Emanuel W. Pedersen

Photo courtesy of British Union Conferecne archives.

Pedersen, Emanuel W. (1904–2006)

By Sven Hagen Jensen

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Sven Hagen Jensen, M.Div. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA) has worked for the church for over 50 years as a pastor, editor, departmental director, and church administrator in Denmark, Nigeria and the Middle East. Jensen enjoys reading, writing, nature and gardening. He is married to Ingelis and has two adult children and four grandchildren.

First Published: January 21, 2021

Emanuel W. Pedersen lived on four continents and in six different countries while serving at all levels of the Adventist Church organization from colporteur, teacher, and pastor in his homeland to general field secretary at the General Conference. In his lifetime of more than 100 years, he saw his Church grow from fewer than 100,000 members to more than 13 million. The General Conference had, during that time, had 10 different presidents, three of whom Pedersen worked closely with. With his Danish passport, he had access to places very few leaders were able to go. He radiated a rare charm and warm-heartedness towards each individual he met, making them feel they were friends. He was known to care especially for those that others easily overlooked.1

Emanuel Wartou Pedersen was born on May 28, 1904, in Odense, Denmark, the hometown of the poet Hans Christian Andersen. Denmark has three major provinces–Jutland, Zealand, and Funen. It is said that people from Jutland are energetic, the people from Zealand intelligent, and the people from Funen are both. Pedersen was from Funen, and he certainly was both. He grew up in modest conditions with his pious parents–Peder and Laura Pedersen. His father was known as “Health-Pedersen” because, when he became an Adventist, he made it his life commitment to sell subscriptions for the Adventist health magazine Sundhedsbladet.

As a young man, Emanuel started as an assistant on a farm. He served his time as a conscript in the Royal Danish Army and from 1920-1923, he studied at Nærum Mission School. He paid his fees through canvassing. His education continued at Stanborough College, Watford, England. While there, Emanuel gained a good command of the English language.2 3

His career in Denmark stretched over 10 years, 1926-1936, during which he worked as Bible worker, teacher, school principal, ministerial intern, and evangelist. He was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1936. During his visits from home to home, he met Esther Christensen, whom he married in 1936.4

Mission Service in Africa

In 1937, Pedersen was called to work as principal for the Training School at Nchwanga in Mubunde, Uganda. He was also asked to be educational secretary for the Upper Nile Union of Seventh-day Adventists (Uganda and Sudan) and district leader for Western Uganda.5 6 In an interview, Pedersen reported that the school building, which also served as a church, had a tin roof, and heavy rains would interrupt any communication inside. “When it rains in Africa, it really rains.” However, the teaching would not stop but would continue on the blackboard with chalk.

Pedersen spent much time in negotiations with the colonial officials of the Education Department, who were not too impressed with the Adventist mission schools because of their primitive equipment. But, as Pedersen expressed it, “What we did not have in equipment, we made up for in thorough teaching.” And as time passed, the schools received respect, recognition, and praise from the local educational authorities.7

One special event stuck in Pedersen’s mind. The memorable visit to the school of the Kabaka of Buganda. The Kabaka was the mightiest of the three traditional kings in Uganda. A special throne had been made for this visit and a song had been written in Kabaka’s honor. He would even come with his own football team to play against the school team, and he would play the center forward himself. A huge cake had been made with his initials on the icing “M II” (King Mustesa II). However, he was late in arriving, and as time passed, the rain started to pour down. The people at the school were becoming more and more concerned, but then Mrs. Pedersen suggested a season of prayer, and after the prayer, the rain suddenly stopped. As the rain stopped, the Kabaka and his entourage arrived. He enjoyed the visit so much that he stayed much longer than planned.8

