Eva von Winkler Mother Eva of Friedenshort

Eva fumed, and her pent-up rebellion found an escape as she climbed the roof of the neighbouring house and shook her fist at the retreating figure of the cleric, muttering, “You shall not rob me of my liberty.” Then, feeling most superior in her newly declared freedom, she jumped over the chimney stacks. She had just finished her second lesson preparatory to Confirmation, and she would be bound by no creeds.

Only two years before, the thirteen-year-old girl, usually obstinate, but somewhat subdued and saddened by the loss of her mother, whom she passionately loved, had uttered similar words. As she strode through the woods with her St. Bernard dog, she fancied that she saw the majestic and commanding figure of the Lord rising before her, and it seemed He wanted to “claim” her. “No! No! He shall not conquer me,” she declared. “I will be free and nobody shall take my freedom from me.” Perhaps this young heiress of noble birth even then sensed the call of God to the service that was destined to bring blessing to thousands.

Eva von Winkler, next to the youngest of a family of nine boys and girls, was born in southeast Germany near the border of Poland, October 31, 1866. Their home was an ancestral castle, with all the charm and romance associated with such a place, near the village of Miechowitz.

Her gentle, loving mother was, according to Eva’s portrayal, “a radiant form of light.” The memory to her children, not only of her unusual mental powers, but also of her ardent spiritual aspirations, proved to be an “imperishable inheritance” that enriched them as long as they lived. The father’s contribution to his family was of a more earthy nature. A wealthy man, he wanted the inheritance, eventually theirs, to be handled by them with the utmost discretion. Consequently, he was a parent with strict ideas of discipline which he was not slow to enforce.

The motherÂ’s love for God was in evidence throughout the home. Nine chairs, each with a Bible verse carved on the back and arranged around a huge oak table, impressed upon formative minds the importance of GodÂ’s Word. The inscription, “Quiet Approach to God”, was written on the first page of the large family Bible. The famous book, “Imitation of Christ”, by Thomas a’ Kempis, was given a prominent place on the table.

Eva’s first recollection of any spiritual desire was when two of her sisters sang a hymn, “Praise God Together, Ye Christians All.” She remembered only once of hearing about the death of Jesus, and nothing was ever said to her about sin. The fact that her mother was a Roman Catholic probably contributed to this silence. As a result, it was long before the girl realized any need of a Saviour.

When Eva was almost seventeen, the family went to Berlin, where they had a city home. Here she began to reach out after God.

“God Himself took me into His school. All that I had imagined I possessed lay crushed right to the ground. I had absolutely nothing – no ground under my feet, no future, no Heaven, no eternity, no God. Oh, how I searched night and day after the truth – and could not find it.

“What is life? What is death? What is time? What is eternity? These questions tormented my brain, but no answer came. Only now and again, a few words, which I must have read some time, came to me like a star in the night, although I scarcely knew Who had spoken them. ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall be tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ It was full of promise to me, and wonderful that Someone could say, ‘I have overcome the world.’ Who was this Person? I did not know Him.”

While engaged in Bible study, she read the tenth chapter of John, with its beautiful description of the Good Shepherd. Her heart, now stripped of much of its rebellion, cried out,

“ ‘Lord, if it be true that Thou art the Good Shepherd, then will I also belong to Thy flock.’ Now my heart was at rest; I had received the answer. Everything was different in me and around me and, even though only the first rays of light penetrated into my dark heart, I still knew that the Lord had revealed Himself and that I belonged to Him.”

Overtaken by an illness that confined her to bed, Eva began to while away the hours by a close application to the reading of the New Testament. As her newly awakened soul began to realize something of the cost of Calvary to the Son of God, His claims came home to her.

“No longer did I need to spend my days uselessly and aimlessly; there was work for me to do in the world. Jesus Christ had sought me, found me and called me into His service to follow Him, and now it only remained to wait for His instructions.

“Then God gave me a friend in my loneliness. It was the old monk, Tauler from Strasburg whose sermons and additional writings I found when putting my mother’s study in order. Many an hour did this old friend of God talk there with the ignorant young child, of the union with God, through the death of our old self and the denial of the world and self-love.”

