Harmon Schmelzenbach III remembered

HarmonANUField.png

A week ago I shared about the impact that the nazarene missionary Harmon Schmelzenbach III made in my life and particularly in my call to missions. Today we want to share an article published by NCN News that honors the memory of this great man of God. 

At 12 years old, Harmon Schmelzenbach III spoke to Swazi evangelist Joseph Mkwanazi at a camp meeting in Endingeni, Swaziland. Harmon later shared that this conversation confirmed his call to be a pastor and missionary like his father and grandfather. He would spend the next 13 years preparing for this work.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III was born in Nampa, Idaho, in 1935. His parents, Elmer and Mary, were about to become missionaries in Swaziland, where Elmer was raised. They took Harmon to Africa when he was only a few weeks old.

He spent his early childhood in Swaziland. When he was 11, he and his sister Marilyn began attending boarding school in the Republic of South Africa. Boarding school was a common experience for many missionary kids. In their case, the school was close enough to their parents that they could come home some weekends.

In 1952, Harmon returned to Nampa and enrolled in Northwest Nazarene College. He met Beverly, two years younger, and they married while they were students. After graduation, he served as a pastor in the area until Beverly completed her degree.

They received their assignment as missionaries to the RSA in 1960 and worked at first among the Pedi people of the Northern Transvaal. Harmon later commented that the Pedis spoke “a difficult, guttural language that I had been unable to pick up as a child.”

The next year, they moved to Blouberg, the northernmost Nazarene station in the RSA. The area’s rugged terrain required a jeep for travel. Southern Africa remained their field of labor for a quarter-century.

They stood, to some degree, on the shoulders of two generations of missionary predecessors. His grandfather, the first Harmon Schmelzenbach, opened the original Nazarene missions in Swaziland, South Africa, and Mozambique in the early 20th century. After a half-century in Africa, though, Nazarenes had barely reached beyond their base in the south.

By the late 1970s, there was a growing sense that expansion into West and East Africa was overdue. Implementing these initiatives would call for entrepreneurial leadership, and Harmon had been demonstrating precisely this.

In 1971, he took personal initiative to register the Church of the Nazarene in Botswana. In 1977, he and Beverly moved to Namibia to build a new district there. They remained there until 1984.

At that time, the World Mission Department chose Harmon to guide Nazarene expansion in a new area. He became the East Africa Field’s first director. They moved to Kenya, purchased property in Nairobi, and began directing strategies that led to opening new missions and churches in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Zaire.

In Kenya, Harmon established a school to train preachers but dreamed of something grander — a Christian university for East Africa. His early planning laid the groundwork for others to build Africa Nazarene University, which the General Assembly and the Kenyan government authorized in 1993, which then opened in 1994.

“Dr. Harmon Schmelzenbach personally chose the land on which the university sits, claimed it for God and the Church of the Nazarene by faith in prayer and later arranged for the purchase of the land. Today, the building that houses the university’s administration is named after him — the Harmon Schmelzenbach Building,” said Stanley M. Bhebhe, vice chancellor of Africa Nazarene University.

By then, the Schmelzenbachs had been in Addis Ababa for two years, pioneering Nazarene work in Ethiopia and Eritrea. A Marxist regime had closed Ethiopia to new Protestant work for nearly two decades, but the regime had changed. Ethiopia would prove to be a productive field.

In 1994, Harmon was appointed “Missionary at Large” and began traveling widely, speaking at conventions and assemblies, raising mission awareness among Nazarenes generally by retelling family stories from Africa.

Harmon and Beverly retired in 2001, establishing their home in Clearwater, Florida, but they contributed to missions even in retirement. The Eurasia regional director at the time, Franklin Cook, asked them to train new Nazarene leaders in Hungary, and they lived, without complaint, in a cramped room in Budapest for a season.

Harmon Schmelzenbach III died on 2 January 2019 at age 83. He is survived by his wife, their three children, and their grandchildren.

This article was originally published at: NCN News

Harmon Schmelzenbach III: A Missionary Legacy

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.h schmelzenbach  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.

schmelz iv & q

Quinton and Harmon Schmelzenbach IV have carried on their family’s missions legacy.

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.