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Herrnhut: A Caribbean Shrine You Need to Know

Brother Carrin shares a lesson from church history about a renewal that changed missions and changed him forever.

I am now 75 years old, and as you can imagine, looking back in gratitude to God for all my adult life spent in ministry. There are too many highlights to mention but here is one that stands above many others:

Magen’s Beach, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

In 1987, on the 250th Anniversary of its founding, I visited New Herrnhut Moravian Church on the island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Being at this mountainside shrine and the jungle overhanging its cemetery impacted my life in a way I will carry to my grave. There are churches in the Western Hemisphere much older than Herrnhut, but none can compete with its special history. In 1737, the first missionaries of the modern era came to this jungle island to bring the gospel to African slaves. When Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann, stepped ashore on St. Thomas, Bibles in hand, they struck the “gong” that awoke a slumbering evangelical church and sent the mission movement around the world. From the vibrations of that gong, in our century alone, more than 100,000,000 new believers in Latin America and the Caribbean have come to Christ. Let me share part of this beautiful story with you.

In the early 1700’s, a congregation of some 300 Hussites, Anabaptists, Calvinists, disciples of Swingle, Schwenkfold, and other non-conformists, trying to escape the fire of religious persecution in Europe, sought refuge on the estate of Count Zinzindorf in Saxony, East Germany. Like the Count, who was only 27 years old, most members of the community were young; all had fled persecution in other countries.

In the beginning, they quarreled over doctrines of baptism, predestination, holiness, etc., until the Count encouraged them to concentrate on their love for Jesus. It was the Cross, not doctrines about the Cross, he reminded them that brought their redemption. In that understanding, they united in Covenant-agreement and began seeking the Lord in travailing prayer. What happened not only changed their world—and our’s—but will personally change you. Here is what happened:

Tuesday, August 5, 1727, Count Zinzindorf spent the entire night in watching and prayer. “Herrnhut” means the “Lord’s Watch”.

Sunday, August 10, 1727, At noon, when Pastor Rothe preached, the congregation fell under the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, August 13, 1727, at morning Communion, the fire of God fell upon the entire community in such shattering force that men working in the fields 10 miles away were stricken under the shock of it. Even today, its impact is without parallel in modern Christian history.

Tuesday, August 26, 1727, the children were anointed with 3 hours of anguished intercession.

Wednesday, August 27, 1727, at the initiation of the children, Herrnhut began a prayer meeting that lasted night and day, without stopping, one hundred years. That century-long prayer meeting of laboring, travailing intercession, 1727-1827, birthed the modern mission movement. One hundred years later, long after the original members of Herrnhut were dead, every Protestant denomination actively engaged in carrying the gospel to foreign lands did so because of that century of Moravian praying.

John Wesley, who began the Methodist Church and sent revival around the world, was converted under Moravian influence. The first Baptist missionary to India, William Carey, in pleading for support, threw a Moravian magazine on the table before his peers, challenging them to take up the Cross of world evangelism. Many other Christian bodies came under the impact of Moravian revelation.

1737. Ten years after the Holy Spirit’s fall, the first Moravians left for St. Thomas. During that decade of self-crucifying preparation, ripening of grace, they sought the Spirit’s endowing for the work. They well knew that once in the Virgin Islands, they too might become slaves. Still they determined to go. When the day came to make the choice as to who would be the first to leave, Scripture quotations were written on slips of paper and placed in a box. After agonizing prayer, each person drew out one of the notes and obeyed its command. Whether one stayed in Moravia or went to the mission field was determined in that way. Acts 1:26. With heart racing, one of the young men opened his paper and read the words, “Send the lad with me and we will arise and go.” Genesis 43:8.

With that message in hand, Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann left home, walking more than 100 miles to Copenhagen, Denmark. In the port they found passage to the islands by working as deck hands on shipboard. They were soon followed by Tobias Leopold who went to the island of St. Croix. What they found numbed them. Slaves were not allowed near churches. One who left his master’ s carriage and listened outside the church window was punished by having his ear cut off. Frederich Martin soon joined Leonard and David in St. Thomas but was imprisoned in the Fortress dungeon at Charlotte Amalie for his preaching. Through a tiny, barred window of this 1671-built fort, he boldly proclaimed the Word to listeners outside. Slave-churches which these men established still survive on St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, and surrounding islands.

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Category: Church History

About the Author: Charles Carrin, D.D., has served the body of Christ for over 65 years. Educated at University of Georgia and Columbia Theological Seminary, he denied, in belief and practice, the contemporary ministry of the Holy Spirit until a personal crisis opened his eyes to what he had been missing. He is the author of Spirit-Empowered Theology (Chosen, 2017), The Edge Of Glory: Receiving the Power of the Holy Spirit (Creation House, 2002), Sunrise of David Sunset of Saul: A Message to the Church in the End-time (1985, 2014), On Whose Authority?: The Removal of Unwanted Scriptures (Burkhart Books, 2014), a revival novel with Dorothy Easley: Island in the Sun (Xulon, 2010), and a contributor to Word Spirit Power: What Happens When You Seek All God Has to Offer (Chosen, 2012) with R.T. Kendall and Jack Taylor. Today his ministry centers upon the visible demonstration of the Spirit and imparting of His gifts. Read his biography at www.charlescarrinministries.com/about-charles.php.

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