The Guardian of Bristol's Orphans
By Janet and Geoff Benge
George Muller's wonderful biography opens with an attempted escape from the consequences of stealing. Yes, the sixteen-year-old George was dishonest, rebellious, a thief and a liar. He was caught by the Prussian police officers and faced discipline both from police and his strict father. Giving no thought to repentance or a change in lifestyle, George determined never to get caught again. From then on, through college, one of his favorite hang-outs was the local tavern.
But God changed his life. In His perfect time, God drew him to Himself. He heard the gospel, God touched his heart, and He believed! Filled with God's Spirit, he lost all desire for drink and deceptions. No longer did he live for the next party. His new source of strength was His Lord -- and his lifeline was prayer.
Invited to come to England and minister to Jews, he left for London. But God had a different plan. Here are some highlights that show His power to change hearts and use weak, earthen vessels for His glorious work! Be sure to read the last section.
From Chapter 7: A Mission Field Right Here
This chapter gives a glimpse of the horrendous suffering caused by the cholera epidemic that ravished the British Isles in the 1830s. These are the times described in Oliver Twist and other books by Charles Dickens -- who, among other influential people, came to visit George Muller and his orphanages)
It was hard for George as he trudged from one end of Bristol to the other. The young pastor was welcomed into any house he stopped at. Even total strangers reached out to grab him as he walked by. George would read the Bible aloud to them and pray for the dying, or he would comfort a hysterical widow who now had no way to feed her ragged, hollow-cheeked children.
Mary Muller [his wife] was fighting her own battle. Every morning she watched her husband walk out the door and into danger. Each time George reached out to hold the hand of a dying child or help a woman lay her husband’s dead body out or hug a little child, he was exposing himself to cholera.
“What if you get sick?” Mary asked him. “Have you thought of that?”
George nodded silently. Of course, he had thought of it a thousand times. Every meal could easily be his last, especially given the number of people he touched who were dying. “But I have to do it, Mary. Somebody has to help these people and let them know God cares.”...
George had promised to visit a member of the congregation, a cobbler who lived about two miles away in the poorest part of Bristol.... As he made his way there, George had to jump over muddy puddles, and every carriage that went by sprayed water up at him. George had just passed the bakery on Newfoundland Street when a little girl came up to him. She was no more than five years old, and she was piggybacking a toddler, a small boy with a runny nose and wearing only a torn pair of trousers.
“Please, mister,” the little girl said with a lisp, “could you spare us a shilling? Me ma’s gone with the cholera and me dad went to the mines and didn’t come back.”
George stopped and crouched beside the little girl. “What’s your name, dear?” he asked, thinking of his own daughter tucked in her warm crib.
“Emily,” she replied, “and I can spell it, too. Me ma taught me.” Her eyes shone with delight from her dirt-streaked face.
“Can you now?” smiled George. “Well, I’ll tell you what. You spell it correctly, and you will have earned your shilling.”
"E-M-I-L-Y," she said triumphantly as she stuck out her grubby hand.
George laughed. "Perfect," he said reaching into his pocket. " Here's your shilling, and God bless you, Emily."...
As Emily hitched her brother higher up her back and picked her way through the crowd, George felt strangely saddened..... Did she have anywhere to sleep at night? What would happen to her brother if she got sick, or where would she go for help if he became ill?
These questioned haunted George Muller, and as he walked along, he wondered why he had not seen it before. He didn't need to got to the mission field in Baghdad.... He was standing in the middle of a mission field. Surely there could be no more needy people in all the world than little children like Emily and her brother." [pp. 92-93]
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6
From Chapter 8: The Breakfast Club
Where will they all sit?” asked Mary Muller...
“I don’t know,” said George. “I was thinking of asking the grocer if he had any apple boxes he could spare. Tipped on their sides they’d make
good seats, don’t you think?”
