Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

While Ludwig could see the benefit of the residents of Herrnhaag dispersing this way to the four corners of the world, he chastised himself for allowing the community to get so out of balance during the sifting time. Had he paid more attention and listened to those who tried to warn him of the excesses they saw, perhaps Herrnhaag could have been saved. But he had not listened until it was too late. All he could do was learn from his mistake and help the Moravians from Herrnhaag find other places to live.

Around this time another letter reached Ludwig in London. This letter told about Friedrich Hocker’s arrival at Herrnhut on February 8, 1750. Friedrich was one of the two doctors Ludwig had commissioned to go as missionaries to the Guebres in Persia. Regrettably, the venture had not gone well for the two men. Along the way to the Guebres, they had twice been attacked and robbed by Kurdish bandits. During the second attack, Friedrich had been seriously wounded and almost died. Starving and nearly naked, the two men stumbled their way to Isfahan, where the British consul took them in and helped them. The consul also told them that most of the Guebre people had been massacred and that the few who had survived the massacre had been exiled. Unable to go on, the two missionaries decided to turn back to Herrnhut. On their return journey they were once again attacked and robbed by bandits. This time Johannes Rüffer was killed in the attack. Friedrich buried his companion along the way and continued to Herrnhut.

The letter saddened Ludwig. He’d had high hopes for the mission to Persia, but it was not to be at this time.

During 1751 Ludwig also learned that Herrnhut had lost one of its founders. Christian David had died at the age of sixty-one. Tears streamed down Ludwig’s cheeks as he received the news. Ludwig thought back to the day in 1722 when he had first met Christian David, who had made such an impact on him with his enthusiasm and his drive. It was that enthusiasm and drive that had allowed Christian David to tirelessly lead Moravians from persecution to religious freedom at Herrnhut. In the process, Christian David had succeeded in transplanting the hidden seed of the ancient Unitas Fratrum from Moravia to a place where it could take root and grow and flourish once more. Ludwig would miss his old friend.

Despite the harrowing stories, such as Friedrich Hocker’s, a growing stream of Moravians offered to go out as missionaries. In 1752, a group of Moravian missionaries set sail on the Hope from England, bound for the Labrador coast of northeastern Canada, where they planned to establish mission stations and work among the Eskimos of that region. Upon arrival on the Labrador coast, the first four missionaries went ashore and prepared to build a house at a place they named Hopedale.

After letting these missionaries off, the Hope sailed farther north up the coast to a place where five more missionaries and the captain went ashore. This is when things went terribly wrong. A group of Eskimos lured the men into an ambush and murdered them. The first mate of the Hope, who had stayed aboard ship, sailed back down the coast and evacuated the other four missionaries to Europe. Again Ludwig was greatly saddened that another mission endeavor had not gone as planned. But he accepted it as God’s will.

The year 1752 was to bring Ludwig more sadness. Christian Renatus, who was still in London with his father, became ill with tuberculosis in late February and died on May 28 at the age of twenty-four. He was buried on the grounds of Lindsey House, the Moravian headquarters in Great Britain.

Fifty-two-year-old Ludwig grieved deeply for Christian Renatus, his only son to have survived to adulthood. During their time together in London, Ludwig had grown very close to his son. For many weeks afterward, tears would flow every time he thought of Christian Renatus. In a letter to the Moravian congregations concerning his son’s death, Ludwig wrote, “I do not understand it…He [God] himself will make it clear to all hearts.”

Erdmuth, who had been at Herrnhut when Christian Renatus had fallen ill, was in Zeist, Holland, on her way to London to visit him when news reached her of his death. She hurried across the English Channel and went straight to her son’s grave, where she wept bitterly. Ludwig tried to comfort her, but he was weighed down with his own sadness. Although Christian Renatus was their ninth child to die, Erdmuth seemed unable to accept his death. Eventually she felt strong enough to return to Herrnhut, but she was never quite the same.

After mourning the death of Christian Renatus, Ludwig turned his attention back to the business of the Moravian Church, and in 1753 some good news reached him. A report on the mission work in the West Indies encouraged Ludwig greatly. The Moravians had now established mission works on Saint Croix and Saint John as well as Saint Thomas. And the work on Saint Thomas was flourishing. The church there had more than one thousand baptized members! And the missionaries were regularly sharing the gospel with over four thousand slaves who spoke more than sixty dialects. Ludwig smiled to himself as he read the report and thought back to the day he had dropped off Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann at the fork in the road at Bautzen. What a wonderful job they had done in laying the foundation for Moravian missions on the island. And while Leonard had had the privilege of reaping the firstfruit—Oly—there was now much fruit on the island.

Ludwig received more good news in 1753. Negotiations with Lord Granville were finally completed, and the Moravians purchased the 100,000-acre tract of land they had been offered in North Carolina. Ludwig named the land Wachovia, after his family’s ancestral estate in Austria. Soon construction of a community modeled after Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, got under way. Ludwig named this new community Salem.

