A group of frightened children huddled around their mother’s bed in a dark little room in Germany. Among them was a bewildered four-year-old boy about to become an orphan. As he listened, his sinking mother whispered, “My dear children, I have a great treasure for you.”
“What is it, Mother?” asked an older sister.
The woman pointed to the Bible. “Seek it in the Bible; there you will find great treasure. I have watered every page with my tears.” With that she died. The family was broken up, and little Bartholomew Ziegenbalg went to live with sympathetic friends in Halle. He never forgot his mother’s words, and at age 12, he claimed Christ as his Savior. At 18 he graduated from the university in Halle with honors.
Lutheranism in Germany had been rekindled by a revival known as Pietism, and King Ferdinard of Denmark had been stirred. He appealed for missionaries for the Danish possession of Tranquebar on the southern tip of India. Ziegenbalg heard the call and presented himself. Scarcely anyone saw him off at the dock, and the trip to India was long—seven months, twenty days. He arrived in India on July 9, 1706, and was promptly imprisoned.
Ziegenbalg, however, had a motto: Ora et Labora—Pray and Work! He would not be denied. Even in prison, he labored at learning the Tamil language, and as soon as he gained freedom he began sharing Christ. Within a year he baptized five slaves in the first Protestant baptismal service ever held in India, and soon the first Protestant church for nationals in India was dedicated. By 1711 Ziegenbalg completed the translation of the New Testament into Tamil, along with Luther’s catechism, a Danish liturgy, and some German hymns.
His health failed after 13 years, and he died at Tranquebar in 1719 at age 35, leaving 350 converts to mourn his death and continue his work. If William Carey is the “Father of Modern Missions” perhaps Ziegenbalg should be called its Grandfather, for he served faithfully in India nearly a generation before the Moravian missionaries left Herrnhut and nearly 100 years before Carey.
Because of Christ Jesus, I can take pride in my service for God. In fact, all I will talk about is how Christ let me speak and work, so that the Gentiles would obey him. I have always tried to preach where people have never heard about Christ. I am like a builder who doesn’t build on anyone else’s foundation. (Romans 15:17,18,20)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 9.