Emanuel Pedersen was a man of clear vision and firm conviction. He saw that the location of the school at Nchwanga was not ideal for expansion and further development. If the school was to serve the whole union, it needed to be in a more central place. So, when the division leadership offered him $1,000 for the expansion of the school in Nchwanga, he refused to accept it and asked for permission to use the money to buy a plot of land in a better location in Uganda. The request was denied. For three years, Pedersen appealed for permission to buy new land, but the result was the same. In the meantime, V. E. Toppenberg, the superintendent of the Union, and F. H. Muderspach, one of the other missionaries, had found an ideal plot of one square mile, in Kitanda, close to the capital, Kampala, which was available at exceptionally favorable terms. Several telegrams were sent to the division headquarters without response. Eventually, just three days before the time limit expired, the division leadership responded positively, and the land was bought.9 Today the site is the home of Bugema University with an enrolment of 4,500 students (2021) and 150 full-time staff.10 In recognition of Pedersen’s efforts to negotiate for a new site, a new auditorium was dedicated in his honor.11

After a furlough in South Africa12 in 1943 the Pedersens moved to Kenya where Emanuel first served as education, youth, and Sabbath School director in the East Africa Union,13 and then, from 1944 as superintendent of the Kenya Mission Field.14 These were progressive years, with the opening of two new mission districts, the start of evangelism to the Masai tribe, the building of a school for girls, and the expansion of Kendu Hospital and the Training School for Teachers. Also, the Adventist Church obtained free access to radio due to friendly association with other Christian denominations, and the three angels’ messages were regularly broadcast to the whole nation.

Pedersen took a special interest in preparing his African brothers for leadership. He stayed in Kenya for nine years, and from 1952-1953, he took leave, which he used for theological studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.15

Back to Europe and the United States

Pedersen’s experience in training and administration was needed at higher levels in the Church administration, and in 1953, he was asked to be Home Missionary and Temperance director at the Northern European Division based in Edgeware, Middlesex, England.16 After five years, he was elected as an associate in the Home Missionary Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.17

From 1962 to 1966, he served as the executive secretary of the Northern European Division, which had moved to its current location in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England.18 In 1966, he returned to the General Conference, where he served as general field secretary until his retirement in 1971.19

Because of his Danish passport, Pedersen was often asked to visit countries where U.S. citizens could not easily go. From 1967 to 1968, he gained permission from Fidel Castro’s government to open an Adventist seminary in Cuba.20 In 1971, he had the interesting assignment of representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a guest of the Shah in Iran together with many others guests from around the world. This occasion was the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great. Here he received firsthand experience of oriental hospitality, splendor, mystery, and abundant wealth.21

Retirement Years

Even in retirement, Pedersen served as an advisor to the president of the General Conference.22 As the Pedersens were beginning to enjoy their retirement years, a sudden need for an interim leader for the Africa-Mideast Division (AMD) arose. General Conference President Robert H. Pierson knew of Pedersen’s rich experience and knowledge of East Africa and asked him in 1974, at the age of 70, to serve as the president of the Division until the 1975 General Conference session in Vienna. So, the Pedersens moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where the AMD had its headquarters, and he led the work for about a year before he was replaced by C. D. Watson.23

In his retirement years, Pedersen was a sought-after speaker. At a camp meeting in Copenhagen in 1980, he spoke about the importance of having Jesus as one’s best friend while looking forward to His soon coming. In part of his sermon he said, “Faith is to have confidence. Salvation is to know Jesus, to have confidence in him, to know of his wonderful and beautiful character, and then trust that it will have an influence on your life. Salvation is to know his deep understanding and lenience towards us. His immediate kindness and warmth. His wonderful grace, his forgiving grace, his preserving grace, his helping grace, his boundless love, a love that embraces the whole universe and each of us individually.”24

As Pedersen moved around, the lonely and forgotten found in him an advocate for their case. He never visited a mission station without insisting that every worker got a personal visit. Until his last days, he sent letters and postcards to friends all over the world. He had a unique way of making people feel that they were valuable. To him, honesty meant more than political correctness. Righteousness was more than diplomacy. As a leader, he was not for sale. He had the courage to stand up for his convictions. His insight into human nature, together with his distinct sense of humor, were good tools in dialogue and debates.25

Legacy

Pedersen authored many articles and letters. During a regularly scheduled chapel service on April 17, 2007, his longtime friend Børge Schantz and members of the Pedersen family presented the Emanuel W. Pedersen Collection containing official correspondence, personal letters, sermons, personal mementos, photographs, books, and other items to the Center for Adventist Research housed in the James White Library at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.26

Sources

Obituaries. The Washington Post, March 15, 2006.

