6. Foresight: Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach

Doing missions well

Missionaries who shaped today's global outreach efforts

What can pioneer missionaries Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach teach us?

Good missionaries often have good foresight. Such far-sightedness does not mean defective vision. Rather, it means they look down the road in visionary ways. Envisioning possibilities for the future, they follow the Holy Spirit's guidance and take steps -- big and small -- toward that future.

In 1907 two single missionaries, Harmon Schmelzenbach and Lula Glatzel, arrived in South Africa on the same ship. A romance between the two young missionaries blossomed. A year later, they married and, before long, moved north to pioneer the work among the unreached Swazi people.

Harmon and Lula had some tough days in Eswatini, which was then called Swaziland: health problems, hostility (including death threats) from the Swazis, opposition from colonial authorities, and the deaths of three of their own infants. However, such tough times did not detour them or cause them to lose focus.

Looking ahead, Harmon built a building in which to hold church services even before he and Lula saw their first conversion. Long before any people began coming to services, Harmon would go to pray at the altar of that small building.

In that epoch, many Western missionaries planted one congregation that they then pastored for the remainder of their missionary career. Harmon Schmelzenbach visualized something different. He dreamed of a Swazi-led church-planting movement sweeping across the land. So, before very many churches had sprung up, he and Lula started a Bible college to train leaders. The Schmelzenbachs began envisioning a healthcare ministry and got the denomination to send medical missionaries to get it going.

Likely the most compelling evidence of Harmon's foresight is the trips he made to government offices in other African countries to officially register the Church of the Nazarene. He envisioned a day when there would be Nazarene churches across Africa. With that thought in mind, he secured necessary legal recognition for the denomination in countries near Eswatini.

Some of those countries later tightened up the registration process for religious organizations or even closed it. Harmon's foresight paid off by enabling the Church of the Nazarene to enter places other mission organizations could not because they had not been registered before a specific cut-off date.

Foresight means more than simply dreaming about the future. It is taking concrete steps toward that future. To be sure, foresight in missionary work does not necessarily entail a detailed plan. It just means having the wisdom to take steps now -- even baby steps -- in the direction of some future destination. Foresight could also include discerning trends in culture, economics, politics, and even in the denomination, as well as having the wisdom to proactively alter strategies and tactics.

It is possible to be a hard-working missionary without ever exhibiting much foresight. Like almost anyone else, missionaries can get caught up in simply doing the things clamoring to be done right now. Fortunately for the world mission enterprise, there have been missionaries with foresight like Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach.

More mini-essays in the "Doing missions well" series published in Engage magazine


In 2023, the Nazarene General Secretary's Office reported that the 5,054 Churches of the Nazartene on the Africa region had a total of 792,880 members.

Would "proactive and intentional" be words that would describe the pioneering ministry of Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach?

Being proactive and intentional

Missionary ministry that reflects Christ

Jesus went about His three years of earthly ministry intentionally and proactively. At times, there was spontaneity as He interacted with people. Yet, He did not wait for unfolding events to dictate His direction, pace, or priorities.

Jesus models how missionaries can ensure that their day-to-day actions move them forward toward long-term objectives. To be sure, missionaries can accomplish good things even when they operate totally by spur-of-the-moment decisions. When they are doing that, however, they risk being "blown here and there by every wind" (Ephesians 4:14).

Numerous Gospel passages indicate the intentionality with which Jesus lived and acted. Here are four:

  1. Jesus took the initiative in calling specific people to be his disciples. He knew who He wanted and went after them. He differed from other Jewish rabbis who waited for people to apply before choosing them as followers.
  2. The story of Jesus' encounter with the woman at a village well in Samaria begins with "He had to go through Samaria" (John 4:4). Choosing that route was intentional because Jews purposefully avoided traveling through Samaria. The encounter at the well was thus more than a happenstance.
  3. When Jesus encountered Zacchaeus, He said, "I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19:5). Inviting Himself to lunch at the house of a hated tax collector was intentional on Jesus' part.
  4. As the last Passover that Jesus spent on earth was approaching, it was obvious that He would soon make a trip to Jerusalem with intention and purpose. He told His disciples exactly what was going to happen there. (Mark 9:31).

Being proactive and intentional does not mean missionaries should run at a frenetic pace working on a never-ending checklist. It does not mean they act with hidden or ulterior motives. It does not mean they hold to previously made plans so rigidly that no adjustments are ever made.

We, of course, cannot know the future in the way Jesus did. However, cross-cultural missionaries will do well to emulate the way Jesus was proactive and intentional. Missionaries can move beyond simply reacting to things as they happen. This does not mean banishing spontaneity. It does not mean missionaries should be coldly calculating. It does mean that missionaries, like Jesus, can do things intentionally so that daily activities purposefully follow a pattern that fulfills the call of God on their lives.

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways did the Schmelzenbachs' ministry in southern Africa demonstrate foresight?
  2. What challenges did Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach face during their missionary work in Eswatini?
  3. What steps did Harmon Schmelzenbach take to build a Swazi-led church-planting movement across southern Africa?
  4. How does the concept of foresight apply to missionary work in general?
  5. How did Jesus model intentionality and proactivity in his ministry, and how can missionaries learn from his example?