Mary nodded vaguely. “I suppose so,” she replied. “You really are determined to do this, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” replied George firmly. “There are children out on the streets of Bristol who have never heard the name of God, have never set foot in a church, and have no reason on this earth to hope. I have to do what little I can to help them. Right now the best I can do is invite them in for breakfast and read the Scriptures to them.”
“But how many do you think will show up? Do you have a limit on how many we can feed?” asked Mary Muller, panic beginning to show on her face. “...We hardly have enough breakfast for the three of us most of the time.”
“If God is in this, He will supply,” was George’s reply.
And so the Breakfast Club began. Within a month of its start, twenty to thirty ragged children were gathered around the Müllers’ steps each morning. At eight o’clock, George invited them in. Mary greeted them at the door. A pitcher of warm water was waiting on the counter inside, and the children took turns washing their faces and hands. Then they took their seats on the apple boxes that were placed around the oak table in the parlor.
Mary ladled out a large helping of oatmeal to each child, and then George said grace. The children ate noisily while Mary poured them cups of strong tea. While the children shoveled spoonfuls of sugar into the tea, George began the Bible lesson....
The popularity of the Breakfast Club grew, until a year later there was no room for even one more apple box in the Müllers’ parlor..." [pp. 95-96]
From Chapter 10: An Orphanage on Wilson Street
On the morning of February 3, 1836, George Muller hurried to number six Wilson Street. In spite of the icy sleet falling, he was humming to himself as he walked. Today was the day the orphanage opened, and he could hardly believe how quickly everything had come together. It had been only seven weeks since he had stood in Gideon Chapel and announced his intention to start the orphanage.
He remembered how some church members had told him it couldn’t be done. He was glad that today those members were going to see that God does indeed answer prayer and that things that seem impossible to men are possible to Him.
As he turned the brass key in the lock and key, George was deeply thankful for everything he saw. The tables and chairs in the parlor, the blue velvet couch... the chests of drawers upstairs filled with stacks of neatly folded underwear, petticoats, and socks, the cupboards with rows of shoes, the linen closet piled high with blankets and pillowcases—every single item was an answer to prayer. Even the house itself had been rented with donated money that was an answer to prayer.
Since he had begun the adventure of starting the orphanage, George had kept a careful prayer diary. Down one side of each page in his diary he had recorded each prayer request, and on the other side, the date and the way in which it was answered. Every item in the house was on the list. Even the coal, which he began shoveling into the fireplace to warm the house....
For now, the orphanage was set up only for girls aged seven to twelve.... By lunch time, George had rearranged the forms five or six times as he waited for a knock at the door. ... But the girls did not arrive. By five o’clock that night, not a single orphan had arrived at the fully equipped orphan house.... What had gone wrong?...
Mary rushed to meet him... “Tell me all about it,” she said, her face beaming with an expectant smile. “What are their names? How many are there?...
George shook his head as he took off his coat and scarf. He sat down heavily in a chair. “There aren’t any,” he said with a sigh....
“You mean not a single girl came?” she questioned.
George nodded. “Not a single one,” he answered, and then he added, “Maybe this was all a mistake after all.”
Mary walked over to her husband.... “How can you say that, George Muller? Look at all the prayers God has answered for us! Isn’t the house an answer to prayer? Look how much money has been provided....
George lifted his head.... “But there aren’t any orphans...."
With that Mary... laughed out loud. “But George,” she said, "that’s the whole point. We never did pray for children. Don’t you see? We prayed for coal and food and paint and workers, but we never thought to pray for children!”
George was laughing now. “Mary, you are quite right. I didn’t think we needed to because there are so many orphans on the streets, and I was sure we’d have applications from more people than we could house!” He caught his wife by the waist and swung her around. “Let’s go and pray, Mrs. Muller,” he said.
