Who was George Mueller?

George Mueller was a Christian evangelist and director of the Orphanage at Ashley Downs in Bristol, England during the 1800s. He is best remembered for his complete trust in God's provision, never soliciting the community for financial donations nor accepting any government support. With this unique dependence on unsolicited gifts, his institution is estimated to have received and disbursed over £113 million in today's money by the time of Mueller's death. He preached at Bethesda Chapel and later traveled the world to preach the gospel and promote stewardship by bearing witness to his life of non-reliance on worldly riches.

George Mueller was not always so faithful to God or unaffected by money. Born on September 27, 1805 in Germany (then known as Prussia), his father was a tax collector and desired that his son George live comfortably. For this reason, George was sent to the cathedral classical school at Halberstadt with the hope that he could become a Lutheran clergyman and make a comfortable living from the State Church. At that time, George used to steal government money from his father, gamble playing cards, and was eventually arrested for defrauding several inn-keepers by staying at hotels and attempting to leave without paying. After his arrest, George cleaned up his behavior and attended school at Nordhousen until entering the University of Halle as a divinity student where, unfortunately, he fell back into his sinful ways. There, he was invited to a Bible study and prayer meeting in a private home, and in November 1825, he gave his life to the Lord.

In 1829, he arrived in London to work with Jews in England but quickly fell ill. When he requested a new assignment from the missionary society that sent him, they refused; George ended his relationship with them in January 1830. He then became the minister at Ebenezer Chapel in Shaldon, Devon and soon after married Mary Groves. He almost immediately renounced his preacher's salary, preferring to receive from people's desire to give rather than placing on them the burden of duty. He also did away with the practice of renting pews because he felt it gave the wealthy undue privilege. In May 1832, he and Mary moved to Bristol so that George could work with his friend Henry Craik at Bethesda Chapel where he continued to preach throughout his life.

In 1834, George Mueller founded the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad to support orphanages, Bible distribution, and missionaries (one of whom was Hudson Taylor). In 1836, he and Mary opened their own home to 30 orphan girls in Bristol. As one thing led to another, they eventually opened three more houses on the same street to accommodate boys and younger children, eventually housing 130 children total. Neighbors began to complain, so in 1845, he decided there needed to be a building designed specifically to house 300 children on its own grounds. In 1849, the orphanage at Ashley Downs opened after the architect who designed it donated his expertise, working pro bono. By 1870, there were five homes on the property with room to house 2,050 children. Mueller worked to secure apprenticeships, professional training, and domestic service positions for each of the children as they reached adulthood. This led to the accusation that he was "raising the poor above their natural station in British life" and nearby factories and mines complained of not being able to find enough workers.

Mueller was known as a man of prayer who completely trusted God to provide. In one instance, he and the children sat down at the table and he thanked God for the as-yet non-existent breakfast. Moments later, the local baker showed up with fresh bread for the children. Just then, the milkman also came to the door reporting that his cart had broken down and the children should have the milk because it would sour before the repairs to his cart could be completed. Thus the children had a nutritious breakfast where moments before there had been only empty plates. In another instance, Mueller was traveling by boat across the Atlantic and was informed that the boat was going to slow down because of a thick fog thus delaying their arrival. He asked the captain to escort him to the chart room so he could pray for the lifting of the fog. He prayed a simple prayer and as the captain began to half-heartedly add his own prayer, Mueller stopped him. He said, "Captain, I have known my Lord for more than 50 years and there is not one instance that I have failed to have an audience with the king. Get up, Captain, for you will find that the fog has gone." When they returned to the bridge, they found the fog had indeed lifted and Mueller was able to keep his appointment as the boat arrived on time.

Mueller kept scrupulous records of every donation to the foundation from a single farthing to £3,000 to a single teaspoon, and he made those records available for scrutiny to any who asked. He wanted others to know the abundant provision of the Lord and felt that his personal life proved his claims about stewardship and non-reliance on earthly riches. His annual income in 1831 had been £151 and by 1870 it had risen to over £2,000, although he used only about £300 per year for himself and his family and gave away the remainder. He spread this message of salvation and stewardship during a 17-year period of missionary travel to Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, and Africa, preaching in English, French, or German. Because his first wife died in 1870, George remarried in 1871 to Susannah Sanger; and it was with her in 1875, at the age of 71, that he began this preaching tour.

Mueller died in 1898 in his home at the orphanage in Bristol, England. He left behind a legacy of faithful trust in an even more faithful and generous God who helped George Mueller provide for over 10,000 orphans during his lifetime and to share his example of total dependence on God's provision.

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