Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

As the coach carrying him, his mother, and his tutor, Christian Hohmann, bounced along through the Saxon countryside toward Halle, Ludwig was lost in his thoughts, wondering what to expect when he arrived at his destination. Eventually his mother’s words broke through his musing.

“I am sure you will enjoy living in Halle. There are so many interesting things to see there. Professor Franke does much more besides run the Paedagogium, the school you will be attending.”

“What else does he do?” Ludwig asked.

“He runs a large orphanage, a school for poor boys and girls, and a print shop that produces Bibles. There’s even a botanical garden and a drug store. I am sure you will find many things to interest you,” his mother said. “Living in the country with your grandmother has no doubt been fun, but now it is time to experience city life. After all, when you grow up, you will be serving in the royal court at Dresden, like your father did.”

Ludwig did not share his mother’s enthusiasm. All he knew was that he was leaving behind his grandmother and Aunt Henriette and the warm, Christian atmosphere they had created, where arguments were solved with prayer and forgiveness. He tried to comfort himself with the thought that Professor August Franke’s school was a Christian school. His hope was that his life there would be as pleasant as it had been at his grandmother’s castle.

Finally the wheels of the coach crackled along the cobblestone streets of Halle. Ludwig looked out the window at this town that was to be his new home. It was grim compared to Gross-Hennersdorf. The buildings that lined the streets were close together, people were everywhere, and barely a tree was in sight. Gone were the woods and meadows he liked to wander in around the castle. To make matters worse, a steady rain had set in, making everything seem dank and heavy. Eventually the coach pulled to a halt in front of a large, gray, stone building. A servant helped Ludwig and his mother down from the coach and led them inside, where Professor Franke awaited them in the foyer.

“Countess von Natzmer, so wonderful to see you,” the professor said politely.

Ludwig’s mother curtsied. “Thank you, Herr Franke. This is my son, Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. You have met him before at my mother’s castle.”

August Franke gave a small bow and then shook Ludwig’s hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you again. I will do everything I can to make sure you are comfortable.”

“It is good to make your acquaintance again, Herr Franke,” Ludwig said respectfully.

“And here is Ludwig’s tutor, Herr Christian Hohmann. He is particularly gifted in teaching Latin and French, and I am sure you will find him most useful,” the countess said.

Ludwig watched as his tutor bowed to Professor Franke. His mother had told him that it was normal for the sons of nobility to bring their own tutors with them to boarding school. Christian Hohmann would help teach all of the boys at the school, but he would room with Ludwig and keep a close eye on his studies.

“I must be going soon,” Ludwig’s mother said. “It is not good for the boy if I dally here. However, before I go, I must tell you one thing. My son is a sharp and intelligent young man, but he must be reined in lest he become proud and presume too much on his abilities.”

Professor Franke nodded, and Ludwig felt himself turning bright red at his mother’s remarks. He became even more embarrassed when he realized that two older boys standing nearby had heard her words. The two boys smirked at each other.

Much to Ludwig’s chagrin, word of what his mother had told Professor Franke spread quickly around the school. Soon the other boys began to taunt him. “There goes the boy who is too smart for his own good!” they laughed. “Better watch out for him. He has pride written all over him.”

Everywhere Ludwig went, students seemed to be whispering and nudging each other as he passed by. On several occasions boys tripped him in the corridors, and his books sprawled across the marble floors. He picked them up as quickly as he could and hurried off to class, but he was late twice. The teacher would not listen to his explanation, and Ludwig felt the sting of a paddle across his backside. Another time a student tipped pepper into his soup, and when Ludwig coughed and spluttered over it, he was made to stand outside the dining hall for the remainder of the lunchtime.

For the first time, Ludwig realized just how small and puny he was. At home in the castle, it had not mattered that he was short and that his lungs ached when he exercised, but at school he was constantly picked on because of his size.

All of this was a rude awakening for a ten-year-old boy who was used to being loved and accepted by everyone who knew him. Not surprisingly, it was only a matter of weeks before Ludwig was dreading to get out of bed in the morning. His tutor was unwilling to do anything about the situation. In fact, he seemed to make things worse. When Ludwig complained to him about the way the bigger boys were picking on him, Christian replied, “You deserve the treatment you get. Your beloved grandmother can’t protect you here! It’s time to toughen up and stop acting like a spoiled brat.”

Ludwig felt tears forming in his eyes, but Herr Hohmann had not finished with him yet. “I’ve always thought that your grandmother thought far too much of you, and if you tell her I said that, I shall tell her you are too lazy to study.”

Ludwig was horrified. Where could he go to get help? What if the older boys carried through on their threats to beat him up? Who would believe it wasn’t his fault? He had no answers to these questions.

Professor Franke was certainly not the man to go to. He believed Christian’s lies about Ludwig being lazy. At lunch the boys ate with the professor. They sat in order of social rank, and being a count of the Holy Roman Empire, the highest rank of counts in German nobility, Ludwig sat right next to Professor Franke. But this honored position brought him no comfort. Throughout the meal the professor would chastise Ludwig, taking pains to point out all of the things the boy did not yet know. Sometimes, to make his point, he would order Ludwig to stand in the street with donkey’s ears on his head and a placard around his neck that read “Lazy Donkey.”

