Today I received word that pioneer missionary Harold Reiner had passed away.
Ever since I met him in 1989, Harold has been one of my heroes.
His son Tim had graciously invited me–then a seventeen-year-old kid who had never been outside of the country (Canada doesn’t count)–to spend two months with them in Brazil. Throughout those days we worked on many projects together with Harold, and his passion for Brazil and Brazilians was contagious.
One memory that sticks out from those days is of an afternoon when he and Tim were working on the engine for the Noe II–the boat that to this day takes campers back and forth between the mainland and the Treasure Island camp. The problem (whatever it was) proved to be frustrating to both of them. Finally, Harold looked up at me and said “Well, when we’ve exhausted all our options, it’s time to stand back and watch what God is going to do.”
That phrase might well serve as a fitting summary of Harold’s life and ministry. When he came to Brazil’s rugged northeast region in the ’40s, it was as if the man had found the country for which he was born. He mastered the Portuguese language, and, more importantly, he loved the people. I loved watching his face light up as he talked about various aspects of northeastern culture. (For a many years, until I visited the city of Exu, all I knew about the Brazilian forró singer Luís Gonzaga was what I learned from Harold)
The word “quit” was not in Harold Reiner’s vocabulary. During his missionary career he suffered hardships and sorrows that would have made a lesser man leave the field. Yet Harold persevered, to become the longest-serving missionary in the history of Baptist Mid-Missions. Through every trial he maintained an unshakable belief in the sovereignty of God.
Harold Reiner and Family
Harold Reiner and his young family in their early days as missionaries in Brazil’s northeast.
Hand-in-hand with Harold’s strong belief in the sovereignty of God was his relentless work ethic. I will never forget one day when I was on Treasure Island to help with a construction project. I decided to pace myself by Harold, then in his late 70’s. When he worked, I worked. When he rested, I rested. It almost killed me.
Towards the end of their career, Harold and Joan Reiner received perhaps the highest compliment possible from the people to whom they ministered. In the midst of the period of intense anti-American sentiment that swept Brazil following the US invasion of Iraq, Harold and Joan were made honorary citizens of the city of Remanso, where they had dedicated decades of their lives.
Honorary Citizens
Harold and Joan Reiner, with their certificate of honorary citizenship from the city of Remanso, Bahia
Harold Reiner’s impact on my own life was formidable. His unbridled enthusiasm for Brazil and its people helped set my own heart aflame for this country. His insistence on pioneer mission work (“Missions begins where the asphalt ends”, he used to say) influenced my decision to come to Maranhão, a state where our mission had yet to send missionaries. Perhaps most importantly, his unbridled optimism–when the world would have forgiven him for being a pessimist–showed me that serving Christ on the mission field is a privilege, not a burden.
Thank you, Harold, for a race well run. A multitude of lives were impacted by your dedication–mine included
Here is a touching tribute to Harold Reiner posted today by a fellow missionary.