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Bethphage Mission, Axtell, Nebraska, was established in 1913 by the Rev. K. G. William Dahl, to provide a Christian home for “the feeble-minded, the epileptic, and the destitute.” Dahl immigrated to America from Sweden in 1902, attended Augustana College and Seminary in Rock Island, Illinois, and was ordained by the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Synod in 1907.
While at seminary, Dahl translated A Colony of Mercy, a book about Bethel Institute at Bielefeld, Germany, an institution which cared for epileptics, the mentally retarded, and other afflicted persons. The book’s content made a great impression on Dahl. He and his family moved on to Axtell, Nebraska in 1912 as the first pastor of Bethphage Lutheran Church. Within the year, he called a meeting to organize Bethphage Inner Mission Association (BIMA) to develop the institution he envisioned. The association began with 57 charter members.
In January 1914, Dahl purchased forty acres of land north of Axtell, but with no money to build homes, he converted a cottage near his parsonage in town and it opened for patients in 1914. Additional houses were rented and by 1915 there were twelve houses for patients. Dahl hoped to find workers who would be organized on the model of the Bethel Institute at Bielefeld, including a brotherhood and a sisterhood for deacons and deaconesses. Two candidates were received in 1914 and sent to Eben-Ezer in Brush, Colorado for training. In 1916 the first deaconess was consecrated at Bethphage.
Funds for Bethphage Mission did not come from the church, but from individuals. By 1915 enough money had been raised to begin construction on the mission grounds. The first building was dedicated in 1916 and three more in 1917. With the receipt of World War I Liberty Bonds, Bethphage was able to reduce its debt. In 1919 two more buildings were constructed. In 1921 eighty acres of land were added for a farm.
After the prosperity of the 1920s, the 1930s were a time of trial. The Great Depression and drought affected Bethphage. During World War II, when help was hard to find, the service of the diaconate was particularly important. By 1966, the BIMA disbanded and reorganized as Bethphage Mission, Inc., owned and operated by five LCA synods: Central States, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Rocky Mountain.
At the formation of the LCA in 1962, Bethphage sisters were listed as LCA deaconesses. But since they were not formally part of the Deaconess Community of the Lutheran Church in America (LDC), in 1967 they no longer had pension or health benefits. Sister Anna Ebert, Executive Secretary for Deaconess Service of the LCA’s Board of College Education and Church Vocations, negotiated an agreement whereby Bethphage sisters were listed as LCA deaconesses entitled to full benefits and recognition as deaconesses of the former Augustana church. The sisterhood at Bethphage Mission ended in 1988 with the death of Sister Ethel Larson.
Adapted in 2007 from LDMNA 3 Bethphage Mission, Inc, Compiled by Sister Marilyn Stauffer, Archivist Intern, March, 2007.