Hans Mayr (1905-2004)
Hans Mayr, a self-supporting missionary, was a pioneer in the Amazon region in Northern Brazil. Most likely, he became the idea generator for the famous “Luzeiro” mission boats.
Hans Mayr was born on January 25, 1905, in Ulm on the Danube in Southern Germany, into an Adventist family. The mission stories told by “Aunt Bacher” during Sabbath School inspired young Hans to become a missionary. The story of David Livingstone[i] in particular instilled in him the desire to become a self-supporting missionary among the Indians in the Amazon region. “From an early age, I felt called to be a champion for Jesus,” he later wrote in his autobiography.[ii]
On his seventeenth birthday, Hans announced to his parents, “I am ready now to go and be a self-supporting missionary in Brazil.” His parents imposed on him a condition: he could go only if he convinced his elder brother to go with him.[iii] Finally, Mr. Mayr gave Hans the permission to take a ship to Rio de Janeiro in company with his elder brother Karl.
After his arrival in 1922, Hans became a literature evangelist. His first field of work was in the state of Espirito Sant.[iv] He mostly sold German books to German-speaking immigrants in addition to Portuguese books.[v] After a year and half, he learnt Portuguese. In the meantime, Mayr studied at the Brazil Adventist College in São Paulo from 1924 to 1927[vi] while canvassing in the summer.[vii]
In 1927, the East Brazil Union decided to send John L. Brown (with his wife, Mrs. Brown) to open and organize a mission on the lower Amazon. Seeing the need for colporteurs and printed literature in this new field, Brown requested two literature evangelists. Hans Mayr and André Gedrath were appointed for this purpose.[viii] Hence, Mayr traveled as a volunteer missionary worker into the “green hell” of Northern Brazil. With Mr and Mrs Brown leading, the trip was made together with Mayr’s newly-wed wife Johanna Luise Bräuer (from Hamburg, Germany), and his fellow colporteur and friend Gedrath.
In May 1927, they settled in Belém, capital of the state of Pará (some refer to it as the city of Pará, i.e. Belém in Portuguese), at the mouth of the Amazon.[ix] The Browns, Mayr and Gedrath were especially instrumental in this new field through their colporteur ministry, which was very successful.[x] Later that year, the Brazilian church leadership decided to organize the Lower Amazon Mission.[xi] After a year, the Browns had to leave due to ill health.
Mayr and Gedrath continued working as literature evangelists for two years, conducting evangelistic meetings that led to the baptism of several people. Due to a lack of roads outside the town and in order to broaden their mission field, they built two motor boats (Hans called his boat “Ulm on the Danube”) and sailed along the riversides, thus becoming the first medical missionary canvassers in the Amazon region. It was this pioneering ministry that paved the way for “American missionaries Leo B. and Jessie Halliwell, the couple who sailed up and down the Amazon River in their medical launch Luzeiro (Lightbearer) and established many churches.”[xii]
The Era of Mission Boats
In January 1929, Leo B. Halliwell was put in charge of the Lower Amazon Mission. With Mayr and Gedrath, he sailed the Amazon river. That same year, Mayr was officially invited to join the work force of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.[xiii] Two years later, Halliwell built his own mission boat, the Luzeiro (Light Bearer). It was the first in a series of about twelve medical missionary ships that brought health and hope to the native inhabitants.[xiv] They also brought fame to Leo Halliwell and his wife Jessie, who sailed the Amazon for 25 years. Just as for Hans Mayr, his wife, and their two children, the mission boats to them became a vessel, a floating home and clinic all in one.
In the beginning of 1930, Mayr and his family were sent to the interior of the Amazons to work in Maués (southeast of Manaos). During this time, he organized Sabbath School groups and prepared people for baptism. Later, they returned to Belém, where Mayr was to oversee the work during the absence of the Halliwells, who were on furlough.[xv]
In 1931, Mayr returned to Germany on furlough. Back home, an Adventist dentist, Norbert Zett, taught him pulling teeth as well as combatting parasites – a major scourge in the Amazons.[xvi] These skills would serve Mayr well in the coming years as a medical missionary in Manaos, Amazonas. As a historian reported years later, while Mayr “cruised the waters, he canvassed; but when the launch paused anywhere, his first concern was to help the sick. Thus he was a medical-missionary canvasser.”[xvii]
In October of 1934, after seven self-sacrificing years of “working for souls and treating the sick”, the Mayrs left Brazil for Chile, where his brother Karl Mayr was working. Malaria and the heat had taken their toll. In Chile, they found a new and permanent home.
