African American Woman’s Incredible Life as a Methodist Missionary
Susan Angeline Collins was an early trailblazer for United Methodist women. In the years following the U.S. Civil War, Collins went to college and became a successful business owner. All before answering her call to serve the Methodist Church in missions to Africa.
(Voice of Carolyn Johnson, Director of Diversity for Purdue University) “To really make long-lasting, impactful, transformative change, generally it takes about a generation. And she gave a generation of her life.”
Carolyn Johnson loves to tell the story of Susan Angeline Collins who was a Methodist missionary for more than 30 years. Collins founded a school for girls in Angola in the early 1900’s.
Carolyn Johnson: “She owns her own laundry. This is a woman entrepreneur at this time.”
Collins was a remarkable woman before she ever entered the mission field. Born in Illinois in 1851, the daughter of an indentured servant, she was the first African American student to attend Upper Iowa University. Collins worked in the home of the Rev. Jason Paine, a Methodist pastor in Iowa. She went on to own her own laundry business in Huron, Dakota.
Carolyn Johnson: “Someone brings in their laundry in, then it wasn’t uncommon for people to use old newspaper to wrap their things in. She unfolds this newspaper scrap and in there is an advertisement, a notice about the Chicago Training School.”
Collins sold the laundry to follow a call to attend that school for home and foreign missions.
Carolyn Johnson: “So here’s someone who has worked as an owner and she’s hoping to transition into a life where she owns nothing and she gets no money because that not the purpose. How can the message of Jesus that she wants to help bring witness to, how can she do that?”
That desire drove Collins to leave for Africa in 1887, at the age of 36. She worked 13 years for no pay under what was known as a self-supporting mission. Serving under this model made it difficult to afford necessities like shoes, but care packages from Rev. Paine’s family back home in Iowa sustained Collins’ work.
Despite hardships, Collins established a boarding school which housed over 50 girls.
In 1900, Collins returned to Iowa and was told, at age 50, she was too old to continue as a missionary. She immediately began raising funds for a return passage to Africa. The Pacific branch of the Methodist Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society helped Collins resume her work in Angola, this time with pay. She served 18 more years.
Carolyn Johnson: “There are all kinds of women whose stories and narratives we had no idea existed to us but yet they impacted the life of the church.”
Collins was able to purchase a home in Iowa where she retired and became a beloved member of the community and her local Methodist Episcopal church. Collins passed away in 1940, weeks shy of her 89th birthday.
Jan Van Buren has done extensive research for a book she hopes to publish called Susan Angeline Collins: Grace, Gumption and Grit. As a child, Van Buren attended the Methodist Episcopal Church in Fayette, Iowa where Collins was a member for many years. Upper Iowa University’s publication The Bridge featured an article on Van Buren’s discoveries about Susan Angeline Collins. Van Buren is now a member of Saint Andrew United Methodist Church in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Carolyn E. Johnson is director of the Diversity Resource Office at Purdue University. She is the conference secretary for the Indiana Annual Conference and is an active member of St. Andrew United Methodist Church. Johnson has held national leadership roles in United Methodist Women and Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century Johnson is a member of the board of directors of Scaritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, TN.
The Qussua mission in Angola , where Methodist missionaries served for over a century was destroyed in the 1990’s during civil war. In recent years, The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries launched a project to rebuild the entire Qussua mission. Donations can be made to Quéssua Mission Advance #105625 - Providing infrastructure in agriculture, health, nutrition, education and developing the surroundings