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Toppenberg, Aksel Valdemar Emil
1884 to 1957
Seventh-Day Adventist
Ethiopia / Uganda


Pioneer Seventh-day Adventist missionary in Ethiopia. He was born in Aalborg, Denmark. While still a young man, he emigrated to America, where he accepted the SDA faith. In 1909 he was graduated from Union College and immediately asked the mission board for an overseas appointment. As a result he was sent, as a single man and as one of the first SDA workers, to the Italian colony of Eritrea. About a year later he was transferred to Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

In 1913 Toppenberg married Minnie Hansen, and the two were appointed to the mission field of Tanganyika, then under the supervision of the German Union Conference. Here during the years a strong work was built up, with some twelve stations manned by Europeans, and many outschools. When World War I broke out and German missionaries were forced to leave their stations, Toppenberg, as a Dane, fortunately was not molested. He remained in western Tanganyika and for two dangerous years cared for the work and the workers. During most of that time the war raged across East Africa, and the family was entirely cut off from the outside world. Food was difficult to obtain, and they were forced to make clothing from the skins of animals. When the situation gradually became more critical, as thousands of native tribespeople roamed about killing, robbing, and looting, Toppenberg took his family in the dead of night, and amid peril and confusion made his way to the advancing British lines, where they were kindly received. Health conditions made it imperative for them to leave the tropics, and sadly they departed for the homeland in 1917.

Returning to Africa in 1921, Toppenberg pioneered the work in Ethiopia and became the first president of the Ethiopia Union. After many years of service there, he went south and took up work in the newly entered Uganda mission field. There his wife got the dread sleeping sickness, and they returned to Denmark in 1936, where she died.

The next year, with his second wife, Mary Hendrickson Oswald, he sailed back to East Africa, and for ten years worked in Uganda. From there he went to Ethiopia once more. In 1952 he returned to the United States after giving forty-three years of service to Africa.

An autobiographical account of his life and work was published under the title Africa Has My Heart.


This article is reprinted with permission from the Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, copyright © by Review and Herald Publishing Association, 55 West Oak Ridge Drive, Hagerstown, Maryland 21740, 800-765-6955.