The Moravians were banished from their homeland, Bohemia, and exiled to various countries in 1620. Some came to Germany and found refuge on the estate of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1756). It was here on his estate that they became known as the Moravian Brethren, the forerunners of the Protestant Missionary Movement.
In 1730, Count Zinzendorf told the Moravians about the urgent need for missionaries to evangelize the slaves on the Virgin Islands. Leonard Dober listened to Zinzendorfs appeal. As he pondered Gods calling, Dober felt excited about this opportunity to serve, but he also envisioned the severe persecution he would endure by selling himself into slavery to evangelize these people. He anticipated the horrible working conditions, but above all the degradation of slavery. No price was too high, he thought, when Jesus Christ endured persecution and died for him. So, Leonard Dober, at the age of eighteen, became the first Moravian missionary to the Virgin Island sugar plantation slaves. However, the source of his persecution did not come from the slave masters whip, but from fellow Christians.
Dober found himself ridiculed, mocked, and chastened for his decision to go to the Virgin Islands. The Christians asked him incredulous questions about how he planned to live in the Virgin Islands or how he intended to minister to the slaves. The persecution climaxed when the Christians discovered that Dober planned to sell himself into slavery. As Dober endured this opposition, he thought that if he had proposed to travel as an ambassador of state, he would have been treated differently; but since he was a servant of Jesus Christ commissioned to preach the gospel, he was looked upon as a fool. Dober arrived in the Virgin Islands in the late 1730s, but he did not have to become a plantation slave. Instead he became a servant in the governors house. Soon he resigned his position, as he was concerned that this position was so superior to that of the slaves that it was detrimental to reaching them for Christ. He chose instead to live in a small mud hut where he could work one-on-one with the slaves. In three years his ministry grew to include 13,000 new converts.
Even though Leonard Dober did not have to pay the supreme sacrifice of his life to evangelize the Virgin Island slaves, it is important to note that he was ready to accept persecution and even martyrdom for these people.
Through the pioneering efforts of the Moravians, millions have followed in their footsteps, reaching nations around the world with the message of the gospel!