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Gifted by God, they’ve generously gifted others

Jim and Karen Noss, retired Lutheran missionaries

Karen and Jim Noss, Lutheran missionaries

While the growth of North American Lutheranism appears to have plateaued and begun a glacial decline, companion churches in Africa are exploding in size. Myriad stories can be told of Lutheran missionaries from the U.S. in general and Minnesota in particular who have helped African Lutheran churches grow and thrive.
Jim and Karen Noss provide a perfect illustration of this.
While Karen grew up in Minneapolis, one could argue (technically) that Jim was a child of Africa. Although he grew up in Cameroon (central Africa), the son of Lutheran missionaries, his parents had their roots in rural Minnesota.
In email correspondence, Jim told Metro Lutheran, “My parents, Oscar and Martha Noss, had attended the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis. They were farmers in southern Minnesota [when] they heard Adolph Gunderson [who began Lutheran mission work in Cameroon in 1923] talk about missions and the need for missionaries. In the fall of 1947, having sold most of their things and with the assurance from one farmer of $1,000 a year, in answer to God’s call, they moved to Cameroon.”

Jim and Karen Noss (left), their children, Jim’s parents (Oscar and Martha) and his brother Phil, his wife and their children, have a long family history of mission in central Africa. This photograph was taken in 1971. Photos provided by Jim Noss

The church in Africa emerging

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon grew out of the combined efforts of two different foreign mission groups. The American-backed effort known as the Sudan Mission (started in 1923) worked in one area of Central Cameroon and, in the early 1950s, was taken into the mission for the Lutheran Church structure that preceded the (1960) ALC and, after 1988, the ELCA. The Norwegian Mission Society (NMS, started in 1924) worked in an adjoining area in central Cameroon. In 1970 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon was created by joining these two mission efforts.
Jim and his brother, Phil, grew up in Cameroon. By the time Jim met his wife, Karen had already been nurtured with a passion for global mission through her south Minneapolis congregation.
Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation (calling) stresses identifying one’s gifts and using them to gift others through vocational service. As he began discerning his gifts for ministry, Jim Noss found an abundance. He proved to be a gifted administrator.
In 1968 he became business administrator/treasurer and logistics support person for the ongoing mission work in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, the nation adjoining Cameroon to the east.

Jim Noss works on the roof of a clinic with several local leaders in the Central African Republic.

Lutheran mission partnership with African churches is extensive.

In addition, Jim provided financial management of the Lutheran Radio Studio and Lutheran High School and eventually became treasurer for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon. Given his interest and experience in construction, he also managed numerous building projects at the Ngaoundere and Garoua Boulai Lutheran Hospitals as women’s work, development, translation, and evangelism.
Karen’s gifts were brought to bear as well. Jim explains: “As logistics support, [her] role was to manage numerous guest facilities that had been built for mission/church use and to facilitate and care for the short term missionaries, as well as to help orient and get long-term missionaries settled into life and work in Central Africa.”
Though now retired and living in the Twin Cities, the Noss’ continue sharing their stories of mission work. In addition, Jim continues as a volunteer consultant to several organizations and mission groups connected to Africa and Madagascar.

A new way of mission work

The story of Jim and Karen Noss, during their long tenure in central Africa, could be retold in the lives of countless other servants who left familiar surroundings for missionary service overseas.

Jim Noss cuts the ribbon at the opening ceremony of a women’s center he helped to build in Touboro, Cameroon.

Currently, the model for mission work is companionship.

The scene is changing. North American Lutherans are less inclined these years to send missionaries to lead native churches. Currently, the model for mission work is companionship. U.S. personnel provide assistance as requested by indigenous churches. This requires fewer missionaries from North America, and helps to answer the often-asked question, “Why aren’t we sending very many missionaries overseas anymore?”
Lutheran mission partnership with African churches is extensive. Along with the ELCA’s links to 34 countries on that continent, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has liaisons in 24 nations, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in four, the Church of the Lutheran Brethren in two, and World Mission Prayer League (WMPL), an independent Lutheran-grounded Twin Cities ministry, in two.
For more information about the work of your own Lutheran church body — or WMPL — in Africa (or anywhere else in the world), visit the appropriate website:
* wide-Organization/Global-Mission

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