Morris Officer was a pioneer Lutheran missionary in West Africa and founder of the Lutheran mission in Liberia. Officer was born to poor parents in rural Holmes County, Ohio. Self-reliant and with practical talents, he became the family mainstay at age 15 when his father was disabled. At 20 he underwent a conversion, influenced by revival meetings as well as temperance and anti-slavery causes. In 1846 he entered Wittenberg College, Ohio, and was given responsibility for fund-raising in local congregations, supervising new building construction, and tutoring lower classes. In 1848, through the Lutheran Observer, he proposed that Lutherans begin a mission in West Africa. When church authorities demurred, Officer arranged to go to Africa under the auspices of the American Missionary Association but with the intention of eventually establishing a Lutheran mission. In 1852 he sailed for Sierra Leone, spending 18 months prospecting for a field, then returned to Ohio with an appeal to the Lutheran General Synod to sponsor a mission. The synod gave its approval but required Officer to raise all his own funds. In April 1860 Officer and an assistant arrived in Monrovia, where they were received by the Liberian president and given 300 acres for the mission settlement named Muhlenberg. The land was designated for coffee plantation and small farms. Through a remarkable providence, the mission was provided with 40 young African boys and girls, taken from two Congo slave ships intercepted by a U.S. cruiser in African coastal waters. These became the first pupils in the mission schools. In April 1861, one year after landing in Africa, Officer returned to America to report that the African mission had been successfully founded. He dedicated ten more years to superintending home mission development in the American Midwest.
James A. Scherer
Morris Officer, A Plea for a Lutheran Mission in Liberia (1853) and Western Africa: A Mission Field (1856). A biographical sketch appears in L. B. Wolf, Missionary Heroes of the Lutheran Church (1911).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.