George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

On May 29, 1855, ground was broken for the second orphan house. George’s plan for a single building to house seven hundred orphans had been changed to two buildings, one to house three hundred orphans and the other, four hundred. This change had been made so that the buildings could fit better on the existing property. The buildings would flank the existing structure, which was now known as “Number One Orphan House.”

In November 1857, Number Two Orphan House was opened, with space for two hundred infant girls and two hundred girls aged eight and over. Number Three Orphan House remained in the planning stage.

With the increase in the size of the orphanage, there was, of course, an enormous amount of work for George to do every day. Some decisions, such as adding a path from the outdoor playing pavilion directly to Number Two Orphan House, were easy to make. Others were more complicated, such as the time Eric, the maintenance man, came to George’s office.

“It’s the boiler in Number One,” Eric told George, taking off his grubby hat and pushing his hair out of his eyes.

“What’s the problem?” asked George, motioning for Eric to sit down and warm himself beside the radiator.

“It’s leaking, plain and simple, sir, and serious, too. The most serious I’ve ever seen. It shouldn’t be doing that—it’s only eight years old.”

“What do you think is causing the leak?” asked George.

“That I can’t say. We’d need to get inside the boiler to find that out.”

George thought for a moment. “That would mean taking all the fire bricks out of the boiler, wouldn’t it?” he inquired.

Eric nodded. “And that’s the catch, sir. It’s going to take at least two days to take them out, find the leak, seal it, and reline the boiler with the bricks. Then of course, we mightn’t even be able to fix it, and we’ll have to get a new boiler. Now that would be a big job. Could take a fortnight or longer….”

“Yes,” said George, interrupting him and thinking of how the boiling water from the boiler fed the radiators for the whole of Number One Orphan House. “No matter what happens, the children must not go cold. I’ll let you know what we’ll do about it as soon as I can, Eric.”

Eric nodded, put his cap back on, and respectfully left the office.

George knew he had a difficult decision to make. It was nearly December, and it often began to snow around this time of year. If the boiler was shut down for several days, the house would become unbearably cold—too cold for young orphan children to stay in without catching colds or the flu. On the other hand, if he did nothing, the boiler could break down, cutting off the supply of hot water for even longer. George did the only thing he knew to do; he prayed about it.

Over the next day or so, he prayed one, that the wind would shift to the south so that it brought warmer weather, and two, that God would give workmen a “mind to work” so that the boilers would not need to be turned off any longer than was absolutely necessary.

Convinced that this was the right course of action, George made arrangements for some tradesmen to come on the morning of December 9, 1857, to repair the boiler. For a week leading up to this date, a frigid north wind had blown steadily and had shown no sign of letting up. On the night of December 8, the wind howled across Ashley Down and whistled around the window panes of Number One Orphan House.

“It’s a miracle, Mr. Müller, a miracle,” said Eric as he greeted George the next morning. “The wind has turned to the south, and the weather is positively balmy.”

Indeed, during the night, the wind had shifted one hundred eighty degrees and was now blowing warm air out of the south.

“We stopped stoking the boiler at midnight, and it’s been right mild ever since. If this keeps up, we won’t need any heat at all,” continued Eric.

George smiled. It was exactly what he had prayed for.

In the basement beside the boiler the tradesmen were gathered waiting for permission to begin their task. George thanked them all for coming, he said a prayer, and the men set to work. They worked hard all day, and when evening came and George went to check on their progress, the foreman offered to have the men work late into the evening and then come back first thing in the morning to finish the job.

“But sir,” interrupted one of the boilermakers. “If you don’t mind, the rest of us have discussed it, and we would rather stay and work all night until we finish the job.”

George watched the foreman’s eyebrows raise in surprise.

“It’s for the orphans, a special case, you know,” added the boilermaker.

“If that’s what you want to do, it’s fine with me,” said the foreman. “But you still have a full day’s work ahead of you tomorrow. Don’t think I’m going to let you go home and sleep.”

“We understand,” said the boilermaker with a shrug. “It’s just something we want to do, that’s all.”

George left the basement with a smile on his face. Indeed, these men had a “mind to work!”

By the time George Müller arrived at Ashley Down the following morning, the leak had been repaired, and the boiler was in the process of being relined with fire bricks. That part of the job was finished late in the afternoon, and soon after, boiling water was once again coursing through the radiators. And during the time the boiler was out of action, not one child was even chilled.

Once again, George Müller thanked God for watching over the orphans in his care. And once again a plan was taking root in his mind, a plan to get construction of Number Three Orphan House under way. However, the house would now accommodate four hundred fifty more children, not the three hundred originally planned for it. The work with the orphans continued to grow and grow.

Chapter 14
God Will Supply

By 1862, George Müller had two assistants. Jim Wright helped run the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad, and John Townsend helped George with his church work, especially running the Sunday schools. John Townsend became a particularly close friend to George, as did his wife Caroline and daughter Abigail. Abigail was three years old when her parents moved to Bristol, and she came to look upon George and Mary almost as grandparents.

