Very soon after my brother Louis was installed as pastor in charge of the church at Hermannsburg, he commenced his work for missions by buying a farm-house that was offered for sale, and with it ten acres of land.
He then requested me to take charge, as Mission Superintendent, and I came without delay. We began work, but it was a risk, and, had we not possessed firm faith, must have given up in dismay, for upon all sides we met criticism, generally adverse; and queries that, if a mission could not hold together in a large and wealthy city like Hamburg, what chance had one for success in an unknown village upon Luneburg Heath?
There was reason and worldly prudence in this, and there was also reason in the question, how could missions flourish in a community which had so recently awakened, in a region that was spiritually dead? A mission in the Luneburg Heath, organized by one man, without a missionary committee, no money, no helpers!
But we considered that there was reason in true belief and faith; and the work of missions was a work of belief and faith, and would prosper in spite of reason and the Luneburg Heath, and no one at the helm but Louis Harms, for his trust was in the Lord.
A short time before the mission-house was opened, he, with many of his congregation, attended a mission festival at Celle, and in his sermon Louis said: “I will, in God's name, open a mission-house in Hermannsburg, and have not a penny toward it. Will I commence with three or four pupils? No, with twelve; for His is all the silver and gold." He reckoned entirely right, for there were twelve persons offered, and he began work; no light task when so many things were to be considered.
Either we needed to send out educated missionaries trained in theology, or simply missionaries who were practical, apt, and capable, well instructed in the Scriptures and knowledge of Church doctrine and work. If the first, we either needed to send candidates, and of these it would be difficult to get twelve who had an inclination for missions, lacking which they would fail in zeal for carrying on the work as it should be done—or we needed to send our young people to the high school and university, which, as we were situated, was impossible. We, therefore, could not reckon upon candidates nor high-school and university scholars. Louis did nothing by halves; and mission work, as in everything else in which he was concerned, was to be done right. There yet remained a third plan, and that we put in force, which was to instruct the twelve who offered, and that work was given to me. 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.
Many shook their heads and wondered what dull peasants could do as missionaries; but we were not discouraged, we had faith in God, and had knowledge of our Luneburg young people. So from nine to twelve each morning instruction was given; from one to three, work upon the farm; from three to four, instruction in music; then the Bible hour and the mission hour, and thus the day was filled. It was a happy life for me, and Louis was in his element; for to work with all his strength and to pray with equal earnestness were his life and joy; and he rejoiced that the mission house was a reality.
So far as concerned Hermannsburg and the region about it, there was confidence in the success of the undertaking; but beyond that was censure and ridicule, and frequently warning letters. But we had expected this, and went quietly onward, cheered at times by words of encouragement.
The faithful grain-merchant H., in Lauenburg, wrote us a letter in low German, admonishing us to hold fast; and once a carriage load of Christian friends came from Celle to see for themselves how matters stood, and the loved Calvinist, Pastor H., said: "You have solved the problem which seemed unsolvable;" loved words of encouragement which were sincere.
The four years of instruction were over and the pupils were to be examined and then ordained. We applied to the Consistory in Hanover, but met with refusal. We then turned to the Consistory at Stade, but they delayed so long that we began to doubt whether they would comply, when from Osnaburg Consistory came the offer to examine and ordain the pupils. We were about to accept their offer, when from Stade came the report that the Consistory had agreed to our wishes. God bless the Osnaburg Consistory and that of Stade!
The day of the examination was a trying one. What if it proved a failure! Would not the whole affair be ridiculed, and Louis and myself regarded as deficient in common sense? That part we could bear, but to have the cause suffer through us! God heard our prayer; the pupils were not brought to shame, neither was the mission work.
We had in view for our first missionary effort the tribes of the Gallas on the east coast of Africa, a strong, wild, savage race of people.
