There is a small brass plate on the door of a modest looking house in Kilburn Square, inscribed with the single word 'Kindergarten'. To the casual passer-by this word would suggest the idea of a school for children conducted on a special German system, but in the present case nothing of this sort is intended to be implied. It is indeed a 'home' for children, and one that in its origin, progress and present working has, I think, the strongest claims upon public interest and sympathy. But its foundress, in choosing the inscription for her door, had no thought in her mind of systems or of any plan of worldly education whatever. She meant to express only that here was a garden of young children whom she hoped, with God's blessing, to train for the heavenly garden above; and the reader of the following brief record of a feeble woman's work will judge how far the result has justified her loving expectation.
More than fifteen years ago there came to England a poor German governess, whose object was to earn her livelihood by giving lessons in her own language. Shortly after her arrival in London she met with an accident, which, inflicting severe mental and internal injuries, wholly incapacitated her for work, and obliged her to have recourse to the first medical aid she could obtain. The physician to whom she was recommended - E Prothero Smith - happened to be as noted for his Christian benevolence as for his professional utility. When his new patient made her appearance in his consulting-room he looked at her earnestly and then read aloud the name on the card she had sent in.
- 'Miss Mittendorff, I believe!'
'Yes,' she replied, anxious that he should understand her real position at once, - 'Miss Mittendorff. Poor, a stranger - and very ill.'
'Then,' said the doctor (to her unbounded surprise), 'you are most welcome, for the Lord has sent you to me.'
And from that hour this good man became the firm friend as well as the medical adviser of the poor, sick, and otherwise nearly friendless German governess.
How far this great kindness, his deep sympathy, and his Christian influence generally went towards preparing Miss Mittendorff for the work she was eventually to take up, it might be difficult to say; but undoubtedly it was the sowing of the first seed in the tender, womanly heart which in due time, and watered by divine grace, was to bring forth so rich a harvest of love to her more helpless fellow creatures.
I must give now her own simple account of the actual origin of her Kindergarten.
'After my long and painful illness of nine years I found myself, as it were, suddenly restored to health. While sitting in the waiting room of the doctor who had been during those nine years my kindest friend and benefactor, while he and another physician consulted on my case, I looked over a religious paper lying on the table and read an appeal it contained for someone who would come forward and take up 'the very little ones' of outcasts before they were able to understand the wickedness by which they were surrounded.
'At once I lifted up my heart in prayer to the Lord that he would graciously let me hear through the mouth of His dear servants, the doctors, if I were capable of undertaking the work. Scarcely was my prayer finished when I was summoned to the doctor's room, and my own medical attendant stepping forward said, 'Let us give thanks to the Lord for restoring you to health in his own good time. We both think you fit for any work you may wish to undertake.' And now the desire of my heart was that I might use my renewed strength in the service of my Lord and Master, who had so graciously and wonderfully cared for me, and watched over me so tenderly during my long years of suffering. I looked round me, crying to the Lord, 'What wilt thou have me to do?', waiting for him to direct me, and soon I seemed to hear his call to take up those poor little outcast infants who were often badly treated and shamefully neglected, even by their own parents.'
Being naturally fond of children, Miss Mittendorff still feared she might have mistaken her work, and before advancing a single step in the matter, she entreated God to grant her a sign that it was indeed his will that she should begin it. 'I asked the Lord', she says in her earliest report, 'to send me some money if I was to go on and if I received nothing I would take it as a token that He had other service for me to perform.' The next morning she received a letter containing five shillings in stamps, and another the same afternoon with these words, 'To be used in the Lord's service.' Late at night came a third letter from a lady whom she had not seen for years, and who wrote, 'Last night I lay awake and thought about you. I felt constrained to get up and write to you, and I now enclose this pound, which I am sure the Lord wishes me to send you.'
With no further doubts in her mind, and with a heart overflowing with gratitude, Miss Mittendorff at once began to look for a house, destitute, be it understood, of all means but the trifling sums just referred to, and with no expectations but from the faithfulness of that loving God who had called her to feed His lambs, and who, she well knew, had bread enough and to spare both for herself and all his needy little ones.
At first she met with many difficulties, and some of her best friends raised objections and hindrances, not quite believing, perhaps, that faith can remove mountains, or doubting the quality of the faith possessed by this one weak and still often physically ailing woman.
But God himself was on her side, and all the opposition that could be brought to bear against a human plan could no more hinder this plan than a breath of summer air could uproot the giant oak of the forest. Very speedily a house suited for Miss Mittendorff's purpose was found, and sufficient means came in to furnish it, while so many applications on behalf of destitute children were made to her, that she felt painfully how limited as yet were her capabilities of accommodating them. Here again, I must quote her own words in reference to the description of little ones it was her chief desire to befriend.
'My object was to take in those poor babes who are worse than orphans, where the father is not known, and the mother is left in the greatest distress, unable to provide for herself and child and how is it possible that she should regain her character so long as she can find no one to take care of her infant!
Dudley Street, Seven Dials, by Gustave Doré
'In order that my Home should never be said to encourage vice, I make the mothers - generally young country girls, and frequently orphans who come up to London without any friends - pay according to the wages they are receiving, in order that they should feel the responsibility and the burden which sin has brought upon them. I receive from one shilling and sixpence (7.5 pence) and upwards per child, for which sum I find it in clothes, medicine, and everything it may need; but out of the twelve children now under my care I receive only payment for five; some of the mothers being in reformatories, where, of course, they earn nothing - two are in hospitals for incurables, and others in painful circumstances which render it impossible for them to pay.'
