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Friday, March 28, 2014

The First Modern Missionaries Created Profit-Producing Businesses

The first wave of Protestant missionaries in modern history was a surge of Moravians from Herrnut, Germany, in the 18th Century, under the leadership of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf. Notable about these missionaries is the fact that they left Herrnut for far-off places with enough money to get them to where they were going, understanding they would not be receiving financial support from home. 

These pioneers of missions believed it was a missionary's duty and obligation to not only "preach the Lamb" that was slain for the salvation of souls, but to also help with the physical needs of those they evangelized. For Moravians, this meant provision of a livelihood. This provision was a big part of what it meant to truly love the people to whom they were sent. Many of these missionaries built spiritually and economically integrated communities similar to Herrnut, a town built by Moravians on property Count Zinzendorf had granted, where one out of every thirty-five residents was a shoemaker.

The first modern missionaries created profit-producing businesses. Lots of them. One New World community, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1761, had nearly 50 businesses in a town of 2,500. Not only did these businesses meet the financial needs of the missionaries themselves, who earned their living "as they went," but they provided much-needed employment for the people they came to evangelize and truly love.

Besides saving souls, Zinzendorf wanted to "teach the natives the dignity of labor," and to promote the welfare of needy people. In the process, Moravian missionaries worked daily in the marketplace beside neighbors who knew not Christ. What better place to be a living witness? (What a novel idea!)

The Moravians traveled to neglected and marginalized people. They seemed to specialize in the poor and exploited of the world. Slaves in Surinam. Eskimos. Indians in America. Among the many kinds of businesses established were: textile manufacturing, pottery-making, baking, and watch-making. In Labrador, the missionaries owned trading posts and cargo ships.

Zinzendorf disliked taking offerings, or appealing for aid. According to William J. Danker, author of Profit for the Lord, Zinaendorf's said reason for rejecting the collection-plate economy was because he did not think it was right to interfere [compete] with other Christian causes. But, clearly, there was more to his thinking.

For more on the Moravian theology of work and missions, I recommend William Danker's book:

In Profit for the Lord, William J. Danker wrote: "...the most important contribution of the Moravians was their emphasis that every Christian is a missionary and should witness through his daily vocation. If the example of the Moravians had been studied more carefully by other Christians, it is possible that the businessman might have retained his honored place within the expanding Christian world mission beside the preacher, teacher, and physician."

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