A steadily increasing desire was born in her to help all for whom Christ died. Assurance of God’s plan was given, when several passages from the book of Isaiah were impressed upon her. “Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him?” Then followed words from the same prophet, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”

The once obstinate, determined Eva was now “vowing to give herself to His service exclusively and begging God to preserve her from all earthly love and keep her from all that might hinder her in her purpose.” Outwardly she maintained the same leisurely style of life, with much time on her hands. To prepare for the task ahead she learned to knit, sew, took lessons in Polish and read biographies. To discipline herself, she dispensed with her personal maid.

The path of usefulness which opened to her seemed quite insignificant. It was the custom at the castle to permit some of the neediest of the village poor to come at noon for a dish of soup made from bones, meat and vegetables left over from the meals of the family. Eva began to serve it to them in the bowls they brought. When a small, half-starved boy came one day, she washed him, combed his hair and decided later to make a pair of trousers for him from an old dress of hers. Soon after this, she met the mayor of the village and asked his help in aiding the child. Without EvaÂ’s knowledge, he presented the need to her father who became very angry. At the breakfast table the next morning, he scolded her roundly, forbidding her to go into the kitchen or even to speak to the villagers. Though broken-hearted at such restrictions, Eva began to rely more wholly upon God.

On her nineteenth birthday, she asked her father for permission to take a brief course in nursing. He consented on condition that a friend accompany her. And since the young Countess Lisa Zedlitz had the same desire, together they went to the town of Bielefeld, where there was a school in nursing and domestic arts. Pastor von Bodelschwing, whom Eva later called the “Apostle of Love”, was in charge of the institution and she felt it “an unparalleled privilege” to be under his influence. His example of love to all, regardless of station in life, was ever before her in after years.

On her return to her own home, she was permitted to invite eight small village girls to the castle to instruct them in needlework. One day, as she was fashioning a garment for the poor in her father’s presence, he called her to his desk. At the same time, he turned to her oldest brother, who also was in the room, saying, “If I should not live to be able to do it, build Eva a house for her poor people.” The girl could only kiss his hand, and then she retired to her room to fall on her knees in a prayer of thanksgiving to God. At Christmas, great was her surprise to find that the gift from her father was the plan for such a house.

Again Eva went to the institution at Bielefeld, to learn how to conduct a household and, along with culinary and domestic training, she took charge of a small building for sick children. Soon after her course was completed, epidemics of scarlet fever, typhoid and diphtheria ravaged the village, taking a fearful toll of young lives. So great was the strain imposed upon her from nursing the sick and burying the dead that, from sheer exhaustion, she was forced into temporary retirement.

During this time of recuperation, her house was in the process of building. On the dedication day, Eva, at twenty-four years of age, was consecrated as its “Mother”. So Friedenshort was established. Sick and crippled children were cared for; tiny babies occupied the wooden cradles; elderly persons, unwanted by their families, came for comfort and shelter. When the village school was ended for the day, fully a hundred youngsters came for help with their studies, training in woodcarving or sewing and for a period of fun and play.

Because of a limited income, Mother Eva made bread, did repair work and raised cabbages, ever remembering and putting into practice the hymn sung at the dedication service, “And also in the hardest days, never complain about the burden.” At the year’s end, she had forty beds, instead of the five in the Home at its beginning.

In 1892, her friend, Pastor von Bodelschwing, visited Friedenshort and suggested that she start a Deaconess House, or Sisterhood, and train young women for various forms of Christian activity. The thought had occurred to her at various times, but her father’s consent had to be obtained. “Little daughter, I have been watching you for a long time now and have seen that God’s blessing rests on all you do,” was his favorable reaction. Then he laid his hands on her head in fatherly benediction. So several new buildings were erected at Friedenshort, one for the incurably ill, and another for children. When these were dedicated, three young women were admitted as Deaconess trainees.

While Friedenshort was growing, the spiritual life of its mother also was being shaped and moulded.

