Schmelen, Johann

Alternate Names: Heinrich Schmelen
London Missionary Society

Johann H. Schmelen Johann Heinrich Schmelen was a pioneer German missionary in South-West Africa (Namibia). Schmelen was born in Cassebruch near Bremen, northern Germany. After obtaining a good education, he left Germany to escape military service. In London he was converted under Karl Friedrich Adolf, the pastor of the German congregation there. After being trained in the *Jänicke Mission Seminary in Berlin, Schmelen joined the London Missionary Society, and in 1811 was sent to southern Africa. With a group of Orlam who had migrated into Namaland (territory of the Nama Hottentot people, in southern South-West Africa), he founded the Bethany mission station, north of the Orange River. He spent seven years exploring South-West Africa, investigating potential sites for mission stations, and persuaded the Rhenish Mission to take up mission work there. With the help of his wife, a Nama, he translated the Gospels into Nama under most difficult conditions. After the printing had been done in Cape Town, his missionary society sent him to Komaggas, where he labored until he died. He transmitted to new missionaries his spirit of total unselfishness and devotion to the service of the native population. He especially influenced those who stayed with him on their way to South-West Africa and whom he introduced to missionary work. It was said that he “became a Nama to the Namas.”

Theo Sundermeier


H. Driessler, Die Rheinische Mission in Südwestafrika (1932)

H. Vedder, Das alte Südwestafrika (1934).

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.