Count Zinzendorf: Firstfruit

The following morning John Rothe returned to invite the Herrnhut community to a communion service at the Berthelsdorf church on Wednesday. Because Ludwig felt that this would be an important meeting, he went from house to house throughout the community encouraging all to attend.

On Wednesday morning Pastor Rothe came to Herrnhut and delivered a sermon on the significance and importance of communion. Following his sermon, the members of the community walked the mile to the Berthelsdorf church. By the time the communion service began, the church was packed. A hymn was sung to open the meeting, and then John prayed a blessing over two girls who were being confirmed.

Following the confirmation the congregation knelt and began to sing, “My soul before Thee prostrate lies, To Thee, its source, my spirit flies.” As the people sang, Ludwig noticed that some of them were beginning to weep. A powerful wave of emotion seemed to sweep over the place, and soon the sound of people crying drowned out the singing.

When the hymn was over, Ludwig led in a prayer. He prayed for true unity among those gathered for the service and that those in the Herrnhut community would have no more disagreements but rather would find new vigor and oneness in their relationship with Jesus Christ. When he was finished, several others prayed. Before long the weeping had given way to fervent prayer as people poured out their hearts to God.

When the service finally came to an end, no one wanted to leave. Outside the church, people gathered and talked about what they had just experienced and how they felt a new closeness to God and to each other. Slowly they drifted into groups and continued to talk and pray and sing hymns.

As the afternoon wore on, Ludwig sent for food to feed the group. When it arrived, the food was distributed, and the people ate together. The scene reminded Ludwig of something from the early church in the New Testament, where the members would gather regularly for love feasts. He wondered whether perhaps, like those early Christians, the members of the Herrnhut community could make the love feast a regular part of their worship together.

Two weeks later, on August 27, to keep alive the new closeness they felt to God, twenty-eight men and twenty-eight women from Herrnhut pledged themselves to each spend one hour a day in prayer. They drew lots as to which hour they should pray, so that at any time of the day or night, two people were praying for Herrnhut and for the world.

Singing also became a vital part of everyday life. Ludwig believed that hymns could be sung as prayers once they were known by heart. He encouraged everyone at Herrnhut to memorize hundreds of hymns. Soon the only people who needed hymnals were visitors to the community. The members of the community sang for hours at a time. The person leading a service would often create entire sermons by selecting various verses around a theme from hundreds of hymns. He would begin singing, and as soon as the congregation recognized the verse of a particular hymn, they would join in.

Ludwig also introduced the “Daily Watchword,” a Bible verse selected by lot the night before. Everyone in the community was encouraged to recite it to one another and think about its meaning throughout the day.

News of what was happening at Herrnhut soon spread far and wide. Ludwig began receiving up to fifty letters a day asking if men and women from the community could come to their churches and talk about their experiences. Members of Herrnhut responded enthusiastically to these requests.

Soon people from the community were traveling as far away as Italy and England to speak. In most places they visited, they were forbidden from preaching directly to the congregation. Instead they gathered together small groups of like-minded Christians and told them about Herrnhut and all God was doing among them. They then encouraged the people to put aside their differences and act as one united church.

On September 19, 1727, in the midst of this new direction and activity, Erdmuth gave birth to a son. Ludwig named him Christian Renatus in honor of their first child who had died nearly three years before.

The community continued to prosper. More houses and buildings were erected, and the choir system was developed. Under this system, every person living at Herrnhut was assigned to a group, or choir, according to his or her age, sex, and marital status. The first choir established was the single men’s choir. This was a particularly active group, and the men decided to live together in their own large house and help one another with their work. This choir became a center for handcraft industries. In their spare time in the evenings, the young men devoted themselves to studying other languages, medicine, and geography.

The single sisters’ choir was led by teenaged Anna Nitschmann. Although she was one of the youngest single girls, she demonstrated a particularly mature Christian attitude. The single girls also lived together in their own large house.

Other choirs were established for married couples, widows, widowers, girls, boys, and even infants. And since all those in the choir had pledged themselves to help the others in the group, it was not difficult for men and women to be away traveling. While they were away, the other members of their choir would cover for them at Herrnhut, helping to do their share of the physical work or watching over their children for them.

In 1729 Ludwig received the news that thirty-one-year-old David Nitschmann had died in prison, where he had languished for three years after Ludwig’s attempt to win his freedom. The news saddened Ludwig. David had shown such promise as a leader in the Herrnhut community.

Erdmuth gave birth to a fourth child on September 18, 1729. It was another son, whom they named Christian Friedrich. Sadly, the baby was sickly from the beginning, and he died when he was four weeks old. About a year later, in October 1730, Erdmuth gave birth to yet another son, whom they named Theodore and who appeared to be a strong and healthy baby.

The following April, Ludwig, accompanied by David Nitschmann the carpenter and two other Moravian men, set out for Denmark for the coronation of King Christian VI. In Copenhagen, Ludwig experienced the usual round of pomp and ceremony for a person of his social position. Much to Ludwig’s surprise, the new king awarded Ludwig the Cross of the Order of the Knights of Danebrog in honor of his contribution to religion. Ludwig also dined with heads of state who had been invited from all over Europe to the coronation.

