H. J. Schuh, D.D.
The Life of Louis Harms
THE CANDIDATES were now ready to be sent out. They had been educated, examined, ordained and commissioned and a ﬁeld of labor selected for them. While all this was going on there was a problem which gave Harms no little concern, their transportation. At that time there were few lines of communication between Germany and East Africa. He hoped to ﬁnd passage for his missionaries on some merchant vessel, but all his inquiries in this respect were vain. The transportation charges were so exorbitant as to be almost prohibitive, and they would have to be repeated every four years, when a new group would be sent out.
About this time there was a Christian sailor by the name of Lange at Hermannsburg who suggested to Harms that a ship be built to be used in the service of the mission. It was estimated that such a vessel would cost about $13,000; at the price asked for transportation by other lines, two or three trips would pay for the ship. Besides this, the mission could earn something by carrying freight and could arrange the trips to suit its own convenience. The ship could sail directly for the port nearest the land in which the missionaries were to carry on their work and direct communication could be kept up between the home base and the foreign ﬁeld.
Praying about the Challenge
At ﬁrst, Harms thought it too much of an undertaking. And yet the longer he pondered and prayed over the matter the more he became convinced that it was the thing to do. Such a thing had not been heard of before but that did not cut much of a ﬁgure with him. His mission had blazed a new trail in more than one respect, why not in this? After he had once gained this conviction he lost no time in carrying the plan into execution. Harms was a man of very decided convictions. He never halted long between two opinions. He reports his decision as follows: “Not we are going to build a ship, we will appoint the Lord as shipbuilder; He once before commanded Noah to build a ship and that ship was ﬁnished although it was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. If God could accomplish that through Noah, who had only his three sons as human helpers, then I do not see why God cannot let us build a ship to his glory and the salvation of the heathen, which will be only one ﬁfth as large as Noah’s ark, and we, by the help of God, have a host of human helpers. I am not afraid of the money it will cost, because I, thank God, will not be expected to furnish it since I do not have it, but the Lord shall give it. He has enough and is very rich. All silver and gold are his. I have made up my mind to give for this purpose all I have left and then will continue to plead with Him for $14,000 or $16,000 until He gives it, and I never yet have been disappointed in Him.”
There was a great deal of opposition to the project. Both friends and foes were against the undertaking. The enemies of the mission began to say this Lutheran preacher in the Lueneburg heath must be crazy to think of such a thing; it is preposterous and doomed to fail from the very outset. Even many of the friends of the mission had their misgivings. Was it not like tempting God to undertake such a venture? In spite of all this opposition, a draft and estimates were submitted and the contract let to a shipbuilder by the name of Renk. The ship, a brig, of 212 tons, costing $8,100, was to be built at Harburg on the Elbe. In making the contract Harms failed to understand the difference between a copper bolted and a copper sheeted ship, and there was an extra bill of $1,644 for the copper sheeting with which the bottom of the ship was covered to protect it against the insects which infect the tropical waters. To these ﬁgures must be added $2,436 for sails and rigging, $1,850 for chains, anchors and other hardware and $3,459 for furniture and provisions, besides other extras, so that, all told, the undertaking represented an outlay of some $19,000 - quite a sum for people not blessed with overmuch wealth!
The money was not raised in advance but came in as the work progressed. The members of the congregation were quite liberal in their support of the undertaking, many contributing $100, $300 or even $500. Nearly everybody gave. The shipbuilder sent Harms a little wooden model, of the ship, which he showed his people. One pious mother looking at the model said: “On such a little thing out boys are to cross the ocean? Well, with God nothing is impossible.” She had implicit conﬁdence in God’s almighty power and so had the whole congregation - this was the secret of the success of their whole undertaking. This little model was hung up over the pulpit in the old church at Hermannsburg where the writer of this sketch saw it just a few years ago.
God was the Ship Builder
But let us hear Harms’ own report of how the thing was done: “See, after this manner the ship was completed by God’s merciful providence and I am so convinced that God our dear Savior was the shipbuilder that I am willing to venture my life for this conviction. For, in the ﬁrst place, He in a wondrous way ﬁrst put it into my mind that colonists should go along; He in the same wonderful way ordered that a ship should be built; He, that is my ﬁrm conviction, although it may seem foolish in the opinion of men, brought Mr. Stuerye (the harbor master who superintended the work) to Harburg for the sake of this ship and He drove the nail fast in Hamburg (Mr. Nagel was Harms’ business manager in that city); He opened the hearts of men that money ﬂowed in beyond expectation and, God be praised, without begging. From plain farmers I received $100, 300, $500 and I believe there are few here in the congregation who gave nothing. Yes, many gave even beyond their means, and the poorest gave his mite with joyful heart and all without solicitation. And one thing more:
“Here, when the mission festival was held, I published a plain report in a few Christian provincial papers and nothing else. And who was it that sent money for the ship and words of encouragement and faith to me from New Orleans in North America, from Antwerp in Belgium, from Amsterdam in Holland, from Odessa and Narva in Russia? Was it not the Lord? I am poor and have just enough to get along from day to day; I am so overloaded with work that it almost crushes me; I have suffered much and gone through many unpleasant experiences on the part of enemies and friends, but, thanks be to God, I can pray and give thanks to my faithful God and I have a great deal to pray and give thanks for; therefore, I would not exchange lots with any king and my soul rejoices: ‘Nevertheless I am continually with Thee, thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shall guide me with thy council, and afterward receive me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee. My ﬂesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.’”
