This brief biography was written by SNU student Chris Bartholomew to fulfill a course assignment for "Nazarene Missions" class at Southern Nazarene University.
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"Lay any burden upon me; only sustain me. Send me anywhere; only go with me. Sever any tie, but that one which binds me to Thy service and to Thy heart."
- written on the flyleaf of Harmon Schmelzenbach's Bible. He was quoting David Livingstone, pioneer missionary to Africa who died about 30 years before Schmelzenbach arrived in Africa.
|Keep Rev. Schmelzenbach's heritage alive at SNU by naming the School of
Theology and Ministry after him. We need endowment funds for that.|
[ read more ]
by Chris Bartholomew
Harmon Schmelzenbach's life story has enough action and thrills to make a box office hit. He is quite possibly the most important person in Nazarene missions history. He certainly was one of the most self-sacrificing men to have ever lived.
Harmon changed countless lives of those who came in contact with him either as the products of his missionary work or during his one furlough back to the United States the year before he died.
The action in his story really begins at age twelve. He and his brother and sister were orphaned and Harmon was forced to work at making pottery. Because of his need to work, he eventually had to quit school. But, as he grew older, he felt the call of God to missionary work. So, he made his way to a school in northeast Texas called Peniel University (the forerunner of what is today Southern Nazarene University). Schmelzenbach kept his call to Africa a secret until he could no longer hide the fire that burned within. President E. P. Ellyson helped him get financial funding for five years. So, on May 5, 1907, Harmon set off for Africa on board a ship with nine other missionaries.
Soon after arriving in Africa, Harmon realized that a principle enunciated in Deuteronomy 32:30 — "one man can chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight" — could be applied to his own situation to mean that his own ministry would be more productive if he had a wife. So, on June 19, 1908, Harmon married Lula Glatzel, one of the other missionaries from Peniel. The two began working on learning the language of the Zulus and trying to witness to them.
In April of 1908, Harmon's home church back in Peniel, Texas joined the Church of the Nazarene. That meant that Harmon and Lula were now Nazarenes. Even as they applied to be officially named as Nazarene missionaries, they launched into establishing the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Africa. By the time they were accepted as Nazarene missionaries, they had already decided to focus their work in what was then called Swaziland.The Schmelzenbachs' ministry in eSwatini did not begin smoothly and they were not initially accepted by the Swazi people. It was the winter of 1911 before they were able to move into a permanent residence because the Swazi Queen had previously made a vow not to let any white person to take up residency in her country. Indeed, at one point, a group of warriors were even given orders to kill the Schmelzenbachs.
After Harmon moved his family into a permanent home, he began work on a church building. After having the church materials burned twice and his house beaten with clubs, Harmon began to realize that the people would not come to him. So he began his daily travels to minister to the Swazi people where they lived and worked. That kind of itinerant ministry continued throughout the rest of his life and work as a missionary.
An evangelistic breakthrough finally did come and the people of eSwatini ultimately fell in love with Harmon Schmelzenbach. His work began to take root throughout the country. As people turned from the darkness and came to Christ in increasing numbers, Harmon used his own money and built churches throughout the land. As he built more churches, he had to train more preachers. As he trained more preachers, he felt the need to see that they had adequate housing.
The demands on Schmelzenbach continued throughout the years. He also had to face the loss of some of his children and deal with his own declining health. The people that he loved prayed for him. He would get well and continue on with his work. Though his overall health decreased with the passing of the years, his drive and desire to save the people of eSwatini increased.
In all the years, he never gave up. He continued to go to wherever people would listen. His dream for Africa was larger and greater than he could ever have accomplished in his life. The great hope he had for his adopted people led him to pave the way for many fields in Africa and for the missionaries who followed in his footsteps. On May 22, 1929, Harmon Schmelzenbach died with his adopted people.
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.
Schmelzenbach, Harmon III. Schmelzenbach of Africa. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 1971.
Make the Schmelzenbach legacy live on!
Harmon Schmelzenbach's alma mater, Southern Nazarene University, hopes to memorialize his memory by naming its School of Theology and Ministry after him. It will take some money. Will you help pray it in? [ read more ]
SNU missions course materials and syllabiCultural Anthropology Introduction to Missions Linguistics Missions Strategies Modern Missionary Movement (History of Missions) Nazarene Missions Church Growth and Christian Missions Theology of Missions Traditional Religions World Religions
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