George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

Johann Müller was furious when he heard the news. When would the lies end? How could George turn down an opportunity like Halle for some little pre-university school? The questions went on and on, but in the end, George’s father could see it was no use. George was now seventeen years old and couldn’t be made to study anywhere he did not want to. Reluctantly Johann Müller gave permission for his son to attend school at Nordhausen, pointing out that George was bound to regret his decision.

George Müller loved living in Nordhausen, one of the oldest cities in Prussia, tucked up against the edge of the lower slopes of the Harz Mountains. In his spare time, George liked nothing better than to walk through the town and into the beautiful valley below. But he did not have much spare time. He had promised himself he would study hard, and that’s what he did. Most days he rose at four in the morning and did schoolwork all day until ten at night, when he fell into bed exhausted.

That was most of the time. Occasionally, though, he took a night off. And that’s when he started to get into trouble. It was the gambling and partying again, two activities that cost a lot of money. His father provided him with a small allowance, but George was able to spend it ten times faster than he received it!

By the middle of the first year, George was desperate for money. He owed money to the tavern owner, the haberdasher, with whom he played cards, and several of his friends. He had to come up with a plan to quickly get more money. Just then, the allowance from his father arrived and gave him a wonderful idea, which he put into immediate action.

George made a big fuss over the money he had just received, making sure that many people in the school knew it had arrived in the mail. Then he sneaked into his dormitory room and hid the money in the false bottom of his trunk. Next, he took a hammer and smashed the lock on the trunk, as well as the one on his guitar case. Then he grabbed his coat and went for a walk. Throughout the walk he practiced what he would say, and by the time he got back to school he had everything rehearsed perfectly.

He strolled in through the front door, commenting on the pleasant weather to some of the other students as he took his coat off. He then walked into his room, looked at the broken lock on his trunk, and yelled. Young men came running to see what had happened.

“My money,” George yelled, enjoying himself immensely. “My money’s gone. Someone’s broken into my trunk and stolen it.” He looked at the shocked faces of his friends. “What am I going to do now?” he wailed.

“Don’t worry, George, we’ll work something out,” said one friend.

“Yes, it will be all right,” said another friend, patting George kindly on the shoulder.

“I wonder who would do such a thing?” asked a third friend, but any attempt to answer the question was lost in a wave of sympathy.

George smiled to himself. The plan was going better than he’d hoped!

Over the next several days, George’s friends took up a collection for him, and when they presented it to him, it added up to more than the amount he had actually “lost.” The people he owed money to were also kind and extended the length of their loans. By the time the plan had run its course, George had more than twice as much money as his father had sent him, and he didn’t have to pay off his creditors right away. George congratulated himself on outsmarting everyone. And he didn’t have the slightest tinge of regret about what he had done. There was nothing to regret; it was all a game.

In the next two years that George spent at school in Nordhausen, no one ever found out what he’d done, or any of the other dishonest things he had done. He had covered his tracks well.

When George’s time at Nordhausen was nearly over, Johann Müller sent for George to discuss his future. Mr. Müller announced that he wanted George to become a Lutheran pastor. The Lutheran church was the official state church in Prussia. Lutheran pastors were well paid and well respected. When George learned that his father was prepared to pay for him to attend Halle University to earn his degree, he quickly agreed to enroll. This time there would be no personal tutor!

George Müller couldn’t have been happier. He was going to the University of Halle after all. He was also on his way to becoming a Lutheran pastor, a person of high standing in Prussian society. Goodness knows what “tricks” he could play on an entire congregation of kind, gullible people!

Chapter 2
The Life of the Party

George was a little worried. For an hour and a half now he’d been listening to the University of Halle provost’s talk about what it meant to be a divinity student, and quite frankly, it sounded rather grim. To be called as pastor to a good, well-paying church, a student had to have both excellent grades, especially in theology, and excellent conduct. “A student who does not show the proper decorum,” the provost had droned, his brow knotted into a permanent frown, “will find himself in some tiny, rural church with a meager income and no appropriate social circle.”

The mention of the meager income scared George the most. No matter how George and his father fought, Johann Müller had always given his son an ample allowance. Of course, that would end when George graduated and would be responsible for his own financial affairs. That was when he was going to need a good, well-paying church employing him.

George shifted in his seat. His new vest was itching him terribly. With the provost still rambling on, George thought about the outward changes he would need to make for people to believe he was a good candidate to be a Lutheran pastor. First, he would need to purchase a Bible. He had over three hundred books with him, probably more books than any other student at the university, but he did not have a Bible. He would also have to attend church at least every other week. He sighed deeply, but he had no choice. What congregation, after all, would ask a person to be their pastor who went to church no more than three times a year?

