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History of the European Baptist Mission

History of EBM INTERNATIONAL : Aid for Africa, Latin America and India
The EBM Mission house in Elstal

In 1954, the Baptist churches in Europe joined to create the EBM (European Baptist Mission) to work together in Africa.

In 1979, the MASA (Missionary Activities in South America) was added.

In 2009 “Hans Herter Indienhilfe” (India Aid) was integrated into EBM INTERNATIONAL. EBM INTERNATIONAL now works in Asia, too. 27 member unions from Europe, Latin America and Africa belong to EBM INTERNATIONAL.

The goal of our collective mission is to provide aid to people in spiritual and material need. This work is performed in close collaboration with our partner churches abroad. We work in seven countries in Africa, India - and five countries in Latin America.

A brief historical excursion

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Mission of the “Congregations of Baptized Christians in Germany”

In 1834 the first Baptist congregation was founded in Hamburg. In 1849 the first “Conference of Baptist Congregations in Germany” was held. The purpose of this conference was the faith, the community, the statistics and the mission. At the beginning, the mission was the defining theme and was viewed as the central task of the “congregations of baptized Christians in Germany and Denmark.” At the first conference, participants passed concrete resolutions for the mission; each congregation was encouraged to create a “mission committee” that was supposed to be responsible for “tackling the work and providing strong leadership.” And if we look back on the evangelization and church foundation work of the first generation, their understanding of the mission was international and borderless. The mission was both a homeland and heathen mission. Only with the “Israel mission,” in the first decades of the 19th century, is a specific mission mentioned.

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Heathen mission

The foundation of a “Cameroon mission committee” by the Bethel congregation in Berlin in 1890 and the initiative of Eduard Scheve led to a discussion of the “heathen mission” at the 1891 national conference, and a request for the dispatch of missionaries was filed.  The first Baptist missionaries from Germany, Anna and August Steffens, were then sent to Cameroon on 10 November 1891. In 1898, the “Mission Society of German Baptists” with its headquarters in Steglitz/Berlin was officially founded. In 1911, it moved to Neuruppin by Berlin. In this phase, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the heathen mission was anchored as a special branch of the congregation union, notably at the initiative of a local congregation which viewed its duty to be the taking of responsibility for the “heathen mission” on behalf of the congregations. And from the beginning, even if only below the surface, there was an understanding of the mission as a partnership, which strengthened the individual responsibility of the “converted” in Africa for the mission in their own country. Missionaries were supposed to be sent to the German colony “to preach the Gospel to the natives, to teach them and develop teachers and preachers from their people.”

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War chaos

Due to the First World War, in 1927 the heathen missionary activities were significantly reduced. The mission leader F.W. Simoleit visited Cameroon one more time in 1930, but the German Baptists’ heathen mission ended with the Second World War.

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Reorientation in the fifties

The reorientation of the Baptist Union in Germany, which has been called the Union of Evangelical Free Churches since 1941, began with an exchange of letters between Jacob Meister, the first chairman of the union, and Henri Vincent, the president of the French Baptist union in December 1951. At that time, the German Baptists requested support from the French congregations for the re-establishment of German missionary work in Cameroon. In his response, Henry Vincent asked them to consider that the French colonial authorities would hardly allow the establishment of a German mission and that also, in his opinion, the time had not yet arrived for that.  Then, however, he made a notable recommendation in his reply on 28 December 1951:

“If the idea of a united Europe should grow and become reality, then it could well lead to the fall of all the barriers between our nations and that we could then think about everything, including the mission, no longer in the categories of Germany and France, but in terms of Europe. I will pray for that. Would it be possible to organize a European Baptist Mission Society in this case, including French and German workers, and sending missionaries wherever they need to go?”

