George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

George and Mary had often prayed about who should replace them and run the orphanage, and long ago they had agreed that it should be Jim Wright. The Müllers had known Jim for twenty-five years, since he was a teenager. For the past twelve years, Jim had been George’s assistant, running the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad, where he had proved himself to be hardworking, kind, and faithful.

With Mary gone, George felt it was time to ask Jim Wright to consider becoming his successor and start taking over some of the responsibility for running the orphanage. At first, Jim refused to even think about it. Over several months, though, he and his wife Annie agreed that Jim should begin to step into the role. No sooner had they made the decision than Annie died after a sudden illness, leaving two widowers in charge of the orphanage! Thankfully, Lydia Müller took on many of her mother’s responsibilities, and together she, George, and Jim Wright kept everything running smoothly. As they all worked together, something wonderful happened—Jim and Lydia fell in love.

Eighteen months after his wife died, Jim Wright married Lydia Müller at Bethesda Chapel. Lydia was thirty-nine years old, and Jim was forty-five. It was a joyous day, though Lydia carried a tiny shadow of guilt about leaving her father alone in the family home on Paul Street.

Lydia need not have worried. When George saw how happy Lydia and Jim were, he decided to remarry himself. He had known Susannah Sangar for more than twenty-five years, from the time she had begun attending Bethesda Chapel as a twenty-year-old. Now, Susannah was in her midforties, and George came to believe she would make a wonderful wife for him and partner in his work. Susannah was as direct as Mary had been and was a very hard worker. When George asked her to marry him, she eagerly agreed. The two of them were married on November 30, 1871, two weeks after Lydia’s wedding!

Susannah Müller was twenty-one years younger than her new husband and was brimming with energy. Suddenly George found he had a lot of things to look forward to. Since Jim and Lydia were more than capable of running the orphanage, George felt it was time to give his attention more fully to other projects. He was well-known as a wonderful preacher around the south of England, and he had been begged time after time to speak at some of the largest Christian gatherings of the day. In the spring of 1875, George and Susannah began a short preaching tour around England.

Although George was seventy, he had never felt healthier. He preached for Charles Spurgeon at the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle; he preached at outdoor meetings, in Brethren chapels, and in other churches around the country. Everywhere he went, people wanted to know whether it was really true that he supported two thousand orphans and never asked for a penny from anyone but God. George loved to tell them the stories of miraculous provision and assure them that God does indeed answer prayer.

The tour was such a success that the Müllers went on a second one, this time traveling all the way to Scotland. When they returned to Bristol, Lydia fussed around her father, worried that he might have overtaxed himself. But the opposite was true. George had come back invigorated and ready for more. His next preaching trip took him to other parts of Europe, where for the first time in thirty-one years he got to preach in his native German.

Wherever George preached, enormous crowds gathered. In Bern, Switzerland, two thousand people came to hear him. Many members of European royalty also came, including several of Queen Victoria’s daughters who had married European princes. Since he could speak six languages fluently, George rarely needed a translator when he preached.

In the spring of 1877, George Müller found himself back at Halle University, where he had arrived as a student fifty-two years before. He was invited to preach at Franke’s Orphanage, where he had stayed for a time. As he showed his wife around the town, George was flooded with memories. He thought about the time he had wasted in the ale houses, the first Christian meeting he attended, and Dr. Tholuck, who had first suggested he apply to go to England to learn how to communicate with Jews.

On their way back to England, George and Susannah traveled to Holland to meet a man with whom George had corresponded for many years. This Dutch man had been so inspired by George’s example that he’d started his own orphanage in Nimegen. It gave George great pleasure to speak to the four hundred fifty Dutch orphans who were being cared for as a result of his inspiration. By the time he returned to England, George had preached over three hundred times.

When George arrived home, he found a letter waiting for him inviting him to come and preach in North America. George knew he needed to rest a while, but he could think of nothing that he would rather do than encourage American Christians. While he rested, Susannah, in her usual efficient way, arranged an itinerary for him. On August 23, 1877, the couple boarded the Sardinian, bound for Quebec, Canada, where George was to begin his speaking tour.

George took every opportunity during the ocean voyage to hand out Bible literature and speak to the crew about the gospel message. It was not until the ship was off the coast of Newfoundland, though, that his words made any impression on the captain.

A thick fog had engulfed the ship, forcing it to slow to a crawl for fear of being wrecked along the rocky coastline. As a result, the ship began to fall behind in its schedule. Concerned that he would not make his first speaking engagement, George headed for the bridge in search of the captain.

“So there you are,” George said when he found the captain huddled over a map on the bridge. “I must tell you that I need to be in Quebec by Saturday afternoon.”

The captain laughed out loud. “Why, that’s impossible, Mr. Müller. Whoever is waiting for you will just have to understand this ship is fog bound, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.”

