Lilias Trotter (1853-1928)
Lilias Trotter lived and served during the "Great Century" of Christian missions. She was a missionary in Algeria, where she served the Lord from 1888 to 1928, and was most famous for her devotional books, Parables of the Cross and Parables of the Christ-Life.
Without knowing the language and without the sponsorship of any organization, Lilias left her London home of comfort for a modest dwelling in Algeria, where her love of literature and art became dynamic tools for evangelism, and where her compassionate heart captured the hearts of the people.
For 40 years, despite frail health and many obstacles, Lilias devoted herself to missionary service among the people of Algeria through her lifestyle of love and encouragement until her death in 1928.
"Trained faith is a triumphant gladness in having nothing but God - no rest, no foothold - nothing but Himself. A triumphant gladness in swinging out into the abyss, rejoicing in a very fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true - the Lord Alone—that is trained faith.
Lilias was born into an upper class Victorian family in London, England, in 1853, the daughter of a London businessman and his wife. She enjoyed a happy, open and educated childhood. She was converted under the ministry of Hannah Whitall Smith, and her life's work was stamped with a longing for Spirit-led victorious Christian living. At age 21, she was turned to ministry through meetings held by D.L. Moody and I. D. Sankey, after which she ministered to prostitutes on the streets and in an unused nightclub in London.
In an age when young, unmarried daughters of well-to-do families never walked out without a chaperone, Lilias dared to be different. She was soon a well-known figure in the night streets of London, recognized, loved and respected. The girls flocked to her shelter, and she helped many to start a new life.
Lilias was very creative, open to new things, artistic, and poetic. In her early 20's, she met a famous artist of her time named John Ruskin, who didn't believe that women could paint, but totally changed his mind when he saw paintings by Lilias. He enthusiastically predicted that she could become the greatest artist of the 19th century if she would totally devote her life to art.
But, Lilias had heard another, stronger call—the call of Christ to take the Gospel to the Muslims in Algiers. Her devotion to Christ, not her passion for art, compelled her to abandon the life of art, privilege and leisure that she could have enjoyed. Although her friendship with Ruskin continued throughout her life, in 1879 Lilias turned from her potential future as a brilliant artist, saying,
"I see clear as daylight now, that I cannot dedicate myself to painting in the way that [Ruskin] means and continue to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness."
Lilias went out as a pioneer missionary and spent 38 years fulfilling her calling. Her writings and paintings are in high demand today.
The Elisabeth Elliott Connection
Elisabeth Elliott's husband, Jim, was one of the martyred missionaries to Ecuador whose deaths spurred missionary activity in the mid 20th century as well as birthing a move of God among the very tribe who killed the missionaries.
Elisabeth Elliott's grandfather was acquainted with Lilias Trotter's work in Algeria, and he actually visited her there. Elisabeth wrote a book called Path Through Suffering which was based on the writings of Lilias Trotter. She also did some radio talks on Lilias which helped to bring her name to the attention of the Christian public. Elisabeth actually read two of Lilias' books over the radio, because she couldn't get any publishers interested in printing her works. After this, these two books, Parables of the Cross and Parables of the Christ-Life experienced a resurgence and are now back in print and selling well.
Both of these small books have been reprinted with full-color reproductions of her original paintings. Deeply in touch with God, Lilias was also deeply in touch with nature and endued with a tremendous gift for drawing spiritual lessons from the natural world. She was also an exquisite artist. All these qualities combine in these two classic volumes Parables of the Christ Life and Parables of the Cross.
In her preface to A Blossom in the Desert, Miriam Huffman Rockness writes:
"Lilias painted and wrote in obscurity with no concern for fame or recognition. Yet there is no doubt that she would welcome the reader to 'come and look' at her writings and watercolors--with 'heartsight' as well as 'eyesight.' A Blossom in the Desert introduces to you the vision—visible and invisible—of the remarkable Lilias Trotter! Come. Look. See!"
Here are some excerpts from Lilias' writings:
Trained faith is a triumphant gladness in having nothing but God - no rest, no foothold - nothing but Himself. A triumphant gladness in swinging out into the abyss, rejoicing in a very fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true - the Lord Alone—that is trained faith. It is an older faith that learns to swing out into nothingness and drop down full weight on God - the broken up nest of former "experiences" left behind—nothing between us and the abyss but Himself—a rejoicing in every fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true—the Lord Alone—that is trained faith.
A flower that stops short of its flowering misses its purpose. We were created for more than our own spiritual development; reproduction, not mere development, is the goal of the matured being - reproduction in the lives of others. The true ideal flower is the one that uses its gifts as means to an end; the brightness and sweetness are not for its own glory; they are but to attract the bees and butterflies that will fertilize and make it fruitful. All may go when the work is done—"it is more blessed to give than to receive."
Have we learned the buttercup's lesson yet? Are our hands off the very blossom of our life? Are all things—even the treasures that (God) has sanctified—held loosely, ready to be parted with, without a struggle, when He asks for them?