William Borden

William Borden’s example during his years as a student at Yale University (1905-1909) serves as a reminder that a young person whose life is fully dedicated to Christ Jesus can have a tremendous spiritual impact on others. May many consecrated Christian teens and young adults be encouraged in their own spiritual life and service by Borden’s outstanding example.

Borden’s years at Yale were active and well-rounded. As a sports enthusiast, he participated in football, baseball, wrestling, crew (rowing), and track. He excelled academically and as a senior was elected as president of Yale’s Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society. As an elected Class Deacon he was responsible for helping to encourage the spiritual wellbeing and service opportunities of his fellow classmen. His final year at Yale he was also a member of the Senior [Student Government] Council and served on the committee that produced the Class Book of the graduating class.

Borden was seventeen years old when he entered Yale as a freshman. One of his classmates wrote of him: “I first met Bill Borden in the fall of 1905, at the beginning of my freshman year in Yale. What struck me then and during my entire acquaintance with him, was the amazing maturity of his character. Though almost a year older than he was, I felt that in character, self-control, and measure of purpose, he was many years my senior. In many ways, I should say, he was the most mature man of his class.

“I do not mean to imply that he was ‘oldmannish’ in the least. He had a keen sense of humor, could let out a most uproarious war whoop of a laugh, and was a famous ‘rough-houser’.”

Another classmate of Borden’s testified of him: “He served on the committee in charge of the religious work of our class, and soon stamped himself as a leader in the Christian activities of the college. In spite of his younger age, he was far more mature in faith than many considerably older. His grasp of the essentials of faith was, even at this time, firm and assured.

“He had already decided to become a foreign missionary. A fixed purpose of this sort gives a man a great singleness of aim that steadies not only himself, but those he meets; and Bill’s character had a solidity about it, directly traceable to his surrender to Christ for a life of service. Interested as he was in football and many other activities, Bill let it be known that his heart was first in the service of the Savior, ever watching for opportunities for spreading the faith he believed so firmly himself.”

Shortly after arriving at Yale, Borden became involved with the university’s chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association. At that time Yale’s YMCA enjoyed great importance and effectiveness on campus, promoting a high standard of scholarship and Christian endeavor. Often hundreds gathered for its Sunday evening services.

Dwight Hall where YMCA met at Yale 1905

But many students did not attend the YMCA meetings, and Borden became burdened to reach them as well. As the first school term progressed, he and a likeminded friend began meeting each morning for prayer before going to breakfast. Soon two other students joined them.

One related: “The time was spent in prayer, after a brief reading of Scripture. Our object was to pray for the religious work of the class and college and also for those of our friends we were seeking to bring to Christ.

“I remember so well the stimulus Bill gave us in those meetings. His handling of Scripture was always helpful. From the very beginning of the years I knew him he would read to us from the Bible, show us something that God had promised, and then proceed to claim the promise with assurance.”

That freshman prayer group continued to grow and needed to divide into two groups during their sophomore year. It was further reported: “By the end of that year, there were similar groups in each of the classes. It was not passed down from the seniors to the juniors; it came up from the freshmen to the seniors. And very real blessing was given in answer to our prayers – quite a number were converted.”

William Borden (2nd from right) and Fellow Students

Borden was also instrumental in the establishment of student-led Bible study groups.  Beginning with the Gospel of John, they discussed one chapter of Scripture per meeting. The purpose of these groups was not only to build up believers in their Christian faith but also to point non-Christian students to the Savior. In time around 1,000 students were participating in the groups.

Borden’s father died in the spring of his freshman year, leaving an enormous fortune to him. Receiving this inheritance did not alter young Borden’s personal devotion to Jesus or his determination to serve Him with his life. Instead, in the years that followed, he began to use his wealth to support Christ’s Kingdom work in a number of substantial ways.

William Borden at Yale Hope Mission

An early instance of that occurred during Borden’s sophomore year. On his nineteenth birthday – November 1, 1906 – he was approached by John Magee, the graduate Secretary of the YMCA. Magee had a vision for the founding of a Gospel Rescue Mission to minister to the spiritual and material needs of the considerable number of alcoholics, vagrants and ex-prisoners to be found in New Haven, Connecticut, the city in which Yale was located. The mission could minister to those needy individuals, while at the same time having a positive influence on the college community by providing a witness to the living, saving power of Christ to transform lives.

Borden immediately came to share Magee’s desire to see such a ministry established. When it was decided to proceed in doing so, Borden promptly donated $20,000 to singlehandedly purchase outright the Hotel Martin, a four-story building with twenty-eight rooms to be used as the Yale Hope Mission. (Some have estimated that $20,000 in 1907 would be worth $500,000 today.) The Hotel Martin directly adjoined the congregation room of the mission, where nightly preaching services were held.