It was not a rich or powerful person, however, who made the biggest impression on Ludwig while he was in Copenhagen. The person who captivated Ludwig’s attention was the servant of his friend Count Laurwig. This servant’s simple story set in motion a series of events that would see people from the Herrnhut community spread around the world.

Chapter 8
Sending Out Missionaries

Where did you get your servant?” Ludwig asked Count Laurwig during dinner.

“His name is Anthony Ulrich, and I brought him here from Saint Thomas in the Caribbean,” the count replied. “I was there a year ago, and he struck me as a good worker. He is intelligent, speaks fluent Dutch, and has more than proved his worth to me. He has even become a sincere Christian.”

Ludwig’s ears perked up at this last comment. He wanted to know how this muscular man with jet-black skin and an open, assured look on his face had become a Christian. Ludwig’s opportunity to find out came as Anthony was removing his empty dinner plate.

“Count Laurwig tells me you have become a Christian since coming with him to Europe. Tell me, how did you come to hear of Christ?” Ludwig asked.

Anthony looked surprised that one of the dinner guests would ask him questions of a personal nature, but then his eyes lit up as he answered the question. “I first heard of Christ when I was on the ship coming to Europe.”

“What do you mean ‘first heard of’?” Ludwig asked. “St. Thomas has been ruled by European countries for many years. Surely you must have heard of Jesus Christ before then.”

Anthony shook his head. “You do not understand,” he replied, and then looking worried he added, “I did not mean to insult you.”

“You did not,” Ludwig assured him. “We are two brothers in Christ having a conversation. Feel free to share your observations. Tell me, how is it that you could live on a Christian island and not know about Christ Jesus?”

“Perhaps a story will help you understand, sir,” Anthony replied. “When I was a child, a slave who was a coach driver drove his master to church. While the service was going on inside, the slave was expected to wait with the carriage. But this slave became curious. The church doors were closed, so he crept up to them and put his ear to the door to hear what was being said inside. Someone saw him and reported him to his master. Do you know what happened to him? The slave owner took out a knife and cut off his ears right there on the church steps.”

Ludwig felt his stomach turn as he pictured such a gruesome act, on the steps of a church no less.

“You need to understand that the white people on Saint Thomas do not want their slaves to hear about Jesus Christ. They fear that the message will fill their heads with new ideas and cause them to rebel.” Anthony then dropped his voice and added, “I wish that my brother and sister back on Saint Thomas could hear of the wonderful things I have learned about Jesus.”

“What are their names?” Ludwig asked.

“Anna and Abraham,” Anthony replied. “I feel sure they would embrace the gospel if only someone could share it with them.”

“I shall make it a point to pray for them,” Ludwig promised.

On the way home to Berthelsdorf, Ludwig could think of little else but the situation on Saint Thomas. Surely there had to be some way for the slaves on Saint Thomas to hear of Christ. It seemed unforgivable to him that white people would prevent their fellow human beings from hearing the most important message of all time. He was so glad that he had obtained permission from Count Laurwig for Anthony Ulrich to visit Herrnhut in a few days. Ludwig was sure that the hearts of many in the community would be stirred when they, too, heard Anthony’s story.

On July 31, 1731, Ludwig and his traveling companions arrived back at Herrnhut. Even though he was tired from the long journey, Ludwig called a meeting of the community that night. He described for everyone his meeting with Anthony. Just as he had hoped, the plight of slaves on the islands of the Caribbean touched the hearts of many people in the community. Two days later Ludwig was holding a letter in his hand from two members of the single men’s choir, Leonard Dober and Tobias Leupold. In the letter both men offered to go to Saint Thomas and share the gospel with Anthony’s relatives and the other slaves there.

Four days after that, Anthony Ulrich arrived to tell his story. But much to Ludwig’s surprise, Anthony was not pleased when he heard that Leonard and Tobias were ready to go to Saint Thomas. He warned that the slaves there were so embittered toward white people that they would not listen to anything the two young men had to say.

This was alarming news to Ludwig, who questioned Anthony to find out whether there was any way at all the slaves would listen to Leonard and Tobias. Anthony conceded that there might be one way to do it. The white missionaries would have to show that they were very different from the white slave owners. And the only way to show that would be if the missionaries were willing to live and work alongside the slaves, almost as slaves themselves. Perhaps then their message would be accepted.

It was a big challenge for Leonard and Tobias to consider living among the slaves, eating what they ate, and working alongside them. But Ludwig was proud when neither man shrank back from the challenge. Leonard declared to the Herrnhut community, “If it was good enough for the Lord Jesus to become a servant so that we might be saved, it is a worthy calling for us also. I leave it to the good judgement of the congregation, and have no other ground than this thought: that on the island there still are souls who cannot believe because they have not heard.”