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L.O. Fossum


Fossum's Legacy

Photos - Order Book

The Kurdistan Missionary’s first issue declared the purpose of the society: To further Lutheran work in Persian and Turkish Kurdistan by attending to the spiritual and physical needs of the local people.

News of the society spread quickly, prompting an outpouring of support for the first field team, Rev. L. O. Fossum and Dr. E. Edman. The two men embodied the commitment stated in the LOMS charter to “combine evangelistic with medical work.”

The editors wrote: “The best way to combine these two agencies in the Soujbulak (Mahabad) region is to have a hospital, strongly manned with a good surgeon and physician; and where the ordained can hold private and public spiritual service with patients and their friends. The whole personnel and atmosphere of the hospital must be strongly spiritual, and steeped in prayer, so as to bring all who tarry, or even visit there, strongly under the influence of the Gospel of the Grace of God.”

Fossum and Edman set out immediately to forge this work in Kurdish Iran. Along the way two other missionaries joined the Americans; Miss Augusta Gudhart from Russia and Miss Meta von der Schulenburg of Germany, both nurses. The party arrived in Soujbulak on September 6, 1911.

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Dr. E. Edman



Fossum's Legacy

Photos - Order Book



 The missionaries worked at a feverish pace for four years, completing a body of work that would have taken a life-time for the average man. The Great War was on the horizon and with it errupted hostilities involving Turks, Persians, Russians and Armenians. The Kurdish mission lay at the crossroads of civilization, and suffered the brunt of some of histories most bitter and awful battles. By early  January, 1916, the LOMS team was forced to flee.

They had already marked the history of Mahabad, where the world’s first and only Kurdish republic would be established. They left behind a compound consisting of living quarters, an orphanage and a church - the Bethel Kurdish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation – which was established in May of 1912.  The small team had also founded a hospital and dispensary, the first in Mahabad. 

All this was completely destroyed in the war.

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Man from Soujboulak (Mahabad)




Photos - Order Book



 After the Armistice, Fossum returned to Persia with his sister, Alma Fossum, a trained nurse and Hanna Schonhood, a public school teacher. announce_readspeech.gif (1297 bytes)

They were joined by French linguist and theologian, George H. Bachimont. 

 In transit the party learned that fighting had again erupted. They would not be able to proceed to Soujboulak (Mahabad.) Instead, they agreed to travel to Yerevan to assist in relief efforts there. Fossum was named commander of the district near Mt. Ararat. Along with administrative oversight, Fossum devoted himself directly to the care of orphans and refugees.

 This was just after horrific bloodletting in Armenian eastern Anatolia, a historical disastor the bitterness of which remains unabated to this day. Responsible for a region that was still home to ethnic Turks, Armenians and Kurds, Fossum found his work of saving lives obstructed by political fear and prejudice.   It would be necceassary to step into the breach.

Fossum and Bachimont left Yerevan on September 5 on a peacemaking expedition to Mt. Ararat. Journalist Fullerton L. Waldo, who accompanied the men, wrote in his “Twilight in Armenia" that they “went together into the no-man's land" where Fossum was to "try every resource of his skills, his knowledge, and his fearless disposition” to negotiate a peace. [i]

Waldo reported that Fossum took ill on the journey. “I cannot forget the iron resolution he showed. Lying three days ill of a fever on a mud roof at Sirbahan, he raised his head from the pillow to laugh and chat with the tribal deputations who could in a trice have slain him."

Although able to return home - a journey described by his travel companions as a one day forced march - Fossum never recovered. Apparently running a high fever, Hannah Schonhood reported that he was at times delirious. He finally succumbed on October 10, 1920 and was buried in Yerevan.

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Kurds on Mt. Ararat circa 1900

 Although the cause of death has been ascribed alternately to poisoning and nervous exhaustion, it is likely that he contracted a disease on the expedition. Bachimont, in his later reports, speaks of their drinking impure water, and the unpasteurized dairy products of this region can carry deadly fevers.

 Fossum's example is the guiding light to LOMS work in the Middle East. His achievements are legendary: He brought spiritual and humanitarian care to those who had suffered the worst that the world has to offer. His care for children and widows, the establishment of medical and social care facilities where none had existed before, and his willingness to stand in the gap for the disenfranchised and forgotten are concrete testimonies to his humanity and godliness.

He also left behind a body of scholarly work that set the benchmark for those who followed.

At forty-one, he had devised and published a Kurdish alphabet, a lexicon, the first Kurdish grammar, a Kurdish geography text book, a Kurdish mathmatecs text, the first Kurdish translations Luther's Smaller Catechism, a hymnal and the Lutheran Liturgy. He also translated the entire New Testament and numerous other works. In addition to his other duties, he published a monthly Kurdish newspaper, the first of its kind.

Read travel writer and journalist Fullerton L. Waldo tribute to L.O. Fossum.announce_readspeech.gif (1297 bytes)

[i] Quoted by Fossum’s grandson, Dr. John Lygre: Unpublished essay, L.O. Fossum, Missionary to the Kurds, April, 1968, Luther Theological Seminary.

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Read Hannah's letter from Mahabad, 1921




Fossum's Legacy



 Original photographs of the early missionaries, along with material from the earlier Kurdistan Messenger, are available in Susan Meiselas' pictoral history of  Kurdistan. This may be ordered from our online bookstore.


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LOMS Iraq and Iran Fossum Years Bachimont and Simko