Hailsham to Herrnhut

By Tom Simmons - 2 June 2024

We both want to give you all a breakdown of why we are looking to move to Herrnhut for a season and what has happened to lead us up to this.

I first visited Herrnhut when I was 9. My parents had decided to spend some time travelling around Europe. We had a little VW camper which was fine for summer, but as winter got closer we needed somewhere warm. We were recommended through a friend to stay in the town of Herrnhut in former East Germany as there was a small church who could use a builder.

We stayed there for around four months over the winter, where I went to school and dad worked for the church, building their first meeting room. We made lots of wonderful friends with a group of believers who were establishing a new church in a special town. They was a group of families who had an encounter with the Holy Spirit in the late 1980’s and when communism collapsed they were able to form their own charismatic church nestled in the shadow of the large Moravian church in the town.

The town is famous for a revival of the Holy Spirit in the 1700’s (Moravian Church – Moravian History) which, among other things involved 100 years of praying 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the largest protestant missionary movement up until that point.

Apart from spending my summers out there while at college and university when I worked in the forests surrounding the town, we did not have much involvement with the town for a number of years.

Sara and I both visited in 2009, where we spent the summer in the nearby YWAM base and helped lead a mission trip to Ukraine with the young people – and a few visits to England every now and then – but otherwise out of sight and our mind for over a decade.

Fast forward to 2022: Sara found a cracking deal on flights to Prague in April, and we decided to visit our old friends and have a holiday. It was so nice to see everyone again, and to see how the church now owned and was renovating the large hospital in the centre of the village with many guestrooms and a new meeting room. When we left, we both felt that it had been too long between visits, and these were special people and good friendship, and we should return soon.

During the summer, Sara was hanging out the washing when she felt God say to her “I want to tell you something”. She carried on hanging out the washing, telling God she’d get some time with Him soon. Again – “I want to tell you something”. So, she left the washing, sat in the lounge and immediately heard the phrase, “I am moving you on”. We knew this was significant and initially thought that perhaps – finally – we would be moving to a larger house! But we stored it up.

At the same time, Sara logged on to her old twitter account to see a tweet by Andrew Wilson that mentioned the need for church planting in East Germany. Both of us were emotionally stirred by this – it made me desperately want to visit Herrnhut again. If this was true, what can we do to help?

We decided to start to pray about this connection and how we could be involved.

During this time, Sara had a dream form God: We were in a house in Herrnhut, there was snow on the ground. Si was visiting and we were taking excursions out into the local villages. Outside the window there was a pizza shop. I remember her waking me up and telling me in such vivid detail.

In the autumn of 2022, Sara and I attended the Jubilee+ conference hosted by Natalie Williams. We were very expectant for God to speak to us – particularly about Herrnhut.

During the lunch break, I perused the small book store – the UK church and the poor dominated. However, in the middle of the table was one different book that jumped out: “The Lord of the Ring”. Now if you’ve suffered through my preaches, you’ll know they’re my favourite films, so I picked up the book and to my complete surprise it wasn’t about Tolkien – the whole book was about Herrnhut – the life of Count Zinzendorf (The Lord of the Ring: A Journey in Search of Count Zinzendorf: Amazon.co.uk: Anderson, Phil: 9781910012338: Books).

I couldn’t believe it! I read about the small villages that I worked and the town that I knew. And then to my utter shock, one of the chapters was called “On the Good Ship Simmonds”. Why was my name there?

The chapter detailed that, on the ship ‘Simmonds’ did John Wesley meet the Moravians during a vicious storm, who were worshipping, not worrying. In short, he realised he was not saved and on arriving in America gave his life to Christ and came back to England to lead revival.

I was almost shaking – the Simmonds brought together the English and the Herrnhuters 300 years ago?

Sara since asked the organiser of the conference why she chose the book. She said she signs off on all the books and doesn’t recognise it so it must be a God thing! We took this as a confirmation of our prayers and we knew there was more to our time in Herrnhut than ‘just friendship’, so decided to visit again in the spring of 2023 to see what could happen. March 11th 2023: we booked to go.

March 9th, however, on my birthday, we both booked to attend the Catalyst leaders conference. The day before, we had some trying struggles with one of our children who has since been diagnosed with autism. I write openly because it’s important. This particular day on March 8th, they had to wear a different coat to school and a very painful tantrum ensured. Furniture was thrown by them with kicking and screaming, and it was deeply unpleasant for everyone involved. I came home from school totally broken. I felt like a complete failure. I felt like a terrible father, unequipped, ungraceful, unpleasant and I sat at the bottom of the stairs and sobbed. We nearly cancelled the conference the next day, but we both felt it was important that we go. Still, I went under a cloud of sadness and was troubled by how difficult things were sometimes.

