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Collection 280 Papers of Malla Moe

Identifier: CN 280

Scope and Contents

Diaries, notebooks, correspondence, clippings, financial records, tracts, photographs, and certificates belonging to Malla Moe, missionary to South Africa, 1892-1953, under Scandinavian Alliance Mission (later TEAM). Correspondence documents evangelistic work among South African tribes in Swaziland and Tongoland and includes descriptions of the Boer War, life in African communities, and church growth.


  • Created: 1893-1955

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Petra Malena Moe was born on September 12, 1863, in Hafslo, Norway, child of Claus Rumohr and Brita Lonheim Moe. They had nine children, six of whom survived. The Moes registered each child with the church, though only nominally a religious family. "Malla," as she was known for the rest of her life, received seven years of schooling between the ages of eight and fifteen, but disliked it, preferring outdoor activity.

Puzzlement about her dead brother and two sisters in heaven raised her first religious inquiries. In 1875 she attended evangelistic meetings sponsored by a group which stressed a personal encounter with Christ. Malla was impressed by the fervor, plain dress, and sobriety of this group and her aunt's dying request to come with her to heaven further penetrated the girl's growing awareness of the need for a greater depth of Christian understanding and behavior.

Later, her father's death intensified her sense that action must follow belief even though it resulted in differing from the cultural norm of "religious" behavior. A promise made to her dying mother to care for her younger sister, Dorothea, was made shortly after Malla had experienced a sense of peace and assurance of her own salvation in a solitary encounter which had taken place in the stable of her parents' farm.

Because Malla and Dorothea were the only surviving Moe children who were not married and settled in independent lives, the two girls were invited by their sister Karin to move to Chicago in 1884. There Malla attended Trinity Lutheran Church, pastored by Mr. Brauhaug, the same evangelist of the Hauge revival in Hafslo. She also attended Moody Church, led by Reuben Archer Torrey. A direct challenge by Torrey to become a missionary set off conflict within her, because while she desired to accept the challenge, she lacked the education to do so. The conflict was further fueled in 1891 when she attended Fredrik Franson's evangelistic meetings. Franson had become Moody's first commissioned missionary in 1878 and in 1892 was in the process of forming the Scandinavian Alliance Mission, which was later to become The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM). He was at that point recruiting for Africa and recognized Malla in his meetings as someone who had written him requesting that she be allowed to go. An overwhelming conviction that she must obey literally threw her to the floor after a Franson meeting, and she carried the news back to a resistant family. They did reluctantly agree that she should go, though her sister Dorothea remained disturbed over the years by Malla's decision to leave and apparently abandon her mother's charge. She did, however, will her property to Malla and the mission at the end of her life.

After two weeks of classes, Malla and seven others (three men and four women) were commissioned on April 1, 1892, in a service at Bethesda Church in New York City. The group arrived in June to begin language study with East Africa Free Mission at Ekutandaneni, Natal, under the appointed leadership of Mr. Haugerud. The reality of African life and its people quickly challenged cliches and tested the faith and commitment of the missionaries. Lack of much formal education was a stumbling block at first for Malla, particularly because of the disciplines required in language study, a difficulty she conquered by hard work through a period of deep discouragement. As supplement to the program, the women spent short periods living in African tribal kraals (camps) and this initiated a pattern for Malla which would later become her unique and practical method of evangelization.

Haugerud went ahead to Bulunga in Swaziland to select a station site. However, he died of a fever in January, 1893, a loss to the new mission as well as a personal one to Malla, to whom he had proposed marriage. In May of that year, because of two deaths and a marriage, the mission's number had narrowed to five. They set out with a transport guide to establish the new station at Bulunga, accompanied by William E. Dawson, who replaced one of the men who was too weak from fever to accompany them. A sod hut was built at Bulunga and became a permanent headquarters site for the mission, which then included Malla Moe, Dawson, Emelia Forbord, Emma Home, and Lizzie Jorgensen. Dawson and Home returned to Durban to be married and were intercepted there by a request from Franson in Chicago to the effect that Dawson was to become permanent leader of the new group, a fortunate choice. Dawson's gifts as a leader became a fundamental factor in the success and direction of SAM in Africa. During Dawson's absence, the three women began the work and Malla decided to move alone into an African kraal, spending about a month in each with short returns to the mission between visits. The Dawsons subsequently returned with another recruit, bringing the total up to six.