Before the Home had been established three years the number of inmates had so greatly increased that it was necessary to remove into a larger house, and Miss Mittendorff, always seeking the Lord's guidance in everything, was finally led to the one she now occupies in Kilburn Square, where very soon more applications poured in, and children of nearly all ages, beginning at ten hours, were added to her Kindergarten.
At the end of little more than three years there were thirty-six children in the Home, and clothes and beds had been provided for them all. Nor was the daily food ever wanting, though often God saw fit to try the faith of His servant and her devoted helpers by leaving them without supplies almost till the last minute. Here is one touching instance, out of multitudes of a similar kind, recorded by herself and reminding the wondering reader of the experiences of George Müller
, whose life of faith has been pronounced, even by men of the world, the greatest miracle of modern times:-
'One morning, just after breakfast, when the last of everything had been finished, I called the children in to the usual morning prayers, quite intending to ask our heavenly Father to send in the much-needed supplies; but, looking at their happy faces and rejoicing over the converted ones, I forgot it, and had nothing but praise and thanks to offer to Him. Yet soon my helper reminded me of it. I sent for my little praying band, telling them that if they wished for dinner they must ask their father for it; and I then inquired, would they be satisfied if nothing was sent? When all answered me they would wait and trust. Well, they went to their bedrooms, and told the Lord all about it. Soon afterwards they came back to me, and the eldest said, "We are so happy, and won't mind if we have to wait till evening; we are sure the Lord will remember us." I confirm that their childlike faith and gratitude greatly helped and strengthened me. About 12 o'clock a letter was put in the box containing five shillings in stamps from "A.B., the Lord's portion for the orphans." I called my children to me, and how can I describe their joy when they found their prayer had been so soon answered! I let them have the pleasure of changing the stamps in the post office, and of getting bread and potatoes, and before 1 o'clock we had the potatoes in their skins, with dripping, on the table.'
In another place Miss Mittendorff says, 'At the spring time, when the summer clothes were wanted, I received, before I had even asked, in one day sufficient means to buy all that was needed. Is it not just like the Lord! Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear!'
It is now five years since the Home was commenced with two babies and one small house. There are at present two houses, adjoining each other, at Kilburn, and a cottage at Bushey, with sixty children and numerous helpers and teachers. These last accept their situations on the understanding that they will be paid their salaries when the Lord sends the money, and if this is delayed, they are always content to wait.
The children are all taught reading, writing and a little arithmetic; those who are quick and intelligent learn, in addition, something of geography and English history. They are likewise trained in every kind of useful household work, and at about 16 are sent out as superior domestic servants.
More than a year ago Miss Mittendorff was very severely tried by a long visitation of sickness amongst her little flock. Her own labours and night-watching at this time were so incessant that it ended in her being stricken with paralysis, and obliged to leave her Home to the care of a friend, providentially raised up, and to go herself to the hospital for the paralysed in Queen Square. Here the many mercies she received are beautifully and touchingly recorded in the reports to which I have already alluded, and which my readers will do well to obtain at the Home for themselves.
In the autumn of the year Miss Mittendorff, after a short sojourn at the seaside, for which means had, as usual, been unexpectedly sent her, was once more amongst her dear children, and happy beyond all words to be able to take up her active duties again. Since then she has had many trials, many anxious days and nights, much sickness, and some deaths; but her constant testimony is that the Lord is faithful even above what He has promised; and at the last public meeting in connection with her Home, held in Great Portland Street, though the balance of cash in hand was only five shillings and tenpence (29 pence), and the past year's expenses had amounted to more than nine hundred and fourteen pounds, she asked the Christian friends and ministers who presided at the meeting to let praise and thanksgiving be its leading features.
It must be especially borne in mind that Miss Mittendorff's principle is never to go in debt for a single article. Here are her own words on the subject:-
'I do not buy anything if I have not the money in hand, even if the tradesmen are begging me to take what I want, as they will trust me. I find not a text in all Scripture in which it is allowed to go into debt; and, therefore, however tempted, I rather wait and suffer want.'
It is no less a fixed principle with her not to ask anything of her fellow creatures, believing that God (to whom she tells all her necessities) will put it into their hearts to give.
In the preface to her last report, written by another kind and constant friend - Mr J Weatherley, 51 Gordon Square - the following statement is made:-
'Her method is evidently that of going direct to Him who can move all hearts, but she would deprive us of a privilege and lose an opportunity of honouring God if she was not to inform us of His loving kindness in supplying all her need.'
A Christian doctor gives his services to the Home gratuitously, and proves himself in many other ways a valuable friend and adviser to Miss Mittendorff and her children. This is Dr Picard, who will gladly testify to the value of the Home, and afford any information respecting it.
It is earnestly hoped by the writer of this feeble sketch that the hearts of many Christian readers will be opened to assist, both by their prayers and their offerings, a work which is so manifestly a 'work of the Lord', and as such quite certain of imparting a blessing to all who add but a single stone to the building - Good Words