George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

Later that year, George waited for the first copies of the book he had written, Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller, to roll off the printing press. It had not been an easy decision to publish a book about what he had learned so far in his Christian life. In fact, George prayed more about publishing the book than about any other decision he’d made in his life. The last thing he wanted to do was to make himself look more important or give the impression that he had more faith than other Christians. But so many people had written to him asking for advice on how to lead a simple life of faith that in the end, he decided to write it down in a book.

The book sold briskly, and more than ever, George was asked to speak in other churches. It was not possible for him to accept these invitations, however, for one simple reason: George Müller was a very sick man. His health had deteriorated again, and he began to suffer from terrible headaches. The only temporary relief he seemed to find from them was to tie a handkerchief very tightly around his head. Sometimes he was forced to lie in bed for days on end. Over the next several months, he spent a great deal of time in other parts of the country, mostly staying with friends in the countryside, trying to recover. It worked a little.

In March 1838, George decided to return to Prussia for a visit. He hoped the change of air would do him good and provide the relief from sickness he sought. He also wanted to use the trip to encourage German missionaries. He made the trip alone, leaving Mary behind to run the orphanage, which she in fact had been doing for most of the previous year.

George left England on April 2, 1838. The trip across the English Channel was rough, and George quickly added seasickness to his list of ailments. Still, he arrived safely in Hamburg on April 9 and made his way to Berlin, where he spent ten days meeting with missionaries. From Berlin he went to Heimersleben to visit his father. The two of them now got along much better than they had when George was at Halle University. Johann Müller was interested in all his son was doing in England. He also wanted to know how the young Queen Victoria was getting along. After all, the queen’s mother was a German princess.

After a month away, as George made his way back to Bristol, he realized he had been right about the change of air. He felt much better. In fact, although he got sick from time to time, he never again experienced long, drawn out bouts of sickness such as the one he had just suffered through.

It was just as well George didn’t stay away for too long, because things were rapidly becoming difficult back in Bristol. On August 18, 1838, George wrote in his journal, “I have not one penny in hand for the orphans. In a day or two again many pounds will be needed. My eyes are on the Lord.”

By the end of that day, five pounds had arrived, a gift from a woman who had sold some of her jewelry for the benefit of the orphans. It was enough money to buy food for a day, but by evening, they were back in the same situation. On August 20, George again received a gift of five pounds, which was also used to buy food. The next day it was twelve pounds, and three pounds the following day.

Again and again, George added up the books, only to find that the orphan houses did not have a penny for food. Each time he prayed, money arrived in the nick of time. Given the pressing need, there was a temptation to use other money to meet it, but George stood firm. On one occasion a check for two hundred twenty pounds arrived from a wealthy landowner in the area. The cover letter with the check said the money was for the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad. George knew that all he had to do was to ask whether it could be used for the orphans and the wealthy landowner would immediately agree. But George would not ask. He wanted nothing to do with manipulating circumstances. God had promised to provide for them all, and George would continue to pray and believe that. He would not take money that had been given for one thing and use it for something else.

Another time, George received a large sum of money from a woman he knew was in debt. From the day he became a Christian, George hated debt. He believed that if God intended someone to have something, He would provide the money beforehand to buy it, not afterwards. Because of this, he knew he could not keep the woman’s donation. Even though he did not have enough money for food the next day, he sent the money back and suggested the woman use it to pay her creditors instead. The next day, as it always did, enough money arrived to pay for the daily supplies of the orphan houses.

On one occasion, George managed to unintentionally insult a woman who had come to give him a large sum of money. The woman’s name was Mrs. Brightman. One day when George arrived home from the Wilson Street orphan homes, he found Mrs. Brightman drinking tea in the parlor with Mary. After Mary introduced her, George sat down and joined in the conversation, which quickly turned to the ways in which God provided for the orphans. Mrs. Brightman seemed interested in everything George said, and as George looked at her, he was sure he knew why. Mrs. Brightman was a tiny woman, dressed in clothes that were too thin for a November day, and her boots were all but worn through. George was sure she wanted to know the secret to God’s provision for her own life. The more they talked, the more sorry George felt for her.

Abruptly, Mrs. Brightman said, “Well, I have to go now. You’ll be wanting to get your dinner on the table. Thank you for your time.”

George looked at Mary, who promptly spoke. “But Mrs. Brightman, we would be honored if you would stay and have dinner with us. You have so many questions, and we are enjoying your company.”

“No, I wouldn’t hear of it. I can’t impose on you good folk any longer. I’ll be off now. Besides, I have a train to catch, not that I’ll be able to eat anything they serve. Get me my shawl if you would be so kind, Mrs. Müller. It’s the only one I have, and I don’t mean to leave it behind.”

