Ernst Johanssen was a missionary among the Bantu peoples of East Africa. Born and educated in north Germany, he was inspired by the great Nordic theologians J. G. Hamann and Søren Kierkegaard. He was recruited for mission work in what used to be German East Africa by Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, founding father of the Bethel Mission. In nearly 40 years of pioneering service Johanssen carried the idea of comprehensive Christian witness by word and deed under specific African conditions to Usambara, and later, with the participation of Usambara Christians, to Rwanda and finally to Bukoba, west of Lake Victoria. He was responsible for the promotion of African languages, both tribal idioms and Swahili, as well as the training of African church leadership in English. In his retirement he taught missiology at Marburg University. He had a special gift for understanding Africans and their religion in depth and became one of the first renowned Africanists among German Protestant missionaries.
Johanssen’s pioneering study is Mysterien eines Bantu-Volkes (1925). For a reliable assessment of his achievements see G. Jasper, Ein Herold Gottes (1952).
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.