In July, we arrive at another milepost in the winding history of our missionary community. On July 7, 1945, the World Mission Prayer League was legally incorporated in the State of Minnesota.
It may seem a small step, and I suppose that it was. “The transition was a quiet one,” comments Millie Tengbom.1 Yet much came together during that strategic summer.
The development represented an intentional amalgamation of the varying strands running through our fellowship in its early years. We were heirs of Hauge and Skrefsrud, on the one hand, and their variety of dynamic Scandinavian Pietism. We were a prayer group and sending base originating on the campus of the Lutheran Bible Institute, as well – an effort we called the South American Mission Prayer League. And then we were a band of radical young people, university and Bible School students, gathered around God’s word, living in intentional community, looking to conform our lives to the radical Cause of the King. This we called the Lutheran World Crusade.
The South American Mission Prayer League was organized in 1937, and commissioned its first missionaries by the fall. In 1940, they changed their name to the World Mission Prayer League, to reflect a growing conviction that their “field” was the world.
The Lutheran World Crusade was organized in 1941, out of the same youthful praying movement that gave birth to the League. The Crusade added additional layers to the spiritual mix. They pioneered a committed community, living together in a “Prayer House.” (A “Prayer House” still stands at the symbolic center of our fellowship.) They gave us the language of “commissioned living.” Members were encouraged to find their “commission” within the work of the Kingdom around the world – whether here “at home” or off in Timbuktu. They found heroes in people like C.T. Studd, Norman Grubb, Oswald Chambers, and Hudson Taylor. They aspired to the model of the World Evangelistic Crusade (now WEC International) and the China Inland Mission (now OMF International). They hoped to take their place along the very edge of God’s adventurous mission in the world. “Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go…,” said Booth. The Crusade built its life around cries like these.
By the spring of 1945, these strands were coming together. On May 21, our Annual Meeting elected a “Council” to govern the emerging union. On June 7, the Council approved a formal Constitution. On Saturday, July 7, we met again to ratify our Constitution, formally approve our name, and select our first officers. This was the day of our legal incorporation. A fellow named Evald Conrad was elected to serve as President. Ernest Weinhardt was elected Secretary. The Crusade was formally dissolved in the fall.
“Mileposts” such as these may be interesting from an historical point of view. Yet it is a mistake to suppose that structures and mileposts, somehow, produce life. They cannot. Life does not come from organigrams. The very best policy statements cannot generate a living organism. Life is simply not made in that way.
It works the other way around entirely: life will sometimes issue in structures, of one sort or another. And structures, of course, can be more or less supportive of the life they have arisen to serve.
For our part, it is our intention to keep our structures light. Our first Constitution would fit, almost, on a postcard. We “pray forth laborers.” We “provide an agency for [sending them].” And then we do our best “to realize the above stated objectives.” 2 We were, in a nutshell, a praying league with a world mission.
“Our mission did not start in a big way,” Evald Conrad summarized, in his first written report as Chairman. “Our first organization was very simple. We felt that as our work enlarged, we would learn from experience what was needed in the way of organization, principles, and constitution.” 3
In the many years since, we have indeed “learned from experience.” God has led us into dozens of countries around the world, and to scores of projects and ministries, in partnership with hundreds of churches and agencies, in gospel service to millions. We have added administrative structures, carefully crafted policies, and the best strategies we have been able to muster. We have attempted to be daring. We have hoped to entrepreneur. Many, many hundreds have served within our fellowship through the years. Many, many millions of dollars have been contributed. Countless prayers have been raised on behalf of the people that we serve.
And we remain, more or less, what we have always been: a simple praying league with a sweeping world mission.
This is the life that has issued in our structures until now. And may we expect additional structures and strategies to emerge along the way! They will arise, if they do, as they did in the summer of 1945: rooted in lives of simple surrender to the King and his wonderful Cause.
2 “The Constitiution,” Mission Prayer Banner, Vol.7, No.3 (July-August 1945), p.10.
3 “Days of Beginnings,” Mission Prayer Banner, Vol.7, No.3 (July-August 1945), pp.1-3.
Other posts in this Mileposts series: