Central Africa Medical Mission History

In 1961, after several years of preparatory work, Rev. Edgar Hoenecke, then executive secretary of the Board for World Missions, together with the missionary on the field, found a suitable site on the Sala Reserve, near Lumano, for a dispensary. Approval from the local tribesmen and the government was obtained. Rev. Hoenecke and his wife, Meta, a registered nurse with public health nursing experience, set up the dispensary. The dispensary was dedicated and opened on Nov. 26, 1961. The Lumano dispensary was later renamed the Mwembezhi Lutheran Dispensary to better exemplify the Christian aspect of the mission. Mzembezhi means “shepherd.” It is known as the Lutheran Mission Rural Health Center to differentiate it from a nearby clinic in Mwembezhi.

In the beginning, every day was a general clinic day. In 1963 as many as 3,000 and 4,000 people were seen in a month. Special antenatal clinics started in 1965 and a special under-fives clinic began in 1968. A break-in at the nurses’ and the missionaries’ houses in 1986 and a second break-in at the nurses’ house in 1987 called for a re-evaluation of the work being done. To increase personal safety, night call was dropped and the nurses stopped delivering babies at the clinic. As a result, attention refocused on the original primary health care goals of doing more teaching and making village visits.

As attention refocused on primary health goals, special classes were initiated by the staff to train both community health workers and traditional birth attendants. Upon completion of the classes these volunteer workers are able to share their knowledge and skill within their villages by teaching positive health practices, taking care of simple health problems, and helping with village immunizations. These new programs develop an infra-structure that can meet the health needs of the community long after the expatriate presence is gone.

As the AIDS epidemic has reach crisis proportions in central Africa our staff has re-adjusted its goals once again. An added focus at this time is to address the health needs of the young adults who are HIV positive and the rapidly growing numbers of orphans left behind by their parents’ deaths.

The extension of the mission into Malawi was the direct result of Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) members who had moved from Zambia to Malawi. The government welcomed gospel work in Malawi. They were also interested in what the mission could do to help the people of Malawi with their physical needs. As a result, a medical program was begun in Malawi in 1970 with a mobile health care unit. In 1980 the rising lake water forced the Salima Lutheran Mobile Clinic to relocate to Lilongwe. The nurses continue to travel to designated bush areas to set up a clinic for the day and then return to their home in Lilongwe by night fall. The structures that have been built to serve as clinics during the week are used as houses of worship on Sunday.

Since 1961 the Administrative Committee for Africa, via the Central Africa Medical Mission Committee, has been recruiting and training expatriate personnel to serve on a rotational basis in Africa. It shows the nationals Christian love in a concrete way. The Central Africa Medical Mission program supports the gospel message proclaimed by the missionaries.

With God’s help, hundreds of thousands of patients have been aided and countless lives saved through the work of the Central Africa Medical Mission. Many adults and children have also been baptized. The medical mission personnel have often been tested to their limits. All agree that during their life and work in Africa God instructed them and through His Word helped them grow in faith.


Browse through and share pictures of Africa, taken by WELS missionaries and national workers.