The stated purposes of the mission were to provide food and lodging for the destitute men who came to the meetings, as well as a place where a man could stay and receive the moral support he needed until he could find employment and get back on his feet. The mission also had a well-outfitted workshop where men could work in upholstering and repairing furniture. Men were also sent out to do odd jobs in the community until they could find permanent employment.

Yale Hope Mission

By a conservative estimate some 10,000 people were helped at Yale Hope Mission each year. In 1909, the year Borden graduated from Yale: about 12,000 men heard the Gospel preached at the mission; 846 “made an open confession of sin by coming forward to prayer”; 3,848 were “sheltered and fed”; much clothing was given to the needy; employment was found “for a number who are today earning an honest living.”  Yale Hope Mission continued to operate for at least four decades after it was established.

In addition to financially supporting the founding of the mission in a major way, Borden was actively involved in the carrying out of its ministry. He regularly took part in helping to conduct the Gospel services that were held at the mission. A foreign visitor at Yale said that what had impressed him the most during his time in New Haven was seeing “William, this wealthy undergraduate, with his arm around a ‘down-and-outer,’ kneeling with him as he sought forgiveness and prayed the prayer of the publican: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’.”

Many other Yale students participated in the mission’s ministry as well. Some of them traced their initial call to vocational Christian ministry back to their service at Yale Hope Mission.

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The contents of this article were gleaned from Kevin Belmonte’s outstanding biography on Borden entitled Beacon-Light: The Life of William Borden (Christian Focus Publications, 2021). Belmonte’s work presents a detailed and attractive account of Borden’s life as well as his Christian service and influence.

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

William Borden

William Borden (1887-1913) is unknown to most Christians today. But his untimely death at age twenty-five, before he could reach the mission field to which he had been preparing to go for eight years, was mourned by believers in several parts of the world when it occurred. In his short lifetime he blessed many by his inspiring, consecrated service of the Lord Jesus and did much to help advance Christ’s Kingdom work at home and abroad.

Kevin Belmonte has written an outstanding biography on Borden entitled Beacon-Light: The Life of William Borden (Christian Focus Publications, 2021). It presents a detailed and attractive account of Borden’s service and influence.

Here is the first of two or three feature articles I’d like to share about Borden, and which are summarized from Belmonte’s fine work. This first Perspective focuses on the important spiritual developments that took place in Borden’s boyhood years. They remind us to be mindful and encouraging of similar spiritual developments in the lives of our own children and other young people during their growing-up years.  

William Borden's boyhood home, Chicago
William Borden’s boyhood home, Chicago

William Borden was born into a wealthy family in Chicago, Illinois. He was not connected with the well-to-do family that produced Borden milk. Rather, his paternal grandfather became rich through investments he made in Chicago real estate after the Great Fire of 1871. William’s father was a successful attorney. The Bordens lived in an elaborate four-story castle-like house made of sizeable stone blocks and featuring prominent turrets and many large windows. It was one of the premiere homes in Chicago at the time.

William was the fourth of his parents’ five children. His father, after whom he was named, possessed a sterling character, a brilliant mind and “wonderful business capacity.” The senior William was a great reader and devoted much time to his children by helping them with their school lessons, playing after-dinner games with them and taking them on interesting outings.

R. A. Torrey

William’s mother Mary was likewise deeply devoted to her children.  It appears that hers was the strongest spiritual influence on young William. When he was around seven years old, she experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity that brought her deep and abiding peace with God. She transferred her church membership to the Chicago Avenue Church, which had been founded by Dwight Moody and was now pastored by another prominent evangelist, Dr. R. A. Torrey. Mary began taking her children to that church with her.

William heard many sermons at the church about Jesus Christ’s love and death on the cross to redeem people from sin. One Sunday about a year after Mary and her children started attending the church, Dr. Torrey began to lead the congregation in a communion service. “Is it not time that you were thinking about this yourself, William?” Mrs. Borden whispered to her son.

The youngster surprised her by replying, “I have been.” He then participated in the communion service by partaking of the bread and the cup when they were distributed to the congregants.

The following day Torrey himself met with William to determine his level of understanding about the sacred ceremony in which he had taken part. It became clear that William understood that the bread and cup represented Christ’s body and blood sacrificed on the cross, and that he trusted in Jesus as his Savior from sin and its judgment.

Around that same time Torrey gave an invitation at the close of a Sunday service, in which he invited all who wished to dedicate their lives to the service of God to indicate their intention to do so by standing for prayer. Torrey urged them to take “a step of life-consecration,” thus affirming their wish to serve Christ and always follow the ways of Christian faith.

