The Reverend Paul Howell Harris, born on February 26, 1945, in Rockford, Illinois, entered the joy of his Lord on February 14, 2022, at his residence in Saint Paul, Minnesota, surrounded by family and friends. He awaits the resurrection of his body when his Lord Jesus returns.
Rev. Harris is survived by his wife of over 54 years, Sally Sponsel Harris; son, Kenath (Carmen) Harris; daughter, Arwynn (Ethan) Harris Jensen; and grandchildren Elijah, Zoë, Søren, and Nils. He is preceded in death by parents Rees Howell Harris and Annie Lavina Gibson Harris, brother John Rees Harris, and sister Ruth Harris Jarema.
Paul attended East High School in Rockford, Illinois, and Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where he earned a BA, double majoring in Philosophy and Social Science. He won the Sophomore Class Honor Scholarship and graduated in 1967 with High Honor. He met Sally Sponsel at Wheaton and married her in Minneapolis on July 29, 1967. At the conclusion of his undergraduate studies, he was awarded two prestigious scholarships—the Woodrow Wilson and the Rockefeller—which enabled him to attend Yale Divinity School and earn a Master of Divinity in 1970.
Paul’s parents instilled in him a love of travel. As a child, he visited Spain where his father had been born in 1904 to British missionaries serving under the Plymouth Brethren Church. Paul traveled to the former USSR as a teenager. There were many other trips to unusual places; for instance, Paul remembered touching down on grass landing strips in Central America. It should come as no surprise that he and Sally would buy a 1970 VW Campmobile bus and live in it for 14 months while visiting most of the countries in Europe. Since then, they travelled to multiple countries in East Africa, the South Pacific, East Asia, and the Americas from Arctic Canadian rivers to the southern tip of Argentina. For their 36th wedding anniversary, they crossed the Arctic Circle in a canoe.
Rev. Harris was ordained in the Lutheran Church in America in 1979. He pastored four Minnesota churches over the course of 36 years: Grace Lutheran in Mora, Bethlehem Lutheran in Bayport, Como Park Lutheran in St. Paul, and Easter Lutheran in Eagan. On his 17 three-month-long mission trips to Tanzania over the course of 34 years, Paul also preached in villages throughout the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
A scholar and teacher, Rev. Harris taught courses at the University of Minnesota, Bethel College, and Golden Valley Lutheran Junior College in Minnesota. He helped Drs. Arne and Mary Blomquist found the University of Iringa in Tanzania in the early 1990s. There Rev. Harris taught courses on the Protestant Reformation and African Church History. Many of his students became pastors and evangelists.
Energetically committed both to global evangelism and economic development in poor countries, Rev. Harris founded Radio Furaha, a Christian radio station in Iringa, Tanzania, which began broadcasting 24/7 in 2010. He raised its budget, navigated regulatory red tape, helped with technological challenges, and oversaw the development of a wide range of program content. He also co-founded and raised funds for Iringa Hope which developed microfinance banks and farmers’ cooperatives that elevated the standard of living for thousands of Tanzanian subsistence farmers.
Rev. Harris loved building. With his sister’s husband, he built two cabins in Eckerman, Michigan, to replace the 1946 log cabin his father had built that burned down in 1973. Rev. Harris designed and built passive-solar homes in Mora and Bayport. The Harrises lived in the Bayport house for 34 years, fairly continuously engaged in building projects. He loved to welcome family and friends to help him build.
Rev. Harris had many friends and family with whom he shared the joys of worldwide travel, cross-country skiing, water-skiing, canoeing, and camping accompanied by spirited discussions. Rev. Harris expected others (or at least his wife) to follow him into engaging in active sports with a gusto to match his own. He introduced many friends to cross-country skiing. He completed 30 Birkebeiner and many Vasaloppet ski marathons, and over a dozen Chequamegon 40-mile Fat Tire Festival mountain bike races. In stages over 15 years, he and Sally kayaked the eastern and entire northern shores of Lake Superior from Grand Marais, Michigan, to Thunder Bay, Ontario in a sea kayak they built themselves.
With courage and faith, Rev. Harris faced his 2015 diagnosis of Parkinson’s that clouded his retirement years. In 2019, he was diagnosed with Parkinsonian dementia. It took courage for such an active person and fine public speaker and preacher to face each day as, bit by bit, he lost the ability to water ski, kayak, paddleboard, swim, bike, cross-country ski and canoe. Finally, he even had to struggle to communicate the ideas still coursing through his mind. His final weeks were spent suffering COVID-induced delirium, fighting every day of his month-long hospitalization and isolation to get home to family and friends. His family is very grateful that he was able to be home on hospice for 48 hours. Ever the extrovert, Paul always loved the energy large gatherings generated. We believe he enjoyed this final gathering during which people stood at his bedside and talked to him in person or via phone and video. We trust he could still hear us as we talked, sang hymns, recounted stories, and commended him to his Savior.
Rev. Harris breathed his last at 9am on February 14 as two of his Tanzanian “sons” laid hands on him and pronounced the benediction in Swahili. We are sure the next words Rev. Harris heard were “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
A celebration of Paul's life will take place at Easter Lutheran Church on the Hill (4200 Pilot Knob Rd, Eagan, MN) on Sunday, May 1, at 2:00pm with a visitation beginning at 12:00P.M. Livestream of the service available at https://boxcast.tv/view/celebration-of-paul-howell-harris-wrk3b23y9pjsqwvqwhi4
In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to either charity: Radio Furaha (check to SPAS, memo line: Radio Furaha – Harris Memorial), 105 University Ave. W., Saint Paul, MN 55103 or Iringa Hope, P.O. Box 21055, Eagan, MN 55121.