"Lilias Trotter--Missionary Impossible," A Book Review, by Ronald Ginther

Miriam Huffman Rockness wrote the new biography (Discovery House Publishers), the life of Lilias Trotter, that is noteworthy for many reasons.

It is not that Rockness is so perceptive and well-researched and literary a biographer(though she has considerable claim to be those things), but it is the person, Lilias Trotter, who is what is most remarkable about the book. That is as it should be in a biography. Trotter's unorthodox, vibrant personality shines forth after all these years since her death in the late 1920s. This 368-page book ought to be a necessary text in every Bible college and missionary training school. Lilias Trotter, as the record stands, was a missionary's missionary, so to speak. What she did and achieved and pioneered revolutionized missionary endeavors world-wide, and her legacy is immortal. Others may have dreamed of doing what she did, but she actually went and did it!

Algeria, her chosen field, was a center of the Moslem religion and culture. It was at the time (late 19th century) ruled by the French, but the Moslem religion and culture were there to stay, and the French culture (they had no religion really) and government were only transitory, and everybody knew that fact at the time. Into this retrograde, colonialistic, spiritually-oppressed, demonized, even fanatical environment Lilias Trotter charged with all the gifts of the Spirit God had given her, and her private wealth, and her various illnesses, and her indomitable determination to spread the Gospel via her art and persuasion and tenacity. What she planted in the midst of this unpromising garden of the Lord could not be eradicated. The seed of the Gospel she sowed, was sown deep--and who knows? Who knows what revival will yet break forth? Look for it! The word of God does not go forth in vain! Lilias Trotter and her band of brave cohorts spread the word of God all over Algeria and touched thousands of lives for Christ. One little 19th century Englishwomen of means and refined artistic temperament and training--yet she impacted an entire nation held for centuries by the bond of Satan. Who would be so brave as to say there can be no revival after such a sowing? After such a life spent solely on the conversion and liberation of Algeria, her belloved adopted land?

Who was Lilias Trotter? She would be a great name in art, but she turned down even the urgent, persistent call of John Ruskin, the premier art critic and connoisseur of England, to be work as a professional artist. As it is, she devoted her art to Christ and to relative obscurity in Algeria, serving as a volunteer, independent missionary.

She buried herself, buried her art and talent, buried her dreams of motherhood and marriage, buried all of herself--truly. Yet who knows the great harvest of souls that will be reaped someday due to her death to self and self-realization? Today, culture is all about self, self-realization, self-attainment--yet Lilias Trotter gave it all up for Christ. Who made the right choice? Lilias Trotter or this present selfish, self-centered generation? Time and Eternity will tell for sure, but we can decide now.

Born into a family of means, she knew a highly cultivated life in London, and grew up in a beautiful mansion, attended by loyal servants. She did not know deprivation, as experienced in London's slums and poor working class districts--yet she possessed a heart of compassion and could not ignore the needs of less advantaged people. When she was saved and energized at mission conferences, she took up the call she received from God with great joy and energy. She abandoned her quest for self-expression and self-glory and went forth as a missionary to Algeria. Now that was impossible for a woman of her time, a woman of her training, a woman unmarried and alone, to go as a missionary to a hostile, anti-Christian, backward, Moslem country. You could certainly go there, but Algeria, along with North Africa, was infamous for being "the missionaries' graveyard" ever since the Vandals had invaded in the 5th century after the sack of Rome. Once North Africa was the mother of the Church, but from that time on paganism and then the Moslem religion (with a short respite of Byzantine rule that was formalistic in Christian Orthodoxy and not a pure expression of faith in Christ) took firm and unyielding control.

What did she achieve that was worthy of this book coming out in the 21st century? For a number of reasons she should be closely studied and emulated, but to name a few: 1. she invented short-term ministry; 2. she organized strategic retreats for missionary upbuilding after setbacks and exhaustion in the field (she did not try to hold on when it was best to leave for a time, then return when the hearts were open once again, so she often took trips for health reasons to Switzerland and England); 3. she utilized a holistic approach to missionism that prevented burn-out; 4. she showed that it was vital to have her own income, for she was not hamstrung by missionary boards that did not really share her vision, or couldn't understand her unorthodox methods; 5. she created cafes for men in the cities, so she could reach men who wouldn't come to her meetings; 6. she held embroidery and sewing classes that reached the oppressed, hidden-away Moslem women and girls, helping them attain skills they needed and also affording them the Gospel and exposure to Christians they would never have met otherwise, being held captive by their menfolks who ran the traditional Moslem households; 6. she lived in Moslem Arab housing, right in the midst of Moslem cities, not off in missionary compounds that maintained a high, foreign, alien style of life at odds with the surrounding culture and people.

The list goes on, but it suffices to say that she was 100 years ahead of her time in many ways. To this day missions are handicapped because they have not learned the ways she pioneered. The most effective missions are those who adopted her methods.

To see exactly how this woman was one of the great missionaries of all time, please obtain the book from a Christian bookstore or from Discovery House Publishers, which you can reach on-line. There is no space here to detail the history of her mission in Algeria, for it covers her whole lifetime as well as the Algerian ministry. Truly, she knew the God of the Impossible and evidence a lifelong passion for attempting the Impossible. The title, "A Passion for the Impossible," is the perfect title for this great Christian leader, Lilias Trotter. To God be the glory!

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