Ludwig lived in a state of fear and shock. The atmosphere of the Paedagogium, despite its being a Christian school, was very different from his grandmother’s castle. It felt to him more like hell than heaven on earth. Despite his cruel treatment, Ludwig refused to let the situation defeat him. As he lay in bed at night anguishing over the unjust treatment that had been meted out to him during the day, he would mutter over and over to himself in Latin, “This shame shall not crush me. On the contrary, it shall raise me up.”

Chapter 3
Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed

After Ludwig had endured the bullying by the other boys for nearly two years, it gradually began to die down. School life slowly improved for him, though he was often homesick and friendless. In 1712 Christian left, and another tutor, Daniel Cristenius, replaced him. Daniel was a gifted scholar and good teacher, but he had little respect for the views of Pietists and seemed to take his frustrations with these views out on Ludwig. Herr Cristenius taunted Ludwig when he tried to pray or read his Bible, but Ludwig continued anyway. Ludwig also sought out friends among the few boys who were not bullies. Under his urging this handful of the less popular boys started small prayer meetings. Whenever and wherever they could get away from the ridicule of the other boys and the mocking eyes of Daniel, they met together and prayed fervently.

One particular lunchtime in 1712, Ludwig sat at his usual dining place beside Professor Franke. Across the table from him sat a man who was visiting the professor.

“Allow me to introduce you to Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg,” Professor Franke said to the boys as lunch was served. “Herr Ziegenbalg is a graduate of Halle University and now a missionary with the Danish-Halle mission in India.”

Ludwig’s ears pricked up at this last comment. A missionary! He had never before seen a real live missionary who served in a foreign land. As soon as the meal was served, Ludwig introduced himself to Bartholomaus. “Please tell me all about your missionary work,” he requested politely.

At first Bartholomaus looked a little surprised that a twelve-year-old boy would be interested in what he did, but he soon warmed to his topic.

“I, with my associate Heinrich Plütschau, have been working in Tranquebar on the southeast coast of India. India is very different from Europe. The language, the food, the people, the weather—everything is so different. Slowly but steadily the Tamil people are responding to the message of salvation.”

Bartholomaus took a breath, and Ludwig leaned forward in his seat, eager to hear more.

“But we have had our share of setbacks. The Danish East India Company is very suspicious of our work. They would rather we let the people alone and went home, and they have made things difficult for us. They have even thrown me in prison. But we progress. The church there is growing, and we have translated the New Testament into the local language.”

“So you are fluent in the local dialect? Is it called Tamil?” Ludwig asked.

“Yes. Tamil is a very different language from those of Europe, but I have managed to learn it.” With that Bartholomaus spoke a few sentences in Tamil.

Ludwig was most impressed. And he was surprised when someone in the room answered back in Tamil. Ludwig’s eyes followed in the direction of the voice, and there on the other side of the dining room sat an Indian man. Ludwig had been so focused on the conversation with Bartholomaus that he had not noticed the man. Now he stared at the first non-European he had ever seen. The man was of medium build, was dressed in white, and had skin and hair as dark as coal. Ludwig could not divert his gaze from him.

“He is one of our early converts and is now a great help in our work,” Bartholomaus said, following Ludwig’s gaze.

Ludwig sat spellbound through lunch, listening to all Bartholomaus had to say about being a missionary in India. When lunch was over, he could hardly wait to catch up with his Swiss friend Frederick von Watteville.

“Frederick, I had the most amazing conversation over lunch with Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg. He has such interesting stories to tell about life there. And did you see the Indian man he brought with him?”

Frederick nodded, and Ludwig went on to tell him all that he had learned.

“I am going to make a vow today,” Frederick said very seriously when Ludwig had finished speaking, “I am going to vow to do all I can do to work toward the conversion of the heathen.”

Ludwig nodded in agreement. “I will join you. Perhaps we can do more together than either of us could do alone.”

“I am sure we could,” Frederick agreed, clapping Ludwig on the back. “Though, of course, it would be out of the question for either of us to be missionaries. Think of what our families would say!”

Ludwig nodded glumly. Even though he had been raised by a pious grandmother, his future was all mapped out for him. He, like Frederick, was the son of a noble family. When he finished school, he would go on to university and then take a position in the royal court of Saxony. Frederick would follow the same course in Switzerland.

“Although we cannot go, we can seek out others who will go and help them to be successful,” Frederick said.

“Yes, we could!” Ludwig replied, thinking of some of the ways he would be able to smooth the way for missionaries when he got older. “We must remind each other of this pledge and keep each other to it.”

When Frederick and Ludwig told their other friends, Anton Walbaum, Georg von Söhlenthal, and Johannes von Jony, about their vow, the other boys got very excited. Ludwig saw an opportunity and quickly formed the five of them into a fraternity. The boys were the core of what would become known as the “Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed.” Ludwig chose this name after a passage in the Bible in which Jesus talks about a mustard seed being the smallest of seeds but growing into the biggest of trees. The name seemed fitting, since they were only twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys with big dreams of sending out many missionaries around the world.