George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

When the questions were finished, George concluded the meeting in prayer, and then he made his way to the back of the chapel to greet people on their way out. There he heard all of the comments people had not wanted to make in front of others.

“I do think it’s a big project to take on,” said one elderly woman. “I think if God is calling you to work with orphans, you might be better to take one or two into your home. It doesn’t do to bite off more than you can chew. Besides, if the orphanage failed, it would be an embarrassment to us all,” she told George, patting him soothingly on the arm.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” muttered another man as he put on his hat and coat. “I don’t see how it could possibly work. The poorhouse is the best place for an orphan. Can’t get into any mischief there.”

“If you were an Englishman, Mr. Müller,” began another woman in a proud voice, “you would know this type of thing is not possible in England. It is not the way we do things here. Perhaps asking God to supply all your needs is the way things are done in Prussia, but not here.”

George looked her in the eye. “I believe God is our provider wherever we live,” he said kindly, thinking to himself that this was one of the reasons he was starting the orphanage—to show people that God does indeed provide.

But for every negative comment there was a positive one to counterbalance it. One woman pressed a ten-shilling note into George’s hand and said, “I will pray for you every day, Pastor Müller. May God guide you.”

Another woman stood squarely in front of George, and looking him right in the eye, she said, “I’m not much with book learning, sir. But I know how to cook and clean, and goodness knows, I’ve mended a thousand socks in my day. If you can use me in your new orphanage, I’m ready to be put to work. And don’t worry about paying me. The good Lord’s never let me starve yet, and I don’t thinks He’s about to now. If you can have faith for those thirty girls, I can have faith for myself.”

“God bless you, and thank you,” said George, shaking her hand. “You are just the type of person we need. Come to my house tomorrow and we will talk.”

The woman nodded and waved good-bye as she walked out the door.

As George and Mary walked home, they talked about the meeting. Despite the negative comments, it had been a good evening in many ways. George had known that some people would disagree with his plan. But he also knew that some people, like the woman who had offered to cook and clean for the girls, would be in favor of it. Those people were an inspiration.

The next morning, the local newspaper printed a small article about the meeting under the headline “Local Minister Intends to Set Up Orphanage.” The article said that if George succeeded, it would be the first orphanage in Bristol. In fact, according to the newspaper, there were only ten or twelve orphanages in the whole of England. And all but one of them were private orphanages, taking only “children whose parents had been of some means, but now found themselves without sufficient funds to care entirely for their own needs.” The London Orphan Asylum, for example, insisted that children of domestic or agricultural servants and children of journeymen tradesmen would not be eligible. On top of this, children with any medical problems, diseases, or deformities were not accepted. George was glad he had made it clear that the new orphanage would not turn away any child in need as long as there was space for the child.

Later that same day, George received a letter. He frowned as he turned it over and saw that the postmark was from a town one hundred miles north of Bristol. He could not think of anyone he knew there. He opened the letter and began to read.

“Mary, Mary,” he yelled, “come and listen to this!”

Mary came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. “What is it, George?” she asked, surprised.

“This letter is from a married couple. Listen to what it says.” He cleared his throat and began to read. “We offer ourselves to the service of the intended orphanage if you think us qualified for it.”

“Oh, George,” gasped Mary, “however did they know? You only announced it last night. Now, counting the housekeeper, we have three possible workers!”

“Wait, Mary, there’s more,” said George as he read on. “Also we would give up all the furniture, etc., which the Lord has given us, for its use. And we would do this without receiving any salary whatsoever, believing that if it be the will of God to employ us, He will supply all our needs.”

“Isn’t it wonderful, George,” said Mary, grasping her husband’s hands. “Everything is happening so quickly.”

In a way it was. Yet in another way, George had been preparing for this for many years, ever since the day he had trusted God to supply his needs at Halle University.

George answered the couple immediately and accepted their offer, though he did tell them the orphanage didn’t yet have a house or anything to put in it except what the couple brought with them. No sooner had he mailed the letter, than household items began arriving at his home. One man, who had been at the meeting the night before, had collected things from his neighbors to give to the orphanage: four knives and five forks, one jug, four mugs, three salt stands, three dishes, three basins, and twenty-eight plates.

After the man left, George scooped three-year-old Lydia into his arms. “You see, little one, God will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory,” he said, as much to himself as to her. Lydia giggled as he whirled her around and around the parlor.

George continued to pray over the next week, and the things the orphanage needed flowed in. Blankets, money, fabric for the young girls’ nightgowns, tablecloths, pillowcases, sheets, more basins, plates, and silverware arrived at the house almost hourly. George kept a careful record of every item and every penny that was donated.

After dinner on December 17, 1835, George sat at his desk and pulled out his black leather-bound journal. Lydia played at his feet as he dipped his pen into the inkwell and wrote: “This evening another brother brought a clothes horse, three frocks, four pinafores, six handkerchiefs, three counterpanes, one blanket, two pewter salt cellars, six tin cups, and six metal teaspoons. He also brought three shillings and sixpence given to him by three different individuals. At the same time, he told me that it had been put in the heart of an individual to send tomorrow one hundred pounds.”

