In memoriam: Former missionary Harvey John Kneisel Jr., 90

Harvey John Kneisel Jr., 1931-2021

Harvey John Kneisel Jr., a former International Mission Board missionary who shared the gospel among the American Affinity Peoples in Guyana, died April 8, 2021, at his home in Pearland, Texas, after a 25-year battle with leukemia. He was 90.

Missions was a thread that ran throughout Kneisel’s career as pastor, missionary, evangelist and church planter. Houston’s (Texas) First Baptist Church, where Kneisel had long championed missions, announced a few days before his death, that the church family had given $2,628,946 to world missions—surpassing their goal by more than $1,200,000 and setting a record for their annual offering

Kneisel and his wife, Charlene, also founded Macedonian Call Foundation. For over 40 years this non-profit ministry has provided free transportation to missionaries living temporarily in the U.S.

Born Jan. 17, 1931, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Kneisel was the youngest of three boys born to the late Harvey Kneisel Sr. and Dena Smith Kneisel. As a preteen, he moved with his family to Richmond, California, where his world was shaped by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the influence of a young minister. Kneisel ’s brother enlisted in the Navy while his parents worked in the shipyards, leaving Kneisel largely on his own. According to his family, his adventurous personality plus opportunity made him an “at-risk” youth, but the course of his life would be forever changed by the influence of two young men, Rev. Ross F. Hidy and Russ Ferguson.

Pastor Hidy was a neighbor who took Kneisel and other boys to church and taught Kneisel to play the trumpet, beginning a lifelong love of music. Hidy helped Kneisel and two friends get jobs at Yosemite National Park for three summers, drove the young men 167 miles each summer and picked them up when summer ended—all during a time of gas rationing!

Ferguson, an older teen, was Kneisel ’s youth minister and Boy Scout leader. Through his influence, Kneisel came to know Jesus and to love the word of God. Ferguson joined the Navy in 1945. After two weeks in the war, he lost his life on the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

As a preteen Kneisel ’s love for geography led to a hobby collecting stamps and coins and to a desire to see and learn about the world he was discovering. Love for God and a call to tell people about Jesus led him into full-time ministry his senior year of college. On June 10, 1951, he married, Charlene Ada Lewis, beginning seven decades of ministry on three continents.

Kneisel graduated from Richmond (California) High School and received the Bachelor of Arts in English from Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, and the Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

He served as a Southern Baptist pastor in Oklahoma and Texas before his family moved to the Cayman Islands, where he was pastor of four churches. While waiting to be appointed by the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board), Kneisel was pastor of Sunset Baptist Church, Ponca City, Oklahoma.

In 1963, he and Charlene were appointed missionaries to the South American nation of Guyana. After returning to the U.S., Kneisel was pastor of Annaville Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, Texas, and associate pastor/director of ministries at Houston’s First Baptist Church, First Baptist Church Pearland, Texas, and Oak Ridge Baptist Church, Spring, Texas. Kneisel was interim pastor of International Baptist Church, Manila, Philippines, and an evangelism and church growth trainer in India before returning to Houston’s First Baptist as minister of missions from 1985 to 1996.

Kneisel left a legacy of missions and a love for all peoples everywhere he went, said his family. Houston’s First partnered to start or revitalize 86 churches in the Houston area during Kneisel’s tenure, including new Vietnamese, Laotian, Filipino, Eritrean and Spanish congregations. He also led mission trips all over the world.

A passion to see declining churches return to vital ministries led Harvey to write about strategies for church growth. He co-authored Multi-housing Congregations: How to Start and Grow Christian Congregations in Multi-housing Communities and wrote The Lazarus Effect: New Life for Declining Churches.

He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Charlene Ada Lewis Kneisel; four daughters, Diana Clark (Robert), Debbie Floyd (Doug), Tresa Hightower (Greg) and Denise Alcover (Aaris); nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

A celebration of his life was held April 16, 2021, at Houston’s First Baptist Church.

Memorial donations may be sent to Macedonian Call Foundation, 10101 Southwest Freeway, Suite 103, Houston, TX 77074, or online at, or to International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230, or online at

Read an obituary here.