Flierl, Johann (1858-1947)
Lutheran Pioneer Missionary in New Guinea
Flierl grew up in a Lutheran farmer’s household in northern Bavaria. The village pastor encouraged him to volunteer for training in the seminary of the Neuendettelsau Mission. In 1878 he was sent out for service among Australian Aborigines. Having applied for transfer to the newly established German colony in northeastern New Guinea in 1886, he became the pioneer of Lutheran missions among the Papua. He served there as a field director of the mission until 1930, even though Australia began occupation of the territory in 1914. He played an important part in the exploration of the eastern highlands and paved the way for the mission to the hill tribes. Learning by doing rather than relying on preconceived strategies, he became largely responsible for introducing a system of church mission “from below,” compensating for the shortage of foreign missionaries by involving local elders and teachers in evangelistic service and introducing a Christian life-style by means of cautious inculturation of the faith. As Flierl considered indigenous religion a strictly public affair, he also tended to postpone individual baptism of converts until larger numbers of people came forward. It was left to his successors to develop this approach in terms of the more closely knit German Volk-church pattern. Flierl also worked for wider Lutheran fellowship through his close connection with Australia, which allowed the mission churches to survive the hardship of two world wars.
Hans-Werner Gensichen, “Flierl, Johann,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 216.
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.
Flierl, Johann. Christ in New Guinea: Former Cannibals become Evangelists by the Marvelous Grace of God: A Short History of Mission Work done by the Native Helpers and Teachers in the Lutheran Mission New Guinea. Tanuda, S.A.: Auricht, 1932.
Flierl, Johann. Forty-Five Years in New Guinea. Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1931.
Forman, Charles W. The Island Churches of the South Pacific. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1982.
Wagner, Herwig and Hermann Reimer. The Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea: The First Hundred Years. Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House, 1986.
“Flierl, Johann (1858-1947),” German Missionaries in Australia. Griffith University.
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