Again Mrs. Borden was surprised when eight-year-old William silently stood, and remained standing for several long moments until the invitation was concluded. She always treasured the sight of her young son standing to make that commitment. And though only a young boy at the time, William went on to fulfill that commitment in the years of his life to follow.

The Hill School, Pottstown, Pennsylvania

William received his early education at three of the finest schools in Chicago. Then at age fourteen he was enrolled at The Hill School, an elite college prep boys’ school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. In addition to carrying out his demanding studies, William participated in football, debate team and meetings of the Young Men’s Christian Association. At graduation he ranked fourth in his class of forty-eight boys, being at age sixteen the youngest student in his class.

His parents then sent him on a year-long world tour to broaden his education. He was chaperoned throughout the trip by Walter Erdman, a scholarly graduate of both Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Erdman, ten years older than Borden, also possessed a “fine Christian character” and was “full of humor.”

Throughout the year they visited some of the world’s most notable sites in terms of natural beauty and historic significance. In addition, in a number of different places William met dedicated Christian missionaries and witnessed their fruitful work. His interaction with those earnest servants of Christ began to have a significant impact on his thinking.

Two days after his seventeenth birthday he wrote his mother from Kyoto, Japan: “I think this trip is going to be a great help in showing things to me in a new light. I met such pleasant young people on the steamer who were going out as missionaries, and meeting them influenced me. Walt [Erdman] has so many friends here, whom we meet in nearly every city, that I have seen a great deal of the [missionary] work that is being done. Talking with them, we learn of the work and the opportunities … so that I realize things as I never did before.”

“I look ahead, [and] it seems as though the only thing to do is to prepare for the foreign field. Of course, [I’ll need] a college course, [and] perhaps some medical study, and certainly Bible study—at Moody Institute perhaps.”

William and Mary Borden intended their son’s world tour to further his education. God also providentially used the tour as His missionary call in William’s life, a divine calling that Borden actively and faithfully pursued to the end of his abbreviated earthly journey. Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

I am delighted to share with you the title and book cover that have been decided upon for my comprehensive David Livingstone biography. That volume is slated to be published by Christian Focus Publications sometime next year, 2023.

The book’s title is David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist. That title succinctly indicates the primary subject of the biography – Livingstone, the eminent nineteenth-century Scottish ambassador for Christ to Africa – as well as the three key aspects of his career and service carried out there. Livingstone always viewed himself fundamentally as a Christian missionary, even when carrying out other major responsibilities that did not always seem explicitly missions-related. Among those other significant emphases were conducting extensive explorations of south-central and south-eastern Africa, and sounding the alarm concerning the horrors of the Portuguese and Arab slave trades taking place in that portion of the continent. Those tireless efforts, in turn, prepared the way for slavery to be abolished and Christian missionaries to enter that vast region of Africa in the years immediately following Livingstone’s death.

I think Christian Focus Publication’s intended cover for the book is splendid! It is attractive, striking and fitting. The portrait of Livingstone (part of a fuller oil painting of him produced by Frederick Havill in the late 1800s) depicts his earnest, resolute spirit. The map is of a system of lakes and rivers that Livingstone discovered and explored in the closing years of his life while seeking to determine the headwaters of the Nile. The painting below the book’s title is of the scenic, dramatic Victoria Falls, which is commonly considered the greatest of Livingstone’s geological discoveries.

My entire Livingstone manuscript has already been taken through its initial editing process by the publisher. Other production aspects of the book are also underway at Christian Focus. In the coming months leading up to the book’s publication, I plan to share periodic additional features to spark further interest in this remarkable man and his extraordinary life and accomplishments.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

Sometimes God’s sovereign will seems inscrutable, especially when it involves His allowing overwhelming trial or crushing disappointment. Or when He permits the thwarting of what consecrated Christians had become thoroughly convinced was in keeping with His plan and would bring great glory to Him.

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015), a prominent American missionary, writer and speaker, as well as one of the most influential Christian women in the second half of the twentieth century, experienced God’s imponderable sovereign will more than once in her life and ministry. To follow is an account of an early occasion when that happened to her. It has some important lessons to teach us about responding properly to God’s will in the midst of our own distressing, perplexing circumstances of life.

In 1952 Elisabeth went to Ecuador as a single missionary. There she joined three other single lady missionaries in seeking to minister to the Colorado Indians from a ministry base in San Miguel. The Colorado Indians lived nearby in the jungles of Ecuador’s western rainforest.

Elisabeth (Howard) Elliot saiIling to Ecuador, 1952
Elisabeth (Howard) Elliot sailing to Ecuador, 1952

Elisabeth, a trained linguist, had as her primary objective there to render the Colorado language into written form. She needed to hire a Colorado Indian language “informant” who could patiently work with her in learning the vocabulary and phonetics of their native tongue. But none of the Indians she met had any interest in doing so. They were proud, independent and a bit disdainful of the white women’s presence in their world.

