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L. von Rohden: Excerpts from The History of the Rhenish Missionary Society (1857)

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The Elberfeld Missionary Society – and later the entire Rhenish Missionary Society – was also set up along the lines of this model. Bylaws, committees, monthly meetings, minutes, comprehensive reports that are communicated to each member – these are, indeed, the well-known forms of our associational life. For a long time, Elberfeld was in active communication with the Basel Society of Christianity. Yet the real impetus for the founding of a Missionary Society in Elberfeld did not come from Basel, but from England. The missionary zeal had awakened in a surprising way in that country in the closing decade of the last century and had spread to all churches. [ . . . ] The mere recognition that there still existed pious and zealous Christians who had such great trust in God’s promises that they would undertake such an unusual and difficult endeavour worked like a spark of electricity on the rigid limbs of the German Protestant Church. In Elberfeld, too, there was plenty of death and ossification to be found. Though there was no lack of excellent, time-honored Christians, mighty worshippers filled with an eagerness to make sacrifices for the needs of the community, deeply grounded in Holy Scripture, and honorable in their entire conduct, they preferred to withdraw into small circles of friends, to have uplifting conversations, and to pray with a few chosen ones instead of exerting influence on the entire community by coming out in public. This was also the way in which the Elberfeld Missionary Society came together. When an association is established today, the first thing is to attract as many members as possible, to expound the purpose of the association to everyone in word and writing, and to present its activities and successes to the largest possible audience. But the founders of the first missionary society swore to maintain strict secrecy, and that there should never be more than twelve members. Very much in the manner of the conventicles, the meetings of the small band of missionary supporters began on June 3, Pentecost Monday of 1799, in the house of the venerable Ball in Elberfeld, this esteemed old man whose name has become known in broad circles through his sons. In the beginning there were only nine, all laymen, only one preacher among them, the Reformed pastor Wever. Later his younger colleague Nourney also joined, as did two burghers. What, then, did these venerable old men do? On every first Monday of the month, at eight o’clock in the evening, they came together and prayed, and read the missionary reports that had come in and the letters that had arrived from Christian friends in England, Holland, East Frisia, Frankfurt, and Basel. Together they drafted the responses, conversed about spiritual, pleasant things, placed donations of whatever amount in a collection box, and returned home praying. “It was a feast day every time," says a witness of the meetings, "for which the entire house prepared and looked forward to for days. In those days of deepest humiliation and the overthrow of all the empires of this world, they were mostly somber and dejected when they gathered around the simple table, but they left the room late at night happy and uplifted, for they had derived consolation from the kingdom whose glory radiated at them from God’s great deeds in the heathen world." [ . . . ] The only modest activity with which they came out publicly was the publication of small pamphlets,

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