Archbishop in Nigeria
On this day, May 14, 2001, the Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, David Windibiziri, addressed the congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church, north of Kenmare, ND. Although raised in the traditional religious beliefs of his home in Nigeria, Archbishop Windibiziri had as a teenager converted to Christianity and attended the Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul, MN before being ordained as a pastor in 1972.
Speaking at Trinity Lutheran Church, Archbishop Windibiziri reminded the congregation that their church was like the mustard seed spoken of in the Bible. “In my country,” he said, “there are 1.5 million people who are Lutherans because of the seeds planted by this church.”
Those seeds had been planted by Jens Dixen in rural Kenmare nearly a century earlier. In 1910, Jens Dixen attended the World Missions Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland as a delegate of the United Church. There he learned of a group of Danish missionaries who hoped to work in the Sudan, the modern region of Nigeria in western Africa, but lacked funding.
Returning to North Dakota, he sold one of his farms for the African mission and encouraged the congregation of Trinity Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church to raise funds as well. Less than one year after the conference, Dixen and the rural Kenmare church had raised $2,000 out of the $5,000 needed to send the first missionaries. Dixen then founded the Mission Society Lebanon, an organization of the United Evangelical Lutheran churches across North Dakota and Montana, to provide continued financial support for the Sudan Mission Society.
With this funding, Danish missionary Dr. Niels Brønnum and his wife Margaret set out for Africa in 1913. Mrs. Brønnun died within six months, but Dr. Brønnun remained, founding a Danish Lutheran mission at Numan, in the modern state of Adamawa, Nigeria.
Over the following decades other Danish and American missionaries followed, including several from North Dakota. As former president of a Danish folk school near Kenmare, Jens Dixen inspired several students from Brorson High School to serve in Africa including Alfred Thompson and Dr. Morgens Uhrenholt.
Nearly 90 years later, on this day, Archbishop David Windibiziri returned to the church that had supported the African mission, as he put it, in order to “dig the roots of Lutheranism in North Dakota.”
Written by Christina Sunwall
Downs, Caroline. “Archbishop comes here to visit roots of Nigerian Lutheran faith”. The Kenmare News (23 May 2001) <http://www.kenmarend.com/kenmarenews/feature%20stories/feature40.htm>
Jens Dixen: Danes of the High Plains exhibit notes (Elk Horn, IA: Danish Immigrant Museum’s Heritage Park; 2002)
Nissen, Margaret. An African Church is Born (Denmark: Purups Grafiske Hus.; 1968)