It was a great conference and in the afternoon Phil Wilthrew was speaking prophetically to the leaders in the room. As he was talking, I grabbed Sara’s hand – I knew he was going to talk about Germany. I just simply knew. As he was talking it was like a champagne cork being teased out of the bottle. Phil then said: “There is a significance for the country of Germany for some people here today”. Like I knew he would.

We grabbed him afterwards and asked if he could pray for us – that we were actually flying to Herrnhut in two days and feel God stirring us for Germany. He and two members of his team then prayed over us and prophesied over us. I recorded the whole thing on my phone:

“You will meet a Doormaker. Who’s name beings with “H”. They are a person of significance in the town and you must tie down your tent next to their tent”

This was encouraging, but then another member began praying over us:

“I see your children, this move is going to be good for them and I can see your middle child. I can see fits of anger and punching and kicking. I can see a reticence to express emotion. The Father says, ‘I know. Its okay. I’ve got this. You just have to hold their hand and tell them you love them.’”

Well, we were a sobbing mess on the floor.

I couldn’t believe that in my seeking God and in His graceful speaking to us – he put his finger on an area of private, dark pain and brought it into the light, spoke encouragement and healing. Ever since this moment, things have been 1000% better.

There were other words spoken, about ministry of word and spirit being taken from Herrnhut into Hungary, Poland, Czech and Ukraine, trains of coal and fire – word and spirit – being sent.

Well it doesn’t need saying, that we flew to Herrnhut very excited for what God seemed to be doing. I was curious – A doormaker? I know the town is old – perhaps there is a person who makes old doors?

We arrived at the accommodation and Sara remarked straight away –  this house is exactly like the house of her dream except that instead of a lounge looking over the street, is the kitchen with the lounge at the back. She was so confused and she asked the owners if they were moving anytime soon but no – they’re there for good!

That Friday, we attended the weekly church fellowship ‘Shabbat’ meal. Everyone brings a dish and we hear and recite some liturgy and celebrate the end of the week. During this time, we met again with David and Marie Haupt (David is one of the elders) and they invited us for a meal after Church. Sara and I joked that we have found an H but he’s got the wrong job! He’s an architect – laptops not chisels!

During the meal, David was telling us that he ran a small firm in Herrnhut, but before he worked for a large company in Dresden and was a little cog in a big machine. They would take on huge projects and so he would just do the same job over and over again every day. One time, they took on a project to build a huge new school and for a whole year he had to build. Every. Door. In. The. School.

Which way does it open? Where does the handle go? Where is the window?

Our jaws were on the floor (probably more of a reaction than he was expecting). He quickly apologised for telling such a boring story – he just felt he should. Of course we filled them in and they also had been prophesied over to move back to Herrnhut to be a couple who welcome people in and network people.

We were so encouraged that God was speaking and that we had a clear word from Him that was fulfilled within a week!

On coming home, we shared everything with Si and Anna, that we feel that God is in this and talked about next steps. There were so many questions that our first thought was to visit again with Si and see if they would like to visit us, so we can all meet each other and get to know each other. For me, it was like visiting family and when David and Marie and Erika and Albrecht came to visit us in November it was a strange moment to see friends I’ve known since 1997 come and visit our church.

Privately, Sara and I explored all the ways we could be involved. Could we visit them several times a year and encourage them and support them this way? Not with the limited annual leave from my employment. Besides, how helpful can we be without even being able to pray in German?

Over the Christmas of 2023/24, we both came to see that God had spoken to us so clearly, and it was our responsibility to respond now. Herrnhut didn’t need a family that can’t speak German visiting a few times a year – they have enough spiritual tourists coming to soak in the history. We needed to be there, learn the language and explore what might open while we are there.

We visited again in February 2024 to tell them our thoughts. During this time, David showed us an apartment he was renovating, that would be available in August 2024. The house was the same as our friends we stayed in before (two doors away) except the kitchen was at the back and the lounge was at the front – overlooking a pizza shop – just like Sara’s dream.

We came away sure that this was where God was opening doors and if we don’t do something about it soon, a whale was going to swallow us up!

So – that’s the story. Sorry it’s long. We still have so many questions, but for now our aim is to spend a year learning the language, serving the church and settling the children into a new way of life.

When I took the role of being an Elder at Christchurch – which, apart from my family has been the highest honour for me – I did it because Jesus asked me to, because I love the church and because I saw Si as someone I wanted to imitate. I was prepared to spend my whole life serving the church and living in Hailsham. However, Sara and I both had a heart for mission from the moment we met and so I am also not surprised that we are now being sent to something different.