Ralph D. Hult
When Ralph Hult was eighteen, he found himself wanting to take a journey, a journey to bring the Word of God to the unchurched in Africa, particularly to those living in the Sudan. First as a student and then as a pastor, he would help shape the vision for the Augustana Synod mission work in Africa. And even though his journey to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people of the Sudan would never be completed, he would still be a pioneer for Augustana Synod work in Africa and for other Christian missions that would later establish work in the Sudan.
Ralph Daniel Hult was born July 9, 1888, in Kearney, Nebraska, the oldest of eight children. It was during his confirmation studies that he began to consider a life in the ministry. He enrolled at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, in the fall of 1910. Upon his graduation in 1913, he spent one year traveling in a covered wagon across Utah, with two other missionaries, spreading the Gospel to Mormons. Afterwards, he spent two years in studies at the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, Maywood, Illinois. He graduated from Augustana Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Illinois, in 1917.
Work on establishing a Sudan mission field progressed quickly in 1917. In early January, Ralph Hult and other students at Augustana organized a group to pray and study about the mission needs of the Sudan. The Augustana Board of Missions agreed to appoint a committee to investigate the matter. At its May 1, 1917, meeting, it decided to recommend to the Synod that mission work be pursued in the Sudan. On June 14, 1917, the Synod voted unanimously to establish a mission in that region and authorized the Board of Missions to call Ralph D. Hult as a missionary to the Sudan. He was ordained on June 17, 1917, and the following day he was commissioned as an Augustana missionary.
Pastor Hult was to go to the Sudan in the fall of 1917, but the start of World War I presented travel problems. He instead spent two years in preparatory work at the Kennedy School of Missions, Hartford, Connecticut. Pastor Hult would not be able to bring his wife with him because the board thought it best he make the initial trip alone. He left on November 13, 1919, and traveled to the town of Ibi, where the headquarters for the Sudan United Mission (SUM) were located. SUM officials had suggested Pastor Hult spend some time in language training and general missionary orientation with SUM missionaries. He would also learn more about the mission possibilities in the province of Bornu, on the southwestern shore of Lake Chad. This was the area where Pastor Hult had been authorized to establish mission work.
When he reached Ibi on February 1, 1920, his quest to establish mission work in Sudan was dealt a serious setback. He learned that all larger provinces, including Bornu, in the northern Nigeria region of the Sudan, were closed to Christian missions. Other mission agencies suggested to Pastor Hult that he consider fields in French Central Sudan. He set out on an exploratory trip to that region and came away with a favorable impression of the Sara tribe. He sent word to church leaders that he had found a mission field. Unfortunately, Augustana did not wish to pursue mission fields in French territories. In the latter part of 1921 Pastor and Mrs. Hult went to the field offered by SUM, in case the decision was made to take the field. They worked as SUM missionaries and were enjoying their experiences, but it was to be short-lived. All hope for a mission in the Sudan was lost in March 26, 1922, when Pastor Hult received a telegram from Dr. Gustaf A. Brandelle, president of the Augustana Synod, telling him to go to Tanganyika. Pastor Hult was devastated. The dream he had been pursing since he was eighteen years old was gone.
Pastor and Mrs. Hult arrived in Moshi, Tanganyika, on December 10, 1922. They and other missionaries worked not only at the Leipzig station, for which Augustana assumed responsibility, but they also assisted the Berlin and Bethel missions when needed. The Hults then worked in the Iramba field until 1926 when they went on furlough.
Toward the end of his furlough, Pastor Hult broached the subject of an Augustana mission station in the Sudan. He wrote a letter to the Board of Foreign Missions expressing his and his wife's desire to return to the Sudan. Pastor Hult wrote that he would not return to Tanganyika until he received a definite answer from the board. At the 1929 synodical meeting, it was reported by the Board of Foreign Missions that the decision had been made to focus efforts solely in Tanganyika in the Iramba field, and also to discontinue the service of Pastor Hult effective January 1, 1929. He spent the next twelve years working in home mission fields through the Synod's Iowa Conference, but he still dreamed of one day returning to work in Africa.
His dream would once again be realized in January 1941. When World War II broke out, the German missions were orphaned once again, and Augustana assumed responsibility for the Leipzig, Bethel, and Berlin missions. Pastor Hult was asked if he would work in Tanganyika. He said yes and left March 20, 1941, on board the S.S. Zamzam. On April 17, 1941, the Zamzam was shelled by a German raider and subsequently sunk. Pastor Hult and the other Augustana missionaries were rescued and by June 30, 1941, he was back in the United States. He again agreed go to Africa, but his trip was postponed after the United States entered the war. He was finally able to leave in June 1942.
After arriving in Tanganyika, Pastor Hult was appointed superintendent of the Lutheran mission in the Usaramo district with its headquarters in Dar-es-Salaam. He worked tirelessly for several months touring the district, visiting schools and churches, but after returning from his latest tour, he became seriously ill with malaria and heart failure complications soon followed. He died on March 18, 1943, and was buried in Dar-es-Salaam the same day.
Even though Pastor Hult was never able to realize his dream of establishing mission work in the Sudan, he did leave a lasting legacy. Others would be able to make use of his detailed maps and studies of the French Central Sudan territory, and in that way, his dream of bringing Christ to the people of the Sudan would be realized.
This collection consists of correspondence (primarily personal), essays and reports, diary excerpts, and photographs from 1914-1952. The bulk of the material is from 1917-1928. The collection is also available on microfilm.
Photos of Sudan from the Hult collection.