Missionary speaks to crowd at midyear rally
On May 5, 1907, a young man boarded a ship with nine other missionaries headed for Africa.
He was 21 years old. Orphaned at age 12, he had worked for a time at making pottery. Feeling the call to preach, Harmon Schmelzenbach entered Peniel University in Northeast Texas. One day while reading a book about the life of David Livingstone, he was overcome by the sight in his mind of hundreds of people who needed Christ. He believed he was being called to Africa. His call was so strong and weighed so heavily on him that he quit school, and applied to do mission work.
Also in the group boarding the ship was an 18-year-old woman named Lula Gletzel, who had felt her call to be a missionary while attending God's Bible College. The two got off the ship not knowing they would spend their lives helping each other fulfill this calling. They were married one year almost to the day from when their ship landed. When Harmon's church in Texas became part of the Church of the Nazarene, the Schmelzenbachs applied and eventually became Nazarene missionaries in Africa.
A century later, on Friday, Feb. 1, 2008, following music by the group "Transformed," his grandson, also named Harmon Schmelzenbach, a third-generation missionary in Africa, was standing in front of a capacity crowd at the West Virginia District Midyear Missions' Rally at the Teays Valley Church of the Nazarene relating to a captivated audience his grandparents' extraordinary story.
In a voice that rises and falls like ocean waves, he told how his grandparents spent their first two years preaching in South Africa because they were not permitted to preach to native Africans. His grandfather knew if he were going to actually help anyone, he would have to live alongside the people and learn their culture and language.
The elder Schmelzenbach felt led by God to go to an area called Piggs Peak in Swaziland. On the way, he preached to anyone who would listen and showed slides of the life of Christ. Dr. Schmelzenbach told how difficulties did not dissuade his grandparents from their purpose. When they had to move a wagon across a river, they took it apart and swam it piece by piece across the water. When they finally reached their destination, they learned that the Swazi Queen would not allow them to buy property. They were forced to live in their wagon the first year. One of their children was delivered in that wagon. The queen later relented and the Schmelzenbachs bought property and built a mission waiting vainly for people to come and hear the word of God.
What he didn't know was that after witch doctors had listened to him preach, they warned people against associating with the missionaries. When Schmelzenbach had not been able to preach to anyone over the course of a year in Swaziland, he decided he would go to the people. He took his walking stick and walked miles to find the people to whom he could preach. He came upon what appeared to be empty villages. People were actually hiding in their huts because they had been warned they would be cursed if they listened to Schmelzenbach. He preached outside their huts.
More than two years went by before the first two people came to his mission. A woman and her daughter came to his residence and asked who Jesus was. They became believers and although they were beaten for practicing their newfound faith, they continued their association with Schmelzenbach and his wife. Others soon began to listen to the missionary, and they too endured beatings. Still the missionaries persevered even under threat of death until even a witch doctor turned to Christ.
Two more years would go by before the Schmelzenbachs' ministry actually took root and began to blossom. Twenty years later they had brought countless people to Christ, planted churches, and trained pastors in Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.
In 1928, the elder Schmelzenbch returned to the United States and visited churches all over the country telling about the need for missions in Africa. Although now ill and worn down, his fire for the souls of the African people for Christ never died. Despite the death of three of his children, severe hardship and unbelievable sacrifice, the Schmelzenbachs' vision for the continent of Africa only grew. Harmon Schmelzenbach died of malaria in 1929. He was buried along with his children in Africa.
On Sunday, Feb. 3, this third generation missionary, Dr. Harmon Schmelzenbach spoke again, but this time about events during his own mission work. He told the story of a man named Daniel who became a Christian and also endured beatings because of his faith in Christ. One particularly touching part of his story concerned Daniel's ordination as a Nazarene minister. After having been beaten badly, he walked for several days to reach the Nazarene District Assembly. During an ordination, the District Superintendent lays hands on the new minister and prays. Because of his beatings, Daniel remained seated during the meeting. However, he wanted to stand during his ordination ceremony. After Daniel's ordination was over, the General Superintendent knelt in front of him and asked Daniel to lay hands on him because he was so humbled by what Daniel had endured to become an ordained minister.
Although Dr. Schmelzenbach speaks with great passion about the ministry of his grandfather, his own ministry has probably been even more illustrious. According to his biography on the Trenton First Church of the Nazarene Archives web site, Dr. Schmelzenbach and his wife Beverly are considered Career Assignment Missionaries for the church of the Nazarene, serving as "Missionaries-At-Large." The Schmelzenbachs began their ministry in 1960 and have served the Lord and the Nazarene Church as missionaries for nearly a half century.
Dr. Schmelzenbach was reared in Africa. Although he was born in the United States while his parents were on furlough, they returned to Africa when he was three months old. His father was Elmer Schmelzenbach, also a career missionary who served his entire life in Africa.
According to his biography, "Dr. and Mrs. Schmelzenbach's assignments have centered on church pioneering and the formation of national districts. Dr. Schmelzenbach registered the Church of the Nazarene in Botswana in 1971. They also organized a Pioneer District in Namibia in 1976. In 1984 they pioneered the work of the Church across East Africa. This work, now comprised of eight nationally led districts and two pioneer districts, covers the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Zaire. By 1996, there were about one thousand churches."
When building churches, one needs trained pastors. The pastors must be taught, which led to the establishment of Africa Nazarene University in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1986. The university is now under national leadership. According to his biography, "The Schmelzenbachs moved from Kenya to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1992 to pioneer the work in Ethiopia and Eritrea. In September 1994, Dr. Schmelzenbach accepted the assignment of 'Missionary-at-Large from the Church of the Nazarene.'"
Currently they live in Clearwater, Fla., are involved in conventions, the "Jesus Film" project and national work in Hungary. The Schmelzenbachs have three grown children: LeAnn, Harmon R., and Pamela. Fourth-generation missionary, Capt. Harmon Schmelzenbach, oversees the FIJIBOAT Project, a maritime ministry in the South Pacific.
Charles Williams, pastor of the Teays Valley Church of the Nazarene, said Schmelzenbach is the very definition of missions.
"Schmelzenbach is a legend. He is the embodiment of God's call to missions. To me, he embodies the spirit of missions," he said.
Williams, who with his wife Patty met the Schmelzenbachs in the early1990s when they traveled to Africa, said you could tell how well regarded the Schmelzenbachs were around the state by how far people traveled to hear him speak.
"There were some who traveled at least three hours. Very rarely do you get to hear someone who has impacted the world with the gospel as he has," he said.
Williams said visiting with the Schmelzenbachs changed his outlook as a Christian and on his own ministry.
"He really opened my eyes to being a global Christian," he said. "It opened up my whole life. I was humbled to have such a man and woman of God who were so obedient to God and who have touched the lives of so many people around the world," he said.
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