H.F. Schmelzenbach

Biographies

Rev. Harmon F. Schmelzenbach (1882 - 1929)

"They cry in the night; they perish in the darkness." A cool wind stroked the grass, making a soft rustling sound. The sun had sent its last dying rays over the horizon and had stepped aside to make place for the silent darkness that now covered the land. The stillness was so deep that it seemed to fill the air with a peaceful melody. No cars or screams or machinery disturbed the silence.

With soft footsteps the missionary wandered through the deep grass. He loved this time, right after dusk when the world was slowly going to sleep and he could spend time alone with his Lord. His steps were directed to the three small mounds in the ground. Three children that he had buried there. His children. Gone even before he could hear them say "Daddy", even before he could feel their little arms around his neck. And now a fourth mound would be added.
The missionary lifted his face to the sky. His eyes were not bitter, his mouth did not utter words of accusation. This was the price he had to pay. Was it worth it?
"They cry in the night; they perish in the darkness." Again, he saw the people before his eyes. He remembered that night more than 20 years ago. Slowly he let his gaze travel around, piercing the darkness. This was Africa - Dark Africa - His Africa. Yes, it was worth it.

In 1882 Harmon Schmelzenbach was born as second son to Barnett and Elizabeth Schmelzenbach, who had come to the United States from Switzerland, met and married in 1880. He was only 12 years old when his parents died and left behind three sons and a daughter. Harmon was taken in by a family who took him out of school and made him work hard. Not before long, he ran away and worked in various potteries along the Ohio River. While working in a pottery in Carrollton, Ohio, he attended a campmeeting with several other young men. During the campmeeting he felt the Lord's presence and opened his heart to him.

In the next two years, he became more and more popular as a speaker at tent meetings, until he felt the urge to further educate himself. He was given the advice to go to Peniel Bible College in Texas, where he enrolled soon after.

One night not long after his arrival, he was reading a book about the life of David Livingstone. Suddenly he saw before his eyes all those unreached, lost people, people that had never heard of the good news that Jesus died for them. That night, Harmon felt a distinct urge to go to Africa and serve as a missionary. His urge was so great that he decided not to wait but rather go right away. His fellow students and faculty pledged themselves to support him with $200 per year for the following five years, and Harmon traveled to New York to catch a ship to Africa.

On the same ship with him traveled also two girls, Miss Eta Innis and Lula Glatzel, who had heard the Lord's call as well. After a long journey they finally arrived in Port Elizabeth, where they left the ship.

In Port Elizabeth the three found a small mission called the White Holiness Mission, in whose work they soon became involved. On June 19, 1908, a year and a day after their landing in Africa, Harmon Schmelzenbach and Lula Glatzel married.

At that time, only missionaries from specific mission organizations were allowed to live directly with the Africans. Harmon Schmelzenbach did not have this position. But he knew that if he wanted to reach the people, he had to live with them and learn their ways. So he and his wife traveled far to a place where it was possible for them to live closer to the people.

At almost the same time, the Church of the Nazarene was founded in Pilot Point, Texas, and Harmon Schmelzenbach automatically became a member. However, it still took several years until he was accepted as an official Nazarene missionary.

In the meantime, Harmon was busy getting to know the people and learning yet another language, which he did so well that the Africans said he spoke like one of them.

A letter arrived asking whether Harmon Schmelzenbach would be willing to open the work of the Church of the Nazarene there in Natal. He wrote back, explaining that there already were quite a few missions in Natal, but basically none in a more northern tribe called the Swazi. With the official church documents and some funds he would be able to start the work there.

After some correspondence the couple received the documents, but no funds. So they saved on their own, and when they had saved enough they set out northward, with a 15-month_old baby and a young Zulu herdboy who assisted them with the donkeys. The journey was slow and tedious, especially with a little baby, and Mrs. Schmelzenbach was pregnant again.

Every Sunday they stopped and Harmon went into the villages nearby and invited the locals. He then preached to them and showed them slides of the life of Jesus in order to illustrate the story.

Months of trekking followed. Finally, on December 10, 1910, they reached the police post at Pigg's Peak in Swaziland. In that area they would settle down and launch the Church of the Nazarene in Africa. They soon received help from Miss Innis, who had been sent from the Foreign Mission Board. Yet, the queen of Swaziland did not like Whites and had not given them permission to stay. Thus they had to live in their wagon for another ten months, during which time a second son was born.

The work in Swaziland was not easy. People were afraid of the white missionaries and avoided them. Harmon had to travel on foot for miles and search for them. At some point he found a village full of Christians, who were eager to learn more, and he stayed and taught them.

In the years that followed, the gospel slowly took root. The Schmelzenbachs faced many problems, not least among them diseases, hostilities and other obstacles of any kind. But in 1914 the tide turned. The work started to grow. Still, there were many problems to be overcome. Finances were very low, and the children were malnutritioned. There were almost no clothes to wear, and all the household savings had been used up.

Yet, they did not despair. And their perseverance was rewarded. Things started going better, more money came in, and Dr. Reynolds (General Superintendent) came on a tour and visited Africa. He dedicated the first Nazarene church built on African ground. As the year 1914 came to an end, the missionaries were very encouraged and ready to go on. Many prayers had been answered and many obstacles overcome. The Schmelzenbachs had now been in Africa six and a half years.

In the next years the work expanded greatly. Schmelzenbach trained new workers and built new churches. His language and culture abilities helped him a great deal with reaching out to the people. New missionaries started coming in and the work grew steadily.

One of their children died a month after it was born, and in 1916 another son was born.

A hospital was build and the battle with darkness and disease was fought on. Many people died in the service of the Lord, and many souls were saved. Again, a birth was celebrated in the Schmelzenbach home: twins were born to the family. Yet only soon after both died.

It was decided that Lula and her four children should return to the States for a furlough, while Harmon battled on. It was a difficult parting for both sides, but there was much work to do. New missionaries and pastors had to be trained, illnesses had to be fought, believers had to be encouraged who suffered much from their tribespeople. But there were also victories. After a long battle, the Queen of Swaziland finally consented and gave permission to build a church, even though she had sworn that there would never be one on her ground.

Lula and the children returned and life went on as normal. Yet another child died in infancy. The three oldest children were sent to America for their education. This, too, had been a difficult decision, and the children did not found it easy to go. But they all promised to return.

For the General Assembly in 1928 Schmelzenbach was asked to return to America. After some consideration he agreed, and spent a lot of time travelling around the country and telling about Africa. At the General Assembly, he spoke to the people. When he mounted the platform, it became evident that the fire of the veteran's spirit was undimmed. With arms outstretched and a world of pathos in his voice, the great-souled missionary pled for Africa - Dark Africa. All the wealth of his passionate love for the lost in that dark land was poured forth in eloquent and rapid utterance which left a profound impression upon his audience.

"They cry in the night; they perish in the darkness."

Schmelzenbach had already been very ill before he had left for the States. The seven months of hard work and travelling strained him even more. Back in Africa, he was not able to recover or take his work up as usual. He slowly got worse, and on May 22, 1929, he died. He was buried next to three of his children, at almost exactly the same spot where the wagon had come to a stop 19 years before and the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Africa had begun.

Dorli Gschwandtner