George Müller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans

“Switzerland?” said Beta incredulously. “How can we afford to go to Switzerland?”

George smiled. “You worry too much,” he scolded his friend. “Trust me. I have a plan. I always do. Once our exams are over, we won’t need our books until next year, will we?”

Beta nodded in agreement.

“Well, instead of letting them lie around in our rooms, let’s pawn them and use the money for our trip. When we get back, we can use our first installment of allowance money to get them back. Now doesn’t that sound like a plan?”

“Well…,” Beta’s voice trailed off. “I guess it could work, as long as we knew we could get the books back.”

“Of course we will. Trust me,” replied George, as if the matter were already settled.

“But what about passports? I’m underage, and so are you. Our fathers will have to sign for us.”

“You are too honest for your own good, Beta!” laughed George. “You told me you were leaving all that religious stuff behind. Sometimes you just have to get a little creative.”

“How?” Beta asked.

George took a deep breath. “How many pieces of paper do you have with your father’s signature on them?” he asked.

“Maybe two or three,” replied Beta, looking puzzled.

“And how hard it is to practice until you can write your father’s signature just like he does?”

A broad smile lit up Beta’s face. Finally he was beginning to understand. “You mean forge my father’s signature?” he asked.

George nodded. “You can’t tell me you’ve never thought of doing that before,” he goaded.

“Well, I, I…What a good idea,” Beta stammered. Then sounding more confident, he added, “I’m sure that won’t be hard to do at all.”

And it wasn’t. On August 28, 1825, five young men set out from Halle for Switzerland. Each of them sported a new Prussian passport in his coat pocket, and each of the other four had handed to George a pouch of gold coins. George had offered to keep track of all their expenses on the trip.

The men had a great time. They traveled by horse-drawn coach through Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Zurich, right into the heart of Switzerland. They slept out in the open fields, climbed tall mountains, swam in glacial lakes, and entertained the local people in the village ale houses they frequented along the way. After a month, the weather began to cool, and it was time for them to begin the journey back to Halle for the fall semester. As they traveled back through Bavaria and into southern Prussia, everyone congratulated George and Beta on their wonderful idea.

As much fun as everyone else had had, George was sure he’d enjoyed the trip the most. That was because he had paid only half as much as his four companions. Helping yourself every so often along the way to a few coins from the combined purse was one of the advantages of being in charge of the money, George rationalized. Besides, if his friends were too stupid to ask questions about how much things cost, they deserved to be swindled!

When they finally arrived back at Halle, George was the only one with enough money to redeem his books from the pawnshop right away. Yes, he smiled to himself as he walked back to his room with his books, it had been a great trip, and profitable, too! He wondered where they would go next year.

By November, life had settled back into a familiar routine for George Müller. George studied hard during the day and partied and gambled by night.

During the afternoon of November 20, as George studied hard in his room, Beta dropped by to visit. “How about a walk?” he asked. “It’s stopped snowing, and the paths have been cleared.”

George looked up from his English textbook. A walk did seem like a good idea. It might help clear his head.

Beta waited patiently while George finished reading the page he was on and then pulled on his overcoat. The two of them headed outside and began walking towards the river.

“I wonder if Otto will be at Der Grüner Tisch tonight. He tells a great story about his days in the army, doesn’t he?” said George as they walked side by side.

Beta nodded. “Yes, he does, but I won’t be going along tonight. I have something else to do.”

“Something else?” mocked George. “Something more important than a drink with your friends! And what might that something be?”

Beta looked away. “I’ve met another old friend,” he said.

“Anyone I know?” inquired George.

“It’s Herr Kayser. I don’t think you know him,” Beta replied.

“Well, how do you know this Herr Kayser?”

Beta began fiddling with the fringe of his scarf. “Well, he’s…,” he began, then stopped. Then he blurted, “I’m going to a Bible meeting, and he’s going to be running it.”

“A Bible meeting?” laughed George out loud. “Beta, I thought you had left all that behind when you met me!”

“I just wanted to have some fun. I never said I was giving it all up completely,” Beta said lamely.

“Well, you have turned religious on me again, have you? What do you do at these meetings?’

“Nothing that you’d be interested in,” Beta replied. “We sing and pray, and Herr Kayser reads a sermon. It’s not that bad, really. I think you’d even like Herr Kayser if you met him.”

A scene flashed through George’s mind. George was at Der Grüner Tisch telling his latest and funniest story yet—about the night he’d gone with Beta to a Bible meeting!

“I will meet Herr Kayser,” said George, turning to face his friend, “tonight, with you.”

Beta’s face turned as white as the snow they were trudging through. “No, I don’t want you to. I mean, you don’t have to,” he said stumbling over his words.

“Nonsense, Beta. You always go to the ale house with me. The least I can do is to go to a Bible meeting with you,” George said mockingly, enjoying his friend’s discomfort.

George and Beta continued the rest of the walk in silence. As the snow crunched under his feet, George wondered what he had agreed to. It was fun to see Beta so worried, but was it worth his time going to a Bible meeting? He had heard about them. Sometimes people even got arrested at them for delivering sermons. It was against the law in Prussia to give a sermon without a registered Lutheran pastor present. This was supposed to ensure that only university-trained pastors got to preach, which kept the Bible from being distorted and uneducated peasants from getting strange ideas. At least that was what George had always been told.

