1863 - 1953
"What are we here for, to have a good time with Christians or to save sinners?"
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.
In 1875 she attended evangelistic meetings 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.
Because Malla and Dorothea were the only surviving Moe children who were not married, the two girls were invited by their sister Karin to move to Chicago in 1884. There Malla attended Trinity Lutheran Church. 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.
Malla and seven others 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. 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.
Malla joined in the African work by a native, Mapelepele Gamede. 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.
In 1898, a permanent mission site was built in Bulunga, named Bethel. Here Malla Moe spent most of the next fifty-six years of her life until her death. 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.
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.
A furlough which began in 1916 extended over the next six years. During that time, Malla worked in Chicago, east and west coasts and Canada. 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. There, 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. But Arthur Jensen, head of a new Bible school at Mhlotsheni, dropped the request of eliminating her from the staff. Malla's third term began and lasted for the following thirty-one years until her death. She became a close friend of Jensen. 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.
Malla's sense of responsibility to those who wrote her and her involvement in their personal lives were carried out with as much intensity as the whoe of her life's purpose to spread the Gospel wherever she found people, whether in a railroad station or the African bush. 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.