Colorado Indians of Ecuador

Elisabeth, however, was confident that God would answer her prayers and grant her success in learning the Colorado language, harnessing it into an alphabet, and teaching the Indians to read and write in their own tongue. They would then be able to read the Bible for themselves, thus facilitating their coming to saving faith in Christ and their subsequent Christian growth and service. Great glory would be brought to God.

The Lord provided an even better informant than Elisabeth could have imagined in an Ecuadorian named Don Macario. He had grown up on a hacienda with Colorado children, and was completely bilingual in Spanish and Colorado. He was a Christian and was willing to work with Betty for what she could afford to pay him.

Colorado Indians of Ecuador

The Colorado Indians called their own language Tsahfihki, “the language of the people.” Macario taught Elisabeth Tsahfihki vocabulary, vowel pronunciations, inflections, parts of speech and sentence structure. She created detailed notecards and charts as well as orthography (spelling) lists, using phonetic symbols that represented Tsahfihki sounds. For several months the language work progressed well.

Then suddenly, tragically Don Macario was murdered! He had been clearing brush on a piece of property when a group of men showed up, claiming the land belonged to one of them. When Macario insisted the property was his, one of the men pulled out a gun and shot him in the head several times at point-blank range.

Elisabeth heard the gunshots that ended Macario’s life. Later that same day she witnessed the autopsy that was performed to remove bullet fragments from his skull, fragments that would be used in prosecuting the perpetrator of the murder. Since Macario had no family nearby, the small Christian community in San Miguel held a wake throughout that night then buried his body the next morning.

Elisabeth wrote her parents that the day Macario was killed had been the most nightmarish day of her life. Elisabeth’s biographer Ellen Vaughn states: “She could not quite grasp the sudden horror of her friend’s death, the rank injustice of it, and what his loss meant for the Colorado translation of the Bible.”

Language Study

Eventually Elisabeth was able to continue her Colorado language work in the early months of 1953 with the help of Samuel, the brother of the chief of the Colorado tribe. She completed a phonemic alphabet of Tsahfihki.

By then Elisabeth had become engaged to Jim Elliot, and anticipated their wedding and joining him in ministering to Quichua Indians in eastern Ecuador later that same year. Early in the summer she moved to a mission station at Dos Rios in the eastern jungle to study the Quichua language.

Elisabeth Elliot studying in a hammock

Before leaving San Miguel, Elisabeth carefully packed all her linguistic papers, notecards and charts into a suitcase, so the material would be readily available to others all in one place. Her fellow missionaries at San Miguel often consulted the materials and began to make a bit of progress in the Colorado language. In time other Christian linguists could build on Elisabeth’s initial research materials to translate the New Testament into Tsahfihki.

But some time after moving to Dos Rios, Elisabeth received a shocking letter from her former colleagues in San Miguel. It informed her that some of their luggage, including Elisabeth’s suitcase containing all her linguistic papers, charts and notes of the Colorado Indian language, had been stolen while being transported by truck. No copies had been made of any of those language materials. Everything she had done in nine months of diligent linguistic work at San Miguel was gone.

Again Elisabeth was stunned by this development and could not comprehend why God had sovereignly permitted it. And there would be other occasions in the future when she would experience stunning, tragic loss that defied comprehension and simplistic explanation.

However, in time Elisabeth reached a number of solid conclusions about such incomprehensible developments: (1) Sometimes God’s sovereign will is inscrutable and defies easy explanation. Our “why?” questions may not be satisfactorily answered for a very long time, or perhaps not ever in this life, although they doubtless will be in eternity. (2) Such situations provide Christians with the opportunity to continue trusting and obeying God even in the face of incomprehensible, painful developments and stubbornly-persistent questions about them. (3) When believers choose to respond in these commendable ways, “God gives Himself”—that is, He grants the opportunity to experience and know Him more fully in the midst of such overwhelming, perplexing circumstances.

Other positive purposes and results of these kinds of experiences are also rightly mentioned. God uses them: to forge a more Christlike character in us as His children; to deepen our dependence upon Him; to use us as a powerful positive testimony to others; sometimes to prepare us for even greater challenges to be faced in the future.

An uplifting postscript to this difficult learning episode in Elisabeth’s life and ministry is related by Ellen Vaughn. It reminds us that another important aspect of God’s inscrutable sovereign will is that sometimes He does grant the blessings His people originally sought—only in His time and ways. Ms. Vaughn writes:

“More than forty years later, Betty [Elisabeth] visited her dear old friend Doreen [one of the lady missionaries at San Miguel] and her Ecuadorian husband, Abdon. Doreen and Abdon were still faithfully working with the Colorados. Some had become dedicated believers and were part of a small church. The New Testament had been translated into the Colorado language by Bruce Moore and his wife, Joyce, translators with the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Bruce and Joyce had helped to disciple Colorado leaders within the church, including a former hostile witch doctor who decided to follow Jesus, with no small ripple effect in the rest of the community.”

