George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

The Müllers stayed away six months, working among the churches in Stuttgart and distributing tracts and copies of George’s book. Regrettably, Johann Müller, George’s father, had died four years before, so Mary never had the opportunity to meet him.

In February 1844, the Müllers returned to Bristol and their work among the orphans.

Chapter 12
Do unto Others

George Müller peered at the address on the back of the envelope: 11 Wilson Street. As he opened the envelope, his pulse quickened. Maybe someone was offering him a fifth house on the street to rent! George hoped so. It was time to expand again, and houses on the street did not come up for rent very often. But as George read the letter, his heart sank. The letter was not about another house for rent at all. Quite the opposite. The writer, a resident of Wilson Street, wanted the orphans out of the neighborhood!

“Mary, Mary, come and read this,” called George.

Mary arrived in the room with a pair of scissors still in her hand from cutting out aprons for the older girls to sew. “What is it, George?” she asked, catching her husband’s worried look.

George handed her the letter, which she quickly read. “Oh, George, what are we going to do?” she groaned, as she sat down beside him.

“I don’t know,” replied George thoughtfully. “But he has a point, and if other residents on the street feel this way….” His voice tapered off as he reread the letter.

George had to admit that although the letter was not an unkind letter, it was blunt. The writer complained about the four orphan houses on Wilson Street. He laid out several areas of concern. One, the houses were very noisy, especially when the children were out playing in the corner lot. Two, the drains in the street backed up from overuse. Three, the water pressure was often reduced to a trickle because the orphan houses used so much water. The writer concluded by suggesting that George himself would not enjoy living next to his own orphan houses and asking George why the houses should be “inflicted” on the residents of Wilson Street.

“He has a point,” said George, stroking his chin. “Each house was designed for no more than ten people to live in, and we have about thirty-five people in each of them. I think I would get a headache if I had to listen to the children playing for five or six hours a day.”

Mary nodded. “But we can’t make the orphanage disappear. I suppose you will have to meet with the man and see what you can do for him.”

George sat silently. Jesus’ admonition to do unto others as you would have them do unto you came to mind. George hadn’t given it much thought before because no one had said anything, but he began to wonder whether he was being a good neighbor to the man who wrote the letter and the other residents of Wilson Street. Who really wanted to live next to so many rowdy children? But what could he do about it?

The more he thought about the situation, the more George felt he should move all the children out of Wilson Street. The letter writer had been correct. A group of orphan houses did not belong on a residential street. But if that was the case, where did they belong?

Over the next few hours, an idea began to take root in George’s mind. What if he were to build an orphanage somewhere on the outskirts of town? He could make it large enough to house all the children under one roof. Such an idea for a man who often had to pray for a penny to buy a pint of milk was mind-boggling. Still, George had never been one to pass up an idea without praying about it first.

As he prayed, George felt that he should make a list of the good and bad points about building his own orphanage. He went to his desk and pulled out a sheet of crisp, white, writing paper. At the top he wrote, “Reasons for moving from Wilson Street.” Under this heading he listed the reasons he thought it would be a good idea: (1) The neighbors have a just complaint about the orphan houses and the inconvenience they cause. (2) God is not honored when people feel they need to complain about having to live next to a Christian orphanage. (3) The playground on the corner was much too small for all of the children to play in at once. There was room for only one orphan house to use it at a time. (4) There were no grounds around the houses where the boys could plant gardens, both to teach the boys a useful skill and to provide some food for the homes. (5) The air in Bristol was smoky and polluted, and the children, many of whom arrived at the orphanage sick, would be healthier breathing country air. (6) When the children got sick, there was not enough room to separate them from the other children to ensure the illness did not spread.

Satisfied that he had listed all the reasons why it might be good to move the orphanage, George wrote a second heading, “Reasons for Remaining on Wilson Street,” under which he listed the following reasons: (1) God has blessed us with first one, then two, three, and now four houses on Wilson Street. We would have to be very sure He was leading us to leave. (2) A lot of money would be required to move, money that could otherwise be used on the needs of the orphans. (3) It would take a tremendous amount of time to find the right site and plan and build a new orphanage.

For several hours George prayed over the two lists and finally came to the conclusion that it would be a good thing to build a new orphanage. More children than ever were on the waiting list, and having a larger facility that could accommodate them as well as the children already in the orphanages would make things a lot easier. The new facility would need only one huge kitchen, one laundry, and one heating system. Not only that, it would be wonderful to get the children out into the country a little. Since the children lived and went to school all within one block, they seldom got to experience nature.

Having settled it in his own mind, George decided to see whether other Christians could find any reason why he might be wrong in his thinking. At a regularly scheduled church prayer meeting that evening, he told the congregation about his idea. Everyone thought it was inspired. Once the building was paid for, a great deal of money would be saved in rent. As well, a permanent structure would be something the people of Bristol, both Christian and non-Christian, could point to as an example of what faith in God could do.