For the second morning in a row, George hummed as he walked to Wilson Street. This time was sure the orphan girls would come. After all, he had asked God to send them. And send them He did.... By the end of the month, the orphanage housed twenty-six girls, and forty-two more were on the waiting list." [pp. 119-123]
George thanked the many hundreds of people who had helped make the orphanage a reality. Some... had helped in large ways, such as with the ton of coal that had been delivered to the house one day and the anonymous gift of one hundred pounds.... But many of the gifts had been small.... [A] small boy who looked like he could have been an orphan himself knocked boldly on his door the day before, a shilling held tightly in his hand.
“This is for your girls,” the boy said when George opened the door. “I found a ring, and when I returned it to the owner, she gave me a shilling for being so honest. Here it is.”
A woman in Bristol sent George five shillings with a note saying she had gone to buy a new dress and deliberately chose the plainest one she could find.... The five shillings represented the money she had saved.... and she wanted the orphanage to have it....
Besides having thirty girls to care for, George was still pastor of Gideon Chapel, which was growing rapidly, and he had not eased off in his efforts with the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad. Three hundred fifty boys and girls were now in school, and the teachers’ salaries, rents for the classrooms, and books were all provided by the institution. It seemed that the more responsibilities George took on, the more he was able to carry.
Although George never asked for help with the orphan girls, offers poured in. A local doctor offered to treat the girls for free, and George’s old church at Teignmouth sent supplies and money to help. Housekeepers, laundry maids, and matrons either volunteered their services or agreed to work for lower wages....
Most people would have thought the hardest thing about starting an orphanage was raising the money, but for George Muller, the hardest thing was turning away needy children.... So, even though he told no one, from the day of the official opening of the orphanage at number six Wilson Street, a plan had been taking shape in George’s mind.
According to his plan there would be a second orphanage and a third until every orphan in Bristol was being taken care of, taught to read, and told about God. In October, George felt it was time to start putting his plan into action. He rented a second house.... [pp. 124-125]
"No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You!" Psalm 84:12
From Chapter 12: Do Unto Others
[[The hill called] Ashley Down was gentle and rolling and had large trees dotted across it. Cows grazed happily... [It was] perfect for an orphanage. ... [George] walked to [the owner's] home, only to be told that Mr. Hazelwood was still at work.... On the way home, he prayed and asked God to cause the owner to accept a reasonable price for the land.
The next morning, February 5, 1846, George returned to Mr. Hazelwood’s house... “Hello. Mr. Muller, I presume?” said a short, round man with a dark mustache a few moments later....
“Well, let’s get down to business, shall we, Mr. Muller,” he said. “As I understand from what my butler told me last night, you want to buy my property on Ashley Down for your orphans.”
George nodded. “That’s correct, sir.”
Mr. Hazelwood leaned toward George and lowered his voice. “Well, let me tell you the strangest thing. Last night, when I heard you had been to visit, I decided to tell you the price was two hundred pounds an acre. A fair price by anyone’s reckoning.... Well, I went to bed, and about three this morning I woke up.... I couldn’t get back to sleep. Nor could I escape the feeling as I lay awake that I was to offer you the land for one hundred and twenty pounds per acre....”
By evening, George Muller was the owner of seven acres of beautiful land on Ashley Down. And he had paid a total of eight hundred forty pounds for it.... At once he wrote to the architect in London, asking him whether he was still interested in helping to design and supervise the building of the orphanage. [pp. 150-151]
"Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. " Psalm 2:12
From Chapter 14: God will supply
“I hate to bother you, Mr. Muller,” began the matron, “but... 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."... [He] reached down and took [a little girl's hand] hand. “Come and see what God will do,” he said. 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 spoon. But there was no food whatsoever to be seen....
“...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 d looking 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. Muller,” 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....
“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, of you could, sir. The wheel on my cart has been 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...." [pp. 166-168]
"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 15:56-58
In November 1866, the fourth Orphan House was completed. Four years later, the final house opened its doors. George Muller and all the helpers God had provided were now "parents" to 2050 orphans!
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