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This Perspective article is gleaned from Ellen Vaughn’s outstanding biography of the first thirty-six years of Elisabeth’s life, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (B&H Publishing, 2020). If you haven’t already done so, you may be interested in reading my October 26, 2022 blog “A Highly-Recommended Elisabeth Elliot Biography,” which provides a review of that book.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

Review by Vance Christie

This past summer I read Ellen Vaughn’s outstanding biography Becoming Elisabeth Elliot and would like to heartily recommend it.

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) was one of the most influential Christian women in the second half of the twentieth century. She was well known as the author of Through Gates of Splendor, which chronicled the short ministry careers and martyrdom of five missionaries (including her husband Jim Elliot) at the hands of Waodani Indians in Ecuador early in 1956. After Jim’s death Elisabeth carried out further ministry to the Waodani, wrote a number of other best-selling books, was a popular Christian conference speaker and had a widely-broadcast daily Christian radio program.

Elisabeth Elliot with two Waodani women

Elisabeth was a rather private person who did not share a great deal about much of her own life and ministry. During her lifetime she declined a number of requests to write her autobiography or to have a thorough biography of her life published. As a result, for several decades unnumbered thousands of people who greatly appreciated and admired her significant spiritual insights and ministries were disappointed not to be able to learn more about her.

Happily, the first of a comprehensive, two-volume biography of her life and ministry has now been published in Ellen Vaughn’s book Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. The front dustcover of this first volume promotes it as “The Authorized Biography”of “Elisabeth’s Early Years.” Published by B&H Publishing in 2020, this work relates the first thirty-six years of Elisabeth’s life, beginning with her birth on December 21, 1926, in Brussels, Belgium, where her parents then served as missionaries. It ends with her return to the United States in June 1963, after eleven years of her own missionary service in Ecuador.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot

Some of the many highlights of this book include: Elisabeth’s formative upbringing in her parents’ consecrated Christian home and at the Christian boarding school she attended as a teen; her years at Wheaton College where she was called of God to serve as a missionary and entered a romantic relationship with her future husband Jim; her four patience-trying years in various ministries after college before she was able to go as a missionary to Ecuador; her ministry trials among the Colorado Indians of Ecuador; her joys and concerns of marriage, motherhood and ministry to Quichua Indians with Jim; a detailed account of the events leading up to and immediately following the martyrdom of the five missionaries by the Waodani; Elisabeth’s seven subsequent years of ministry to the Quichua and Waodani Indians in Ecuador.

Ellen Vaughn has provided an honest and realistic rather than idealized and artificial account of these early decades of Elisabeth’s life. Elisabeth is certainly not portrayed as a perfect saint who had no faults of her own and who never had any doubts or struggles through the various trials and perplexities of her life. Rather, her personal shortcomings, relational struggles, unanswered questions, frustrations, disappointments, misgivings and the like are candidly shared, often in Elisabeth’s own words through citations from her personal journals.

Elisabeth Elliot with her daughter Valerie

But through the marked challenges, trials and tragedies that Elisabeth experienced, she remained strong and steadfast in her Christian consecration. Her trust in God and His Word in the midst of life’s sometimes-overwhelming problems and perplexities never wavered. Even in the most trying circumstances, her perspectives and conduct were uniformly spiritual, or at least sought to be so.

It seems important to bear in mind that in this book we do not have Elisabeth’s final, fully-matured outlook on all subjects. This volume ends with Elisabeth still processing some extremely challenging issues and experiences. Ellen Vaughn acknowledges this when she reveals (page 232): “Many years later, when Betty [Elisabeth] read journals from her youth, she sometimes cringed. Perhaps the ‘honest inquiry’ of her younger years seemed merely immature, or overly dramatic to the older, seasoned Betty. Perhaps she no longer asked such questions.”

If you have not already done so, I think you would find it enlightening and spiritually beneficial to read Becoming Elisabeth Elliot.  And we will look forward to learning much more about the final five decades of Elisabeth’s life (as well as to reading her fully-developed perspectives on various issues) in the second of Ellen Vaughn’s two-volume biography.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

Recently I had the privilege of visiting with Bill Feltner on the Pilgrim Radio network about George Muller’s tremendous example of “Seeking and Following God’s Guidance” and of “Trusting God in Faith-Stretching Circumstances.” Pilgrim Radio broadcasts to four Southwestern States. If you’d care to listen to the podcast of that interview, you can access it at:

https://pilgrimradio.com/programs/his-people/ 

Just scroll down to 9/28 (the day it aired over the radio network) ]

In carrying out Christian ministry and in our other circumstances of life, God has a way of leading us to exercise faith in Him. He does so to keep us dependent on Him, to strengthen our faith in Him and to increase our appreciation of Him. George Muller was reminded of these truths time and again throughout his years of faith-filled ministry. Muller’s example encourages us to similarly trust God in our own faith-stretching situations of life.

