Foreign Mission Board (General Conference Mennonite Church)

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One of the main reasons for the organization of the General Conference in 1860 was to give opportunity for expression of the growing interest in missions. Even before the organization of this conference, various groups were interested in the Dutch Mennonite missions in Java and Sumatra. At the first meeting of the conference two mission treasuries were created, and at the third meeting of the conference another was added, so that the western, central, and eastern groups each had their own treasurer.

At the fourth session of the conference in 1868, the Central Mission Society of the United Mennonites of America was created and instructed to support the work of the Dutch Mennonites in Java, but also to educate young American Mennonite men in preparation for conference mission work. At the sixth session of the General Conference, 1872, the above society was dissolved and a Foreign Mission Board composed of five members was created. In 1878 the various mission treasuries were consolidated.

In order to prepare ministers and missionaries the conference established the Wadsworth school, which opened its doors in 1868. One of the students, Samuel S. Haury, decided to enter mission service and in 1871 applied to the Mennonite Mission Society at Amsterdam. In 1872 the conference decided to support Haury while in school and asked that he put himself under the direction of the conference Mission Board. This he did, and in 1875 after completing his studies at the Barmen Mission School in Germany, he returned to America to be ordained as the first conference missionary.

The first field considered was Java and Sumatra; however, since no satisfactory basis of cooperation with the Amsterdam Society presented itself, Haury was asked to visit the churches and look for a field among the American Indians or elsewhere. Several Indian tribes were visited and Quaker missionaries among them were consulted. In 1879 Haury, accompanied by J. B. Baer, visited Alaska and conferred with Presbyterian missionaries there. After a second visit to various Indians, accompanied by three board members, Haury finally began mission work in 1880 among the Arapahoe tribe at Darlington, Indian Territory.

In 1884 work was begun among the Cheyenne tribe. In 1891 Rodolphe Petter arrived on the field and in time became an internationally recognized philologist, reducing the Cheyenne language to writing, building a dictionary, and translating the Bible and other books into Cheyenne. In 1893 work among the Hopi tribe was begun. Much of H. R. Voth's Hopi material was later published with profuse illustrations in eleven volumes by the Stanley McCormick Hopi Expedition, Field Columbian Museum, and much of his Hopi collection was placed on permanent exhibition in some 20 large cases in the Field Museum, Chicago. By the early 1950s, nearly 90 persons had served as missionaries in some capacity among the Indians. During the first decade only about 20 converts were won. The total number baptized among the three tribes in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Montana from the beginning through the early 1950s was about 800.

The work in India began in 1899 when David Goerz arrived with relief supplies and instructions to look for a mission field. The pioneer missionaries, P. A. Penner and J. F. Kroeker and their wives, came in 1900. The field is in the former Central Provinces, an area of about 8,000 square miles with a population of about 1,200,000. In 1950 there were 15 organized congregations in the India field with a membership of over 3,500, some 25 schools with about 1,300 pupils, 2 orphanages with a capacity of 80 each, a widows' home, 2 hospitals and 6 dispensaries with some 13,000 new and some 10,000 return patients per year, and a recognized leper asylum with a capacity of 500, in which more than 3,400 lepers have been cared for. Some 230 native workers were being employed and more than 40 missionaries had given some service on 5 stations: Champa, Janjgir, Mauhaudi, Korba, and Jagdeeshpur.

The work in China was begun by Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Brown in 1909 and taken over by the Foreign Mission Board in 1914. The field was in southern Hopei province, about 40 by 100 miles, with a population of over 2,200,000. In 1940 there were 40 preaching places, 24 congregations, 125 native workers, and a church membership of about 2,300, 2 high schools, 60 grade schools with an enrollment of over 2,300, a hospital, 2 dispensaries with over 3,500 patients and over 52,000 registered treatments per year. About 30 missionaries had given some service in this field by 1950. With the Japanese invasion and the coming of the Communists the work was seriously hindered. In 1950 Chinese Christians were carrying on as best they could while the few remaining missionaries moved to the interior to open a new field in Szechwan, where the work was just beginning. But shortly all missionaries were compelled to leave the field.

For a number of years the foreign Mission Board cooperated with the Congo Inland Mission in Africa. In 1947 work was started in Colombia, South America, mainly with untainted leper children.  Eight workers are there at present.

Much credit for the high standard of work by the Foreign Mission Board belongs to J. W. Kliewer and P. H. Richert, who for many years served as president and secretary respectively of the board. Kliewer was president of the board from 1908 to 1930. In about 1916 the board published A Manual for Missionaries covering various aspects of the subject. Regarding educational qualifications it states: "It is regarded as essential that a missionary have a good college education and at least some work in a good theological seminary or other graduate school." By the second quarter of the 20th century this standard was not adhered to. For the fiscal year 1949-50 the budget of the board was $255,000. Over 200 missionaries had rendered service under the Mission Board and in 1950 there were about 97 active in the five fields mentioned above.

In 1950 the General Conference session merged the Foreign Mission Board and the Home Mission Board into a Board of Missions of 12 members.


Kaufman, Ed. G. The Development of the Missionary and Philanthropic Interest Among the Mennonites of North America.  Berne, Ind., 1931.

Author(s) Edmund G Kaufman
Date Published 1956

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Kaufman, Edmund G. "Foreign Mission Board (General Conference Mennonite Church)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 22 Jun 2021.

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Kaufman, Edmund G. (1956). Foreign Mission Board (General Conference Mennonite Church). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 June 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 351-352. All rights reserved.

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