Louis Harms was born in Hanover in 1808. From childhood he was marked by great memory, self-reliance, industry, and perseverance; by a high sense of honor, truth, and purity.
Around him the very air seemed tainted with ritualism and rationalism. Two millions of nominal Christians cared neither for the word nor the house of God. He was converted by reading our Lord's intercessory prayer (John 17).
At forty he followed his father in the parish of Hermansburgh, refusing many tempting offers, choosing the quiet village to which he had always looked longingly back, and setting his heart upon developing in this parish the highest type of a useful ministry and church. And to this work he gave his whole soul.
The attendance at church increased, reverence for the Bible grew; there was more conversation on sacred things, more order and neatness in the village, and the “Hermansburghers” became a proverbial people. The noon-bell was sounded and every head was bared in prayer. Nowhere else in Hanover was a parish to be found where apostolic piety seemed revived as here, in the consciousness of a present Christ and a present Spirit and in the effectiveness of the means of grace.
Pastor Harms, however, had a thorn in his pillow. One verse in the Bible (Acts 4. 12) took sleep away, and his mind went out to the millions of heathen who had not heard that saving name.
A poor disabled Candidate coming into Hermansburgh told his story of the heathen, and enkindled missionary interest in the parish.
The first donations were from a widow—six shillings; from a laborer, sixpence; and from a child, one silver penny. Yet from these trifling sparks there came a soaring pillar of fire that has led all Christendom in the paths of mission work. Harms began to preach, to talk from house to house on missions, and at last boldly urged his humble people to take hold of the heathen world—even to attempt independently the work of converting the pagan, set up their own stations, and supply their own missionaries! Think of his courage and faith amid general apathy toward missions to dare such a proposal to peasants and farmers!
Twelve men offered to go, and one of the twelve gave his farm as well as himself. Harms used the gift to establish a training-school.
Africa was chosen. They actually built their own ship, and in 1853, only five years after Pastor Harms settled in Hermansburgh, sixteen colonists sailed for Natal, in south-eastern Africa—eight missionaries, two smiths, three laborers, a tailor, a butcher, and a dyer.
Let us take in the grand scope of this enterprise. Here was one poor parish transporting into the heart of pagandom a Christian community, and actually projecting a chain of mission stations along the dark coast of the unexplored continent. And this whole work assumed by one parish of Hanover was inspired by one humble pastor !
More than forty sailed at one time to re-enforce the missionary band, and there were always forty-eight in training. In 1863, only ten years after the work began, one hundred offered at one time.
Not content with foreign missions, behold this humble people equally zealous in home work, establishing a refuge for discharged convicts, about whom there hung the taint of disgrace, whose sympathies were perverted, and whose sensibilities were perverted and hardened by crime, and who were lost to common confidence. Hermansburgh buys a farm and rears an asylum on it, which is to-day a home for the helpless and hopeless soul.
A missionary magazine was needed as a link and channel of communication between the parish and its pioneers, and to render those who were in training familiar with type. Beginning with this simple aim the original idea was expanded, and there grew up a parish publishing-house issuing catechisms, tracts, and the literature of the Gospel, yielding an annual profit of £600!
Meanwhile let us glance at the African Missions. In 1864 they had been ten years in operation, counting this first decade from the arrival of the first missionary colonists. Twenty-four missions were established and two more were started. One hundred and ninety natives were baptized converts. The pioneers had endured trials and braved misrepresentation and malice, and God blessed their work. In 1867 alone they baptized 120 converts.
But Hermansburgh must scatter still wider her blessed endeavors. Six missionaries were sent to America, one to India, one to Australia.
From 1854 to 1865 inclusive there flows into that parish mission treasury more than $260,000, and there goes out from it to save the world more than $250,000. Of this income the press alone yields about $25,000.
In 1868 there are two mission-houses and farms with 70 inmates, 48 in training for missions; on the refuge farm 20 find a house of shelter; there are 160 settlers in Africa in 30 stations, and these colonists own their ship and build their dwellings and churches. They control 50,000 acres on the Dark Continent, and have their own printing-presses.
Pastor Harms died in 1865 (November 17), having conducted his whole mission work as a work of faith, asking God for every needed help, and finding that as his work grew the means to carry it on grew in proportion; and setting an example which to this day challenges the admiration and imitation of the whole Christian world.