“In that case,” said George matter-of-factly, “if you cannot find a way to get me there on time, I’ll have to ask God to do it. I have not missed a single engagement in fifty-two years, and I don’t intend to start now. Come down to my cabin with me, and we will pray together.”

The captain looked too surprised to speak. George left the bridge, and the captain followed him meekly. As they walked onto deck, the captain came to his senses and protested. “But what’s the point of praying? The fog is so thick I cannot see to the stern.” He leaned over the rail. “Take a look for yourself, Mr. Müller.”

“I don’t need to look,” replied George, walking purposefully towards the stairwell. “My eye is not on the weather, but on the One who controls the weather!”

George strolled into his cabin and shut the door firmly behind them both.

“Let us pray,” he said, kneeling beside his bunk. The captain followed his example and got awkwardly down on his knees.

“Dear God,” began George, “I come to You now to ask You to do the impossible. You know that I need to be in Quebec by Saturday and that the fog has hemmed us in. Please lift the fog so that the ship can go forward and I will be on time. Amen.”

George opened his eyes and turned to look at the captain.

“Dear God,” began the captain in a shaky, embarrassed voice.

George placed his hand on the captain’s shoulder. “There’s no need for you to pray. You don’t believe God will answer prayer, and I believe He already has,” he said.

With a grateful expression on his face, the captain clambered to his feet.

“Go and open the door,” instructed George with an air of certainty. “I have known my Lord for fifty-two years, and in all that time I cannot recall a single instance where he has not answered my prayers. I can assure you, the fog has lifted.”

The captain walked to the cabin door and opened it carefully. He peered out onto the deck and then turned back to George, his face pale with shock. “It’s gone,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Just like you prayed, the fog has gone.”

And so it had. There was not a trace of it. The next day the Sardinian docked in Quebec, but not before the captain had become a Christian convert. George disembarked and had plenty of time to reach his first preaching appointment on time.

From Quebec, George and Susannah made their way down the coast into the United States. George preached about fifty times in the New York area. In Chicago he preached in Moody’s Tabernacle, where seven thousand people gathered to hear him. Along the way, he hardly entered a city without meeting one of his orphans who had emigrated to the United States.

On January 10, 1878, at 9:30 in the morning, George and Susannah Müller had an appointment no one would want to pass up. They had been invited to the White House to meet with President and Mrs. Hayes. They stayed for nearly an hour, during which time the president asked many questions about their work in Bristol.

George and Susannah continued their journey by rail and riverboat, going as far south as Georgia and then all the way to the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. They stayed in California for a month before making their way slowly back to the East Coast. On June 27, by the time they boarded the Adriatic for Liverpool, they had traveled nearly twenty thousand miles and George had preached over three hundred times.

His next speaking tour took George once again to other parts of Europe. Then, in 1879, because so many American Christians had written begging George to return, the Müllers set out for the United States once more. George was now seventy-four years old, but he felt better than he had when he was half that age.

In 1881, George and Susannah set out on a speaking trip that included Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, and Greece. They visited the pyramids and climbed the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and George preached at the Wailing Wall. Everywhere they went, they shared the gospel message and handed out New Testaments in many languages.

Over the next several years, the Müllers’ tours covered China, Hong Kong, India, Rome (Italy), Australia, and New Zealand. In New Zealand, George visited and stayed with William Ready, the London orphan boy for whom he had arranged to become an apprentice flour miller. William had emigrated to New Zealand, where he was now one of the country’s best-loved ministers.

At one point, the Müllers found themselves riding in a crowded train on their way to the city of Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand. The man in the seat opposite them was totally absorbed in the newspaper he was reading. From time to time, he would read an article aloud to entertain or inform the other passengers.

As the train rumbled along through the rolling New Zealand countryside, the man began to read aloud. “The Reverend George Müller is about to grace the city of Dunedin with a visit. The Reverend and Mrs. Müller have been on an extensive tour of New Zealand, sharing their faith and their belief that God listens to and answers the prayers of his children. Indeed it appears to be true, since….” The man stopped reading in midsentence and looked up from the newspaper. With great conviction he said, “I would give almost anything to see him.”

“You are looking right at him. I am George Müller,” said George quietly, much to the man’s astonishment.

George spent the rest of the journey answering passengers’ questions and inviting people to come and hear him speak at Garrison Hall in Dunedin.

The Müllers were in India in January 1890 when they received sad news via telegram from their son-in-law Jim Wright. George’s daughter Lydia had died unexpectedly at the age of fifty-seven. George and Susannah made their way to Bombay to await passage back to England. Even in his distress, George Müller never passed up an opportunity to preach and tell people about God. While they waited for their ship to depart for England, George preached fifteen times in a large tent that had been set up on the waterfront. He also preached once in German to the crew of a German man-of-war ship docked in the harbor. As soon and as quickly as they could, George and Susannah made their way back to Bristol to console Jim Wright and help him carry on the work with the orphans.