The Dakotas Conference has connections with Banza Lubange Kaluwashi, the former slave, Congolese lay missionary, and church planter who is being honored by the Tanganyika Annual Conference for his role in spreading Methodism in what was then the Belgian Congo in Africa. According to the July 25, 2023, United Methodist News story by the Rev. Betty Kazadi Musauround, Kaluwashi met John McKendree Springer, an American Methodist missionary, after Kaluwashi returned from slavery in Angola to his home in the Congo in 1910.
John McKendree Springer was a preacher’s kid from South Dakota. He was born on September 7, 1873, at Cataract, Wisconsin. His father, the Rev. Henry Springer, had served three years in the Civil War with the first Colorado Cavalry before entering the ministry in 1867 in the former Northwest Wisconsin Conference. Henry’s father and both grandfathers were Methodist ministers, as were two brothers.
In 1883, Henry took his family to Dakota Territory, and he and his mother filed homestead claims in Hamlin County in southeastern Dakota Territory. That fall, Henry, a charter member of the Dakota Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was appointed to serve Brookings and Aurora, Dakota Territory. He later served in South Dakota at Henry-Dixon, Clark, Kampeska, White, and Hazel, and as a presiding elder. The Hazel Methodist Episcopal Church was built under his guidance in 1891.
Henry’s son John studied at Dakota Agriculture College (now South Dakota State University) in Brookings and graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 1899. Upon graduation from the Garrett Biblical Institute in 1901, John was sent to what was then Rhodesia in Africa. He was admitted on trial by the Central African Mission Conference and ordained deacon and elder under missionary rule.
John took charge of the Umtali Industrial Mission. He met a young widow, Helen Emily Chapman Rasmussen, who had lost her husband and young son, and they were married January 2, 1905, at Old Umtali.
In 1907 John and Helen explored the Southern Congo and identified needed mission sites. By then, Springer was a superintendent, opening many new missionary work areas. Bible translations, schools, an orphanage, and an experimental farm were among the results of the Springers’ labors.
A photo of John and Helen Springer taken at Kalulua in 1912 identifies Kaluwashi as the man in front with a hat, noting that “he went to help our Kabongo station.” Another man, Kayeka, is identified as wearing a dark suit and sitting by Mrs. Springer’s right knee. According to a note on the back of the photo, Kayeka asked the Springers to start a mission in Kapanga. This photo was later published in John Springer’s book Pioneering in the Congo (1916), with the caption "Fox Bible Training School, Lukoshi, 1913.”
John Springer was appointed bishop of Africa by the General Conference of 1936. Among his honors was the “Order of the Lion” medal, bestowed by the Belgian government for his work in the Congo. In May 1949, the Belgian government bestowed “La Medailla Commemorative” on Helen Springer, in consideration of her years of missionary service in the Belgian Congo. She died August 23, 1949, at Mulungwishi, where she was buried.
On April 20, 1956, John married Helen Everett, a missionary nurse, in Chicago. They returned to the Congo and lived for several years in the home John had built years before on Prospect Hill at Mulungwishi.
The Congo Civil War (1960-1964) caused them to evacuate to Rhodesia twice, and then they relocated to Penney Farms in Florida in August 1963. On December 2, 1963, John suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and passed away. Helen sent his ashes with a returning missionary to be interred next to his first wife, Helen, at Mulungwishi, home of the Springer Institute.
The Hazel United Methodist Church at Hazel, South Dakota, was Bishop Springer’s home church, so on May 24, 1975, the South Dakota Annual Conference authorized the Hazel UMC as a United Methodist Historic Site. It was registered by the General Commission on Archives and History as site #38 on August 26, 1975. The Hazel UMC closed in 2009.
Additional information about Bishop John Springer, his wife, Helen, and their work in Africa can be found in the following resources:
"John McKendree Springer: Bishop of Africa,” by Grace Whiteside. Mitchell, South Dakota: Commission on Archives and History of the South Dakota Conference of The United Methodist Church, [n.d.].
“A Wheel Within a Wheel: The Life Story of the Rev. Henry M. Springer, Pioneer Minister in South Dakota,” by Grace Whiteside. [Mitchell, South Dakota: Commission on Archives and History of the South Dakota Conference of The United Methodist Church], 1972.
“Springer, John (1863-1963): Founder Of Methodism In The Congo”; Posted 3 years ago on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Methodist Mission Bicentennial.[Note that John Springer was born in 1873, not 1863.]
Books by John McKendree Springer:
The Heart of Central Africa: Mineral Wealth and Missionary Opportunity, New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1909
Pioneering in the Congo, New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1916
Christian Conquests in the Congo, New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1927
I Love the Trail: A Sketch of the Life of Helen Emily Springer, Nashville, Tennessee: The Congo Book Concern, 1952
Books by Helen Emily Chapman Rasmussen Springer:
Snapshots from Sunny Africa, New York: The Katanga Press, 1909
Camp Fiires in the Congo, Cambridge, Massachusetts: United Study of Foreign Missions, 1928
Contact the Dakotas Conference Archives:
Laurie Langland, archivist
1200 W. University Ave.
Mitchell, SD 57301