“As time went on” she wrote, “there was much to discourage me. I remember in the early days what a grief it was to find that my own village people mistook my wish to help them. Things were said which wounded me deeply, and then I would sit alone over my Bible and realise what it was to be hated by those one loves. As I turned the leaves, my eye fell on the words, ‘If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.’ That was enough. Deep joy filled my heart, as I understood that His followers must not expect reward or thanks in this world which had rejected the One Who went about doing good.”

Her assurance of the fact that she was a child of God never had been shaken. But, within herself, there were longings, vague and undefined, for a deeper spiritual life. For a long time, she was unawakened to the fact that holiness of heart was to be obtained by faith. She relied rather upon her good works to deliver her from the unrest of soul which at intervals proved so distressing. She even contemplated seeking an answer within the Roman Catholic Church. A letter written at this period reveals Mother EvaÂ’s heart struggle.

“Last summer I came for a short rest to ‘Salem,’ tired, worn out, discouraged, weak in body and soul. My whole work looked like a mountain of difficulties before me – a burden that I could not bear. In myself I saw nothing but sin, incapability and weakness. I was almost too tired to speak or to eat. I took my Bible and went out…and all at once a faint understanding dawned upon me of the meaning in the words, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ That was the secret which had been lacking in my life. I always wanted to be something. I wanted to be holy, perfect and glorious. I wanted to force it. Now a light struck me – and I was to be just nothing: so that Jesus and He alone should be all in all. I look upon this as a new chapter in my life.”

Three saintly men were used of God in the further instructing and fashioning of His servant. One was Pastor von Bodelschwing, who had done much to train her for leadership during the years she spent under his guidance. His confidence in her strengthened and matured her. But the strenuous work in the institution, aggravated by the deep inner conflict of her soul, brought physical problems. While in Bielefeld, she saw the danger of absorption in Christian work to the exclusion of the deeper spiritual life. The sermons of Dr. Tauler had created a thirst for union with God and holiness of heart. But Pastor von Bodelschwing, failing to understand her quest, assured her that the answer to her need was not to be found in the Evangelical Church.

The second was a small man, Fritz Oetzbach, deformed in body, but strong in the grace of God, whom Mother Eva met at a Faith Conference in May, 1900. She saw in him the indwelling Christ. His prayers opened Heaven. After seventeen years in a hopelessly crippled condition, he read in the Bible the words of the apostle, James 5:14-16, and asked Christian friends to pray for him, anointing him with oil. His obedience to the divine command was rewarded, and he was healed. When Mother Eva was privileged to engage him in conversation, he asked, “Have you ever thought that the word, ‘Their remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God’, is even now for you?”

“I looked at him in amazement,” she wrote. “No, I had never thought of that. Life seemed to me a continuous struggle against my own nature, against the powers of sin and Satan – how was it possible to think of rest? Then the little ‘great man’ spoke so simply, so clearly, so convincingly how this rest was meant to be for us here, as soon as we cease from our own works and enter into the rest of faith, which Christ won for us on the Cross, and into which we can enter, through the fellowship of His death.

“Oh, how often I had longed for rest, had thought to find it only in the seclusion of a convent and inexorable asceticism or, if even not there, then only in the grave. And now this little man spoke not only of the possibility of rest even here, but he himself seemed to possess this rest – and indeed something of this divine rest actually proceeded from his personality.”

His words made a lasting impression upon her, and she always referred to Fritz Oetzbach as the “Apostle of Faith.”

In the same year, her life touched that of James Hudson Taylor, whom she nominated the “Apostle of Sanctification”. From Mrs. Taylor she received a small book entitled “A Holy Life and How to Live It.” In a simple way, it answered many of her questions in regard to holiness.

The work at Friedenshort was extremely arduous. Her pastoral friend, von Bodelschwing, following her activities with keenest interest, confided to the Sister that she could live probably only another five years without a change of environment. The Homes were placed in other hands, and she became the Lady Superintendent of the Bielefeld Institution. Here, to be sure, her spiritual influence found wider scope in training others, but here also, willing to become an integral part of something entirely apart from the work she loved so much, she buried her ambition for Friedenshort in the tomb of her heart. But, within six years, a complete physical breakdown necessitated a removal to Switzerland.

