Seventeenth-century Bohemia was a beautiful area at the center of Europe, encircled by mountains and highlands, home of the Moravians. It was the land of John Hus who died for the Reformation before Luther even launched it. And it was filled with Hussites longing for freedom of worship.
But Bohemia was ruled by the Hapsburg king, Ferdinand II, a dedicated Catholic. He unleashed a campaign to re-Catholicize Bohemia, and on May 23, 1618 Bohemian rebels shouting the Protestant cause stormed the palace. They literally threw Ferdinand’s governors out the window. The governors landed in a pile of manure (just where the rebels thought they belonged), and Ferdinand sent troops against the Protestants, defeating them soundly in January, 1620 at the Battle of White Mountain. Protestants throughout Bohemia were endangered.
Jan Amos Comenius, pastor and Christian educator, lost his family to the war, and he himself barely escaped a burning house. His church members became fugitives, then they became refugees, having to flee their homeland. They packed their few belongings, left home and country, and plodded through bitter snows toward Poland. Arriving at the border, they turned and gazed a final time on their land. In a scene that later became a favorite of Christian artists, Comenius led his shivering flock in prayer for God to preserve in Bohemia “a hidden seed to glorify thy name.” Finishing their prayer, the little flock trudged on.
Comenius never returned, never found a home, and when he died in 1670, he owned virtually nothing but a sack of tattered clothes. But he left the world 154 books that laid a foundation for modern Christian education.
Meanwhile, White Mountain wasn’t the end of the war, but its beginning. Denmark entered the fray, then Sweden, then France. Europe was ravaged, and half of all Germans perished. Not until 1648 was the Treaty of Westphalia signed—30 years after the initial revolt in Bohemia.
As for Comenius’s prayer, it was answered 100 years later when Count Zinzendorf gave the Bohemian offspring refuge at Herrnhut. It was the descendants of Comenius and his followers, gathered safely by Zinzendorf, who became the forerunners of the modern missionary movement.
Along the way someone said to Jesus, “I’ll go anywhere with you!” Jesus said, “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to call his own.” (Luke 9:57,58)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 23.