For the first two years after establishing his orphan ministry in Bristol, England, Muller was blessed with a steady stream of God’s provision for the ministry. But then during the summer of 1838 Muller’s faith was put to the test when donations for his three orphan houses seemed suddenly to dry up.

One evening he was walking in his garden meditating on Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Presently the pressing need of the orphan houses came to his mind, and he was promptly led to say to himself: “Jesus in His love and power has hitherto supplied me with what I have needed for the orphans, and in the same unchangeable love and power He will provide what I may need for the future.”  A sense of joy flowed into his soul.

Barely one minute later a letter was brought to him.  It contained a gift of twenty pounds (equaling 100 dollars, a goodly amount in 1838). The Lord’s timing was evident, confirming both the teaching of His Word and the claiming of that truth in faith by His servant.

George Muller’s first orphan houses on Wilson Street, Bristol, opened 1836

By that September 18 all available funds for Muller’s orphan houses were again exhausted.  He and his staff had been praying earnestly about the pressing need but received no apparent answer.  Consideration was even being given to selling some household items deemed not absolutely essential in order to provide the next day’s food.

The middle of that afternoon a lady called at Muller’s home.  She explained that she had come from London to Bristol four or five days earlier and had been staying right next door to the boys’ orphan house that entire time.  She then presented Muller with a contribution to his ministry from her daughter in London.

Muller later wrote:  “That the money had been so near the orphan houses for several days without being given, is a plain proof that it was from the beginning in the heart of God to help us. But because He delights in the prayers of His children, He had allowed us to pray so long; also to try our faith, and to make the answer so much the sweeter.”

The following spring one of the orphanage’s annual reports came into the hands of a man in Devon who immediately perceived the ministry’s need for ongoing financial assistance.   The man had a Christian sister of means, and he began praying that she would be led by God to donate some of her valuable jewelry for the support of the orphans.

Not long thereafter Muller received from the woman a gift of a heavy gold chain, a ring set with ten diamonds, a pair of gold bracelets and a cash donation of two pounds.  Before parting with the costly diamond ring, Muller used it to neatly etch the words “Jehovah Jireh” (“the Lord will provide,” Genesis 22:14) on a pane of glass in his room.  Many times afterwards his heart was cheered when he caught sight of the words on the glass and remembered this particular instance of the Lord’s remarkable provision. 

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These accounts of George Muller’s God-dependent faith, as well as many other incidents from his life, can be found in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus). Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

George Muller in middle age
George Muller in middle age

Recently while seeking God’s direction about quite a significant ministry decision in my own life, I was encouraged by going back and reviewing some of the specific details of how the Lord led George Muller into his great orphan ministry. Perhaps the rehearsal of those wonderful developments in Muller’s life will help provide you with some encouragement and guidance for those times when you find yourself seeking God’s direction about ministry-related matters or other important decisions in life.

Muller moved to Bristol, England, in 1832 at age twenty-six. There he co-pastored two congregations with his good friend and fellow minister Henry Craik. As part of his ministry, Muller taught Bible classes for destitute children and older people. He became greatly concerned for the spiritual and material needs of the many orphans he saw on the streets of Bristol. At that time in the whole of England there were only a dozen small orphanages—eight of those in London and none nearby Bristol.

Muller was acquainted with the work of German Professor A. H. Franke who over a century earlier had established large orphan houses in Germany. On November 20, 1835, Muller came across a biography on Franke. That evening and in the days to follow Muller wrote in his personal journal:

“I have frequently, for a long time, thought of laboring in a similar way, though it might be on a much smaller scale; not to imitate Franke, but in reliance upon the Lord. May God make it plain! November 21: Today I have had it very much impressed on my heart, no longer merely to think about the establishment of an orphan house, but actually to set about it, and I have been very much in prayer respecting it, in order to ascertain the Lord’s mind. November 23 [after receiving even more financial support for his ministries than he had requested in prayer]: This has been a great encouragement to me, and has still more stirred me up to think and pray about the establishment of an orphan house. November 25: I have been again much in prayer yesterday and today about the orphan house, and am more and more convinced that it is of God. May He in mercy guide me!”

