Today the church recognizes a peasant from Bavaria who would influence both an entire continent and an island nation, Johannes Flierl, Missionary to Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Born in humble beginnings in 1858, Flierl was ordained a pastor in Bavaria and started his mission work in the interior of Australia with the native aboriginal persons there. Roughly eight years later, he boarded a boat and hopped across the Torres Strait, landing in Finschafen, Papua New Guinea, the capital of the German colony of Kaiser-Wilhelmsland.
Flierl was the first Lutheran missionary on the island. He established a mission near Simbang, but didn’t baptize any locals until 14 years later.
Flierl is remembered not only for his mission work, but most importantly as a champion for the locals in their fight for rights against government oppression. A seminary in Finschafen was established in his name in 1957, ten years after his death.
Flierl’s mission would eventually become the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea which, along with the Batak Church in Indonesia, is the largest of all Lutheran mission churches.
Flierl is notable for a few reasons, not the least of which is his innovative chin hair. It does my heart good to hear of a 19th Century missionary who was fighting for the rights of the people they were sent to walk with, not just trying to bludgeon them with a religion they didn’t ask to be exposed to.
The ELCA’s model for missions is one of accompaniment, and though it is unclear how closely Flierl’s work embodied that same spirit, I see glimmers of hope in his story that he may have practiced some of that mindset in his missions.
-historical notes gleaned from Pfatteicher’s “New Book of Festivals & Commemorations”