In February the following year, two plantation owners on the British island of Jamaica in the Caribbean asked Ludwig to appoint missionaries to come to the island and share the gospel with their slaves. Three Moravian missionaries were dispatched, and they arrived on Jamaica in October. The two planters fully supported the missionaries’ work, giving them land on which to establish a mission station. Soon other planters wanted missionaries on their plantations as well, and more Moravian missionaries arrived on the island, among them Christian Henry Rauch, who came from Pennsylvania. Christian Henry had been one of the first Moravian missionaries to evangelize among the North American Indians. Soon many slave converts were being baptized into the church on Jamaica.

By March 1755 Ludwig felt it was time to leave the work in England and return to Germany. He visited various Moravian congregations in Europe before meeting up with Erdmuth in Niesky. The two of them slipped quietly back into Herrnhut on June 2. Neither one wanted the usual fanfare that was associated with Ludwig’s appearances. However, it was hard to escape the joy that the community felt when word got around that their leader had returned. Hymns and sonatas were played in his honor, and a huge love feast was held. Ludwig was quite overcome by the outpouring of love, and he broke down in tears several times. The people in the villages around Herrnhut were also excited to have Count Zinzendorf back among them.

Not long after Ludwig’s arrival back at Herrnhut, Baron Huldenberg paid him a visit. The baron was the nobleman who had pushed hardest for Ludwig to be banished from Saxony nineteen years before.

Ludwig warmly welcomed Baron Huldenberg and the pastor from his estate, whom the baron had brought with him. He led them into the library, where they began the usual polite conversation. After a short while, Baron Huldenberg cleared his throat and looked nervously at Ludwig.

“I am here, Count Zinzendorf,” the baron began, “to return a letter to you. As you may have heard, in 1751 my estate was burned to the ground. The only building that remained standing was my manor house, but it was badly damaged by the fire. I asked for everything possible to be salvaged from it, and among the charred remains, one of my servants found this piece of paper.”

With that the baron reached very carefully into the leather pouch he was carrying and pulled out a scorched piece of paper. “It is dated 1735, and it is in your hand. I will read you what it says:

It pains me that you are suspicious of me and my dear Herrnhut.… Had I the honor to meet you personally, you would see that I am no lover of disorder. If you knew Herrnhut, you might even wish that your village were like it.… Your father and I had such a satisfactory conversation together in Prague, that it distresses me to have a misunderstanding with his son.… I assure you further that I am faithfully yours, Zinzendorf.

“At the time,” the baron went on, “I must confess that your letter only made me more angry with you and more determined to have you banished. But when I saw it again, after the fire, I was overcome with guilt for what I had done to you and your family. The truth is, I have heard nothing but good about your community, and you are a better man than I. I can only ask you to forgive me for the terrible wrong I have done and to count me as your friend and supporter of your work from now on.”

Ludwig fought back tears as he replied. “I can assure you, Baron Huldenberg, that I have nothing but goodwill toward you. What you meant for evil the Lord turned to good. I submit in all things to God’s will, and I believe my banishment served a greater purpose. As for your offer to support our work, we would like the opportunity to send Moravians to your estates to perform Christian work.”

“Of course, of course,” the baron responded with great enthusiasm. “I shall put my pastor at your disposal. May God expand and bless all that you do.”

When Baron Huldenberg left, Ludwig hurried to find Erdmuth. The baron had given him the charred letter, and Ludwig read it aloud to Erdmuth and excitedly told her of the wonderful reconciliation that had taken place between the two of them.

True to his word, Baron Huldenberg became a staunch supporter of the Herrnhut community and sent his pastor along to the first Herrnhut Ministers Conference, which was held there the following year.

By now finances were a recurring problem for Ludwig and the Moravians. The church had two main sources of income. One was Ludwig’s personal income from his various estates and investments, most of which he gave to the cause, and the other was the money that the communities raised by selling the produce and goods they had grown and made. However, the Moravians were always stretching their money to the limits so that they could establish more communities and send out more missionaries. The loss of Herrnhaag had cost thousands of pounds, and the Moravians in England had made some bad investments that left them deeply in debt.

It was time for an Economical Conference to see what could be done about the dire situation. It was a tense time; everyone seemed to have a different idea of what had gone wrong and how to fix it. Eventually five new measures were adopted. The first one separated the Zinzendorf property from the general property of the church. The second put the property of the church under the control of a College of Directors, made up of capable men who understood finances. The third measure committed the college to paying off at a regular rate all the debts the church had incurred, while the fourth measure asked all members of the church to pay a fixed amount each year into the general church fund. The final measure suggested that all those who paid into the general fund should have the right to send representatives to the church’s General Conference.

These were bold new steps for men who were used to asking Ludwig what they should do, but everyone decided it was for the best. Ludwig was now fifty-five years old, and his health was failing. In fact, he considered the Economical Conference one of the ways he could tidy up the Moravians’ affairs before he left them.