In the days to follow Muller continued to spend many hours praying about the possible orphan ministry. He also repeatedly examined his own motives to make sure he was not thinking of pursuing this course out of a desire to gain glory for himself. Muller had a sincere desire to minister to the material and spiritual needs of orphans, and to help them grow up to become positive assets to society. But above all, as he would later write: “The first and primary object of the work was that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without anyone being asked by me or my fellow laborers, whereby it may be seen that God is FAITHFUL STILL and HEARS PRAYER STILL.”

A public meeting was announced for December 9, at which Muller planned to lay out his thoughts to any who might have interest in supporting the venture. Four nights before that meeting, while reading his Bible, he was struck by the words of Psalm 81:10: “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Muller afterward related: “I was led to apply this scripture to the orphan house, and ask the Lord for premises, 1,000 pounds and suitable individuals to take care of the children.” From that time on, this biblical text became one of Muller’s key guiding verses, being added to three other scriptures he habitually sought to live by—Matthew 6:25-26; 7:7; John 14:13-14. 

At the December 9 public meeting Muller made it clear that the envisioned orphan ministry would only be established if God provided the means and suitable individuals to carry it out. He added: “I have been led more and more to think that the matter may be of Him. Now, if so, he can influence His people in any part of the world … to entrust me … with the means.”

Intentionally, no public offering was received at that meeting. But immediately afterwards ten shillings (equaling half a pound) were given to him, and a lady volunteered to be part of the work. The next morning a report of the meeting was shared with the press. An immediate and marked response followed the publication of the news article. One couple promptly wrote to offer themselves and all their furniture for the service of the orphan house. Other donations continued pouring in over the course of the next few days: silverware, dishes, kitchen utensils, table cloths, bed linens, yards of cloth and financial contributions. Other adults volunteered their services.

Even with all the affirmative guidance he received, Muller still had periodic misgivings and needed God’s continued confirmation.  On December 17, eight days after the public meeting, he confided to his diary: “I was rather cast down last evening and this morning about the matter, questioning whether I ought to be engaged in this way, and was led to ask the Lord to give me some further encouragement.” That same day God graciously brought in a number of other material donations plus news of a 100 pound gift (worth 500 dollars) that was on its way.

George Muller's first of five New Orphan Houses on Ashley Down, Bristol, opened 1849
George Muller’s first of five New Orphan Houses on Ashley Down, Bristol, opened 1849

At the end of December Muller announced his intention to open the orphan house in April of the following year, 1836. But by the beginning of February, though he had publicized his willingness to receive applications for children to live at the orphanage, not a single application had been received. While Muller had prayed about every detail of his plans and all the necessities for the orphan ministry, up to this point he always assumed there would be plenty of applicants. He had never actually asked God to send children. He therefore spent an entire evening praying for applications, and the very next day the first was received.

Young girls at George Muller orphanage
Young girls at George Muller orphanage

Muller’s first orphan house, for girls ages seven and up, opened that April. A second orphanage, for boys and girls under seven years of age, opened the end of November. Thirty orphans were cared for at each house. By the end of 1836 over 1,000 pounds had been provided for the fledgling orphan ministry, along with other necessary material supplies and all required staffing.

Boys in George Muller orphanage gymnasium
Boys in George Muller orphanage gymnasium

Muller’s example reminds us of some important principles with regard to seeking and following God’s guidance: (1) Bathe our endeavors and decisions in much prayer; (2) Make sure our motives are right—to bring glory to God and benefit to others, not to gain attention or honor for ourselves; (3) Look for confirmation of our plans through the positive outworking of circumstances and the affirming support of other people; (4) Lay hold of and exercise scriptural principles that can strengthen us in our endeavors; (5) We shouldn’t be too surprised if we sometimes have doubts and need additional encouragement from the Lord; (6) Don’t forget to ask God to bless us in all the specific ways that are needed, including basic blessings that we might tend to take for granted; (7) Be sure, as Muller did, to recount God’s many blessings and to heartily praise Him for them.

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This account of George Muller’s establishing his orphan ministry, as well as many other incidents from his life, can be found in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus). The details of this account were primarily drawn from two excellent Muller biographies: Roger Steer’s George Muller, Delighted in God! (Christian Focus); Basil Miller’s George Muller, Man of Faith and Miracles (Bethany House). Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

David Livingstone 1852
David Livingstone 1852

I am delighted to report that after six and a half years of steady, focused, albeit part-time endeavor I was recently able to submit a comprehensive David Livingstone biography manuscript to the publisher. Praise the Lord! The book is to be published by Christian Focus Publications sometime next year, 2023.

Here are three of my personal perspectives on this protracted process which I thought you might find interesting. In what is shared here you may spot a similarity or two to your own major undertakings in life.

1. PRIVILEGE – When CFP kindly offered me the opportunity in late 2015 to write a full-length biography on the life and ministry of David Livingstone (1813-1873), the eminent Scottish missionary-explorer to Africa, I was thrilled with the prospect of doing so. I knew that Livingstone was one of the premier figures in the annals of Christian missions.