George and Mary began to pray in earnest for the project. They asked God to show them how they should proceed. George also gathered some important facts so that they could pray more specifically. It was good that they believed in a generous God, because if they didn’t, the facts may well have discouraged them. They would need at least ten thousand pounds to construct a building large enough to house three hundred orphans!

With the facts in hand, the Müllers spent the next thirty-five mornings praying for a sign from God that they were supposed to begin building. Each day nothing happened. But George did not get discouraged; he just kept praying and asking God to give him more faith to keep believing. Then on December 10, 1845, during their thirty-sixth morning of special prayer, they heard a knock on the door. A bank draft was delivered to the house, and with it a note saying the money was for building a new orphan house. The amount on the bank draft read, “one thousand pounds.” It was the largest single donation George had ever received.

Three days later, Mary Müller’s sister, who was living with George and Mary, returned to Bristol. She had been away in London, where she had met a man who had read George’s book. She had introduced herself as George Müller’s sister-in-law, and the two of them had struck up a conversation about the work that was going on in Bristol. In the course of the conversation, Mary’s sister had mentioned the plan to build a new facility. The man’s ears had pricked up, and the man announced he was an architect and would design and oversee the building of the new structure for free. He had apparently been praying for some way to serve God with his skills.

George was thoroughly excited. He already had a picture in his mind of how the new orphanage should look. The orphanage would be like no other building he had ever seen. It would not be built like other Victorian homes, but rather, every aspect of it would be thought out to serve the needs of the children as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

George now began to pray for the right site to build on. He knew they would need a large property—six or seven acres would be ideal—and the land would need to be on the outskirts of town. A building boom was going on in Bristol at that time, and the price of land was rising fast. Still, this did not concern George. As he had written in his journal, he believed that building an orphanage was God’s idea, and therefore, as long as he did all he could, it was ultimately God’s responsibility to make the dream a reality.

George and Mary continued with their morning prayer vigils, and on December 29, another fifty pounds was given towards the new orphanage. Then on January 3, one of the orphans stopped George as he was leaving number one Wilson Street. “Here, Mr. Müller,” she said with shining eyes. “My aunt sent me some money for my birthday. I want you to have it for our new house.” She handed George six pennies. He thanked her and returned home to record the gift in his account book. No amount was ever too small for George to record or be grateful for. The total donated so far for the new orphanage was now one thousand fifty pounds and sixpence.

The donation from the girl at the orphanage, small as it was, convinced George that it was time to start looking for a site for the new building. Later that morning, George prayed for God to guide him as he set off to look at a site that several people had suggested was suitable. But the more George walked around the site, which had been an armory, the more he knew it was not the right site for the new orphanage. It was in a slight hollow, which would make it extra damp in winter, and it did not catch the fresh westerly sea breeze.

As he walked home, George passed another piece of property, which, while it did not appear to be for sale, he felt drawn to. Was God telling him that this was the place to build the orphanage? George inquired at the next farmhouse as to who was the owner of the land. With the owner’s name and address written on a piece of paper in his pocket, George went home to tell Mary what he had found.

“Is it for sale?” Mary asked him over dinner.

“When are the orphans moving?” asked thirteen-year-old Lydia. “I want to visit them all the time. It sounds so much fun to be out in the country. Promise I can spend some nights out there, please Papa?”

“Hold on,” chuckled George. “There’s a long way to go yet. I am going to write to the owner, but I’m not even sure if he will sell the land.”

That night George wrote to the owner, and six days later he got a reply. The owner would sell the land, but for one thousand pounds an acre! While it sounded like a high price, it was actually quite reasonable. Yet George didn’t feel he was to spend that much on land. He began to pray that God would either reduce the cost of the land or give him the patience to wait for an even better property.

A month had passed when a member of his congregation told George about another piece of property to the north of the city on Ashley Down. George and Lydia went to look at it. The property was only about a mile from Wilson Street, but the mile was straight up the side of a hill. Once George and Lydia reached the top of the hill, Ashley Down leveled off, and father and daughter enjoyed the breathtaking view of Bristol spread out below them.

“It’s perfect, Papa,” said Lydia “Look at the cows!”

Ashley Down was gentle and rolling and had large trees dotted across it. Cows grazed happily on the lush green grass, and a horse galloped back and forth in a pasture. The particular plot of land George had come to see was perfect for an orphanage, just as Lydia had observed. There were no neighbors, and the children would be free to make as much noise as they wanted. Not only that, the soil on Ashley Down would be good for the boys to plant their gardens in. And George could just imagine the view from the third-story windows, all the way to Stapleton in the east and Horfield to the north.