Keysser, Christian (J.E.) (1877-1961)
German Lutheran missionary in New Guinea
Keysser was born in Bavaria, was trained at the seminary of the Neuendettelsau Mission (1895-1899), and was sent to northeastern New Guinea (Papua) in 1899, where he lived and later headed the mission station at Sattelberg. He analyzed the local Kate language; collected ethnographic, geographic, and botanical data; soon became aware of the different quality of the language-associated cognitive behavior of Papuan and Melanesian peoples; and acquired a high reputation among them. His insights decisively changed his approach to frontier missions. He advocated using evangelists from the established indigenous church under the guidance of missionaries; culturally appropriate proclamation of the gospel, starting with the concept of God; content before form; and an emphasis on an integral approach, considering religious and secular interests as equally important. He compiled hymns, translated parts of the New Testament, wrote teaching materials, and trained evangelists. On reconnaissance trips he explored the region of the Adler River north of Lae and the Finisterre Mountains; he was appointed corresponding member of the German Geographical Society for his ascent of Mount Saruwaged.
In 1920 Keysser went to Germany with his family and was not permitted to return to New Guinea because of the political situation during and after World War I. He worked on his ethnographic and linguistic data and published a dictionary of the Kate language in 1925. In 1929 the University of Ehrlangen awarded him an honorary doctorate for his scientific achievements. A member of the Deutsche Evangelische Missionsrat, he was a leading figure in German missions. At the mission seminary in Neuendettelsau he trained a new generation of missionaries, sensitive to the mentality and culture of the people among whom they worked. As mission inspector, he advised and encouraged missionaries and other missions, especially during the oppressive Nazi period. His strong sense of national and cultural identification was criticized during the denazification process, and he lost all of his offices, most of which his former student Georg F. Vicedom took over.
Klaus Müller, “Keysser, Christian (J. E.),” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 360.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Keysser wrote several hundred essays, reports, treatises, and books that were published in church journals or preserved in manuscript in the archives of the Missionswerk der Evang.-Luth. Kirch in Bayern at Neuendettelsau.
Keysser, Christian. Ajo!: Ein Missionsbuch für Deutsche Jugend. Nürnberg: Glocken-Verl, 1926.
_____. Anutu im Papualande. Nürnberg: Glocken, 1926. English translation (by A. Allin and J. Kuder), A People Reborn. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1980.
_____. Bai, the Sorcerer. Brisbane: United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia, Board of Foreign Mission, 1925.
_____. Das bin Bloss Ich. Neuendettelsau: Freimund-Verlag, 1966.
_____. Gottes Weg ins Hubelan. Dresden: C.L. Ungelenk, 1936.
_____. Lehret alle Völker; Beispiele aus der Mission zum Kleinen Katechismus. Neuendettelsau: Freimund-Verlag, 1960.
_____. Lichtfunken in Heidnischer Finsternis. Neuendettelsau: Freimund Verlag, 1951.
_____. Missionsheftchen (Von Christian Keysser). Neuendettelsau: Freimund-Druckerei, 1950.
_____. Sanggang, Cannibal Chief to Christian. Edited by Esther Winter. Madang, Papua New Guinea: Kristen Pres, 1986. [Revised and simplified version of a translation from the German original prepared in 1950 by F. Edward Pietz.]
_____. Das grösste Werk der Welt. Munich: C. Kaiser, 1934.
Smith, R.M. Christ, Keysser, and Culture: Lutheran Evangelistic Policy and Practice in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Canberra: Australian National University, 1979. Pp. 78-97. [at the Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut, USA]
Fugmann, Wilhelm. Christian Keysser: Burger zweier Welten. Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hänssler, 1985.
Fugmann, Wilhelm and Herwig Wagner. Von Gott erzählen: das Leben Christian Keyssers; 1877 – 1961. Neuendettelsau: Freimund-Verlag, 1978.
Müller, Karl, et al. Missionstudien. Kaldenkirchen, Rheinland: Steyler Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1962.
Stadler, Jürgen. Die Missionspraxis Christian Keyssers in Neuguinea 1899-1920: erste Schritte auf dem Weg zu einer einheimischen Kirche. Nürnberg: VTR, 2006.
Vicedom, G. F. Church and People in New Guinea. London: Lutterworth, 1961.
Yates, Timothy. Christian Mission in the Twentieth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.