Published with Permission
Written by Katharine Trauger
Orphaned in infancy, raised by his grandmother in a castle east of Dresden, pioneer in world missions…who was this famous home scholar?
On May 26, 1700, you write in your family Bible, “ . . . gift of my first-born son . . . Father of mercy . . . govern the heart of this child that he may walk blamelessly in the path of virtue . . . may his path be fortified in his Word.” Six weeks later your husband dies of tuberculosis.
You are Charlotte, a countess. As you grieve for yourself and for your tiny son who will never know his daddy, you receive support from your sister and your mother. When in three years you remarry a commoner, you feel forced to leave your son with your mother, Henriette, a pious baroness.
Your son’s childhood in his grandmother’s castle is seemingly the catalyst for his destiny. In an atmosphere you know will be bathed in prayer, Bible study, and hymns, he grows to treasure his Bible and his catechism most of all his many possessions. When only six, he writes love letters to Jesus and in child-like devotion, tosses them to Him out the turret windows. When soldiers, attempting to take over the town, barge in on him at his customary oral prayers, they stop, awestruck at his words.
Overlapping this piety is the ever-constant preparation for a life of nobility. Your mother gives careful attention to tutoring, training, discipline, and culture. She literally prepares him for a future in the court.
At age ten, he must leave this beautiful beginning and enter a “paedagogium”, a sort of private school for boys conducted much like a homeschool. Your mother believes he needs the individual male tutoring it offers, and more preparation than she feels able to give. For six years, he receives this watchful grooming while, of course, he faces taunts and tricks from classmates as retaliation for his pious ways and highborn status.
He proves himself, though, by mastering Greek, Latin, and French. His strong poetic inspiration surfaces at this time, often coming to him faster than he can write. At this time, also, he meets his first missionary. His diary records, “[. . .] the cheerfulness of that man of God in the work of the Lord [. . .] increased my zeal for the cause of the Lord in a powerful manner [. . .].”
His tutor readies him for university studies and he proceeds to Wittenberg with your mother’s stern warnings that his place is in the service of the state. He goes willingly, but determines to dilute the worldly teaching he receives by dedicating the hours from six to seven in the morning, and from eight to nine at night, for prayer. He is only sixteen. Driven by belief in Christian unity, he works hard to cultivate appreciation for his professors from a different faith.
You send him to tour Europe with one of your other sons and with his tutor. Constantly assaulted with cultural riches, his heart inclines ever closer to the Savior. In an art museum, while viewing Domenico Feti’s Ecce Homo—a painting of the thorn-crowned Jesus—he reads the inscription, “I have done this for you; what have you done for me?” Feeling he has loved his Lord since childhood but has never actually done anything for Him he vows to do whatever the Savior asks.
At age 21, he purchases one of your mother’s estates, and enters service to the court in Dresden, but rarely has to spend time there. He opens his Dresden apartment for informal Sunday meetings and begins teaching and hymn writing.
Meeting a devout Roman Catholic causes him to study the subject of marriage, and to decide he should marry, but he limits himself to a partner who shares his ideals. Quickly he finds the blessedly perfect match, a young countess who, if possible, comes from a home even more devout than your mother’s. Although he loves her, his first consideration is that she assist him in serving Christ. His marriage and his time spent in Dresden please your mother, who thinks he has given up on ministry.
He dreams all the while, though, of forming a Christian community on his estate. Oppressed Christians from Moravia already seek asylum on his property, before he has even moved his new bride in. With permission, they cut his trees for their building needs. Your son visits and prays for these people, sensing spiritual kinship with them. For his 24th birthday, he lays the cornerstone for a building near these settlers to house an academy, a print shop, and an apothecary. Passers-by find your son’s prayers so amazing that they decide to stay on. By his 25th birthday, he is host to 90 Christian refugees.
Eventually the settlement grows into hundreds of members. Of course, there are troubles: those who join only to ridicule, denominational differences, governmental persecution, and the like. Your son even suffers banishment from Saxony, for a while. These all serve, though, to purify the settlement and broaden the scope of your son’s vision. Eventually, he establishes outposts in several European locations, and even in the young America. During one storm-tossed trip to America, members of your son’s settlement behave so bravely that a traveler from England, a certain John Wesley, finds his faith wanting, by comparison. This leads to the traveler’s actual salvation after corresponding with your son’s friend. In fact, the settlement finds itself answering hundreds of letters per day and praying over the requests in them.
From the many outposts of the settlement, it is a simple step into missions. By 1760, they send out more than 200 members as missionaries throughout the world, most into places the established church dares not reach.
Who is your famous son?
Answer: Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf; beloved founder of the Renewed Church of the Unity of the Brethren (the Moravians); referred to as :The Rich Young Ruler who said ‘YES’”; establisher of the Hundred-Year Prayer Meeting; publisher of “The Daily Text” devotional guide still in publication; writer of over 2000 hymns (one of which is “Jesus Still Lead On” translated into 90 languages); founder of Bethlehem, PA; and home scholar.
Another question: Where is Moravia? Answer: Moravia is a region in the east of Czech Republic, a neighbor of Germany. The Elbe River, which runs past Dresden, also runs near Moravia.