“Would to God that I had succeeded in accomplishing the purpose for which I write this, namely, to make it clear to you that what has been accomplished is not my work but the work of God. And just on that account I have the ﬁrm hope and conﬁdence: He will continue to help.”
A Work of Faith
It was a work of faith, that faith which can remove mountains. There were no high pressure methods used. There was no drive.
The cause was honestly set before God’s people and they responded because their hearts were in the work. There was no effort to stir up the sensibilities and move the will before the intellect was enlightened. Above all, success came in answer to persistent and believing prayer. The people gave for the cause because they were daily praying for its success and no man can honestly pray for a cause for which he is not willing diligently to work. When the ship was done it was almost paid for. Subsequently, also it was not run at a loss. God preserved it from many a storm during its ﬁfteen voyages in the course of twenty-two years.
In naming the ship, Harms chose the name of the queen of Ethiopia, whose treasurer was baptized by Philip the evangelist and returned to his home in Africa as the ﬁrst fruits of the Gospel. “Candace” designated the goal of her maiden voyage, on which she carried the pioneers of the great work which the Hermannsburgers opened up in the dark continent. The story of this mission ship has been an inspiration to thousands of earnest Christians who saw in her the emblem of God’s mercy and faithfulness and the power of that faith which goes forward in the work of the Lord in the face of the greatest obstacles.
Harms was strenuously opposed to having the ship insured. He believed the best insurance was ﬁrm trust in God. He writes: “If the Lord is in the ship it is insured. It is to remain a ship of faith and prayer . . . I am convinced in ﬁrm faith, that the ship cannot go under so long as those who are in her serve the Lord, and as long as we faithfully pray for it. Should the ship sink, this would only take place when those in it do not faithfully serve the Lord and we do not faithfully pray. And what would we do then? Humble ourselves before God, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness and build a new one.”
But his manager, Mr. Nagel at Hamburg, found it difﬁcult to secure freight unless he took out insurance. So, without Harm’s knowledge and consent the “Candace” was insured on her ﬁrst trip. When Harms found this out he tried to cancel the insurance but did not succeed. On all subsequent voyages she sailed without insurance, and the conﬁdence of her owner was not put to shame.
The ship was launched September 27, 1853. Harms and some four hundred of his Hermannsburgers went on a special train to Harburg, where the “Candace” was built to attend the ceremony. It was a great holiday. All the ships in the harbor were decorated with ﬂags and bunting in her honor. Harms preached on the text Matthew 8:23-27, the story of Jesus and the disciples in the storm on the sea of Galilee. After the hymn, “Now thank we all our God,” the ship slid gracefully down the ways into the waters of the Elbe from whence she went to Hamburg to take on freight. When all was ready for the journey Harms and his brother went to Hamburg, and held a farewell service on board. She set sail October 28, 1853 at 9 A. M. under the command of Captain Fisher.
The “Candace” made ﬁfteen voyages-in all, nine of which were made during the lifetime of Harms. In June, 1861, on her way home in the English channel she collided with an English brig and was taken to Falmouth for repairs. Without the knowledge of his superiors Captain Lange had her cut in two and had twenty feet added to her length. From that time on Captain Lange proved himself untrustworthy and had to be discharged. This was a great disappointment to Harms as it was Lange who had given the ﬁrst impetus for the building of the mission ship. After having served the mission for twenty-two years, in 1875, she was sold for $6,000 and no ship was ever built or bought to replace her. She had served her purpose well. Transportation facilities had, in the meantime, improved to such an extent that it was found more advantageous to use other ships for the transportation of missionaries.
A Floating House of God
On her maiden trip the “Candace” left Hamburg, October 28, 1853, and arrived at Cape Town, South Africa, January 21, 1854, and at Port Natal, March 9. Just two years after her ﬁrst trip Harms again stood on her deck to hold a farewell service. This time she sailed under the command of Captain Meinert who was just as good a Christian as he was a sailor. On her trips it was the rule that devotions-were held every morning and evening, at which the whole crew, with the exception of those who were on duty, were present. Divine services were held twice every Sunday; on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays there were special devotions with Bible study and prayer. In case there were no missionaries on board, the Captain lead the devotions and read the sermons. The ship was called “A ﬂoating House of God,” also “Noah’s Ark.” A Christmas celebration aboard is thus described by Harms: “Although the missionaries had no lighted Christmas tree, yet God gave them the many beautiful, brilliant stars which shine in the southern heavens even brighter than with us. Thus they celebrated their holy night service with prayer, playing of chorals, singing and preaching, and in spirit were here in our church and stood under the Christmas tree. Then they began opening the Christmas boxes which had been given them sealed at Hamburg and distributed all the small beautiful presents which had been given them, and rejoiced heartily.”
As a memento of this mission ship, the “Candace,” the writer several years ago presented to the missionary museum of Capital University at Columbus, Ohio, a small volume, an explanation of Luther’s catechism, on a ﬂyleaf of which is stamped “Schiffsbibliothek der Candace.” The little volume once belonged to the ship which played so remarkable a part in the early history of the Hermannsburg mission.