Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper contains short biographies of five women exemplary in their faith and walk with Christ.
Sarah Edwards came from a distinguished family and was intelligent and noted for her graciousness. Her husband, Jonathan Edwards, was brilliant, shy, and very much lacking in social graces. Their personalities complemented each other in a way helped each fulfill his and her ministries against the backdrop of war, uncertainty, and the consequences of taking a firm but unpopular stand based on Scriptural teaching.
Lilias Trotter was a gifted artist whose work impressed John Ruskin and caused him to take her under his wing. Yet she had a heart for ministry and “knew it isn’t possible to be wholly consumed twice” (p. 45) and that one or the other would have to take first place. She chose ministry first among the poorest women in society to an extent which was frowned on in Victorian England, and ultimately to Muslim women in Algiers despite a serious heart condition. Her art influenced her ministry both in her perspective and in producing literature decorated in a distinctly Arab style which appealed where “the visible beauty of a piece of literature” was thought to “validate its worth” (p. 61).
Gladys Aylward was an English parlor maid who dreamed of going to China as a missionary. She thought her hopes were dashed when she was turned down by the China Inland Mission and told that she probably could not handle learning the language, yet the Lord did lead this small 4′ 10″ woman on a remarkable journey to a great and fruitful ministry there. Among other things she was asked to aid in enforcing the new ban on foot-binding, despite telling the mandarin that she would share the gospel as well as enforce the law, and she led 100 children away from the Japanese Army over mountains through several days journey with little food to safety, alone.
Esther Ahn Kim faced the same dilemma as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when Japanese authorities in Korea commanded everyone in her school to bow down to an idol. She was the only one who stood firm and erect. She escaped authorities for a while and hid out with her mother, preparing herself for imprisonment, which did in fact eventually come.
Helen Roseveare was a doctor who knew even before becoming a Christian that she would be a missionary. She ministered in the Belgian Congo, where her drive for excellence was challenged in situations where medical standards were a far cry from what she had been taught, yet she persevered and came up with ways to adapt. She chafed against needing to make bricks when her services were needed medically until one man told her that it was when she was down at the kilns with her hands as rough as theirs that they most knew she loved them and that they could trust her and listen to her tell of God. In fact, one hallmark of her life was her willingness to listen to the rebukes and instruction of those around her. It was in her ministry that an incident occurred which you may have received as an anonymous e-mail forward: a hot water bottle was needed to keep a newborn premature baby warm whose mother had died in childbirth. When the orphanage children were told and asked to pray, one girl prayed that they would receive a hot water bottle that afternoon and that a doll would be sent as well so the little baby girl’s sister would know God really loved her. And a parcel from Helen’s home, the first ever after four years there, arrived that very afternoon containing both a hot water bottle and a doll. Helen persevered through hardships, exhaustion, and an attack by rebel insurgents in which she was beaten, had her teeth knocked out, and raped. She was rescued by the National Army and went home for a year, but could not remain away and so went back to the newly renamed Zaire, which was then recovering from the devastation of war. The only one of the five women still living, she now lives in England where she writes and witnesses and tries to encourage others to consider the “fields white unto harvest.”
In some ways I am not sure why I picked up this book, because I had already read full biographies of Sarah Edwards (Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards), Gladys Aylward (The Small Woman), and Esther Ahn Kim (If I Perish), and most of the material on them came from the books I had read. Yet it was a good refresher course of their lives, and there was even a bit of new information on some of them. I didn’t know, for instance, that Elisabeth Elliot had met and talked with Gladys. Lilias and Helen’s stories were new to me: I think I was only vaguely aware of their names before.
One reason I enjoy reading biographies is that the examples speak to me in my everyday life. For instance, when I find myself sometimes fearful to go certain places, I remind myself of situations like Gladys’s when she was alone in the middle of nowhere in Russia in wintertime, having just been put off the train that could go no farther because of the war. If God could keep her safe in those circumstances, can He not keep me, too, in situations far less perilous? I am challenged by women like Esther’s mother: could I help my child prepare to face certain suffering rather than seek for a way to hide her and protect her? There is so much I learn through what they learned and how God worked in and through them.
There is so much I wish I could share of the faith, faithfulness, and examples of God’s working in the lives of each of these women, but I would have to nearly reproduce the book to share all I’d like to. I highly recommend it to you.