The World Council of Churches' Concern for Health, Healing and Mission, and the Heritage of Breklum's Mission History

By Werner, Dietrich | International Review of Mission, January-April 2006 | Go to article overview

The World Council of Churches' Concern for Health, Healing and Mission, and the Heritage of Breklum's Mission History


Werner, Dietrich, International Review of Mission


The global ecumenical movement and important local places of ecumenical research and partnership work belong together. This also applies for a conference on "The global health situation and the mission of the church in the 21st century", and the particular significance and history of this place in Breklum. Where is this place and why on earth is it important in the geography of Christian world mission? This ecumenical conference and retreat centre, called Christian Jensen College, is located in the rural part of northern Germany called Schleswig Holstein, some 150 km north of Hamburg, 15 km from the North Sea, and 60 km south of Denmark.

It is not due just to the natural beauty of this Frisian landscape or the attractive and undisturbed nature of this place of retreat and silence that has made Breklum the privileged place for international ecumenical partnership work and missiological research. Before everything else, it is the special historical heritage of missionary commitment and the long tradition of spiritual and educational renewal that has given this place its identity, its ecumenical prominence and its distinct flavour.

Some 130 years ago, it was the simple rural parish pastor Christian Jensen--born and brought up not too far away right behind the dykes of the North Sea in a rough sea climate and with the wide horizons of the north Frisian sky--who founded a training seminary for young pastors and missionaries at this place. In addition, Jensen also later founded a Christian secondary school (the gymnasiam Martineum, which is now our conference centre) and an important printing press and publishing house. In his person, Jensen really was a prominent focus of evangelical re-awakening in the 19th century in this part of the country. He was not only a pioneer of Christian publishing and of Christian education, but first of all he reminded people of the global horizon of Christian faith and the worldwide nature of the Christian family, which had to take shape even in a remote village and rural parish like Breklum here in north Friesland. It is in this village, where from 1876 to 1970 the governing bodies and the directorate of the so-called Schleswig Holsteinische Evangelische Lutherische Mission zu Breklum were located, that more than 200 young pastors were trained to be sent out to build up the Lutheran church of immigrants in America and Canada because it was from this region that massive emigration took place to the Americas in the middle of the 19th century.

Moreover, it is from this village, where first attempts were launched and supported, that missionaries went out to Jeypore in India (state of Orissa) and also to China, and later other countries in the Pacific, Africa and Asia. However, apart from his commitment to world mission and home mission, or the renewal of Christian life on German soil (both were always seen as closely interrelated) Christian Jensen also held deep theological convictions concerning the holistic nature of Christian witness and service. He believed that these always had to include the dimension of health and healing as an integral part of Christian mission alongside the concern for education and the proclamation of the gospel. Health care for the sick, and particularly for the mentally ill was part of Christian Jensen's agenda from the beginning. He accompanied a young fellow of his own age who had been suffering from tuberculosis for a long time, and this marked and redirected his life and inner vocation as a counselling pastor much more than as an academic theologian.

This was the background for the initiative to found a hospital for mentally sick people - a project that only materialised in 1900, which was the year in which Christian Jensen himself died of tuberculosis. The so-called "sanatorium" or hospital for mentally ill people, as well as the Breklum Mission worked in very close co-operation with a leading psychiatrist from Flensburg, Dr. Andreas Mahler, as well as with the deaconess movement of the 19th century, which found its centre in the deaconess hospital in Flensburg some 40 km away. …

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