Did You Know?

by the Editors

Interesting and little-known facts about the first Moravian missionaries.

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue 1 in 1982 ]

THE MORAVIANS WERE LABORERS craftsmen whose products became renowned for their quality. Leonard Dober, the first missionary, was a potter.

For over a year, the Herrnhut community struggled over sending missionaries to preach to the slaves in the West Indies. With unanimous support, Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann were eventually sent to proclaim the Gospel. During the first part of their journey, Zinzendorf re-emphasized his theory for missions.

The missionaries arrived on St. Thomas in December of 1732. Their courageous endeavor challenged the lucrative system of slavery and the churches which provided pastoral guidance for the officials, soldiers and merchants.

The tropical climate posed health hazards to the new arrivals from Europe. Dober ministered to those afflicted with malaria and fever and at one point nearly died of the fever himself His compassion toward the dying slaves proved to be a powerful Gospel witness.

Both blacks and whites resented the instrusion of the early missionaries. The slaves were suspicious and wondered why do they tell of the white man’s God when we are not allowed in the white man’s churches. While they could do nothing to change the slave trade and the economy of “king sugar,” they were able to preach to the slaves and serve their physical needs. Dober’s ministry of servanthood eventually changed suspicion into acceptance.

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