Previous Article in the Series: Evangelism and Culture — Moravian Missions Pt. 4
How did the Moravians do demographics? How did they decide where to go? Simply, they had two primary qualifications:
Firstly, they chose to give the Gospel primarily to the neglected outcasts of society. The Moravians focused their most significant evangelistic efforts on people groups that at best brought many other denominations apathy and at the worst, genocidal rage. One particularly striking example is the Moravian mission to slaves of European settlers in the West Indies.1
Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann, the first Moravian missionaries to the West Indies, faced significant scrutiny for their association with the slaves, “To be thus identified with the blacks at this time made heavy demands upon moral courage. It involved social ostracism as a matter of course, possibly even something worse.”2 Indeed, the mission in the West Indies was so challenging at times that one Missionary, Peter Brown, wrote that had he gone to Antigua of his own choice rather than at “my Lord’s bidding, I should long since have quitted.”3
Even the slaves were at first wary of the new missionaries. But the Moravians were not deterred from the Gospel work. It was not until one Missionary, Friedrich Martin, decided to teach the slaves to read and write did they finally begin to attend the Moravian Bible studies en masse.4 By 1789, just a few decades later, the West Indies missions had about 14,000 members and had begun to send out their own missionaries.5
While the Moravians considered the Gospel to be of the first and foremost importance, this action of teaching and therefore saving men from poverty demonstrates how the power of Godly love should embellish the presentation of the Gospel.
Secondly, the Moravians went to those people who would have them. As Mulholland writes, “they went to receptive people. Because the Moravians believed that the Holy Spirit is the primary ‘Missionary,’ they counseled their missionaries, ‘Seek out the first fruit. Seek out those people whom the Holy Spirit has prepared and bring the good news to them.’”6
There were “unsuccessful” missions, such as those in Lapland, Ceylon, Algiers, and Persia. For whatever reason, each of these missions and several others ended up closing. But these so-called failures did not deter the Moravians from establishing missions in Suriname, Labrador, Nicaragua, Africa, and many other areas across the globe where the lost heathen were willing to receive the Gospel.7
Target the Receptive Outcast
The modern missionary should consider implementing these two Moravian qualifications in deciding between potential mission fields. The outcast is often neglected in church ministry because he is “too much work for too little reward.” Churches may want to reach the more respectable officers of society, but Christ intentionally sought out the leper. The Church loses a large portion of its beauty if it does not seek to rescue men of the lowest state for the greatest glory of God’s grace. In ministries that reach the most societally despised, the Church can show the most charity. Believers should frame the Gospel with physical acts of grace and love.
Likewise, the receptive are sometimes neglected for those who are “harder” to win. Shaking the dust off one’s foot at a stubborn city is a lost art. An important point, God at times does call missionaries to people with stopped-up ears and stiff necks. However, if there are a people elsewhere ready and receptive to the Gospel, the Church ought to take special notice, especially if the people are under-evangelized. Paul did not plant a church in Athens—he planted one in Philippi.
This does not mean that government hostility should always be considered a deterrent for missionary work. The Moravians were often persecuted by governments, whether from the Dutch in the West Indies or state governments in the New World. But the wholesale rejection of a population to the Gospel may be a signal that God has a field of people elsewhere to harvest. This is not always the case, and God’s leading is required; missionaries have done great ministry among people who have rejected the Gospel for a significant length of time.
These forgotten men and women impacted the world; they turned it upside down. Their methods were founded in a conviction to true Gospel power and a childlike faith that God’s promise of a great harvest would be fulfilled. They are examples to missionaries today, and the simplicity of their mission should inspire all Christians towards world evangelism.
The impact of the Moravian missionaries on world evangelism cannot be overstated. The purpose of the Moravian mission movement was simple: “to win souls for the Lamb.”8 And win souls they did. Across the whole world, Moravian missionaries brought souls to Christ, so much so that they can be likened to the great British Empire in its prime, “The sun never sets on Moravian Missions.”9