According to Beta, however, Herr Kayser was going to read the sermon. That was how people got around the law. As long as the sermon had originally been written by a licensed and trained pastor, it could be read at any gathering. That got George wondering about what kind of man would want to read someone else’s sermon. And more important, what was George getting himself into by going to the Bible meeting to hear someone else’s sermon being read?

Chapter 3
Something Was Strangely Different

A tall, burly, blond man reached out to take George’s coat. “I am Herr Wagner. Welcome to my home,” he said.

George mumbled something in reply. He was already beginning to regret coming. Perhaps the fresh supply of stories he had hoped to garner by attending the Bible meeting wasn’t such a good idea after all.

“You look chilled to the bone, Herr Müller. I suggest you stand by the fire for a few moments and warm yourself before the meeting starts,” continued Herr Wagner kindly.

George followed Beta into a large library where twelve men and women were already seated in a semicircle around the blazing fire. Beta motioned towards a seat near the door, and George was glad to slip into it. He had never felt so out of place in his life.

Soon a hymnbook was thrust into his hand, and George sang along with the others, relieved that at least he recognized the tune of the song. While he sang he relaxed a little and looked around the room. As he glanced to his left, a pair of the prettiest blue eyes he’d ever seen met his. George flushed a little and quickly returned his gaze to the words of the song in the hymnal.

The group sang another hymn and then another. When they finally stopped singing, one of the men—Beta whispered to George that it was Herr Kayser—knelt beside his chair.

“Let us bow our heads in prayer,” he began.

George was stunned. He could not take his eyes off Herr Kayser. In his entire life, he had never seen a person kneel to pray. And not only was Herr Kayser kneeling to pray, but he was doing so in a room filled with people. George had always thought that people prayed and sang and taught the Bible the way he’d always heard and seen it done at school and university. But that was not true. Herr Kayser was praying to the same God, but in a totally different way than George had expected. George wondered what else might be different. Before long, he found out.

After a long prayer, Herr Kayser got to his feet, then sat down heavily. He picked up and opened a black leather-bound Bible. He began to read, first a verse, then two, then ten, finally a whole chapter. George looked around. Everyone in the room was concentrating on what was being read. Several people were even nodding in agreement or smiling as certain verses were read. Once the Bible reading was over, Herr Kayser pulled some sheets of paper from the folder on the table beside him, slanted them towards the oil lamp, and began to read the sermon.

George had heard sermons before—at confirmation, at his mother’s funeral, and on those few occasions when he’d managed to get up early enough on Sunday to make it to church. But he had never heard a sermon like this one. It wasn’t so much the words, but the way they were spoken. Even though Herr Kayser was reading the sermon, he spoke as if every word was important. No—more than important—vital. George felt himself being drawn into what was being read. When Herr Kayser finished reading, George pulled out his watch to check the time. He was surprised to find that an hour and a half had slipped by.

The group sang another hymn, and Herr Wagner announced that it was time for the final prayer. “Dear heavenly Father,” he began, “we ask You to forgive us for all our unbelief and to strengthen us to do Your will, trying in all things to honor You and the work of Your beloved son Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Once again, George was amazed. It sounded as if Herr Wagner was talking to someone in the room! George sat in his chair for several minutes after the amen, thinking about it. He was stunned by the whole evening. It was not at all like he’d imagined it would be. Beta had told him that Herr Wagner had never been to university. “Yet for all of that,” George mumbled to himself, “he prays a better prayer than me, and I’m a divinity student.”

“What did you say?” asked Beta, his voice breaking into George’s thoughts.

“Nothing,” said George.

But it was something. These people sang as if they were singing about someone they knew. They prayed as if they were praying to someone in the room. And they preached as if they believed every word they said. It was all very troubling to George.

“Are you ready to go? Or should we ask if we can spend the night?” joked Beta.

George looked around, startled to notice that only a couple of people were still in the room. One of them was the young woman who had been staring at him during the singing of the first hymn. Now she walked boldly over to him. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend, Beta?” she asked in a lilting voice.

“Yes, of course,” replied Beta. “Ermegarde, I would like you to meet a college friend of mine, George Müller.”

George bowed, and Ermegarde nodded, causing her ringlets to bounce around the edges of her face. “I hope we shall be seeing more of you, Herr Müller,” she said, looking coyly into his eyes.

“Yes, yes,” said George, desperately looking for a way out. He was not used to talking to women, unless he was at the ale house half drunk!

“We must be off, George,” said Beta, rescuing him.

George put on his coat, scarf, and gloves and followed Beta out into the cold, snowy night. The two men silently trotted alongside each other as they made their way back to the university.

Finally, Beta broke the silence. “Well, what did you think of the meeting?”

George could have come up with a funny reply, but for once he felt serious. He answered truthfully. “Nothing I have ever done, not traveling to Switzerland, not spending the night drinking and partying at Der Grüner Tisch, has ever been as enjoyable to me as this evening.”