But how were the missionaries to reach them since no German vessels sailed to that place? So it was decided to build a ship. As this idea became known a storm of discussion followed, and the general belief was that the brothers Harms had gone entirely beyond good sense and reason. A pastor on Luneburg Heath to build a ship! What a mad freak! Expressions of opinion came from all sides—warning letters from all sides. In the meantime the pastor of Luneburg Heath was taking counsel of God; and in the harbor at Harburg there was a brig in process of building under the management of Harbor-master Styrie. During the time my brother Louis was very ill with rheumatism, and Styrie, fearing he would not recover, wrote me that he hesitated about completing it, but I replied that he could proceed with the work; I had faith that Louis would get well. When the time came to launch it a special train took hundreds to Harburg, among them Louis, to dedicate the vessel, to which he gave the name of “The Candace." His sermon made a great impression. Among the spectators was our loved merchant Nagel, of Hamburg, who proved to be a great blessing to us. He was a Hanoverian, and from reading mission literature became a convert to missions; and through the guidance of God placed himself at the side of my brother to assist in the financial part of the business. He had always loved Louis, and if, as it is said, one is apt to tease those they love, so the good Nagel kept to the adage by teasing Louis, calling him the man with the nickname—"Harms," meaning harm—but as the greater part of the gifts to missions accompanied it, Louis was very willing to accept the teasing, knowing well Nagel's love for him.
When the Candace was ready to sail for Africa, Louis was prevented from going to preach the sermon, and sent me in his place. It was a memorable occasion to me as we knelt in the vessel to ask God's blessing upon the undertaking which the world looked upon with ridicule, and even believers could not think upon with certainty.
As the Candace was being towed from the harbor by a steam tug, Styrie and I stood upon the wharf, and near us stood a young husband and wife and their little one. “What kind of a vessel is that?” questioned the mother of the child. With tears in his eyes Styrie said: "It is a vessel built by faith and laden with prayer."
The Candace made a good voyage to Zanzibar, but the door to the Gallas was closed; she turned back to Natal, where God opened a door. There they bought a large tract of land, and founded the first mission station, to which they gave the name of New Hermannsburg.
In the meantime a model of the Candace, neatly carved from wood, was placed over the pulpit at Hermannsburg. People were never weary of looking at it, nor Louis weary of explaining it. To show the simple faith of many of them, I will mention that one little mother in the church said: “Oh, what a little affair for the missionaries to go to Africa in; but with God nothing is impossible.” To the faithful soul—though it appeared past belief—God was all-powerful, and truly firm faith and belief will, through God, work wonders.
After the departure of the missionaries, twelve new people applied to be taken as pupils in the mission-house, among them a man named Behrens, whose farm adjoined it. He wished to present it to the Mission, and with his wife and child go as missionaries to Africa, retaining nothing except enough for the ample support of his mother. A great commotion was made over this by those not interested in missions, and Louis was severely censured for accepting it, and the young farmer was looked upon as a fanatic.
But God adjusted all things, the farm became the property of the Mission, and the husband and wife entered the mission-house as pupils. They had given up all for the Saviour, and were richly rewarded, for “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren or sisters, or father or mother, or wife or children, or lands for my name's sake shall receive a hundredfold and inherit everlasting life." He gave up his farm of three hundred acres, and God gave him ten thousand acres in Bethania, where he established a mission-house, with eight hundred Christian workers, whose influence has reached to all parts of the world.
From such a small beginning that the world ridiculed arose the great mission work of Hermannsburg. Even believers were filled with astonishment, that an unknown village upon the Luneburg Heath should build a ship, and the cause of missions there be aided not only by the Christian people of Europe, but of all parts of the world. It was due to the heartfelt prayers of Louis, who was determined that no heathen, at the great judgment day, should have reason to reproach him that he had not done what he could. He had strong faith and was diligent in prayer; true belief, and relied upon God's Word; therefore was always cheerful and patient. He had also great confidence in his fellow-men; and though often shamefully deluded and deceived, it only served to make him lean more upon the promises of God, who cannot lie. Had he an evidence that what he devised had the favor of God he never hesitated to proceed with it, though all men shook their heads in doubt.
His maxim was that what was right was also wise and prudent; and if mistakes were made through his or other people's short-sightedness, it gave him no anxiety, for he had faith that the Saviour would correct all that had been done in true belief.