A story of Harmon F. Schmelzenbach
by Stephanie Hogan
Sample of a biography written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course Modem Missionary Movement at Southern Nazarene University.
Harmon F. Schmelzenbach is one of the most famous missionaries in the history of the Church of the Nazarene. He began his preparation to fulfill a call to ministry at Peniel University (a forerunner of Southern Nazarene University) in northeastern Texas. He felt called to the mission fields of what was then often called "Dark Africa." Feeling a burden for the peoples of Africa that would weigh on him the rest of his life, Schmelzenbach promised the Lord he would go to Africa if the doors were opened for him.
At 9:00 in the morning on June 18, 1907, a ship carrying Harmon Schmelzenbach arrived at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. There, he would meet another young single missionary, Lula, and spend the first year of his missionary service. A year and a day after Harmon and Lula arrived in Africa, they were married and promptly set out on their way to Bazana, Pondoland where as a missionary couple they lived in a hut outside an African village.
Three months after their arrival at the settlement near Bazana, Harmon Schmelzenbach was informed by colonial authorities that he and his family would not be allowed to preach to the gospel to the native peoples. He and Lula were ordered to move to the white settlement of Bazana. They quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible to preach to the native Africans in this setting and left for Natal and on to Durban, South Africa. There they found themselves in the land of the Zulu people.
Soon after Schmelzenbach's arrival in Durban, he applied to the South African Compounds and Inland Missions and was promptly accepted. He was then sent to Escort, Natal at the Bethany Mission Station. The station was located directly between two warring tribes of Zulu people. Several small wars were fought over this piece of property. In spite of that, within a year, Schmelzenbach had many nominal Christians re-dedicate their lives to Jesus as well as many new converts. In trying to learn the language of the Zulu people, Schmelzenbach found himself studying 14 hours a day and entertaining young men to help him learn the language.
On October 3, 1910, the young Schmelzenbach family started on a long and treacherous trip to Swaziland. Along the way, Harmon showed slides of Jesus' life to small settlements. He preached the Word of God to every ear that he could find that was willing to listen. Harmon Schmelzenbach felt called to an area in Africa where no white missionaries had been allowed to go: Piggs Peak, where the Swazi Queen resided.
After they had been in the area for nearly a year, the Swazi Queen finally agreed to let the Schmelzenbachs buy some land and build a mission. However, the local witch doctors warned the people that if they listened to the missionaries, that they would be cursed. Therefore, the people were afraid of Harmon Schmelzenbach and his family. One day, a group of African soldiers marched past the mission and approached the Queen about allowing them to push the missionaries off the land or even allowing them to kill the Schmelzenbachs. For reasons explainable only by divine providence, the soldiers were told that they could not do anything to harm the missionaries. Later these same men became very good friends of Harmon Schmelzenbach.
Eventually small groups of people were converted, starting with the women whose husbands would allow them to make their own decisions for their souls, and eventually some young men. He started the first Nazarene medical mission in the Africa region. He used homemade remedies and relied on common sense to treat the sick until the Church of the Nazarene sent Lilian Cole, a trained nurse, to the area. Several other medical missionaries were eventually sent to the area including Dr. West and Louise Robinson.
In 1923, a great revival grew out of a passionate vision God had given to an African pastor. The pastor, Elijah Dhlamini, became convicted about his lack of tithing, which brought about the first tithing movement in Africa. It was when several young native pastors responded to his testimony that the revival caught on.
Another one of the many ways the Schmelzenbachs reached the African people was through the Women's Foreign Missionary Society (now Nazarene Missions International or NMI). A visit from General President Susan N. Fitkin and her vice president, Mrs. Paul Bresee, led to the African women beginning a prayer meeting in which they had to commit to pay a certain fee four times a year. Their first meeting drew about two-hundred people, all paying a shilling to be there.
For many of the people that attended, a shilling was nearly impossible to come by, though a shilling would be just about equivalent to an American quarter. By their fourth year attendance had so risen that the total dues of the people amounted to $1,250. This amount of money was amazing as over one thousand members contributed toward it.
Though many trials beset the Schmelzenbach family, they remained faithful to the call that God had placed upon their lives. Through their love and compassion for the native people of Swaziland, many came to know Christ and then took the word of God and taught their own people. Perseverance, determination and trust in God were at times the only things that kept the family in Swaziland.
In 1929 Harmon Schmelzenbach died among the people that he had served. After his death, the men and women of Africa continued to love and honor him as a special man of God. He is truly one of the founding fathers of Nazarene Missions. His children and their descendants became legacy missionaries that continue to serve God around the world to this day. Praise God for the Schmelzenbach family!
Schmelzenbach, Harmon III. Schmelzenbach of Africa. Kansas City, Missouri: Nazarene Publishing House. 1971.
Schmelzenbach, Lula. The Missionary Prospector. Kansas City, Missouri: Nazarene Publishing House. 1937
Additional sources with material on Harmon Schmelzenbach not used to prepare this biography
Parker, J. Fred. Mission to the World. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 1988. 115-129.
Schmelzenbach, Harmon. The Edge of Africa's Eden. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 1991.
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