Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

Ludwig felt moved to help these settlers get along with one another and get on with the task of spreading the gospel among the Indians. He gathered a group of seven “pilgrims,” including his fifteen-year-old daughter Benigna, and set out for North America. Erdmuth stayed behind at Herrnhaag because her expertise was needed to keep the financial affairs of the Moravian Church on track. She also had another baby, their twelfth child, to look after. The baby, whose name was Elisabeth, had been born on April 25, 1740.

Ludwig and his pilgrim band arrived in New York City on November 29, 1741. They stayed there a week, meeting with the governor of the colony and other city officials. From New York they made their way overland to Philadelphia, where, as in New York, Ludwig met with the governor of the colony and other important people, including Benjamin Franklin.

While aboard ship, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Ludwig had decided that he would not be called Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. Too many Germans and other Europeans had fled to North America to get away from rigid social structures, and insisting on being addressed as Count could well serve to antagonize them. Besides, he was not coming to America as a German nobleman but as a fellow Christian. Instead of being addressed as Count Zinzendorf, Ludwig decided he would be known as Herr Louis von Thurnstein, Thurnstein being an old family title. The Quakers of Pennsylvania were soon referring to him as Friend Louis.

The Moravians in Pennsylvania were now led by David Nitschmann the carpenter, who had been ordained a bishop in the church. Under his leadership they had purchased five hundred acres of land at the junction of the Lehigh River and the Monocacy Creek. There the Moravians had already erected their first log meetinghouse and several homes. The land was located about fifty miles northwest of Philadelphia, deep in what was known as Indian country, and was a perfect base for ministering to the Indians.

It took Ludwig and Benigna and the others ten days to reach the new Moravian settlement, where a warm welcome awaited them. Ludwig was greatly impressed with the undaunted courage these Moravians showed living deep in the wilderness. The people had set up simple homes and had already gone out among the Indian tribes to share the gospel with them.

Two days later, on Christmas Eve, Ludwig preached to the group in the newly erected meetinghouse. It was during this sermon that he announced that the new settlement would be called Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in honor of Jesus’ birthplace.

Right after the new year, Ludwig set out from Bethlehem for Germantown, where he met with a man named Henry Antes. Even though Henry was not a Moravian, he too was deeply troubled by the lack of churches, pastors, and schools in Pennsylvania. He and Ludwig discussed the problem and decided to call a meeting, or synod, as they called it, of all the Christian denominations in the colony. On January 12, 1742, over one hundred people showed up to listen to Ludwig speak to them on laying aside their dislike for one another and working together for everyone’s benefit.

This was just the kind of work Ludwig had come to America to do, and the task energized him. He traveled the length and breadth of Pennsylvania, talking to all kinds of men and women about their church experiences and what could be done to bring Christians together.

Meanwhile Ludwig’s daughter Benigna set about opening the first boarding school for girls in America, and soon a thriving school was situated at Bethlehem.

More synods were held to discuss the future of the denominations in Pennsylvania. However, the Pennsylvania Germans began to argue and fight among themselves at these meetings. Some of them ended up hating each other more than they had before the synods took place. This was a disappointing outcome for Ludwig, who had hoped that these men and women of Pennsylvania who had been given the wonderful gift of religious freedom would use it wisely.

Still, Ludwig pressed on. A local band of Lutherans in Philadelphia who met in a barn on Arch Street invited him to be their pastor. They had not had a pastor for five years, mainly because they could not afford to support one. Ludwig accepted the position, not only working for free but paying for a permanent church to be built on Race Street. In addition, he preached at the nearby Reformed Church, which also did not have a pastor.

Once Ludwig could see that his plan for one united German church in Pennsylvania was not going to work out, he focused his attention on reaching out to the Indians. To do this, he and the other Moravian elders came up with a unique plan. They would convert the settlement at Bethlehem into a large missionary-sending center. Everyone in the settlement would be assigned one of two roles: he or she either would be a missionary/teacher or would dedicate himself or herself to supporting the missionary work with his or her time and money.

The 120 people who were now living at Bethlehem heartily agreed with the plan, and soon bands of men and women were preparing to travel deep into Indian country. One Moravian missionary, Christian Henry Rauch, had already gone out from Bethlehem to the Indians, and one evening he walked back into the settlement accompanied by an Indian man. Christian Henry introduced the Indian as Tschoop, and soon Tschoop and Ludwig were deep in conversation.

“Christian Henry tells me that you are a believer in Christ,” Ludwig began.

“Yes, I am,” Tschoop said, his eyes blazing with zeal.

“Tell me, brother, how did that come to be?”

Tschoop leaned back on his chair and folded his arms. “It is a simple story. I have been a heathen and grown old among the heathen, and I know how the heathen think. Once a preacher came to our village to explain to us that there was a God.” He stopped and chuckled to himself before continuing. “We asked him, ‘Do you think us so ignorant that we do not know that? Go back to where you came from!’