    -- Howard Culbertson

This mini-essay on Christlike attitudes and actions that must be present in cross-cultural missionary service is one of a dozen articles in the "Missionary ministry that reflects Christ" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine produced by the Church of the Nazarene.

Afterword: Proactive and Intentional

Being proactive and intentional in cross-cultural missionary ministry means taking deliberate steps to understand and engage with the culture, language, and customs of the people being served. It involves thorough preparation, such as studying cultural norms and learning the local language, to build genuine relationships and effectively communicate the gospel. This approach requires sensitivity, adaptability, and a commitment to ongoing learning to avoid cultural misunderstandings and to demonstrate respect and love for the local community. By being proactive and intentional, missionaries can create meaningful and lasting impacts, fostering trust and cooperation, and ensuring that their ministry is relevant and respectful to those they aim to serve.

Another missionary who had foresight like Harmon Schmelzenbach was Herman Gschwandtner who helped start Gospel outreach in Eastern Europe and South Asia

Two student-written biographies of pioneer missionary Harmon Schmelzenbach

Into "Dark" Africa: A story of Harmon F. Schmelzenbach

by Stephanie Hogan

Sample biography written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course Modem Missionary Movement

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 for the rest of his life, Schmelzenbach promised the Lord he would go to Africa if the doors were opened.

At 9 a.m. on June 18, 1907, a ship carrying Harmon Schmelzenbach arrived at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. There, he would spend the first year of his missionary service, during which a friendship begun on the board with Lula, another young single missionary, would flower. 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 (in what is now South Africa), where as a missionary couple, they lived in a hut on the outskirts of 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 the gospel to the native people. He and Lula were ordered to move to the white settlement of Bazana. They quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible to effectively preach to the native Africans from this setting. So they left for Natal and then went 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 organization and was promptly accepted. He was then sent to Escort, Natal at the Bethany Mission Station. The station was located directly between two warring Zulu tribes. 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 what was then Swaziland (now called by its historic name Eswatini). Along the way, Harmon showed lantern slides of Jesus' life to small settlements. He preached the Word of God to every ear he could find 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, they would be cursed. Therefore, people became 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, even asking permission 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, many of these same men became good friends with 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 Africa. 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 were able to reach the African people was through the leaders of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society (now Nazarene Missions International or NMI). A visit from General President Susan N. Fitkin and her vice president, Ada Bresee (daughter-in-law of Phineas F. Bresee), led to the African women beginning a prayer meeting in which participants had to commit to paying 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 who attended, a shilling was an amount of money nearly impossible to come by, though a shilling would have been about equivalent to an American quarter. By their fourth year, attendance had so risen so much 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 God's call upon their lives. Through their love and compassion for the native people of what was then called 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 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" who served God around the world. Praise God for the Schmelzenbach family!


Schmelzenbach, Harmon III. Schmelzenbach of Africa. Kansas City, Missouri: Nazarene Publishing House. 1971.

Schmelzenbach, Lula. Missionary Prospector: A Life Story of Harmon Schmelzenbach - Missionary to South Africa. 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.

Harmon Schmelzenbach, missionary to Southern Africa

Harmon Schmelzenbach is to global missions in the Church of the Nazarene what David Livingstone or William Carey is for the whole of Protestant missions.

This brief biography was written by Chris Bartholomew to fulfill a course assignment for the Nazarene Missions course at Southern Nazarene University.

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/home assignment back in 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 the financial funding promised for a five-year period. 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 who had been on the ship with him. 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, TX, joined the Church of the Nazarene. That meant that Harmon and Lula were now Nazarenes. Even as they applied to be officially named 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 Eswatini, a country that 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 take up residency in her country. Indeed, at one point, a group of warriors was 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 losing some of his children and deal with his 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. His great hope 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.

photo of Harmon and
Lula Schmelzenbach


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.

"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." -- this quotation from David Livingstone, pioneer missionary to Africa, was written on the flyleaf of Harmon Schmelzenbach's Bible. Livingstone died about 30 years before Schmelzenbach arrived in Africa.

Missionary prospector: A life story of Harmon Schmelzenbach, a book-length biography written by Harmon's wife after his death. Available in the online Wesleyan Holiness Digital Library

Celebrating the Schmelzenbach legacy

Needed: one million dollars in endowment monies

We dream of keeping the legacy of missionary Harmon Schmelzenbach alive on the SNU campus by naming the School of Theology and Ministry after him.

To be able to call our religion department by his name, we need to put together endowments totaling one million dollars to:

  1. Provide scholarships
  2. Underwrite scholarships for the internship program
  3. Pay student assistants
  4. Furnish classroom resources.

Harmon Schmelzenbach is an alumnus of a school that became what is now Southern Nazarene University. Wouldn't it be great to honor the memory of this pioneer missionary to Africa by naming our religion department after him while also providing resources to educate future missionaries, evangelists, and pastors?

Help us pray in this funding! We can use $1 gifts. We can use $10,000 gifts.

Funds should be sent directly to Southern Nazarene University via check or through an online donation. Mark the gifts clearly for the "Harmon Schmelzenbach SoTaM Endowment"

    -- Howard Culbertson,

More missionary biographical info

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