Something stirred inside George as he watched Mary go to get Mrs. Brightman’s shawl. Mrs. Brightman was such a thin woman, out there in the cold with only a shawl to keep her warm. And what was that she had said about not eating anything on the train? She had come all this way and didn’t even have enough money for a piece of pie? As Mrs. Brightman stood and readied herself to leave, George decided to do something he had never done before. He walked over to Mrs. Brightman and cleared his throat. “My dear woman,” he began, “I can see you are trying hard to follow the ways of God, as we do. However, it’s obvious you lack material provision and the money to buy yourself nourishing food. As my wife has told you, we often do not have much ourselves, but I would like to offer you whatever we have. We would like to share our money with you through a common purse. Whenever you need money, I want you to send a message to me, and I will share whatever we have with you. Now,” he said reaching into his pocket, “let me give you enough to buy dinner on the train.”

Mrs. Brightman spluttered and then burst into full laughter. Her whole body shook, and it was a good minute before she could regain her composure. “Whatever makes you think I need your money, Mr. Müller?” she finally asked.

George could feel his face turning red. “You said you didn’t have money to buy dinner, and you have only one shawl,” he said politely.

“No, no. I did not say I could not buy supper. I said I would not. I have a delicate stomach, and those greasy meals are not good for my digestion. As for my shawl, you are right, I have only one. But I can wear only one at a time, so it’s sufficient for me, is it not?”

George nodded, not knowing what to say next. He had obviously insulted Mrs. Brightman by offering to share his money with her.

“I must go now,” said Mrs. Brightman. “But before I do, let me tell you why I came here today. I recently inherited five hundred pounds, and I wanted to see if I should give it to the orphanage. So you see, I am not poor at all, Mr. Müller, and I certainly don’t need your common purse.”

When Mrs. Brightman was gone, George and Mary stood staring at each other.

“I had no idea,” said Mary.

“Neither did I, but I certainly did insult her, didn’t I? To think I offered to share our shilling or two with her when she had five hundred pounds in the bank!” groaned George.

The Müllers heard nothing more from Mrs. Brightman until one day several months later. George arrived home to find her once again sipping tea with Mary. She looked excited when George came in the door. “Mr. Müller,” she began, “I thought much about what you said regarding sharing a common purse with me, and it touched me greatly. I know you do not have much, yet you were willing to share what little you had with me. I have decided to share what I have with you. A check for five hundred pounds will be arriving here within a month.”

George and Mary had a special time of prayer that evening. Five hundred pounds would be enough to keep all three orphan houses running for at least a year.

By 1840, other people in England had become concerned about the plight of orphans and were addressing the problem in their own way. Charles Dickens published Oliver Twist that year. Through this famous author’s book, upper-class English people were faced for the first time with the horrible reality of the lives of these children. The social tide was slowly beginning to turn in favor of protecting children from such awful circumstances. But there was still much to do.

While he was still busy with his various responsibilities, in the spring of 1843, George began thinking it was time to make another trip to Prussia. By this time, many people had written asking him to come. George was particularly impressed by a small group of Baptists who lived in Stuttgart. They were the first group of German Christians outside of the state-regulated church who had asked him for help, and he was eager to give it.

The more he thought about going, however, the more he knew he couldn’t, at least not right away. There were too many obstacles. Before he would feel comfortable leaving Bristol, there needed to be at least two hundred pounds in the bank so the staff would not have to take on the responsibility of praying for the day-to-day operating expenses. Then there was the matter of the fourth orphan home on Wilson Street which was about to open. A suitable matron still had to be found to oversee the house. George had also decided that the next time he went home he would take Mary with him, and the total amount for their passage, plus money to live while they were away, was quite large. And lastly, George’s book had been translated into German, but it had not yet been published because of the cost. If he went to Prussia, he wanted to be able to take copies of the German edition of his book to give away. The cost of publishing the German edition alone was two hundred pounds.

The amount of money George would need in hand before he could make the trip to Prussia quickly mounted up, especially for a man who was still praying for enough money to buy the next day’s bread and milk for the orphans! Yet George and Mary had the faith to believe that God would provide the amount needed. They prayed and asked that if it was God’s will for them to go to Prussia, He show it by providing the money they would need.

For almost a month after they began praying about the trip, the financial situation at the orphanages seemed to get worse. But George and Mary kept praying, and on July 12, 1843, they heard some wonderful news. A man whom George did not know gave him seven hundred pounds to be used for four purposes. First, some of the money was to be used among poor Christians in Bristol. Second, some of it was to be used to publish George’s book in German. Three, some was to go towards running the orphan houses, and four, the balance was to be used to strengthen the faith of German Christians. In one day, George had the answer to all of his prayers, except a matron for the new orphan house at number four Wilson Street. She was hired a week later, leaving George and Mary feeling they could now travel to Prussia.