Early one morning, when she was eight years old, Abigail came to visit the orphanage. In his office, George was busy discussing with Jim Wright how many new tracts the Scripture Knowledge Institution should print. When he looked up from the discussion, through his office window he could see Abigail playing happily in the garden. George smiled to himself. He was still smiling and looking out the window when there was a knock at the door. A moment later the matron of Number One Orphan House walked in.

“I hate to bother you, Mr. Müller,” began the matron, “but it’s happened. The children are all ready for breakfast and there is not a thing in the house to eat. What shall I tell them?”

George stood up. “I’ll take care of it. Just give me a minute,” he said.

Before going to the dining room at Number One Orphan House, George walked out into the garden. “Abigail, Abigail, come here,” he called.

Abigail ran up to him. “What is it?” she asked.

George reached down and took her hand. “Come and see what God will do,” he said as he escorted her to the dining room.

Inside they found three hundred children standing in neat rows behind their chairs. Set on the table in front of each child were a plate, a mug, and a knife, fork, and spoon. But there was no food whatsoever to be seen. George watched as Abigail’s eyes grew wide with astonishment. “But, where’s the food?” Abigail asked in a whisper.

“God will supply,” George told her quietly, before he turned to address the children. “There’s not much time. I don’t want any of you to be late for school, so let us pray,” he announced.

As the children bowed their heads, George simply prayed, “Dear God, we thank you for what you are going to give us to eat. Amen.”

George looked up and smiled at the children. “You may be seated,” he said. He had no idea at all where the food he had just prayed for would come from or how it would get to the orphanage. He just knew God would not fail the children.

A thunderous din filled the room as three hundred chairs were scuffed across the wooden floor. Soon all three hundred children sat obediently in front of their empty plates.

No sooner had the noise in the dining room subsided than there was a knock at the door. George walked over and opened the door. In the doorway stood the baker, holding a huge tray of delicious-smelling bread.

“Mr. Müller,” began the baker, “I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking that somehow you would need bread this morning and that I was supposed to get up and bake it for you. So I got up at two o’clock and made three batches for you. I hope you can use it.”

George smiled broadly. “God has blessed us through you this morning,” he said as he took the tray of bread from the baker.

“There’s two more trays out in the cart,” said the baker. “I’ll fetch them.”

Within minutes, the children were all eating freshly baked bread. As they were enjoying it, there was a second knock at the door. This time it was the milkman, who took off his hat and addressed George. “I’m needing a little help, if you could, sir. The wheel on my cart has broken, right outside your establishment. I’ll have to lighten my load before I can fix it. There’s ten full cans of milk on it. Could you use them?” Then looking at the orphans, sitting in neat rows, he added, “Free of charge, of course. Just send someone out to get them. I’ll never fix the cart with all that weight on it.”

George dispatched twenty of the older children to help, and soon they had the ten cans of milk stowed in the kitchen, where it was dispensed with a ladle. There was enough milk for every child to have a mug full and enough left over for them all to have some in their tea at lunch.

Half an hour after George and Abigail had entered the dining room, three hundred orphans with full stomaches filed out.

George escorted Abigail back to the garden, where he watched her sit for a long time. He knew she was thinking about what she had just seen. Several weeks later, Caroline Townsend told George that Abigail had taken to finishing all her prayer requests with, “like you do for George Müller. Amen.” This made George happy. It was exactly the point he had wanted Abigail to see. God does answer prayer.

The visitors kept coming to see the Ashley Down orphanage. Many were impressed with what George Müller had achieved through prayer. One of these visitors was thirty-three-year-old Hudson Taylor, with his wife Maria and the first sixteen missionary recruits for the newly formed China Inland Mission. The group spent most of the day, August 22, 1865, visiting with George and Mary. George and Hudson Taylor walked and talked together in the garden for a long time. Before the group left, George promised to pray regularly for them as they set sail for China. In some ways, George wished he could go with them. Over the years, the challenge of foreign ports and millions of people who had not yet heard the gospel message had lost none of its lure for him. But he knew that God had given him a mission field among the orphans of Bristol, many of whom had never heard of God or salvation through His Son Jesus. And besides, George told himself, he was getting too old to start in on a new missionary adventure.

While George loved to work hard, occasionally he was able to be persuaded to take a break. During these times, the Müller family would spend several days at the seaside town of Ilfracombe, west of Bristol, where George loved to walk around the harbor and climb the surrounding hills.

In the autumn of 1865, George, Mary, and Lydia went to Ilfracombe for a few days’ rest. September 4 dawned a beautiful, clear day. The three of them set out to trek to the top of Capstone Hill. From the summit they enjoyed a panoramic view of the surrounding area. On their way down from the summit, they met a group of people going the other way. A tall blond man in the group tipped his hat as he passed them and then turned around to follow them. “Excuse me,” he called, “aren’t you George Müller?