Christmas celebrations were very simple in most Victorian orphanages. The Christmas meal was modest and there were few presents. Children who had uncles or aunts might get a few gifts, but children with no relatives would get none.
But things were different at the Müller Homes – the orphanage at Ashley Down in Bristol.
All the presents given to the orphanage were shared so that every single orphan received at least one small present at Christmas.
Sharing with others was one of the Christian principles George Müller taught the children.
Müller also regularly taught the children the way of salvation. Children attended Bible lessons at Sunday School and prayers of thanks were given every day.
Müller also made sure that each child received a proper education so they could find employment on leaving the orphanage.
Testimonies from the Müller Orphanage show that the children were very happy – not just at Christmas, but all through the year.
The story of the Müller Homes
The story of the Müller Orphanage is truly remarkable.
In 1829, George Müller came from Prussia to England at the age of 24 as a missionary. After trying out different opportunities for service, Müller settled in Bristol in 1832. He came with little money and had to learn the English language and English culture.
Müller built the Ashley Down orphanage entirely on donations. It has been estimated that the cost of the orphanage would have been over £100 million in today’s money. The Müller Homes cared for more than 10,000 children.
Incredibly, Müller never asked for a donation – they just came throughout his ministry. Müller’s method was to turn to prayer when he needed resources.
God answered his prayers in the most astounding ways. As well as God providing the financial resources that were needed, there are also accounts of free food being delivered to the orphanage just in time for meals, following the earnest prayer of Müller.
As well as the orphanage, Müller also founded the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad, with the goal of aiding Christian schools and missionaries and distributing copies of the Bible and Christian tracts. It is recorded that during his life Müller gave away 285,407 Bibles and 1,459,506 New Testaments.
Müller worked in Bristol for 66 years until his death in 1898. Müller’s funeral was attended by thousands of people, and many factories were closed out of respect.
Many Christians and non-Christians gave glory to God for the work of Müller. TheBristol Timeswrote the following: ‘He was raised up for the purpose of showing that the age of miracles is not past.’
To this day, many people in Bristol are aware of Müller and thankful for his work. I know this personally because I grew up in Bristol and have worked for most of my career in Bristol. Also, for 85 years my family had a house next to the cemetery where Müller is buried. We often noticed flowers placed on Müller’s grave.
Why did Müller come?
The story of the Müller Homes raises the question of what caused Müller to come to England as a missionary and do this great work.
This year I gained a fascinating insight into the background of George Müller. In September I went to Halle in eastern Germany where Müller studied. I was invited to speak at a national conference for Christian schools in Germany. Interestingly, one of the biggest Christian schools in Germany is named after George Müller. It has over 2,000 pupils.
As I walked through Halle, it struck me that the town was a very cultured place of learning when George Müller studied there.
Halle was an economic and educational centre in eastern Germany. The Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg is the largest university in that region of Germany (Saxony-Anhalt), and is one of the oldest universities in the world.
Halle also has a classical music tradition that includes one of the world’s greatest composers – George Frideric Handel.
A humble servant of God
Müller could have had a prosperous career in Halle or the surrounding area. He could have enjoyed the rich cultural life of that part of Germany. But Müller came to England on his own to serve God as a missionary.
He was convinced that serving God and following his leading was the most important thing in his life.
I was struck in Halle with how humble Müller was to leave that place to be a missionary. With all due respect, Bristol is not in the same league as Halle in terms of culture and learning. Yet Müller was content to live his life in Bristol, far from his family.
I think one of the best evidences for the existence of God is the way missionaries like Müller are prepared to sacrifice so much to serve God.
God equips his people for the work
In Halle I discovered another exciting historical fact about George Müller.
To gain experience of Christian service, Müller spent two months living in an orphanage in Halle as a helper. Halle had a famous orphanage created by Augustus Francke around 1700.
Müller saw first-hand how love and education was given to orphans by Christians. Müller was to use that experience to great effect when he came to Bristol.
It so happened that the conference I spoke at in Halle took place in the historic orphanage where Müller stayed. It was very moving to speak in the actual building where Müller learned about the workings of an orphanage.
It was entirely within God’s plan to equip Müller with the skills and knowledge he would need in later life in Bristol. It is incredible to think that the orphanages in Bristol had their roots in Halle.
The Bible has many examples of God preparing people for service many years in advance. Moses was prepared by God for many years to be a leader of the children of Israel. King David was prepared by God to be a leader while he was a shepherd. These examples show that God is in control of all things and can always use circumstances for the good of his kingdom.
The joy of serving God
Today there are still missionaries who sacrifice their careers and comfort to work for God in foreign lands with foreign languages. Each one is prepared by God to serve in the place where God has sent them. I know of one family which left for Madeira this year to start a new church on that island.
The best thing in life is to know God and be a part of God’s plans. The saddest thing in life is not to be a part of God’s plans. At the first Christmas there were those who became followers of Jesus and then had the privilege of working for God in his kingdom. Make this Christmas your time to become part of God’s plans.