David Livingstone teaching Africans
David Livingstone teaching Africans

I would now have to confess, however, after thoroughly studying his life, that initially I understood less than half of the true greatness of the man. In addition to being a renowned missionary and explorer, Livingstone was the individual most responsible for (1) opening the interior of southcentral and southeastern Africa to Christianity and (2) preparing the way for slavery to be brought to an end throughout that vast region shortly after his death.

In order to accomplish what he did Livingstone needed to persevere through all manner of marked difficulties, dangers and personal sacrifices. He did so with incredible determination, courage and faith in God. Some of the many other positive traits that characterized Livingstone were his high level of intelligence, broad interests, confidence, humility, good sense of humor, solid biblical convictions, high moral principles, strong personal integrity, and devotional closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ whom he served.

As is true of many people possessing exceptional strengths, Livingstone also had some corresponding weaknesses that he was aware of and sought to work on. His shortcomings are readily acknowledged rather than ignored in the honest account I’ve written of his life.

Slave Captives and Portuguese Captors
Slave Captives and Portuguese Captors

But on the whole, as I learned more about Livingstone, I came to be filled with high admiration of his many outstanding accomplishments and of his numerous noble personal characteristics. I’ve gained a greatly-deepened sense of privilege to have learned much about this exceptional individual and to share his remarkable story with others.

2. PERSEVERANCE – At the outset of researching and writing Livingstone’s biography I had no idea what a massive undertaking it would turn out to be. I’ve been blessed to write several other books in the field of historic Christian biography, including three rather lengthy biographies on the lives and ministries of David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson and Andrew Murray. I anticipated an account of Livingstone’s life would turn out to be a similar length and would require a comparable amount of time and effort to accomplish. Instead my Livingstone manuscript ended up being well over three times longer than the longest works I had previously written. And researching and writing it required more than treble the time and effort given to my previous biographies.

That was primarily the case because of how expansive Livingstone’s life truly was, in terms of its many notable aspects, endeavors, events and accomplishments. Even with my biography’s considerable length, it certainly does not include every incident and feature of Livingstone’s life. But I have sought to include every occurrence and facet of his life that is significant and important.

Truth be told, it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t foresee at the start what lay ahead in the writing of this book. Otherwise I’m not sure I would have had the heart or determination to undertake such an immense project in the first place.

Come to think of it, that’s how God leads us through a lot of life’s challenges, isn’t it? He wisely, mercifully spares us from seeing too much of what lies ahead, especially of a difficult nature, knowing it could be discouraging or even overwhelming to us. But then He leads us through those stresses and difficulties one step at a time, providing us with the strength, trust and determination to do so. With His help we’re able to withstand and accomplish more than we would have imagined or been willing to undertake.

3. GRATITUDE – I’m grateful to God and praise Him (certainly not myself) for granting me the ability and determination to stay focused and to keep plugging away on this project until it was completed. As the undertaking stretched out to far greater lengths than I ever would have imagined, I must admit that occasionally and alternately (rather than all at the same time) I felt incredulous, frustrated, discouraged, perplexed, even mortified and overwhelmed. But the Lord encouraged me past such periodic negative thoughts and feelings. He helped me to continue trusting that eventually He would allow me to accomplish the objective. Also very significantly, despite the length and challenges of the endeavor, God granted me a good degree of ongoing enjoyment throughout the process. It would have been much more difficult to complete the project without that buoying sense of continued enjoyment.

Christian Focus Publications headquarters, Fearn, Scotland

I’m also grateful to Christian Focus Publications (CFP) for the considerable patience it has shown to me throughout this prolonged process. Time and again as the book ballooned on me, I missed my self-projected deadlines and needed to indicate that I wouldn’t have the manuscript completed till some later point in the future. More than once CFP also graciously agreed to my request for an increase in the length (word-wise) of the volume.

Our church family, the dear people of the Aurora (Nebraska) Evangelical Free Church, were patient and supportive throughout the years I worked part-time on the Livingstone biography. (All my books have been written part-time on the side while carrying out full-time pastoral responsibilities.) Previously I had written and published a new biography every two or three years. But although the Livingstone project stretched out for several years, our church people continued to encourage me in it.

Leeta Christie at the David Livingstone monument, Glasgow Scotland

I’m also profoundly thankful for my wife Leeta who exhibited tremendous patience and unflagging support through this long process. She doubtless deserves special commendation for patiently and positively watching, listening and interacting as I have worked through all aspects of Livingstone’s history for going on seven years! Though she would never say so, this has involved her making some significant personal sacrifices along the way. May the Lord abundantly bless her for the great patience and support she has shown me.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie