Nommensen, Ingwer Ludwig (1834-1918)

Pioneer missionary to the Batak in Sumatra

Born in Nordstrand, Schleswig, then a Danish territory, Nommensen graduated from the Rhenish Mission Seminary, Wuppertal, Germany, and went to Sumatra, Indonesia (then the Netherland’s East Indies), arriving there in 1862 as a missionary of the Rhenish Mission Society. He settled among the independent Toba Batak in the Silindung Valley and baptized the first converts in 1865. The chief, Pontas Lumbantobing, became his friend and supported the mission. Together with P.H. Johannsen and A. Mohri, Nommensen withstood the opposition of the local datu priests. Church rulers and a common order of worship were drawn up in 1866. In 1881 he drafted a constitution to organize the growing Christian movement as a “people’s church.” In 1885 he moved north, pioneering in the Lake Toba region, and some years later he expanded the work to the Simelungun Batak. He consolidated the work by establishing advanced schools, hospitals, and a theological seminary.

Nommensen and his wife lost a child in Indonesia in 1868 and a second one four years later. In 1887 his wife died in Germany, leaving him with four children. He remarried in 1892. In 1901 his son Christian was murdered in Sumatra. In 1909 his second wife died, and another son, Nathaniel, died in World War I.

Often referred to as the Apostle of the Batak, Nommensen was the leading missionary among the Batak from 1864 to 1918 (54 years) and was moderator of the Rhenish Batak Mission from 1881. He was made a knight of the Royal Dutch Order of Orange Nassau in 1893 and an officer of this order in 1911. He received an honorary doctorate  of theology degree from the University of Bonn in 1904. When he died, the Batak church had 34 pastors, 788 teacher-preachers, and 180,000 members in more than 500 local churches. His published writings include translations into the Batak language of Luther’s Small Catechism (1874), the New Testament (1878), Bible Stories (1882), three booklets entitled Berichte an seine Freunde (1882, 1883, 1886), and about forty shorter articles and contributions to mission journals.

Lothar Schreiner, “Nommensen, Ingwer Ludwig,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 499-500.

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.


Nommensen’s personal papers and letters to the mission board are in the archives of the Vereinigte Evangelische Mission, Wuppertal, Germany.


Lehmann, Martin E. A Biographical Study of Ingwer Ludwig Nommensen. 1996.

Menzel, Gustav. Ein Reiskorn auf der Strasse: Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen, Apostel der Batak. 1984.

Schreiner, Lothar. “Nommensen in His Context: Aspects of a New Approach.” In Cultures and Societies in North Sumatra, edited by R. Carle. 1987. Pages 179-87.

_____. “Nommensen Studies—A Review.” Mission Studies 9 (1992): 241-51. [Includes extensive bibliography]

_____ (ed.). Nommensen in Selbstzeugnissen: Unveroffentlichte Aufsatze, Entwurfe und Dokumente. 1996.

Warneck, Johannes. Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen, ein Lebensbild. 4th rev. ed. 1934. Orig. 1919.