About this time, Malla was joined in the African work by a native, Mapelepele Gamedze. Both were baptized by immersion at the same time, Malla for the second time. His apparent inability to read was at first a stumbling block but, after a time alone in the forest, he returned with a stunning and miraculous gift--immediate literacy. Renamed Johane, he became a lifelong companion and invaluable help to Malla as the bridge between her own language problems and cultural background, and he filled the need of a national helper who could accompany her into the kraals and help train native converts.

Permission was finally received from the owners of the land, the Henwoods, to build a more permanent structure on the site. It was completed in December 1898, and named Bethel. Here Malla Moe spent most of the next fifty-six years of her life until her death. Though not in nominal control, she became the driving and forceful leader wherever she worked, the result of a single-minded compulsion to evangelize with every aspect of her personality and energy. A year after construction, about sixty converts were coming to the Sunday meetings.

The Boer War hindered the work for a time, partly because both sides regarded Malla as suspect, since it was her determination to remain neutral and out of the political cross-currents. After the Boer surrender on May 31, 1902, Malla entertained Colonel Allenby and three captains. Allenby remained one of her personal "big friends" for the rest of her life. During a three-year furlough begun in 1902, Malla gathered financial and spiritual support. One group, Afrika Gruppen in Minnesota, sent funds from 1904 until her death, though her contacts were largely confined to letters because she took so few furloughs. One of the three years was spent in Norway, where Malla was forbidden to speak in chapel because of opposition to her blunt and persistent approaches, which were regarded as appropriate in Africa but not in Norway.

In Africa, Dawson took over as a capable and systematic developer of the pioneer work of the mission and Malla's responsibilities at Bethel. After her return to Bethel, sixty new converts were baptized at Bethel during the first seven months, but re-entry into the mission staff itself after a protracted absence was difficult both for Malla and the residents. Her outspoken personality did not lend itself to sharing responsibilities; however, though critical, she was also quick to apologize and forgive. Allocation of money was a problem, as were native sects which arose between 1906 and 1916. Some of these reverted to polygamy and black magic, and they objected to a white-led church. However, healings and the calling down of rain attributed to the evangelists' prayers were a source of strength to the mission. The mission was also strengthened by a visit from Franson in 1906.

A furlough which began in June of 1916 extended over the next six years. During that time, Malla was working through the Salem Evangelical Free Church in Chicago; Moody Church; and Dr. C. T. Dyrness, member of the SAM board, and she traveled to the east and west coasts and Canada. While in Los Angeles, she worked with the Church of the Open Door, pastored by R. A. Torrey. In Norway, Malla had a more successful visit than her previous one and she became a helper in revivals for Ludwig Johnson. During this time, she was disabled for a second time because of a hip injury. She returned to Africa in October 1922. The previous year, the mission had seriously considered not allowing her to rejoin them because of her dominating behavior and her apparent disregard of others' responsibilities and feelings. The successful adjudication of Ludwig Johnson resulted in the planning of a new Bible school at Mhlotsheni, headed by Arthur Jensen and M. D. Christensen, and the dropping of the request to eliminate her from the staff. Malla's third term began in November and lasted for the following thirty-one years until her death. She became a close friend of Jensen, whose abilities she admired as "clever." She also attempted, with more success, to moderate her tactless traits.

In 1927 Malla began a house wagon ministry as a concession to her physical attrition at age sixty-five. With the assistance of a driver, leader of the donkey team of eight pairs, and girls who did the cooking, Malla began systematic journeys into untraveled and unevangelized areas, setting up camp and working within a radius of eight miles. The wagon ministry traveled through Swaziland and then into Tongaland. Gamede, her life-long helper, also joined her on this mission, which lasted for ten years until 1938, when Malla was operated on at the Nazarene Hospital in Bremersdorp for a severe attack of boils. Another "big friend" and a man who made a lasting impact on Malla was T. J. Bach, the mission's general director, who visited Bethel in 1933 for the annual conference. He revisited the mission in 1947.