“And so he left us. Then another white man came, and he said, ‘You must not steal. You must not lie. You must not get drunk.’ And we said to him. ‘You fool. Don’t you think we know that already? Learn the lessons you preach yourself before you try to convince us with your teaching. For who are bigger thieves, or who lies more often, or who is more frequently drunk than your own white people?’

“And that preacher went away too. But then Christian Henry came to visit our village.”

“What was different about him?” Ludwig asked, leaning closer to Tschoop.

“Ah, he spoke as one who knew. He told us of a mighty one, the Lord of earth and sky, who left His glory in the heavens to give His life for all men. He told us that this God loves poor Indian sinners and longs to gain our love and to be our Savior and take us to His Father’s home above.”

“So that is what convinced you?” Ludwig asked.

“That, and what he did next. He concluded his preaching by saying, ‘Friends, I am weary with my journey, and I want to lay down my head, so please excuse me.’ And with that he lay down beside our spears and arrows and immediately fell into a peaceful sleep. We looked at each other, and I whispered, ‘This is new. Yes, we have heard glad tidings, and this sleeper here knows them to be true. Look, he knows he has a friend above, or why else would he sleep here with men of war all around him and the war whoop in his ear?’

“We watched him all night, and in the morning, we told him that he need not journey on, that we wanted him to stay and tell us more about the loving, dying one. And that is how I heard of Jesus and came to have fellowship with Him.”

“How wonderful!” Ludwig exclaimed. “When our Savior’s love and suffering are preached, He will draw all men to Himself. How many of you are Christians now?”

“There are thirty-one that I know of, and I am sure many more will follow,” Tschoop answered.

“So you are the firstfruit from among the Indian tribes. We are going to send out many others to preach the gospel to all tribes. Perhaps some of your tribe will go with us to spread the word!”

The two men continued talking into the night, and Ludwig became more excited than ever about sending missionaries into Indian country. There was just one problem. Many of the nearby Indian tribes were hostile toward white people and would not allow them to pass through their land. Ludwig realized that the Moravians would have to get permission to move among the Indian tribes before they preached to them. On July 4, 1742, he, Benigna, Anna Nitschmann, who was now at Bethlehem, and ten other Moravians set out on horseback to find the village of Meniolagomeka, where Ludwig had been told the chiefs of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederation were gathered.

For Ludwig, who in Europe traveled mostly in a coach, it was exhilarating to be on horseback, riding through the American wilderness. The group wound their way up and over the Blue Mountains, stopping at small Indian villages along the way. Five days after setting out from Bethlehem, they reached Meniolagomeka.

The chiefs of the Iroquois Confederation were not at the village, however. It was then that Ludwig had a strong feeling that they should travel on to Tulpehocken, where Conrad Weiser, a well-known mediator and interpreter between Indians and whites, lived. Ludwig had met Conrad when he attended one of the synods. He was impressed with Conrad’s understanding of how the Indians thought.

When the group reached Tulpehocken, they found Conrad and the Indian chiefs they had been searching for. Each chief was dressed in buckskin pants and moccasins, with a blanket draped across one of his shoulders, and wore a feather headdress. To Ludwig, the men looked both fierce and noble.

With Conrad’s help, Ludwig and the Moravians began a long and fruitful conversation with the chiefs. At first the chiefs were reserved, but Ludwig spoke quietly, explaining how the Moravians meant them no harm and were not looking to take their natural resources or cause them any disturbance. Slowly Ludwig noticed that the chiefs’ attitudes began to soften, and they began asking questions. By the end of their time together, the chiefs of the Six Nations promised Ludwig that the Moravians could pass through the land of the Iroquois Confederation as friends and not as strangers. They could also spend time in Iroquois territory if they so desired. To seal their agreement, the chiefs gave Ludwig a belt fashioned from 186 small beads made from polished shells called wampum, which many Indian tribes used for money or in ceremonies like this one.

Following the meeting with the chiefs of the Six Nations, Ludwig went on to Philadelphia before returning to Bethlehem. A letter from Erdmuth that bore sad news was waiting for him in Philadelphia. Two months before, their four-year-old son David had died and was buried in God’s Acre at Herrnhaag. Of the twelve Zinzendorf children, only five were still alive.

There was also good news from home. In June 1742 Frederick the Great, the young king of Prussia, had come into possession of the territory of Silesia. Upon taking possession of this land, King Frederick had asked for Moravians to move there and set up settlements as they had done at Herrnhut and Herrnhaag. The king had also officially recognized the Moravian Church as an independent church with its own clergy. The only thing the church was forbidden to do was to try to attract new members out of the State Church. The Moravian Church was allowed, however, to accept new members from among those people who sought them out of their own free will. This kind of official recognition was a wonderful breakthrough.

Still more good news awaited Ludwig in a letter from George Schmidt, who sent a report of his work in South Africa among the Hottentots. Several months before, George had baptized his first Hottentot convert. Several others had been baptized a short time afterward, and now a small church had been established among them. However, George reported that the Dutch authorities in South Africa were not happy about what he was doing, and pressure was building to have him removed from the colony.