The next afternoon, the same man returned with more items, including sixteen thimbles, an iron, a sugar basin, four combs, and the one hundred pounds promised. He counted the money out for George. But instead of being happy to receive it, George was troubled when he heard who had given it—a poor spinster who lived in a boarding house. George knew that the woman made only about three shillings and sixpence a week by taking in hand sewing jobs. It would have taken her twelve years to earn the one hundred pounds!

All night, George tossed and turned thinking about the spinster. Where had she got the money? What would happen to her if she needed it later? Did she understand what she was doing? Was she being overly emotional instead of first thinking it through? By the following morning, George knew what he had to do. He neatly folded the one hundred pounds and slipped it into his vest pocket. “Mary,” he called as he stood at the door, “I have to make a visit. I should be back in an hour or so.”

Within fifteen minutes, George was knocking at the door of the spinster’s boarding house. When he inquired whether she was in, the housekeeper invited him to make himself comfortable in the drawing room while she went to fetch her.

A minute or two after he’d sat down on the couch, the spinster entered the room. “I hope you don’t mind me bringing my sewing. I got a bit behind last night,” she said as George stood to greet her.

“Not at all,” replied George. “I will not keep you. I came to ask you a simple question. Would you reconsider the gift you gave the orphanage? One hundred pounds is a lot of money to anyone, but for you, well…,” he struggled to think of the right way to say it. “If God blessed you with the money, perhaps He intended you to keep it in case there is a time when you need it.” He pulled the notes from his pocket. “It was a very generous gift, but I do not want to take advantage of your generosity.”

George smiled apologetically as he placed the money on the table between them.

“But Mr. Müller,” began the spinster, laying her needlework in her lap, “you don’t understand. I want to give that money. I got an inheritance of four hundred and eighty pounds from my father. I gave my mother one hundred pounds, and the new orphanage one hundred pounds. The rest I used to pay off my father’s debts. I am perfectly happy about what I’ve done with the money.”

“Maybe you don’t understand,” said George, feeling he was getting nowhere. How could he take money from someone this poor?

“Now Mr. Müller, I don’t want to contradict you, but I believe I do understand,” the woman said very seriously. “The Lord Jesus gave His last drop of blood for me, and should I not give all the money I have for Him? In fact, I have five pounds over, and I have decided to give that to you as well, for you to share with the poorest members at the chapel.”

George’s eyes swam with tears. He knew he could say nothing but thank you. He had come to the boarding house to find answers, and he had found them. The spinster was giving the money because she wanted to, and not because she felt manipulated into it by anything or anyone. “Thank you,” George said as he left the room. “I don’t say thank you just for myself, because you have not given the money to me. You have given it to the orphans of Bristol. May God bless your generosity.”

The spinster nodded. “I only hope God will allow me to give more before I die,” she said.

On his way home, George stopped outside a large three-story house on Wilson Street, not far from Gideon Chapel. A member of the congregation had told him it had just come up for rent, and George was anxious to see it. The house was number six in a long row of identical houses. Each house was made of brick, had six windows, two on each floor, and had the same wooden eaves. As George cupped his hands against the front windowpane and peered inside, he heard a voice behind him. “Interested in the house, sir? It’s for rent, you know.”

George stepped back and turned around. He looked into the eyes of a tall, well-dressed man. “I can show you inside if you would like,” the man offered.

“Thank you,” said George. “I’d appreciate that.”

Inside, the house was roomier than George had imagined. It had three bedrooms upstairs and a large living room on the middle floor, and the stove in the kitchen on the ground floor was big enough to cook for two families. The house was perfect, and by the time George left it, he had agreed to rent it. He hurried home to tell Mary. It was almost too good to be true. He had one hundred five pounds in his pocket, and he now had a house to run the orphanage in. And by the time he got home, he had an opening date in mind as well: February 3, 1836.

Chapter 10
An Orphanage on Wilson Street

On the morning of February 3, 1836, George Müller hurried to number six Wilson Street. In spite of the icy sleet falling, he was humming to himself as he walked. Today was the day the orphanage opened, and he could hardly believe how quickly everything had come together. It had been only seven weeks since he had stood in Gideon Chapel and announced his intention to start the orphanage. He remembered how some church members had told him it couldn’t be done. He was glad that today those members were going to see that God does indeed answer prayer and that things that seem impossible to men are possible to Him.

As he turned the brass key in the lock and stepped inside, George was deeply thankful for everything he saw. The tables and chairs in the parlor, the blue velvet couch, the rose-colored rug, the chests of drawers upstairs filled with stacks of neatly folded underwear, petticoats, and socks, the cupboards with rows of shoes, the linen closet piled high with blankets and pillowcases—every single item was an answer to prayer. Even the house itself had been rented with donated money that was an answer to prayer. Since he had begun the adventure of starting the orphanage, George had kept a careful prayer diary. Down one side of each page in his diary he had recorded each prayer request, and on the other side, the date and the way in which it was answered. Every item in the house was on the list. Even the coal, which he began shoveling into the fireplace to warm the house, was an answer to prayer.