Finally, the provost finished his speech, and everyone rose to sing a final hymn. As George emerged from the dingy coolness of the stone chapel into the bright spring sunlight, he told himself that maybe he did need to grow up a little. Partying and playing cards took up a lot of time and money. It was time now for him to stop indulging in such things and throw himself into serious study, especially if he wanted to land in a good church that would pay him a not so meager salary. With this thought in his mind, George wandered off to his room to unpack.

George’s good intentions lasted for about two weeks, right up to the time a new friend, Gunter, invited him to Der Grüner Tisch, the wildest ale house in Halle.

“Don’t tell me you’re too busy to have a little fun,” Gunter goaded him.

George put down his book and looked up at Gunter. He hadn’t had a drink of beer, heard a good story, or played a round of cards since arriving at the university. He was getting all his studies done, but what was the use of working so hard without a little excitement?

“You’re quite right, Gunter,” said George, slamming his book shut. “Even a divinity student needs to live a little!” Grabbing his coat, he followed his friend out into the mild April evening.

It wasn’t until George was breathing the smoky air, winking at the barmaids, and playing round after round of cards that he realized just how much he had missed it all. This was the life for him. As he gulped his beer, he promised himself that while he partied in the evenings he would keep up his grades during the daytime. Later, when he was closer to graduating, he would worry about being a more suitable candidate for a pastor. After all, he had plenty of time to improve—he was only nineteen years old!

George’s reputation soon spread. Everyone at Halle heard about the clever divinity student who could guzzle ten pints of beer in a single sitting, could tell the most outrageous stories, including one about being thrown in jail, and always was ready to gamble. George became so popular that he found himself enjoying Halle more than he’d imagined he would, except for one thing—the old problem of debt. He’d lost a few games of cards and paid for a few rounds of drinks at Der Grüner Tisch and now owed money again. He pawned the watch his father had given him as a confirmation gift five years before, then his towels, sheets, and some of his clothes. He intended to reclaim it all just as soon as he had a big win at cards. The cards did not fall his way, however, and George began borrowing money, just as he had at Nordhausen.

As George strolled along the River Saale one afternoon, feeling a little depressed about being in debt again, he decided he really had to do something about his life. But what? It was so hard trying to change, especially when the ale house was the most exciting place in the entire town. And a young man was entitled to a little excitement. Before he knew it, he was turning the corner and slipping in the door to Der Grüner Tisch.

“Ha, come here, George Müller,” he heard Gunter yell over the hubbub in the room. “If there’s one thing I know will liven up any party, it’s my friend George!”

George grinned, bought himself a pint of beer, and made his way over to the table. Gunter continued the introduction. “This is Herr George Müller, the only divinity student I know who’s spent a Christmas in jail. Come on, George, there’s some new people here tonight. Tell us all about it.”

With great gusto, George launched into his story. He described the way he had tricked the first innkeeper and the look on the face of the policeman as he had grabbed George. It all seemed so funny now, and George reveled in reliving and embellishing the story with each telling. As he spoke, he glanced around at the listening crowd. Gunter was right—there were some faces he’d never seen before. Through the smoky haze, though, the man sitting at the far end of the table looked vaguely familiar.

“Well told,” laughed Gunter, slapping George heartily on the back when he finished the story. “I’ll get you another beer, and then I want you to tell the story about when you broke into the pawn shop and retrieved your trunk.”

“Yes, yes. Get me a drink, and I’ll tell you another story,” agreed George, happy to be the center of attention.

As the group around the table laughed among themselves, George noticed the man at the far end get up and walk towards him. Yes, he frowned, I’ve seen him before, but where?

“Beta’s the name,” said the man, thrusting his hand out to shake George’s. “I don’t suppose you remember me, though I remember you well.”

George reached back into his memory. Beta. Beta. Then it came to him. “Ah, Beta, how good to see you! Of course, I remember you from the Cathedral Classical School at Halberstadt. You were the one who always carried the Bible and went to prayer meetings.”

Beta turned red. “Yes,” he stammered, “but I’ve decided to live a little now that I’m at Halle. Can we be friends?”

George wasn’t sure that was a good idea. On the one hand he felt a strange rush of hope seeing the religious Beta again. For just a second he even thought Beta might be able to help him get out of the mess he was in! On the other hand, the last thing he wanted was to be seen with a religious do-gooder, though from the way Beta sounded, it seemed he might want to put those days behind him. “Let’s see what happens,” George said noncommittally, at the same time moving over to make room for Gunter.

The night finished like so many others, with George helping a few of his very drunk friends find their way back to their rooms. But as he did so tonight, Beta followed along behind him, chattering away about their time at Halberstadt. He’s very eager to be friends, thought George as he steadied Gunter, who was staggering along beside him. I guess there is no harm in his tagging along with us.

Soon the semester was nearly over, and the summer holidays were just around the corner. George pondered the question of what to do for them. Going back to visit his father seemed like a bad idea, and he’d had enough of Halle for a while. What he needed was some fresh air and a change of scenery. What he needed was a trip to Switzerland!