Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

By the time Ludwig arrived back at Bethlehem, the plan to turn the place into a missionary-sending hub was coming along well. The system that was being put in place, which they called the Economy, was now generating enough money to support fifteen preachers and teachers. The rules of the Economy were strict. Members pledged to use all of their time, labor, and talents to build up the community.

The church owned all of the land, and the elders assigned each person a job. As they had been in Herrnhut, the people were divided into choirs. But unlike Herrnhut, members could not own their own business or make their own living. Instead, everyone’s daily needs were met through people working together. The community built their own houses and produced their own clothes and boots, even sawing their own lumber, spinning their own yarn, and weaving their own cloth. They also tilled the land and planted crops and vegetables. They raised sheep, cattle, and chickens to provide meat, milk, and eggs. They also made their own bread. Soon the system became so efficient that they produced much more than they needed for themselves. They took their surplus food and manufactured goods to the market, where the items fetched top prices. All of the extra money was used to send out and support the community’s missionaries.

The people lived a strict and disciplined life. The Moravian elders knew that it was only for a time, but the need for missionaries among the immigrants and the Indians was so great that everyone agreed that it was worth the sacrifice. The community even made up a motto in Latin that expressed their commitment to one another: In commune oramus, in commune laboramus, in commune patimur, in commune gaudeamus (Together we pray, together we labor, together we suffer, together we rejoice).

At the same time that the Economy was being established at Bethlehem, George Whitefield’s venture at nearby Nazareth had fallen on financial hard times, and the property was put up for sale. Seizing the opportunity, Ludwig and the Moravians bought the property and established a community there as well. Soon both the Bethlehem and Nazareth communities were working diligently to send out more and more missionaries among the Indians.

Ludwig himself made two more daring trips into Indian country. On the first trip, he traveled to Shekomeko in Dutchess County, New York, about twenty-five miles east of the Hudson River on the border with Connecticut. Benigna, Anna, and Conrad accompanied him on the journey. It took them a week on rough trails over the Blue Mountains, through New Jersey, and across the Hudson River to get there.

Shekomeko was where Christian Henry Rauch had established a small mission two and a half years before among the Mahican Indians. Ludwig spent eight days at Shekomeko, where he baptized new converts and established the first Indian congregation of the Moravian Church. He also spent some time planning for an extension of the mission there to begin evangelizing among the neighboring white population.

On the second trip, Ludwig spent six weeks traveling up the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania to meet with the Shawnee Indians to ask permission for Moravian missionaries to enter their territory and work among them. The Shawnees, however, rebuffed Ludwig’s overtures, and Ludwig returned to Bethlehem, disappointed but not defeated by the experience.

In early 1743 Ludwig felt that it was time for him to return home to Europe. He had heard some disturbing rumors about what was going on among the Moravians in Germany, and he decided he needed to go and get to the bottom of these troubling reports.

Chapter 12
The Sifting Time

Ludwig chartered a ship called the James in New York to take him and the group traveling with him to London. On January 20, 1743, the James set sail under the command of Captain Nicholas Garrison. The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean went well until February 14, when the James ran into a fierce storm near the Scilly Islands off the southwesternmost point of England. Soon huge waves crashed against the ship, and the wind lashed at its rigging. As the ship creaked and pitched and rolled, everyone aboard became afraid—everyone, that is, except Ludwig. Prayer and hymn singing kept him calm and at peace throughout the whole ordeal.

When jagged, menacing rocks appeared on the storm-battered horizon, the captain informed Ludwig that the James would be smashed on them in a matter of hours. There was no way to avoid being carried to their deaths. Calmly Ludwig looked Captain Garrison in the eye. “This storm will be over in two hours,” he announced with a certainty that seemed to leave the captain dumbfounded.

After two hours Ludwig informed his traveling companions to go out on deck and check on the weather. On deck they found Captain Garrison staring up at the sky. The ship was now bathed in sunlight that had broken through the thick blanket of billowing storm clouds above. The wind had died down and with it the mountainous seas.

After setting his ship back on course, Captain Garrison sought out Ludwig. “How could you so accurately forecast the storm’s end?” he demanded. “I have never seen a storm end so suddenly. We were only minutes away from being cast onto the rocks!”

Ludwig smiled as he answered the captain. “For more than twenty years now I have enjoyed a trusting relationship with the Savior. So when I find myself in difficult or dangerous situations, the first thing I do is ask myself whether I am to blame. If I find something that the Savior is displeased with, I get down on my knees and ask His forgiveness. And when I do this, He forgives me, and at the same time I usually know how things will work out. Of course, if the Savior does not choose to tell me the outcome, I remain silent and conclude that it is better for me not to know. However, this was not one of those times. Instead the Savior assured me that the storm would pass and last only two more hours.”

“It is a fantastic explanation you give, Count Zinzendorf!” Captain Garrison exclaimed. “Normally I would not be inclined to believe it. But I have observed you on this voyage—the Christianity you practice, the relationship you have with the Savior—and find I can easily accept your explanation.”