Pedersen, Kaj. “101-årig på Danmarksbesøg” (101-Year-Old Visits Denmark). Adventnyt, October 2005.

“Pedersen papers donated.” Focus, The Andrews University Magazine, Spring 2007.

Schantz, Børge. “En legende fyldte 100” (A Legend Turned 100). Adventnyt, July-August 2004.

Schantz, Børge. “Odenseaneren Emanuel Wartou Pedersens Eftermæle” (The Legacy of Emanuel Wartou Pedersen From Odense). Adventnyt, June 2006.

Schantz, Børge, and Hans Jørgen Schantz. Var det umagen værd? (Was It Worth the Effort?). Nærum: Dansk Bogforlag, 1999.

Schantz, Hans Jørgen. “Missionær og menneskeven” (Missionary and Friend of Man). Aktive Seniorer No. 3, 2000.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Various years. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

Notes

  1. Børge Schantz, ”En legende fyldte 100” (A Legend Turned 100), Adventnyt, July-August, 2004, 23. Hans Jørgen Schantz, ”Missionær og menneskeven” (Missionary and Friend of Man), Aktive Seniorer No. 3, 2000, 18-19, 22.

  2. Kaj Pedersen, ”101-årig på Danmarksbesøg” (101 Year-Old Visits Denmark), Adventnyt, October, 2005, 14.

  3. Hans Jørgen Schantz, 18-19.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Børge Schantz and Hans Jørgen Schantz, Var det umagen værd? (Was It Worth the Effort?) (Nærum: Dansk Bogforlag, 1999), 115.

  6. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1938), 168.

  7. Børge Schantz and Hans Jørgen Schantz, 118.

  8. Ibid., 119-120.

  9. Ibid., 122.

  10. “Bugema University Ratings,” edurank.org, https://edurank.org/uni/bugema-university/.

  11. Obituaries, The Washington Post, March 15, 2006.

  12. Because of World War II, it was not possible for them to take their furlough in their homeland, Denmark, which was then occupied by the German Armed Forces.

  13. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944), 158.

  14. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1945), 159.

  15. Børge Schantz and Hans Jørgen Schantz, 124-125.

  16. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1954-1958).

  17. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1959-1962).

  18. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1963-1967).

  19. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1968-1972).

  20. Obituaries, The Washington Post, March 15, 2006.

  21. Hans Jørgen Schantz, 19.

  22. “Pedersen papers donated,” Focus, Spring 2007, 5.

  23. Hans Jørgen Schantz, 20; Børge Schantz and Hans Jørgensen Schantz, 127; Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (1975), 95.

  24. Hans Jørgen Schantz, 22.

  25. Børge Schantz, “Odenseaneren Emanuel Wartou Pedersens Eftermæle” (The Legacy of Emanuel Wartou Pedersen from Odense), Adventnyt, June 2006.

  26. “Pedersen papers donated,” Focus, Spring 2007, 5.

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Jensen, Sven Hagen. "Pedersen, Emanuel W. (1904–2006)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 21, 2021. Accessed May 21, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9COR.

Jensen, Sven Hagen. "Pedersen, Emanuel W. (1904–2006)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 21, 2021. Date of access May 21, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9COR.

Jensen, Sven Hagen (2021, January 21). Pedersen, Emanuel W. (1904–2006). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 21, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9COR.