Home » April 1 — John Leonhard Dober

April 1 — John Leonhard Dober

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Acts 13:16-52

Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

More thoughts for meditation about John Leonhard Dober

Let’s celebrate one of the Moravian Brethren’s first residents of the Americas who was part of their amazing and extensive missionary efforts in the 1700’s. As you know, the Moravians are still alive and well in the United States. A main center for them is just up the road in Bethlehem, PA.

Leonhard Dober was born on March 7, 1706, in Bavaria, Germany. Like his father, Johann, Leonhard was trained as a potter. When he was nineteen years old, Leonhard walked 315 miles to join his older brother, Martin, in Herrnhut. We do not exactly know how Martin had heard about Herrnhut, the community founded by Protestant refugees from Moravia just a few years earlier. By 1727 about half of the population of Herrnhut came from other parts of Germany. Other members of the Dober family soon joined Leonhard and Martin in Herrnhut: their parents, Johann and Anna Barbara in 1730, and their younger brother Andreas in 1733.

An important event in Leonhard’s life took place in 1731 when Anton, a former African slave from St. Thomas, visited Herrnhut. Count Zinzendorf, on whose land the village was built, had met Anton in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was employed as a servant. Anton, who was baptized, impressed Zinzendorf and his traveling companions with his accounts of the situation on St. Thomas where Africans lived under the harshest of conditions. Zinzendorf sent Anton to Herrnhut where he told the congregation about his sister on St. Thomas who was “eager to learn about Christianity if only God would send someone to teach her.” Leonhard felt he should be the person to go to the Caribbean island and tell the slaves “about their Savior.” The Church, however was not quick to rush into such an enterprise, and it took another year until Dober and David Nitschmann, his fellow missionary, received permission for travel there. The day they left Herrnhut, August 21, 1732, marks the beginning of mission work of the Moravian Church.

Dober and Nitschmann arrived on St. Thomas on December 13, 1732. Nitschmann returned to Europe four months later; Dober remained until 1734 when he was called back to become General Elder, a position he would hold until September of 1741.

Dober served the Moravian Church in many places. He worked in Amsterdam where he tried to evangelize the Jewish inhabitants of that city (1738/39). He was appointed head of Moravian activities in the Netherlands (1741-45), in England (1745-1746) and later in Silesia (1751-58). He was also ordained a bishop of the Church in 1747. After Zinzendorf’s death, Dober became a member of the Directorate of the Unity – a position he held until he died in Herrnhut on April 1, 1766.

Dober’s letter describing his motivation for going to St. Thomas says:

Since it is desired of me to make known my reason, I can say that my disposition was never to travel during this time [that period in his life], but only to ground myself more steadfastly in my Savior; that when the gracious count came back from his trip to Denmark and told me about the slaves, it gripped me so that I could not get free of it. I vowed to myself that if one other brother would go with me, I would become a slave, and would tell him so, and [also] what I had experienced from our Savior: that the word of the cross in its lowliness shows a special strength to souls. As for me, I thought: even if helpful to no one in it [my commitment] I could still give witness through it of obedience to our Savior! I leave it to the good judgment of the congregation and have no other ground than this I thought: that on the island there still are souls who cannot believe because they have not heard.

Want more?

A documentary about Dober. Part 1, Part 2

Suggestions for Action

Herrnhut is a good model, don’t you think? Radical Christians crossing lines of nationality and race, prayer, community and imaginative mission worldwide. That’s good Christianity in any era! How are we doing?

Is God is calling you to some new obedience? What will you do about it? You can start by letting others know — even if it takes a long time to be sent into it, it is good to have back up.

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