John Christian Frederick Heyer – Missionary to India, 1873
J.C.F. Heyer, the first missionary sent out by American Lutherans, was born in Helmstedt, Germany on July 10, 1793 to a master furrier and his wife. When he was thirteen, troops of Napoleon were quartered in the city, and his parents, out of concern about the turmoil of the time sent their son, after his confirmation in 1807, to stay with his uncle in America.
Heyer was active in Zion church, Philadelphia, and at the age of seventeen he decided to enter the ministry. He preached his first sermon, while still a layman, on Trinity Sunday in 1813. HE studied theology under two pastors in Philadelphia and returned to Germany in 1814 to continue his education at the University of Gottingen. Upon his return to America he became a licensed home missionary, preaching the gospel in Pennsylvania and neighboring states as far west as Missouri. In 1819, he married, and in 1820 he was ordained by the Ministerium of Pennsylvania.
For a period of more than twenty years Pastor Heyer traveled extensively not only as a preacher but also as a worker in Christian education, being particularly active in the establishing of Sunday schools in Lutheran parishes and in the work of Gettysburg College and Seminary. In 1839, his wife who had born six children, died,
At age forty-eight, with two dozen years of pastoral experience in six congregations, Heyer began a new phase of his life. He acquired the fundamentals of Sanskrit and a rudimentary knowledge of medicine and was commissioned a foreign missionary on October 5, 1841 at Saint Paulus Church in Philadelphia. Leaving his children (the youngest was thirteen) he sailed from Boston for India. On July 31, 1842 he began the mission work in the Telegu-speaking region of Andhra which was to be his life’s work. During the next fifteen years, he established the mission stations at Guntur, Gurzal, and Rajahmundry, which became the basis of the large Lutheran church in that area today. On a furlough, 1846-1848, he established a church in Baltimore and received his M.D. degree from the University of Maryland (later Johns Hopkins).
In 1837, he returned to America, visiting countries of Middle East and Germany. Other missionaries had come to carry on the work and his health was, for the second time, nearly ruined by his strenuous life in the extreme climate of Andhra. Once back in the United States, however, his health revived and the indefatigable planter of churches spent twelve years of active evangelism and reorganization of parishes and schools in Minnesota and neighboring states, culminating in the formation of the Synod of Minnesota in 1860.
In August 1869, Father Heyer, as he was now affectionately called by Indians and Americans, dramatically volunteered to return to Andhra where the mission work was in a period of crisis. HE stayed two years and by his selfless devotion and ascetic he infused new spirit in the mission.
He returned to Philadelphia and served as chaplain and house-father at the new Lutheran seminary. He died during the night of November 7, 1873 in his eighty-first year and was buried in Somerset (Pennsylvania) beside his wife. He is remembered as a pastor, missionary, and leader in the church.