Later Life and Memory Statement
While in Chile, Mayr was listed until 1954 in the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook as part of the executive committee of the Central North Chile Conference.[xviii] Mayr must have supported the Chilean Adventist Church in some ways, though there is no explicit information in the sources until his retirement. In 1973, a church magazine article reported, “Hans is old enough to be retired, but each Sabbath of the month finds him at a different church preaching and encouraging the brethren. The children of Hans and his brother, Karl, love the Advent message. Some of them occupy prominent positions in the work in Chile.”[xix]
In 1983, Hans’ wife Juana (Johanna) passed away. At the age of 78, Hans married again. His second wife, Ester Alfaro, bore him two children. In 2000, Mayr wrote, “In spite of my 95 years of age, I do not consider my work to be finished yet.” A farm with cows, calfs (sic!), horses, and several greenhouses kept him busy, just as the erection of a new church building. A visitor once wrote about him: “He continues tirelessly to build for the future – here and in heaven.”
In 1987, Mayr was listed among the twenty-four mission pioneers who made the Adventist Mission Spotlight Hall of Faith.[xx] On October 10, 2004, just about 100 days before his 100th birthday, Hans Mayr died in El Romeral near La Calera, Chile.
As pioneer missionary in the Amazons, Hans Mayr brought the gospel to the interior of the Amazons. As a medical missionary, he was instrumental in bringing modern health care to large regions where it had not been available before. This helped in paving the way for the planting and establishing of Adventism along the Amazon river. Mayr left his marks both in Brazil and in Chile. One of his sons, Werner Mayr, became president of the Chilean Union Conference and leader of the Adventist Publishing House in Buenos Aires.
[i] See “Hall of Faith Honours Mission Pioneers,” Messenger, June 1987, 3.
[ii] Hans Mayr in his autobiography, El abuelito Hans (Buenos Aires, 2004).
[iii] See James Fly, “Hall of Faith Honours Mission Pioneers,” Outlook, May 1987, 8
[iv] Arthur Valle, “Hans Mayr and His ‘Ulm a Donau’,” Review and Herald, July 21, 1977, 14.
[v] Ibid.; see also Noelene Johnsson, Ken Wade and Olga S. Streithorst, “Circles of Concern,” Mission: A Quarterly Report of World Mission, July –September 1986, 30.
[vi] Hans Mayr to Floyd Greenleaf, May 6, 1984, cited in Floyd Greenleaf, The Land of Hope: The Growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America (Tatuí, São Paulo: Casa Publicadora Brasileira, 2011), 339.
[vii] See Bruno W. Steinweg, “Hans Mayr, Adventist Pioneer to the Amazon,” Review and Herald, April 5, 1973, 18-19.
[viii] See Oliver Montgomery, “Visiting South America--No. 3,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 23, 1933, 12; and a letter by Walton J. Brown to Advent Review in “Letters” September 22, 1977, 3.
[ix] Oliver Montgomery, “First Word from the Lower Amazon,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 15, 1927, 11.
[x] See N. Z. Town, “Pioneering on the Amazon,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 6, 1927, 12-13.
[xi] See “Lower Amazonas Mission, Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1928), 197.
[xii] Fly, “Hall of Faith Honours Mission Pioneers,” 8.
[xiii] Steinweg, “Hans Mayr, Adventist Pioneer to the Amazon,”19.
[xiv] Valle, “Hans Mayr and His ‘Ulm a Donau’,”16.
[xv] E. H. Wilcox, “The Mission in the Lower Amazon,” South American Bulletin, August 1930, 2.
[xvi] Valle, “Hans Mayr and His ‘Ulm a Donau’,”15.
[xvii] Ibid.; see also Hans Mayr, “New School in the Amazon,” South American Bulletin, August 1931, 6.
[xviii] “Central North Chile Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1954), 165.
[xix] Steinweg, “Hans Mayr, Adventist Pioneer to the Amazon,”19.
[xx] “Hall of Faith Honours Mission Pioneers,” 3.
Dan Day. Burning Hope. Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 1987.
Fly, James. “Hall of Faith Honours Mission Pioneers.” Outlook, May 1987.
Greenleaf, Floyd. The Land of Hope: The Growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South
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Halliwell, Leo B. Light Bearers to the Amazon. Nashville, TN: Southern Publ. Assn., 1945.
“Hall of Faith Honours Mission Pioneers.” Messenger, June 1987.
Johnsson, Noelene, Ken Wade, and Olga S. Streithorst, “Circles of Concern.” Mission: A Quarterly Report of World Mission, July – September 1986.
Mayr, Hans. “New School in the Amazon.” South American Bulletin, August 1931.
__________. El abuelito Hans. Buenos Aires, 2004, Autobiography.
Montgomery, Oliver. “First Word from the Lower Amazon.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 15, 1927.
___________. “Visiting South America--No. 3.” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 23, 1933.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Takoma Park, Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1928.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1954.
Steinweg, Bruno W. “Hans Mayr, Adventist Pioneer to the Amazon.” Review and Herald, April 5, 1973.
Town, N. Z. “Pioneering on the Amazon.” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 6, 1927, 12-13.
Valle, Arthur. “Hans Mayr and His ‘Ulm a Donau’.” Review and Herald, July 21, 1977.
Wilcox, E. H. “The Mission in the Lower Amazon.” South American Bulletin, August 1930.
Authors: Rolf Pöhler and Chigemezi Wogu