Malla's sense of responsibility to those who wrote her and her involvement in their personal lives were carried out with much intensity, as the whole of her life's purpose was to spread the Gospel wherever she found people, whether in a railroad station or the African bush. Ultimately, the need to consolidate her efforts resulted in a "circulary" letter sent to friends and supporters, started in 1932 with the help of Jenson. The number began with 132 and soon grew to many hundreds, indicative of the impact her intense and outstanding personality made on others, even at a great distance and over a long period of time. In 1944 a new church was begun at Bethel, seeded by a personal gift from Malla and completed five years later. By 1950, Malla had been on the field for twenty-eight years without a furlough and her health had been broken by a difficult mountain climb to visit a kraal when she was not well. Though the physical difficulties were hard to bear, her oft-repeated phrase "all grace of God" represented the source of the strength that helped her cope with diminishing activity. She died on October 16, 1953, at the age of ninety.


2 Boxes

2 Photograph Files

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

The bulk of the material is in the correspondence files of TEAM which were labeled Malla Moe. Her letters, both written and typed, copies of replies, and letters from others connected with her work in South Africa are in folders 2-1 through 2-17. The order of all the materials is chronological by type of document with those labeled as used by the biographer grouped together.

The archivist has arranged letters within these files in order by year, but not by month within the year. Those letters which had no dates have been placed in folders closest to the known dates as they were received in their original order. Letters which could not be assigned by date in this way will be found in folder 2-12. Not all of the letters are complete, and not all letters may be in proper pagination where none was given.

Most of the correspondence files contain letters both in Norwegian and English. An English translation of the letters between 1892 and 1915 is in folder 2-1. Some of the hand-written letters of later dates, because of their illegibility, have been transcribed and typed. Others have been dictated to another person. The "circulary" letters begun in 1932 and continued up to the year before Malla's death in 1953 will be found scattered through correspondence files between these dates as well as in the Sources file (folder 2-17). Of particular note are letters in folder 2-2 from Malla to British Colonel (later General) Allenby during the Boer War. The letter, dated April 22, 1901, is in typed form also (folder 2-1); it was returned to her because Allenby had already left the area. Also of interest is a letter written by Malla about 1901 during the Boer War, addressed to The Times, giving a first-hand description of the war in Swaziland. Other letters during this period describe vividly the ebb and flow of the war around the Bethel station.

Some of her other correspondents include Fredrik Franson, founder of the Scandinavian Alliance Mission, and other mission directors and leaders: T. J. Bach, Arthur Jensen, M. D. Christensen, and David H. Johnson, director of TEAM at the time of her death.

The biographer of Malla Moe, Maria Nilsen, separated out correspondence from which excerpts were taken for the book. These are labeled (Biography) in the Container List in another part of this guide and are in folders 2-10 through 2-16. Other source materials are in folder 2-17. Probably all the material in this collection was first gathered together by Nilsen. Malla Moe's personal diary and notebooks are in folders 1-2 through 1-4 and 1-7 through 1-9. The diaries, which have been translated into English on numbered pages, are in folders 1-5 and 1-6. Malla's diary is complete between 1983 to 1902 and fragmentary from 1903 to 1922. Notebooks contain mostly names and addresses, contributions, and other brief notations.

The archivist has separated the following materials from correspondence files: Moe's passport (folder 1-1), three copies of a last will and testament (folder 1-10), death certificate (folder 2-23), and tracts (folder 2-21). Two versions of a very complete and useful chronology of Malla Moe's life and career, apparently prepared for the biography, are in folder 2-22. A few photographs are listed in the Photograph Location Record of this guide. Other printed photographs of Malla Moe will be found in the clipping file (folder 2-19) and Sources file (folder 2-17).

These documents, though not extensive, reflect the extraordinary spiritual vigor and influence of Malla's prolonged missionary work. The content of most of the letters is primarily concerned with the record of the evangelistic work and its results, but the researcher may also find a description of life in the South African tribal kraals and, to some extent, the cross-currents of the racial tensions between the white South Africans and its black population. There is a concurrent record of contacts with her supporters and some of the interactions of personnel and administrative problems of a growing mission which contained one particularly strong personality operating in a highly individualistic way. Malla's personal reactions and spiritual conflicts are also confronted in her writing with characteristic intensity and honesty.

Accruals and Additions

The materials for this collection were received at the Billy Graham Center Archives in August 1983 from The Evangelical Alliance Mission.

Accession 83-89

January 2, 1985

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

Accession 11-15

March 11, 2011

Bob Shuster

Accession 14-23

July 7, 2014

Bob Shuster

Related Materials

The following items have been given to the BGC MUSEUM:

Accession: 83-89

One pair of black shoes belonging to Malla Moe.

Collection 280 Papers of Malla Moe
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

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