The World Was Not Worthy of Them: Lilias Trotter
As we finish our time in the book of Hebrews, we wanted to pause to further be encouraged with the faithful testimonies of saints throughout history. We will spend the remaining time in Hebrews highlighting people whose stories point us heavenward and are part of the complete picture of God’s redemptive story. During our discussion of Hebrews 11, we were reminded that we aren’t the first people to be called to hardship, and that many of these accounts of suffering are far greater, or perhaps far less, than anything we might have endured doesn’t minimize Christ’s work in his people, but empowers us. Let us hear, and believe.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
By faith, Lilias Trotter, forewent wealth and artistic notoriety to carry the gospel to unreached Algeria.
This week marks 164 years since Lilias Trotter was born in London, England to Isabella and Alexander Trotter, a wealthy stock broker. Her parents were well-read, and curious with leanings towards humanitarianism, but she tragically lost her father in early adolescence. Never the less, her family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, and Lilias set herself apart as a very talented painter. Meanwhile she was, greatly influenced by the teachings of Dwight L. Moody, and was very active in volunteering, teaching, and walking London’s streets at night in search of prostitutes that might convert and leave behind the lifestyle.
Lilias was caught between two worlds–that of pursuing a career as an artist, and possibly one of the greatest according to her informal teacher and friend, John Ruskin; and that of her ministry, fearlessly preaching the gospel and serving others. In May of 1879, it is said that Lilias Trotter realized that she could not give herself to painting and continue to “seek first the kingdom of God and His Righteousness.” She gave up professional pursuits, but would use her artistic ability to aid her in sharing the gospel and blessing others later in life.
Shortly thereafter, Trotter began to think about serving long term in places where the gospel was not present. She even told friends that when she prayed she heard the words “North Africa” sounding in her soul, as though calling her. It would not be long before Trotter applied to the North African Mission Board, and was rejected due to some health complications. Not to be deterred, she decided to “go” as a self-supported missionary that worked in harmony with the board. In March 1888, teamed with two other women who were medically unfit to serve, Lilias Trotter landed in Algeria’s capital, Algiers, not knowing the language or another soul.
The women spent the early years diligently studying the Arabic language, learning domestic work (something previously unknown to them), and trying and failing to make inroads with Muslims in the area. They finally gained some footing with the women, by befriending their children and building relationships from there. Trotter soon realized that Christian mission efforts too much mimicked European culture, and would have to be adapted to reach the natives so firmly entrenched in Islam– one such effort was creating Christian retreats for women whose only other opportunity to get out of their homes would have been trips to shrines.
The Algiers Mission Board was eventually formed, and sent workers to help Trotter and her companions. And despite having to take regular periods of convalescence due to her weakened healthy, Lilias served faithfully. In her last years when she was confined to her bed, she wrote journals, books, and poetry for the glory of God, and prayed fervently that He would move among the Muslim people of Algeria
Lilias Trotter’s biographies could have included fame and masterpieces that sit in museums for us all to marvel at– as her talent was, no doubt, a gift of God. She instead chose to be faithful to the nudge of the Holy Spirit which told her to put aside fears and diligently pursue his glorious calling on her life– to lead a quiet and faithful existence, not being discouraged by ailments, and using her gifts and talents that others might know His name. I imagine that the saints in Algeria praise the Lord for her faithfulness.