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The EBM as a continuation of the German Cameroon mission

With this history and against this backdrop, the story of the EBM begins. The foundation meeting took place on 17-18 September 1954 in Zurich. This is how a European Baptist Mission, founded by the congregation unions in Germany, France and Switzerland, emerged from many national mission initiatives and committees. Since then, the EBM has been an association according to Swiss law with its official headquarters in Zurich. Bad Homburg and, since 1997, Elstal have however coordinated and taken responsibility for the mission work itself. In 1955, the first mission council took place in Zurich, at which the French couple Farelly was sent to Cameroon. Rudolf and Ingeborg Kassühlke from Germany were sent to Paris for language training and then dispatched as the EBM’s first German missionary couple for service in Cameroon. Since this time, other European congregation unions have joined the EBM, sent out missionaries or taken the responsibility for missionary projects by the EBM.

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Missionary actions in South America

The evangelization trip by Pastor Horst Borkowski in 1969 to Baptist congregations in Brazil and Argentina, which were founded by German emigrants, developed into a new, intensive relationship with Latin America. Not only the evangelization work, but also the resulting welfare projects, above all the children’s homes in Brazil and Argentina were symbolic of this work in South America. The significant expansion of work and the desired as well as necessary coordination within the union led to MASA officially becoming a part of the EBM in 1979.

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India aid

Initially, it was a collection campaign for a poverty and social fund to benefit Dr. Hans Grüber who had been a doctor in Ludhiana, North India, for 13 years. The 700-bed Brown Memorial Hospital needed urgent support for the large number of penniless patients from the large industrial city of Ludhiana and its environs. This initiative by Deputy Assistant Undersecretary (Ministerialrat) Hans Herter in 1960 began the work of “Hans Herter Indienhilfe” (India Aid). After his death, the activities received the name Indienhilfe (India Aid) and were continued by Dr. Walter Herter, extended and expanded to a wide range of areas. Since 1 January 1985, India Aid has been integrated into the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany and has been an official division of the EBM since 1 January 2009.

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A global mission close to congregations

Repeatedly in the history of the union, there have been individual people and local congregations with global missionary activities. The Bethel congregation in Berlin, the initiatives by Horst Borkowski or Hans Herter are examples for how the love of God was specifically demonstrated on the global horizon: holistically, as a necessary aid, close to the base and the congregation. The EBM understands and takes responsibility for its global missionary activities on behalf of the congregations. This congregation-related integration of the global mission was strengthened again at the mission council in 2006: “Congregations support congregations to fulfil God’s mission!”

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Diverse mission with a profile

Since its foundation, the EBM has faced the diverse challenges of the global missionary work in content, structure, personnel and strategy. An important stage in this process was the “Declaration of Ibadan” at the end of the 80s. African Baptist unions and non-African mission associations reached an agreement on the subjects of “collaboration and partnership” on 21-23 October 1987 in Ibadan, Nigeria. Independence and personal responsibility by the African unions in their church work, finances, structures or land and property has been the clearly formulated basis of the jointly managed global mission. 

In the middle of the 2000s, the so-called “task force” process of the EBM made another contribution to the partnership’s mission work. As of 2005, there were 18 congregation unions from Europe that took responsibility for their global missionary work with and through the EBM in seven African and five Latin American countries. An EBM membership agreement for all African, Latin American and European Baptist unions ended the classical difference between the sending (Europe) and receiving (Africa and Latin America) union, and strengthened the union for the benefit of joint membership and responsibility. Africans and Latin Americans now assume leading positions on both the EBM’s management boards and in the EBM’s operative work.

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Spreading the Gospel in word and deed throughout the world

The needs of people in Africa, Latin America and Asia due to poverty, malnutrition or a lack of education are very great. The social, political and religious circumstances are also challenging.  Here, we can help and do some good, e.g. by praying, donating or through people. Missionaries are such people that God endowed with a particular talent of being able to engage with another culture thanks to their gifts and expertise.

Despite material need, we are experiencing the revival and growth of many churches in the Second and Third World. For us in Europe, where the development of the church has stagnated, colleagues and missionaries from Africa, Latin America and Asia provide important inspiration. Collectively and mutually we can strengthen global missionary responsibility. The global mission is not a one-way street, but rather the active, collective responsibility for the One World of God – for peace, justice and the preservation of the planet. The EBM continues to implement this task as the mission movement of the union’s congregations. You can support us in this, even if we will be called “EBM International” in the future. At the beginning there was the Cameroon mission of German Baptists...