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Published On: Fri, Jun 30th, 2017

Count Zinzendorf

dekker_0Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf (1700 –1760) was a German religious and social reformer, Bishop of the Moravian Church (Jan Hus, ca.1369) and founder of the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine.  His Church was the first in the Christian world to promote interracial marriages, women ordained as priests, and total racial and cultural equality.

Zinzendorf's heaven still featured a white Jesus amid Inuït, Caribbeans, Indians, South Africans, Europeans, and Maori. Piety and ascetic lifestyle, based on Luthern, or Calvinist Protestantism, was the thrust of Zinzendorf's gospel. He was a true mystic Protestant, averse of formal preaching and theological arguments, and one of the first Evangelical " reborn" Protestants.

Zinzendorf's contacts with Danish Royalty resulted in Moravian missions in the Dano-Norwegian Empire. While attending the coronation of Christian VI of Denmark, Zinzendorf was struck by two Inuit converts of Hans Egede's mission in Greenland, and also by an African of the West Indies.

"In the early 1730's a black servant at the Court of the King of Denmark, by the name of Anton, was brought to Herrnhut by Count Zinzendorf so that he could plea for volunteers willing to go to his native St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. "  This thrust became a successful mission. Missionaries volunteered as Moravian Slaves in the transatlantic slave trade.

The "Moravian Slaves" became a popular story about Christian missionaries. The legend names, Johann Leonhard Dober and David Nitschmann as called to the mission of African slaves on the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix, in 1721.

When asked by a Danish Court official, who was to issue their exit visas, how they would support themselves, Nitschmann replied,

"We shall work as slaves among the slaves."

"But," said the official, "that is impossible. It will not be allowed. No white man ever works as a slave."

"Very well," replied Nitschmann, "I am a carpenter, and will ply my trade."

Told that it was not allowed to do such a thing, Dober and Nitschmann then sold themselves to a slave owner and boarded a ship bound for the West Indies.  As the ship pulled away from the docks, they sang as true martyrs at the stake,

"May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His sufferings."

The first Moravian mission was established on St Thomas in 1732. The first Moravian mission in Greenland in 1733.   Seeing Inuit's in the streets of Charlotte Amalia, and Caribbeans in Nuuk, became an ordinary event.

From St. Thomas,  Zinzendorf's Evangelism spread to Costa Rica, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Surinam, Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, and the Virgin Islands including St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, Tortola, and Grenada.

Protestant  Evangelism is not a new phenomenon in the Caribbean, but started back, in the early 18th century.   Was it partially Moravian modesty that prevented the congregation member from being more proactive in the social and economic development of the region? Judging from the Herrnhuters community in Zeist, The Netherlands, that became almost a tourist attraction, though not as extreme as the Amish in the USA, that must be the case.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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