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History Book: The welfare of the children


WORLD Radio - History Book: The welfare of the children

George Müller displays extraordinary faith providing for British children orphaned from the cholera epidemic

George Müller Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, May 20th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Up next, the WORLD History Book. This week in 1832, a German Christian named George Müller moves to Bristol, England with a unique goal.

Here’s WORLD associate correspondent Caleb Welde.

WELDE: Friday, May 25th, 1832. George and Mary Müller step into a city gripped by industrial revolution and fear. Word in the street is that the Cholera epidemic has reached Britain. Müller’s wife is five-months pregnant with their first child.

George Müller has agreed to help pastor two, non-denominational chapels in the city. Two years before coming to Bristol, Müller renounced his salary. It was the same year he married. He opted instead to live off donations placed in a box at the back of his old church. John Piper wrote about Müller in his 2018 book, 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy. Audio from Desiring God:

JOHN PIPER: Never asked people for money again. He knew this was not mandated in the Bible. Paul clearly asked people for money.

Müller’s goal was to display the character of God. Here's a section from his autobiography, read by Kim Rassmussen.

GEORGE MÜLLER: [KIM RASSMUSSEN] I long to have something to point my brethren to, as a visible proof, that our God and Father is the same faithful God as ever He was…

As the Müllers try to settle in, the pandemic worsens. On August 29th the British government forbids public gatherings to stop the spread, but with eternity on the horizon, Müllers’ congregations swell. Though he regularly visits cholera patients, he never contracts the disease. 

Two years later (1834), Müller embarks on a new project.

PIPER: The Scripture Knowledge Institute for Home and Abroad. It had five, what he called objects—we'd call them ministries—which sprung out from his church: schools for children and adults, 2) Bible distribution, 3) missionary support—he was a great supporter of Hudson Taylor, 4) tract and book distribution—and the most famous one, number five) in his words, “to board and clothe and scripturally educate destitute children who have lost both parents by death.

Roughly 40% of England’s workforce are children. They generally begin work around the age of nine, though some orphans start as early as five.

PIPER: There were accomodations in all of Britain for 3600 orphans. There were twice that many children under eight in prison in 1834 in England.

Müller and his wife begin inviting homeless children into their home. By 1836, they’re housing thirty girls. He begins renting additional houses on his street to house boys and infants.

The number grows to a hundred and thirty by 1845, and the neighbors start to complain. Müller begins praying for a place to expand, and finds seven acres outside town. There’d even be space for vegetable gardens!

By 1855, more than seven hundred children are on a waiting list to get into the orphanage.

Two years later, Charles Dickens—author of the famous orphan tale Oliver Twist—hears about Müeller’s work and publishes a lengthy article praising the work.

Dickens’ article also mentions “Brother Müller’s” goals for establishing orphan houses. His chief aim?

MÜLLER: [RASSMUSSEN] That God may be glorified, should He be pleased to furnish me with the means, on it's being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him, and that thus the faith of His children may be strengthened.

His second priority was the spiritual welfare of the children, followed by their physical welfare.

Through all of this, Müller refuses to ask for money, sort of. By now, Müller is publishing detailed reports of his requests to God and how he sees God providing. They circulate throughout the world to tens of thousands of people.

Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England

Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/From George Müller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson; New York; The Baker and Taylor Company

In 1870, the orphanage expands again making space for more than two thousand children.

Müller's wife becomes ill that same year. The doctor says it’s rheumatic fever.

MÜLLER: [RASSMUSSEN] The last portion which I read to my precious wife was this: The Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord gives grace and glory. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

The next year, Müller passes the reins of the orphanage to his son-in-law and remarries. He’d read the entire Bible about a hundred times by this point.

MÜLLER: [RASSMUSSEN] Above all things, see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you the Lord's work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls happy in God Himself. Day by day, seek to make this the most important business of your life. The secret of all true effectual service is joy in God.

At 70, he begins traveling to encourage missionaries. According to his biographer, Müeller speaks to more than three million people in forty-two countries.

PIPER: He did all of this while preaching every Sunday when he was in town at his church from 1830 to 1898…

Müller died at ninety-two, outliving his daughter and second wife. By then he’d read the Bible almost two hundred times and helped more than ten thousand orphans. Müller also recorded more than ten thousand specific answers to prayer, yet, always insisted, he did not have a special gift of faith.

MÜLLER: [RASSMUSSEN] Think not, dear reader, that I have the gift of faith. The faith which I am enabled to exercise, is altogether God’s own gift. He alone supports it. He alone can increase it. Moment by moment I depend on Him for it. And if I were only one moment left to myself, my faith would utterly fail.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Caleb Welde.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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