A few days ago much of the Church of the Nazarene worldwide was informed of the death of Harmon Schmelzenbach III on January 2, 2019. NCN News published a worthy obituary of Harmon, which should certainly be read by any Nazarene who wants to become familiar with missions in our denomination.
I was never able to formally meet Harmon III, although I have ministered alongside his son, Harmon IV, and his grandson, Quinton, in different settings during the past several years. However, without knowing me, Harmon III made an impact on my life.
I grew up as a part of Central Church of the Nazarene in Lenexa, Kansas, USA. We often had 8-10 missionaries a year preach in our services (side note: I cannot fathom when churches who receive one or two missionaries a year complain of “having too many missionaries”). All were important in building the foundation for what later I would recognize as God’s missions call on my life, although I would not say many were memorable, per se.
Harmon Schmelzenbach III was the exception! As an adolescent, I remember his tales of traversing the African landscape in order to preach the gospel to new villages and people-groups. I remember some of the perils of the wildlife he encountered on those trips. By the time he told us he had crossed the fourth river, I looked down at my watch and realized he had literally been preaching for an hour and 45 minutes! That may seem shocking, but what stuns me even more is that at that age I had not even noticed! He had our entire youth group (and the rest of the congregation) entranced by his evangelistic passion and ability to tell the story of missions and of God himself.
Needless to say, when God called me five or six years later to be a missionary, I was ready. It was not an “out-of-the-blue” thing. If God was calling me to be like Harmon, my answer would be an immediate “yes.” And now, having ministered cross-culturally for 16 years, I see how I have been influenced by this “giant of the faith” both on the field and as I share with churches on home assignment.
Missions has changed in the past three decades since then and now more of us live as missionaries in big strategic urban centers. Many of us will never need to cross many rivers and fend off venomous snakes at every turn. But the passion for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ must never wane. Harmon III learned that from his parents and grandparents and passed it on to future generations of Schmelzenbachs. But he also passed it on to me as well.
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