Story Magazine - Fall, 2010
100 Years of Service: Esteemed Mission Society has Strong Ties to Luther
by Kelsey Holm, Communication Specialist
The Lutheran Orient Mission Society has a long and esteemed history. In the last 100 years, LOMS has been responsible for tearing down walls and building bridges between Muslims and Christians in Kurdistan by helping Kurdish women make a living with their talents, giving Kurdish children an education and putting the spoken Kurdish word to paper.
LOMS missionaries, including legendary founders M. O. Wee and L. O. Fossum, have given their lives to the Kurdish people. In return, the Kurds still memorialize them today on film, in print and even on street signs. In Kurdistan, these Lutheran missionaries are legend.
"The pioneer missionaries are admired by Iran's Kurds today because of the role they played in a critical period of modern Kurdish history," said Matthew Hand, international director of Lutheran
Mideast Development (formerly LOMS). "Fossum not only founded the first Kurdish-language primary schools, he wrote the first Kurdish grammar. He also published a Kurdish newspaper—possibly the first—and the mission's newsletter was one of the earliest publications to carry the title "Kurdistan."
One common thread running through the history of LOMS, stretching over the years and around the globe, is Luther Seminary. In 1910, the first global missions conference was held in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was there that Wee (Red Wing Seminary, 1898) and Fossum (United Church Seminary, 1902) were commissioned to start work with the Kurds.
"The missionary conference at Edinburgh in 1910 was one of the great church gatherings of the 20th century; it provided a large portion of the church with a strategy for fulfilling the Great
Commission," said Richard Bliese, president of Luther Seminary. "Luther Seminary was present at this historic meeting through the two figures of Professor M. O. Wee and L. O. Fossum. As a result of their efforts, a tremendous missionary engagement with the Kurds was begun 100 years ago that's still producing good fruit."
Wee was a leading figure in the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America and a professor of theology at Luther. (The seminary's on-site daycare, Wee Care, is named for him.) After an 1899 trip to Persia during which he encountered the Kurdish people, Wee found his calling. After trying to convince his colleagues that the Kurds were a worthy field of service, Fossum was sent to Persia for a second opinion. Staying in Persia from 1905 to 1909, he returned convinced.
Said Hand, "Reading Fossum's correspondence in total, we are struck primarily by a sense of compassion: He saw a great need. There was hunger, no health care, many orphans, a persecuted population, violence and—in Fossum's eyes—also great spiritual impoverishment. Fossum was simply moved to compassion by what he saw in Kurdistan."
Just three months after the June 1910 conference, the bylaws of what would become LOMS were established. The work of this group still continues today under the name Lutheran Mideast Development. The group educates children, helps women earn a living, and provides disaster relief, evangelism, church support and efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. Because of Wee's and Fossum's strong
ties to the founding of LOMS and to Minnesota, the Twin Cities—and Luther Seminary in particular--
became a sort of "home base" for the group. Those ties are still strong. On Sept. 27, the group will gather on the Luther Seminary campus to celebrate the first 100 years of its history.
"What I'd like to do on Sept. 27 is to celebrate," said John Snider, director of LMD and pastor of St. Stephen's Lutheran in West St. Paul. "In one of the most contentious spots on the planet ... Lutheran Christians are honored and respected. We have friends in the Middle East."
For more information about LOMS' history, including a slideshow of images, visit www.luthersem.edu/LOMS.
newsletter was one of the earliest publications to carry the title 'Kurdistan.'"