Acts America

Biographies of Great Christians


Ann Nitschmann

They gathered together for the drawing of lots. The time had come to select a leader, a “chief elderess” for the women in the bustling community of Marovians at Herrnhut (in what is now eastern Germany). Four names were put on slips of paper. One was Anna Nitschmann, only fourteen years old, she hadanna nitschmann already demonstrated leadership among the single women.

The girl must have tried hard toappear calm as the choice was announced. It was Anna! Was it a suppressed smile or a look of fright that crossed her face as her name was read? She probably noticed some scowls of consternation among the others. The drawing of lots was supposed to discern the leading of God – but she was too young! In this case, had there been a mistake?

~ Spiritual Awakening ~

The Moravians were one of the most interesting groups in the history of Christianity. Spiritual heirs of the Bohemian martyr Jan Hus (John Huss, 1369-1415, burned at the stake for heresy against the catholic church), they suffered religious persecution for generations until a remnant of them found refuge at Count Zinzendorf's estate in 1772. There they built a town called Herrnhut, and a growing, thriving community developed.

While still in Moravia, Anna Nitschmann's father and older brother had been jailed for their Christian faith. They managed to escape to Herrnhut in 1725, and there they became actively involved in the Moravian community.

By 17727, dissensions had sprung up within the community. Various feuds and grudges were disrupting the happy place. Concerned leaders prayed earnestly about the developing problems, and after a communion service on August 13, 1727, an unusual spiritual awakening swept across the people there.

anna houseThe whole community sensed that they needed to turn from their pettiness and pursue God's calling. Those with bad attitudes repented, relationships were restored and an around-the-clock prayer meeting was begun, with teams taking one hour at a time. (This prayer meeting would continue for over 100 years!).

One of those who were deeply affected by the spiritual awakening was Anna Nitschmann, who was then just twelve years old. She dedicated her life to the Lord's service and immediately began organizing the young women of the community into a kind of club for worship and ministry. It was this activity that caught the eye of community leaders and made them nominate her for the position of chief elderess.

~God's Choice~

In a way, Anna's sudden stature in the community was surprising. She'd been a bit rebellious shortly after her family escaped to Herrnhut. She seemed to lose interest in religious things, and the severe turmoil that the community was experiencing at the time didn't help much. When anyone in the community would press Anna about her salvation, she would snap, “First get saved yourself, and then talk to me.” It was the awakening of August 1727 that turned her around.

Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravian movement, strongly advised Anna to refuse the appointment to the position of chief eldress, but the young peasant girl respectfully reminded the nobleman that she was accepting the appointment as from the Lord. Just as the surprising choice of the shepherd boy, David, proved decisive for Israel, so the choice of young Anna would prove decisive for the Moravians.

Six weeks after the election, Anna led eighteen of the “single sisters” to devote themselves so thoroughly to Christ that even marriage would take second place. This commitment was a major one, signaling a serious desire to serve the Lord. This “single sisters” group would grow over the following decades, providing a stream of courageous missionaries.

Later, in 1736, Anna became part of the “Pilgrim congregation”, a group of spiritual Storm Troopers who were ready to go anywhere to spread the name of Christ. Her mission travels took her to numerous countries, even to America, where she helped in the founding of Bethlehem and Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in the early 1740s and ministered effectively among various Indian groups. In an era when women were not looked upon as hymn writers, Anna wrote more than thirty hymns that were published in the Moravians' German hymnal.herrnhut germany

Anna twice refused offers of marriage, but one year after Count Zinzendorf's wife died, he asked Anna to marry him and she agreed. She was a commoner and he was noble, but within the Herrnhut community, all were equals. Anna, then forty-one, had long since proven her total Christian commitment. They were married in June of 1757.

By the time of Anna Nitschmann's death in 1760, the Moravians had sent out 226 missionaries and baptized more than 3,000 converts. That was only thirty-eight years since the founding of Herrnhut community and only twenty-eight years since they had sent their first missionaries out into the world. Among those deeply influenced by the Moravians were John and Charles Wesley.

To the early Moravians, Anna was known as the “Selige Juengerin”, the “Blessed Women Disciple”. By example she demolished doubts about what a young person – or a women – could do in the service of Christ.

Jesus, Thou fain would'st have us be in all things more conformed to Thee”

~ Anna Nitschmann