Harold was born on April 27, 1926, in the small town of Mountain Lake, Minnesota, the sixth of seven children. He had godly Mennonite parents who were farmers but often struggled to make ends meet. Throughout her pregnancy, his mother prayed earnestly that the child she was expecting would someday become a missionary, something she didn’t share with him until years later.
After high school, Harold joined the Navy for two years and served on the USS Gear (ARS-34) during WWII as an electronic technician. He attended Wheaton College in Illinois and was about to go on to graduate school when his plans fell through. As a result, he accepted an invitation to work for a summer as a photographer on Word of Life Island, a decision that would change the course of his life. When summer ended, he was given the opportunity to sing with the Word of Life Quartet and travel with Jack Wyrtzen for two years on his evangelistic campaigns. Traveling with Jack was the best “discipleship course” Harold ever took — the best preparation for what God had in store for him.
In 1951, at a campfire meeting on Word of Life Island, Harold responded to a call to give his life to God in full-time missions. Six months later, in January of 1952, he was on a ship headed for Brazil and his mother’s prayers were answered. There, he would eventually join Harry and Millie Bollback in reaching indian tribes of the Amazon jungle basin with the gospel. While in language school, he met Debora Simionato, the young Brazilian woman who would become his wife. She had already been accepted by a Brazilian mission to work as a teacher to the Caiua indians. They were married on September 24, 1955, in the city of Sao Paulo.
Harold served among the indians with Harry and Millie for four years. He developed a love and a deep commitment to the Xavante indians which lasted his entire life. In 1957, God called Harry and Millie, Harold and Debora to start the ministry of Word of Life, Brazil. They would serve together until 1969 when the Bollbacks returned to the US to expand the Word of Life ministry to other parts of the world. By God’s grace, the ministry in Brazil continued to grow under Harold’s leadership and even after he stepped down in 1997. Today, Word of Life Brazil has a vibrant ministry in nine states of Brazil impacting the lives of more than 200,000 Brazilians every year.
Harold initially resisted the call to missions because he considered himself unworthy, inadequate and “just a Minnesota farm boy.” He only surrendered to the call after learning that “…God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and the weak things of the world to shame the strong…” (1 Corinthians 1:27). The truth is, Harold was very talented. He was a powerful preacher of the gospel, teacher of the Word, counselor, carpenter, builder, trombone player, amazing cake decorator, filmmaker and photographer par excellence. He used all these gifts and more to serve the Lord faithfully and bring others joy. In his later years, Harold used his carpentry skills to make countless lazy susans and wooden/tile hot pads which he sold to raise money for his beloved Xavantes. He never lost his passion for the gospel, his burden for souls and his compassion for the Xavantes. In June 2017, Harold participated in the baptismal service of 49 Xavantes, descendants of those very indians who tried to kill him and Harry 65 years earlier. This service took place on Discovery Beach, the exact place where Harry and Harold encountered the Xavantes for the first time.
Harold was a faithful, loving husband to Debora for 64 years and a wonderful father to five adoring children. He is survived by his wife, Debora; his children, Sonya and her husband, Paul Gale and their children, Andrea (Julio) Paulinetti, Olivia (Glauber) Rodrigues, Laura (Eber) Sazanov and Denise (Ricardo) Macedo; Priscilla and her husband, Steve Hartokolis and their daughter, Natalie; Marilda and her husband, Onesimo de Arruda and their children, Ana Irene and Raphael; Cynthia and her husband, Acacio Nascimento and their children Monique (Heber) Souza, Ana Barbara (Thaygra) Américo and Shaila; John Reimer and his wife, Eliana, and their children, Andre (Giovana) Reimer, Daniel, and Juliana. Harold had 8 great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.