Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Life Sketch of Emanuel J. Sorenson 1896-1994

The following is a short biography of Emanuel J. Sorenson written by Horace Spear. The stories that follow are the memories of his daughter, my cousin, Jane Sorenson-Spear. I believe that they offer special insights into mission life at times and places seldom chronicled in Adventist church history.

Manuel Sorenson was born in Denmark to Seventh-day Adventist parents, and before he was a year old had come to the U.S. with his parents and four brothers and sisters. His father found work as a farm hand in Iowa and a year later had purchased an eighty acre farm to support his family, which soon included a total of nine children. The community of Adventist Iowa farmers soon realized the need for Christian education, and just three years after building and staffing a church school, they boasted an enrollment of 50 pupils.

Manuel entered the Hutchinson Theological Seminary in Minnesota in 1913 where his college curriculum included two years of study in Denmark. He graduated with a B.A. degree in 1922. It was also at Hutchinson that he proposed to Maggie Hanson, who became his wife that same year. They had known one another since childhood.

The young couple answered the call to mission service, and just two months later the newlyweds sailed for Europe on November 11, 1922. They arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, just six weeks later on the day before Christmas.

They were met by V.E. Toppenberg, the first Adventist missionary to enter Ethiopia proper just the year previous. With the help of this experienced missionary, the young couple was introduced to the excitement and responsibilities of mission life. Their first small home had a thatched roof and mud floor that was covered with cane mats and small carpets.

Manuel and Maggie's first mission assignment was to establish a combination day and boarding school for boys. (Education for girls would come later.) They soon learned that mission service included tending to physical needs, as well as the spiritual and educational. Their duties included a clinic where wounds were treated, teeth were pulled, limbs were splinted, and occasionally, babies were delivered. The obvious need for more expert medical care prompted a call for missionary physicians, and the first of these, Dr. George Bergman, arrived in 1926.

With the gracious help of Emperor Haile Salassie, mission schools and mission hospitals were established in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and in remote areas as well. (Manuel and the Emperor remained close friends from this time until their last meeting in 1967, when the Emperor recognized Dr. Sorenson standing in the crowd and greeted him personally following his Majesty's speech at UCLA.)

Two daughters were born to the Sorensons during their time as missionaries in Ethiopia: my wife, Jane Spear, and Shirley Maxson.

The war and Italian occupation in 1936 temporarily interrupted Ethiopian mission service, and most foreign missionaries were transferred elsewhere. The Sorensons remained until 1938. When they returned to the United States, Manuel obtained his M.A. degree in history at the University of Nebraska.

When the Italian occupation ended in 1941, Dr. Sorenson returned to Ethiopia to re-establish the now disrupted mission activities. This accomplished, he returned to the U.S. in 1947, and earned a Ph.D. in history, also at the University of Nebraska.

In 1951 he answered a call to the West Indies College in Mandeville, Jamaica, where he served as college president until 1959. It was during this time that the status of the college was elevated from Junior to Senior College, and there was considerable expansion and construction at the institution.

In 1959, the Sorensons settled in La Sierra, California, and except for an additional year at the Caribbean Union College in Trinidad, ended a long and productive overseas mission service. Dr. Sorenson taught on the faculty of La Sierra University for eight years and taught an additional two years at California Baptist College in Riverside, thus completing fifty years of educational work.

Maggie, his wife of 58 years, preceded Dr. Sorenson in death in 1981. He is survived by two daughters: Margaret Jane Spear of Hemet and Shirley Annette Maxson of La Sierra, a sister, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

This brief life sketch cannot hope to express the life and accomplishments of a truly extraordinary man. His Godly devotion, energy, and true humility touched the lives of many throughout his long and productive lifetime. His unwavering dedication to the spread of God's Word, and his love for humanity, is an example that any of us would do well to follow.

No comments: