George Müller (September 27, 1805 – March 10, 1898), a Christian evangelist and coordinator of orphanages in Bristol, England, cared for a total of over 100,000 orphans in his life. He was well-known for his constant faith in God and for providing an education to the children under his care, to the point where he was accused of raising the poor above their natural station in life. However, the orphanages continue to this day. Müller's faith was so strong that he did not believe in telling people what his needs were. He prayed to God and found that someone would then donate what was needed. On this basis, he ran his orphanages. This principle of 'faith mission' was adopted by several overseas missions agencies, whose personnel do not draw a salary from the sending agency but rely on their 'faith' to survive.
Müller was born in Kroppenstedt, a village near Halberstadt in the kingdom of Prussia. His early life was not marked by Christian righteousness—on the contrary, he was a thief, a liar and a gambler. While his mother was dying, he, at 14 years of age, was playing cards with friends and drinking, and two years later, he was imprisoned for fraud.
Müller's father hoped to provide him with a religious education that would allow him to take a lucrative position as clergy in the state church. He studied divinity in the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, and there met a fellow student who invited him to a Christian house meeting. There he was welcomed, and he began regularly reading the Bible and discussing Christianity with the others who attended the meetings. He soon left his drinking and lying, and began hoping to become a missionary. He began preaching regularly in nearby churches and continued meeting with the growing group of evangelical believers in his university.
In 1828, Müller offered to work with Jews in England through the London Missionary Society, but upon arriving in 1829, he fell ill, and did not think that he would survive. When he recovered, however, he dedicated himself to doing the will of God. He soon left the London Missionary Society, convinced that God would provide for his needs as he did Christian work. He became the pastor of Ebenezer Chapel, a Brethren congregation in Devon and soon after, married Mary Groves, the sister of Anthony Norris Groves (1795-1853), who is regarded as the founder of the Open Brethren's overseas missionary work. During Müller's time as the pastor of the church, he refused a regular salary, believing that the practice could lead to church members giving out of duty, not desire. He also eliminated the renting of church pews, arguing that it gave unfair prestige to the rich.
Müller moved to Bristol in 1832 to begin working at the Bethesda Brethren chapel. Along with fellow Brethren elder Henry Craik, who had invited him to Bristol, he continued preaching there until his death, even while devoted to his other ministries. In 1834, he founded the Scripture Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad, with the goal of aiding Christian schools and missionaries, and distributing the Bible. Not receiving government support and only accepting unsolicited gifts, this organization received and disbursed Pound sterling 1.5 million ($2,718,844 USD) by the time of Müller's death, primarily using the money for supporting the orphanages and distributing nearly two million Bibles and religious texts. The money was also used to support other missionaries around the world, such as Hudson Taylor.
The work of Müller and his wife with orphans began in 1836 with the preparation of their own home in Bristol for the accommodation of thirty girls. He was concerned that other orphanages catered only for children's material but not for their spiritual needs. He set out to meet both needs. Soon after, three more houses were furnished, growing the total of children cared for to 130. In 1845, as growth continued, Müller decided that a separate building designed to house 300 children was necessary, and in 1849, at Ashley Down, Bristol, that home opened. By 1870, more than 2,000 children were being accommodated in five homes.
Through all this, Müller never made requests for financial support, nor did he go into debt, even though the five homes cost a total of over £100,000 to build. Many times, he received unsolicited food donations only hours before they were needed to feed the children, further strengthening his faith in God. Every morning after breakfast there was a time of Bible reading and prayer, and every child was given a Bible upon leaving the orphanage. The children were dressed well and educated—Müller even employed a school inspector to maintain high standards. In fact, many claimed that nearby factories and mines were unable to obtain enough workers because of his efforts in securing apprenticeships, professional training, and domestic service positions for the children old enough to leave the orphanage.
In 1875, at the age of 70 and after the death of his first wife in 1870 and his remarriage to Musannah Sanger in 1872, Müller began a 17 year period of missionary travel. In that time, he preached in the United States, India, Australia, Japan, China, and nearly forty other countries. He traveled a total of over 200,000 miles, an incredible achievement for pre-aviation times. His language abilities allowed him to preach in English, French, and German, and his sermons were translated into over a dozen other languages. In 1892 he returned to England, where he died in 1898. The Brethren movement started with informal meetings of a group of graduates of Dublin's Trinity College who decided to study the bible together regardless of denominational affilitation. Several members of the group were ordained but as the movement developed it regarded all Christians as ministers and recognized only the offices of elder and deacon. Elders were also pastors.
Not only have the orphanages founded by Müller survived, but his fellow Brethren member, Dr T.J. Barnado (1845-1905) founded his world-famous organization in London in 1867. During Dr Barnado's life, 60,000 destitute children were rescued, educated and placed in employment. Dr Barnado had originally intended to work in China. Barnado's currently spends 100 million pounds a year in children's work. Brethren, historically, have been indifferent towards numerical success but deeply committed to mission work and also to the type of social welfare program pioneered by Müller. Convinced that if he did God's will, God would ensure a good result even if this was not always visible, Müller stressed faithfulness to God's calling and commission. This contrasts sharply with a dominant approach within evangelical churches today that sees results in terms of numbers of converts as the only true sign of success. Inspired by Müller, many Brethren have engaged in volunteer social work which in some parts of the world where the Brethren, through their missions, established churches, is especially associated with the movement. Because of his own background of drinking and wasteful living, Müller believed that God can call and use anyone for God's purposes.
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