Ludwig nodded. “We are often told to talk with God, but how wonderful it is to know that God talks back to us, don’t you think?”

Three days later, on February 17, the James finally reached Dover, England.

From Dover Ludwig traveled to London, where he was amazed to learn of the growth of the Moravian Church in England during his time in Pennsylvania. Under the leadership of August Spangenberg, the church was particularly thriving in Yorkshire, in the north of the country. Ludwig decided to travel there and visit with his old friend August and see the work firsthand.

As he traveled north to Yorkshire, Ludwig, in keeping with the rumors he had heard while still in Pennsylvania, began to be concerned that the growth of the church in England had come at the expense of other denominations. The idea that the Moravians might be growing through members from other denominations coming to join them went against all the principles of unity and harmony among denominations that he strove for. When he finally arrived in Yorkshire, his mind was soon put at ease. He found that most of the people involved in the new Moravian work had not come from other established denominations, as he had feared.

After several weeks in England, Ludwig set out for Herrnhaag. Again sad news awaited him. On his return home he learned that yet another of his children, five-year-old Johanna, had died. She, too, had been buried in God’s Acre at Herrnhaag. Now only four children remained: seventeen-year-old Benigna, who had accompanied him on the trip to Pennsylvania; sixteen-year-old Christian Renatus, who was acting as the pastor at Herrnhaag; seven-year-old Maria; and three-year-old Elisabeth.

Ludwig was glad to see Erdmuth again. Erdmuth had been away for eight months visiting church groups all over Europe and had not been present when both David and Johanna had died. Ludwig grew concerned for her, wondering how she would cope with grieving for two more of her children.

At Herrnhaag Ludwig found that the rumors he had heard while in Pennsylvania were true. The Moravian Church was trying to start new branches all across Europe by encouraging Christians to leave their own denominations and join with them. It was exactly the opposite of what he had hoped for. Ludwig wanted to see the Moravians help to bring unity among churches, not compete with them. He called a synod and told the elders of the Moravian Church what he thought of their expansion plans. Meekly the leaders apologized for their selfishness and pledged to follow Ludwig’s vision for uniting Christians of all denominations.

In an attempt to explain to the people at Herrnhaag what being a true Christian really was, Ludwig found things beginning to go terribly wrong. He wanted to find simple words to talk about the work of the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit stirred the hearts of people from all denominations to love one another and work together. Since most Christians understood that God was their Father and Jesus their brother, in an effort to help them understand the work of the Spirit, Ludwig preached a series of sermons on how the Holy Spirit was their mother. This was very confusing for many at Herrnhaag, but they listened dutifully.

Next, Ludwig and his son, Christian Renatus, started preaching on the wounds of Christ as He hung on the cross. They got more and more poetic in their words, until they were telling the community that they were little “splinters in the cross” or “suckers of the Holy Blood of Christ.” The community added its own twist to this teaching, and soon the church services were becoming quite strange.

Not long after this, Ludwig decided to invite the most pious of his followers to join the “Order of Little Fools.” The basic idea was a good one, based upon Jesus’ words, “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” However, the new order did not truly follow Jesus’ teaching. Christians at Herrnhaag began trying to “prove” how childlike they were. Usually this amounted to not doing any work and instead singing and playing all day long. The members of the order threw themselves huge parties, all the while trying to imitate little children. They also began to look down on missionaries as people who did not understand the “play way.”

While all this was happening, Ludwig did not notice that the community at Herrnhaag was getting dangerously off track, even though many people tried to warn him. Unconcerned, he often left Herrnhaag to visit other Moravians in need of his leadership.

In December 1743 Ludwig made a daring trip to Russia with Christian Renatus and a few others. Three Moravian missionaries on their way to set up a missionary work in Mongolia had been imprisoned at Saint Petersburg upon entering Russia. Following their imprisonment, Ludwig had sent an envoy to Russia to see what could be done about gaining their freedom. Regrettably the same fate had befallen the envoy. The entire group was arrested and thrown into jail with the three missionaries. At the same time, an edict had been issued in Russia banning the work of the Moravians in the province of Livonia, where their work had been growing rapidly. Ludwig set out in person to see what he could do about the situation.

On December 23 Ludwig arrived in Riga, the capital of Livonia, where he hoped to get formal permission to carry on to Saint Petersburg. To his surprise, instead of receiving formal permission to travel on, Ludwig and his traveling party were themselves arrested by the governor of the region and locked up in the citadel, Riga’s military fort. Ludwig was astounded that someone of his social rank would be treated this way. He waited patiently for the governor to recognize the impropriety of what he had done and send him on to Saint Petersburg.

Three weeks passed before anything happened. However, what happened was not what Ludwig expected. Instead of granting Ludwig permission to carry on to Saint Petersburg, the governor was ordered to expel Ludwig and his band of Moravian travelers from Russian soil. Three days later, a contingent of soldiers escorted Ludwig back to the Prussian border. The imprisoned missionaries would spend three and a half more years in jail before being released.