In honor of Women's History Month, may I introduce you to five of my heroes? Through their words, these women have mentored me for decades, though they have already preceded me into the presence of the Lord.
📚One of my very first mentors as a young Christian was Elisabeth Elliot. My mom gave me a cassette (Google it, youngsters) of a conference talk she gave which had been broadcast on Christian radio. I wore that thing out and spent much of my babysitting money on her books. She served as a missionary in Ecuador for her early ministry. Her first husband, Jim, was one of 5 men martyred in an attempt to make friendly contact with the Waodani tribe. That bereavement unexpectedly launched Elisabeth's writing career, beginning with the story of the men and their deaths: Through Gates of Splendor. Many of the tribe did eventually come to faith in Christ. It was my privilege and blessing to hear her in person many times and converse with her in a small group setting once. Amore and I heard Mincaye, one of the men who speared the missionaries to death, and Steve Saint, son of one of the martyrs, speak at a Steven Curtis Chapman concert. What glorious gospel fruit grew out of that sacrifice!
My favorite of her books is A Path Through Suffering, which considers the cycle of death, life, and fruitfulness in the life of a Christian as illustrated by the life cycle of plants. Elisabeth's thoughts here were inspired by Lilias Trotter's book Parables of the Cross, which was out of print at the time of this publication but has since become available. Path features some of Trotter's art alongside Elisabeth's words.
The recent biography Becoming Elisabeth Elliot would be another suggestion if you are new to her. Elisabeth herself wrote a biography of my next mentor....
📚Amy Carmichael spent most of her life as a missionary in India. She wrote truthfully of conditions there and what we would today call human trafficking taking place, mostly involving young girls. Much of her work involved rescuing girls from temple prostitution, and she founded a home, Dohnavur Fellowship (still in existence) where they could receive shelter and a Christian upbringing.
An injury which left her permanently disabled and in chronic pain redirected much of her ministry toward writing. Her themes include suffering, communion with Christ, sacrifice, and surrender. Her poems and hymns were collected by Elisabeth Elliot in Mountain Breezes. It would be hard to choose a favorite of her books, but since chronic illness and disability are also part of my story, I'm highlighting Rose from Brier, which she described as a book from the ill to the ill. She offers up the truth that kept her going in her own limitations. If is an even smaller book, beautifully written, on the theme of Calvary love.
Biographies abound on "Amma," as the Dohnavur chidren called her. Elisabeth Elliot's, A Chance to Die, and Iain Murray's Amy Carmichael would be my recommendations.
📚And then there is dear Corrie: Corrie ten Boom, the unlikely Resistance leader. Corrie's middle years working quietly in her father's Haarlem watch shop were disrupted by the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. One small "yes" to shelter a Jewish neighbor led to a hiding place and relocation operation for many more. Corrie and most of her family were arrested for that work and interned in German concentration camps. Her father and beloved sister Betsie both died there, and several other family members who were imprisoned, tortured, or executed.
Corrie co-wrote her own story of this experience in The Hiding Place. That is unequivocally the place to start if you don't yet know her. Memorable illustrations and scenes abound, and the love between Corrie and her sister is beautiful to witness. She traveled, spoke, and wrote extensively about God's faithfulness in the war, the camps, and the years since. Although so many aspects of her story were excruciatingly painful, her ministry and writing are marked with joy and gratitude in God's goodness and sovereignty. Her testimony of forgiveness of her captors also stuns with its grace and beauty.
📚Darlene Deibler Rose only wrote one book that I know of: Evidence Not Seen. She also was missionary and another whose memoir focuses on World War II. She was a new bride serving with her husband in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. They were taken captive by Japanese troops and, like Corrie ten Boom, interned in concentration camps. Darlene's suffering was more solitary than Corrie's. Her husband and their mentor were sent to different camps and died there. Though their captors and many circumstances were different, her experience of God's faithfulness and care bears some resemblance to Corrie's. Both women also experienced the sustaining power of God's Word. Darlene in particular reaped the benefits of a lifetime of Scripture memory. She had many opportunities for spiritual conversation with the camp's commanding officer through her translation assistance. Her recorded testimony is available on YouTube.
📚Finally, there is Edith Schaeffer. She and her husband Francis relocated their family to Switzerland after World War II to assess and minister to the spiritual wounds of war. In her foundational book L'Abri, she told the story of God's leading them to found a ministry of refuge (the meaning of the name L'Abri) where seekers could find honest answers to honest questions. Francis wrote important works of apologetics such as The God Who Is There and True Spirituality. Edith wrote the story of the ministry, the letters to the family of ministry supporters (collected in Love, Edith), a hard-to-find autobiography of the couple called The Tapestry, and thematic books like Affliction, The Life of Prayer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, and the one depicted here, Forever Music. Their ministry became a unique convergence of Christian hospitality, prayer, apologetics, community life, and a love for and particularly Christian perspective on the arts. The ministry continues today in multiple branches, including the original location in the Swiss Alps.
📚As a bonus, I'll award an honorable mention to Lilias Trotter. She was trained as an artist and mentored by John Ruskin. She left the prospect of a fine professional career as a painter in order to take the gospel of Christ to Algeria (including an opportunity among the Sufis). Her life in the desert reshaped her art, which continued to overflow from her walk with the Lord. One of her essays inspired the hymn "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus."
My firsthand knowledge of her is less than the others, but she is featured in the Elisabeth Elliot book described above and has received increasing interest in recent years, thanks to a biography of her life (A Passion for the Impossible), republication of her books with her original artwork intact, and the biographical documentary Many Beautiful Things and narrated by Michele Dockery (Downton Abbey).
Until the day when I can thank and enjoy fellowship with these women in person, I rejoice at the opportunity for their continued mentorship through their words. If you haven't yet made their acquaintance, may these brief glimpses whet your appetite to know more.
All of them exemplified courage in times of trial. More than that, their testimonies gleam with the goodness and faithfulness of their Lord. His care for them helps me take my own next scared steps with courage in trusting Him.