Many great efforts toward social reform were started by Christians whose compassion for the sufferings of others birthed in them an activist spirit which expressed the love of Jesus Christ in real and substantial ways.
There have been periods in history when the Church, like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32) of those who suffered from poverty, neglect and injustice. But, even in those times, God raised up individual Christian leaders whose lights shone so brightly that societal attitudes were reformed and the lives of thousands were changed. One inspiring example of this leadership-by-example was George Muller who spent his life ministering to the needs of orphans.
The Orphan’s Friend
“Love is of God. God is love. And he who loves most is most like God.” – George Muller
True to James’s declaration that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is…to visit orphans…in their distress” (James 1:27a NASB), George Muller (1805-1898) pioneered a ministry that ministered to thousands of poor and orphaned children in 19th Century England.
Muller, a minister in Bristol, England, began in 1834 by opening Day-schools for poor children. By 1835 there were five Day-schools—two for boys and three for girls. These schools were needed because poor children were largely uneducated, and the prevailing attitude was that they were not worthy to receive an education. The Wikipedia article about Muller’s ministry states that he was accused of “raising the poor above their natural station in life.” During his lifetime, he opened 117 schools and provided Christian education to over 120,000 children—most of them poor.
Muller also built ministries that specifically assisted orphans. In the 1800’s, few orphans had anyone to care for them. They had to beg on the streets or steal food to survive, and the government often put them in workhouses where they worked long hours under harsh conditions. Children who had lost both parents were essentially homeless. Because of this, Muller and his wife decided in 1836 to open a home for 30 girls; soon afterwards, they opened a home for 30 boys. By 1845, the Mullers were taking care of 300 children; by 1870, that number had swelled to 1,722. George Muller never asked people for money to support his work. Being a man of great faith, Muller only told the Lord of His needs in secret prayer. His autobiography, which details dozens of miraculous answers to prayer, is a Christian classic.
Having heard about the work that Muller was doing, author Charles Dickens visited one of his orphanages. This experience played a role in Dickens’s writing of the novella A Christmas Carol. Dickens also wrote a magazine article praising Muller’s ministry. Inspired by Muller’s efforts, others imitated his programs. Eventually, 100,000 orphans were being cared for throughout England.