Returning eventually to the beloved establishment she had founded, she chose to live in a cottage on the grounds, delegating the superintendence of the Community to an older Deaconess. She devoted herself to the poor, and in her little home found a place for small waifs whose brief years had known nothing but cruelty and neglect. But her soul remained unsatisfied.

“The goal had been shown to me, but I had not yet reached it. The great gift of God, a holy life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, which others were enjoying, I had not yet realized. Struggling, striving, fighting, I was always painfully conscious that I was not rising to God’s ideals in my life. Neither outward poverty nor the daily opportunity for loving service could silence the tumult in my soul, and often a deep sigh arose from my heart, ‘Is this all? Has God nothing more to give me?’”

However, the time was fast approaching when the yet unfathomed depths of her being were to be reached by the immensity of the love of God. In the early part of the twentieth century, a marvelous work of the Holy Spirit took place in Wales. Eva, with friends, journeyed first to England and then to Wales. While in London, she visited Bethshan, Mrs. Elizabeth BaxterÂ’s home for spiritual healing. Of this time she wrote:

“I had been allowed a glimpse into Mrs. Baxter’s life of priestly intercession. My own life was so full of work, of unrest and strife, and there was so little time for prayer and worship. About this, too, she was tremendously in earnest and said, ‘How can your spiritual life prosper when you spend no time before God?’

“During those days in London, another thing also happened which was full of meaning for me. Mrs. Penn-Lewis was then at the beginning of her spiritual ministry and, through her writings and her special witness of the meaning of the Cross, was exercising a great influence over a wide circle of Christians. A short conversation with her gave me light on the deepest need of my life. The old ‘I,’ which thrust its way into everything – even into the service of God and which, through no strength of my own, could be uprooted and overcome – I saw for the first time had been judged already in the Cross of Christ when He died for me. I saw this, but could not yet grasp it.

“Then we passed on to Wales where the revival had just broken out. The impression that we received of the unconquerable power of the Holy Ghost over a whole neighbourhood was tremendous.”

As she traveled back to London by train three young girls were in the compartment with her. Their worldly dress suggested to Mother Eva that attendance at the revival services would benefit them. When they told her they were singing and witnessing in association with Evan Roberts, the young man so mightily used of God in the revival, she was astonished.

“Was it possible,” Sister Eva asked herself,” that these girls should be used of God to help in revival meetings – used to save souls when perhaps they themselves were only just converted from a life of worldliness and vanity – and now instruments in God’s hand? And I? For years I had been working the Lord’s service in simple clothes, denying myself everything in the way of comfort and outward attractions, and yet I was inwardly so poor, so weak and so barren.”

As she pondered and drew out her Bible, her eyes fell on those verses: “For ye see our calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.”

“The longer I thought about it, the more clearly I saw that God could more easily use a shoeblack from the London streets than He could use me. What I had formerly looked upon as an advantage appeared to me now as a hindrance.”

These same young women were scheduled to hold a service in a Welsh chapel near London and Mother Eva, as a humble learner, decided to attend. She could understand very little of the language, but the Holy Spirit was present as Teacher.

“It is something unspeakably wonderful,” she wrote “when God Himself comes down into a gathering and touches each, speaks to each personally. Then everything high and lifted up must bend before Him. All hardness breaks down, all coldness melts. To meet with God, the Unseen, to realize His presence in deed and in truth, is the greatest, highest, most wonderful experience that men can ever know. He can then in one moment give and accomplish that which we, in long years of our own striving, have never been able to reach. In that hour, there came to me a gentle, heart-searching question from my crucified Lord. ‘Are you ready to be a fool for My sake?’

“In that hour also the old life sank into the grave – something new, until then unknown, was given. My soul’s longing was satisfied. It seemed to me that all my soul travail was left behind and that now He Himself was living in me – Christ in me, a new I, a new life. Only one wish remained, one longing, never to be disobedient to Him, Who had afresh taken possession of my life. In that same hour, the purpose came to me to travel back to the homeland and witness to Christ in the house of near relatives. That was no easy road.”

