George Müller (1805-1898) was unique among 19th-century missionaries. The majority of these missionaries came from the English-speaking world and preached the gospel to those who did not speak English. Müller, a native of Prussia, chose to minister in Bristol, England instead of far-off Asia or Africa.
His impact on the English people was tremendous. Müller was first and foremost a preacher, but he is best remembered for taking in and taking care of thousands of orphans in his adopted city of Bristol. His life is a testament to God’s providence and generosity in times of need.
George Müller was born on September 27, 1805, in the town of Kroppenstedt in the Kingdom of Prussia (now in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany). His father was a tax collector who worked for the Prussian government.
Because his father was a tax collector, the younger Müller’s love for money was nurtured at home during his youth. George’s love for money and his recklessness with it landed him in prison in 1821. He was sent to prison after he rented a room at an inn and tried to check out without paying its owner.
George had a slight change of heart during his brief stint in prison. Upon his release, he went to a school at Nordhausen. He went on to the University of Halle in 1822 to study the classics and theology. His father sent him to these schools so he could begin his life as a comfortable Lutheran clergyman.
Studying theology, however, did not stop him from getting into trouble. His partner-in-crime was a friend named Beta. Little did he know that Beta would be instrumental in his road to redemption. One day, Beta invited George to join a meeting with a Christian group. This group held a meeting every Saturday in the house of one of its members.
George agreed to join Beta. As the meeting went on, it seemed that God was already changing his life for the better. This event had a profound effect on him, and he was no longer the young and reckless man that he was before.
In 1826, he met and befriended the wealthy missionary Hermann Ball. George was inspired by Ball’s work among the Jews in Poland, leading him to decide to become a missionary too. He wrote to his father informing him of his decision, but he was rebuffed. However, his father’s rejection of his chosen career did not deter him.
In 1827, he applied to the England-based Continental Society to become an assistant to the elderly Bucharest-based missionary, Dr. Tholuck. Unfortunately, this plan failed to materialize because of the brewing war between Russia and Turkey.
Dr. Tholuck offered him a chance to work as a missionary among the Jews in England through the London Missionary Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews. George agreed, and in 1828, he was accepted by the London Missionary Society as a missionary student.
Leaving Prussia was next to impossible because he had not rendered the mandatory 3-year military service and therefore could not be issued a passport. University students like George were required to serve for only a year, but he felt that the military was not for him.
Müller was desperate to start his new life as a missionary, but he was stuck in Prussia without a passport. To make things worse, he contracted an infection that burst a blood vessel in his stomach. The illness turned out to be a blessing. He was declared unfit to serve in the military, and was issued a passport shortly afterward.
The Evangelist in England
George left Prussia on the 3rd of February, 1829, and arrived in London on March 19 of the same year. He fell ill once again as soon as he landed in London, and he was advised to travel to the seaside town of Teignmouth in Devon for his recovery. It was in Teignmouth that he met Scottish preacher and future lifelong friend, Henry Craik. He stayed in Teignmouth for some time, preaching among the locals in the Ebenezer Chapel while he recovered.
He returned to London in September 1829 in hopes of starting his work among the Jews. He wrote to the London Missionary Society, but he did not get a response. He began preaching to the Jews in London even without the support of the Society.
George began his career as a missionary in London by teaching Sunday school to a group of Jewish boys and distributing religious tracts. He wrote once again to the Society after some time, but the Society informed him that they were severing their connection with him.
George was devastated, but this did not stop him from continuing his service to the Lord as a missionary. He finally went back to Teignmouth to stay and preach in the Ebenezer Chapel. His return to Teignmouth was not in vain because it was here that he met the sister of a fellow missionary and his future wife, Mary Groves.
George and Mary were married on the 7th of October, 1830 after a short courtship. The couple had two children, Lydia (born 1832) and Elijah (born 1834). Only Lydia survived into adulthood.
Soon after his marriage, George announced that he would not accept a regular salary from the Teignmouth congregation. He told the congregants that he would accept donations only. He had a box placed in the chapel, and whoever wanted to donate some money could drop them into the box. By God’s grace, the Müller household never ran out of funds and supplies thanks to the benevolence of the members of the congregation.
The Bristol Orphanage
In 1832, George’s friend Henry Craik invited him north to Bristol. In the spring of the same year, he and his wife joined Craik at Bethesda Chapel in Bristol. Preaching was his main responsibility, but this job did not deter him from pursuing other interests.
He founded day schools for young boys and girls. He also established adult schools, as well as Sunday schools. It was in Bristol in 1834 that he established the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad.
Just like in Teignmouth, George did not receive financial support from the government and relied only on private donations. Surprisingly, the donations he received were more than enough to support his organization and the thousands of orphans he took care of.
The Müllers work among the orphans of Bristol began in 1836. They first took in thirty orphaned girls in their home on Wilson Street in Bristol. As the years went by and as their brood of orphans grew, the Müllers had to rent three additional houses. Apart from orphaned girls, they also took in orphaned boys and younger children.
The routine in the Müller household was simple. Bible reading and prayer were mandatory after breakfast. Müller made sure that the children were educated, and even secured apprenticeships and jobs for them when it was time to move on. Each child received a Bible and two-days’ worth of clothing when it is time to leave the Müller’s orphanage.
By 1845, the couple already had 300 children in their care. The children under their care increased so much that they had to have a larger house built in Ashley Down, Bristol to house all of them. By 1870, there were more than 1,700 children in his organization’s care.
Despite the enormity of their financial needs, George was notable because of his steadfast trust that God will answer his family and the orphans’ needs. He was meticulous when it came to keeping financial records, and he even invited trusted individuals and donors to scrutinize them. Müller was also diligent in providing receipts to make sure that the donors knew how their donations were spent.
George’s wife Mary died in 1870. He married Susannah Grace Sanger the following year. In 1871, the couple left Bristol and embarked on a missionary journey all over England, Scotland, and Ireland.
By 1876, they had reached the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. They visited North America and was even welcomed into the White House in 1878. They came back to continental Europe in the same year, and back again to North America in the following year.
Beginning in 1881, the couple toured and evangelized in the Levant, Turkey, Greece, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia. They reached India in 1883, as well as Australia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia in 1885. The Müllers returned to continental Europe in 1890.
George and his wife returned to England in 1892. He died in Bristol on March 10, 1898.
Picture by: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/treasure/tr98/98-01.jpg, Public Domain, Link
Miller, Basil. George Muller: Man of Faith & Miracles. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1941.
Müller George, and Diana L. Matisko. The Autobiography of George Müller. Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1985.
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