognition of Loehe for his far sightedness. In 1985, 3,000 of Loehe's letters were
published, some of which were discovered in America and unknown to German church archives.
America beckoned to several dedicated clergymen. The first mission school in Michigan was opened
in 1845 at Frankenmuth by Rev. Craemer who was soon joined by Edward Baierlein, who
established a second station. Bethany Township in Michigan was named after the Lutheran Mission
to the Indians founded by Edward Baierlein in 1847.