As soon as Harms took over the pastorate from his father, he began developing the mission program. This included purchasing a farm on ten acres. Many doubted Harms would succeed since wealthier parishes had failed, but believing that it was the will of God, he was undaunted and plunged ahead. In a sermon delivered shortly before the work commenced he stated, "I will, in God's name, open a mission-house in Hermannsburg." Where previously there had been tendency to send out missionaries who were either practically trained, or theologically trained, but not both, Harms chose to combine both elements in his training program. "The course of instruction was to extend over four years, and embraced the study of the Old and New Testaments, history of the Church, history of missions, and other subjects pertaining to it; the study hours alternating with work upon the land for the benefit of their health, and also to help make the mission self-supporting. The only foreign language they were instructed in was the English; that being necessary knowledge for missionaries."—Theodore Harms After the students had been trained, no pastor was apparently willing to ordain them as missionaries. Harms overcame all the challenges as you read the following paragraphs.
To be a real Christian and take an interest in missions was one and the same thing. His ideal of Christianity was that it not only takes the rich blessings which God gives through the Gospel, but passes them on to others. We are saved to serve and the best service we can render a perishing world is to bring it the saving Gospel of Christ.
Regarding the opening of the mission school: "In God's name I will erect a mission institution in Hermannsburg although I have not a penny with which to do it. With how may scholars shall I begin, with three or four? No, with twelve, for all silver and gold are the Lord's." He always asked, "Is this necessary, is it the will of the Lord?" That being settled there was no doubt that God would open the way.
It included a thorough understanding of Scripture; it embraced Bible, Church and universal history, geography, natural science, German, English, writing, arithmetic, and singing. Study was interspersed with physical labor so that the students would keep in good health and be able to take care of themselves when they reached their destination in foreign lands. Instruction was given from 9 AM - 12 PM. From 1-3 PM the students worked at physical labor. From 3-4 PM there were classes again. Teachers were with the students at all times, including the time of physical labor. Diligent work and earnest prayer were the hallmarks of all that went on. Applicants were considered who were between the ages of 22 and 25, and who revealed strong evidence of a Christian character. They were to live at Hermannsburg for a year or two before being admitted to the mission house so that they could be observed for some time prior to formal admission. In all of this, Harms sought to follow the example of the school of the prophets in the Old Testament. Of the first twelve students admitted, 8 were eventually sent to Africa to open the mission work. Two died during the course of study; two were dismissed because they did not accept the order of work and study laid down for the students at the mission house.
"There was a daily course of work through which they went. This was partly, as they were told, "for your bodily health, partly that you may, to some extent, earn your own bread, and partly that you may remain humble, and be no more ashamed of your work than Peter was of his fishing, or Paul of his tent-making."
They were to not only preach the gospel, but also live the gospel. For that reason, the missionaries developed practical skills and knew how to sustain themselves. Among the special trades represented were a tailor, two blacksmiths, one mason, a butcher and a dyer.
"The first missionaries are to remain together in the same place and settle there, in order to be strong enough by united effort to work upon the heathen and earn their livelihood; since they understand farming and other useful trades, and are strong men... not only in spiritual but also in material things. When a Gentile congregation has been formed around them, two or three are to remain with this flock and the rest to go on, not hundreds, but one or two miles and repeat the same experiment. Then those who follow will find employment when they come and can earn their living, until they have learned the language and in turn occupy nearby stations. This way, in the course of a short time, a whole country may be covered with a net of mission stations, and the people converted and armed with Christian manners and culture. Thus they may be able to cope with the evil European influence, and not become victims of the Europeans, as has hitherto almost universally been."
"The Lutheran congregation which we send to East Africa is a member of the Lutheran Church of Hanover. The general management of its ecclesiastical and civil affairs is vested in the mission house of Hermannsburg. The congregation is expected by their own labor to secure a livelihood. But, so far as it is not able to do this, the mission house obligates itself to supply their wants."
On the funding of the missionary endeavors: “Where did he get these 118,000 crowns? Did he send begging letters? Did he go to Holland, or cross to England, or ask a subsidy from the State? He is a foe to beggars. He will not tolerate them in his parish; his doctrine is that no Christian dare be a beggar, nor ask from any but God. No one acts so rigorously on these principles as himself. His scruples are almost prohibitory. Beyond tho barest outline of accounts, he excludes money matters and money difficulties from his paper; he will neither mention the sums that have been given (unless incidentally, as an illustration of some truth), nor the names of any who give; though the people are prepared with alms at the annual festival, he never speaks of his wants, nor asks a donation; when he is in urgent difficulty about money, he persists in silence. This may look singular and absurd. But is it not more singular that he has never found this course of conduct to mislead or disappoint him; that he has found his straightforward asking of God abundantly sufficient? When a man makes that discovery, who can blame him for using it?”
When praying for wisdom on how to transport the missionaries, and contemplating building his own ship: “I prayed fervently to the Lord,” he says, “and laid the whole matter in His hands. As I arose from my knees at midnight, I said, with a voice that almost startled me in the quiet room: ‘Forward now, in God’s name!’” The crisis had past. Never again did a thought of doubt enter his mind.”
When instructing the missionaries leaving on the Candace for the first mission crossing: “I beg you with my whole heart that every morning you will pray, you have such high reason to thank the Lord who kept you through the night, who can keep and strengthen and bless you through the day. And every evening pray. You would be the most unthankful of men if you did not thank the Lord for all the beneﬁts which He has showed you. And you must pray every evening for the forgiveness of sins, for there is not a day without sin, and where there is no forgiveness there is no blessing. Begin all your work with prayer; and when the storm-wind rises, pray; and when the billows rave round the ship, pray; and when sin comes, pray; and when the devil tempts you, pray. So long as you pray, it will go well with you, body and soul.”
When the members were worrying that their first mission ship had been lost at sea, and asking, “What shall we do if she never returns?” He replied: “Humble ourselves, confess our sins, pray to God, and build a new ship!”
“When it is said that we shall publish a Missionary Magazine, it is not meant to be a kind of royal speech, we by the grace of God, and yet there is only one; nor, as our writers say, as if they had learned it from the kings, we have been informed in our opinion, and the man is speaking all the while of himself. Our ‘we’ means literally ‘we,’ my brother and I, for he will help me. And now I think I hear many a sigh, and words like these: So many missionary magazines already, and here is another? what folly! Dear friend, believe me, if you sigh once over this new magazine, I sigh ten times. For you need only read it, or if you will not do that, lay it aside; or if you have ordered it, countermand it, and all your trouble and sighing are at an end. But I must write it, every month a new one, although I am burdened with work enough already. Believe me, I would much rather let the whole matter drop if I dare. You will say, ‘Why dare yon not?’ My answer is: The love of Christ constraineth me. Ever since our mission was established I have been besought to publish a missionary paper, and I shook off these petitions as one might shake the rain drops off a wet cloak. But when you shake and shake, and it only rains the harder, you are presently wet through. And so, that the rain may cease, I publish the magazine. And in truth I would have no love for the Lord Christ, and for the people who ask it of me, if I hesitated longer.