Upon her return to Friedenshort, Mother Eva gathered the Sisters together, asking pardon for “all that had been my own, self-born and self-planned, in my previous service amongst them. From henceforth, all must be different; no more I, but He.” The Holy Spirit broke down all self-righteousness, and divine forgiveness, assurance and newness of spiritual life, for the first time, came to some of the Sisters.

Between the years, 1905 and 1908, fifty Deaconesses were housed in the rapidly growing establishment, and the problem of finances became acute. The interest on Mother EvaÂ’s inheritance, the legacy of her mother, no longer was sufficient to meet the expenses, nor could the endowment fund legally be resorted to. She saw then that the work must be conducted on the principle of faith which had been adopted by George Muller, Hudson Taylor and others less widely known. This produced some degree of misunderstanding with her Committee. She was then free to choose only those in sympathy with her complete trust in God.

However, her faith was sorely tried. Poor health again had forced her into retirement. During her absence of eighteen months, the expenses of the Homes exceeded the income. But, in answer to united prayer, within six weeks, the last vestige of indebtedness was removed and a substantial amount left over. Never again, on scriptural grounds, were debts incurred at Friedenshort.

In the latter part of 1910, the need of a shelter for homeless children in Breslau, Germany was laid upon her heart. The initial gift for the purpose was the small sum of five marks. She laid it on a chair and, kneeling, asked God that it be multiplied as had been the loaves and fishes for the feeding of the five thousand. Within a few weeks, a lovely home on a beautiful estate near Breslau came into her hands. During the next fourteen years, four shelters were opened in various parts of Germany and Poland. It was no small joy to Mother Eva that, after the opposition of her family in early years, a brother and sister each established a “Home for the Homeless” and gave themselves to God and His service.

Divine blessing rested upon the labours of His devoted servant, and the sphere of usefulness, opened to the Deaconesses, widened. In 1912, several Sisters were assigned to an area in China with the C.I.M., where no European woman ever had ventured. Upon the heart of a Norwegian Deaconess was laid the spiritual destitution of the fisher folk of Lapland. Before Mother EvaÂ’s death, Sisters were working in Guatemala, Syria, Africa and India.

Another avenue of service was that of prison visitation. Eventually a home was opened where discharged prisoners were permitted to live until adjustments could be made to normal life.

The shadows of evening at length fell over Mother Eva’s beautiful life. In an effort to prolong her days, those who loved her recommended the bracing mountain air of Switzerland. But it proved to be of no avail and she was removed to the little cottage at Friedenshort, to await the Master’s call to higher service. In June 1932, the “earthly house” was dissolved, and she entered into one “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

The books, still in circulation, that flowed from her pen, unerringly point out the path to holiness and Heaven.

Quotes By Eva von Winkler

“Whenever God has found any who, in singleness of heart, have humbly yielded themselves to Him to obey, and to follow simply wherever the light of truth may lead, He has made them lightbearers, and witnesses, each according to the measure of his gifts and the sphere of his influence, and has used them to be a blessing to others. They may have differed radically from one another in their doctrinal views and conviction, they may have been influenced by their surroundings, the leadership they followed and the particular tendency of their time; yet each has given expression to some ray of revealed truth through his words and works, and their life and witness has been a means of blessing not only to their own generation, but to those who have followed.”

“When the Holy Spirit has entered into possession of a life, every moment that follows must be a renewed receiving.”

“Many a restless, defeated life would be transformed if it became a life of prayer. Prayer costs something. It costs much! He who would pray must deny himself. He must give his whole time and strength to the service of God. That does not mean he must change his outward calling and become “spiritual” by entering so-called Christian work. No, to serve God is to live for God and glorify Him to be at His disposal and forget oneself in seeking His glory and the salvation and good of mankind.”

"The world holds the right opinion that there can be no such thing as a worldly Christian. Every man is either a child of the world governed by the spirit of the age, fighting the battle of existence in the kingdom of this world, thinking, acting, living according to its principles; or he is a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, gripped by an inflexible determination to see His words and commandments realized in action and in life, even if they should mean to him what they meant to his Lord – rejection and death!”