Miriam Huffman Rockness has written A Passion for the Impossible, an excellent, well-researched biography of Isabella Lilias Trotter, missionary to Algeria. The book is full of quotations from the rich diaries of Lilias along with memories from earlier biographies by co-workers and contemporaries. Her story is amazing and inspiring, an enlightening and encouraging book for today’s reader.
Refined and artistic, Lilias Trotter lived during heart of England’s Victorian era. This privileged young lady spent part of each year “on the continent” exploring, resting, drawing, and visiting. Selected to study under famed art critic John Ruskin, she was a gifted and insightful artist. Lilias Trotter would not be someone we would automatically consider as an ideal missionary candidate, yet the Lord chose to use this dedicated lady as the means of getting the gospel to many Bedouin Muslims in Algeria during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Lilias grew up in a Christian home and was religiously devout as a child and a young person. She came to a saving belief in Christ as her saviour from sin sometime after her father’s unexpected death. Lilias and her mother attended many Keswick Christian conferences and meetings. It was after a series of these meetings that Lilias felt a specific call from God to give her life to missionary work. But her willingness to follow that call was not without conflict.
Lilias’ talent as an artist was so remarkable that she was hailed as one of the upcoming great artists of her generation. Lilias understood that she could not be a great artist and a dedicated missionary at the same time. After a short time of struggle, Lilias Trotter surrendered to God’s call on her life. Delicate health and her obvious artistic gift caused many of her friends to object to Lilias’ call to take the gospel to the Muslims of Algeria, but Lilias had no doubts concerning God’s will in this matter.
Lilias’ life was marked by patient continuance. Beginning her ministry at age thirty five, Lilias learned Arabic, studied the culture and habits of her new countrymen, and eagerly sought ways of taking the gospel to those who had never heard of Jesus. Because of a serious heart condition, Lilias was required to rest several months of the year. She used these times to write and illustrate devotional books and tracts specifically designed to reach the beauty-loving Arabs.
Burdened for Bedouins in the desert regions, Lilias made treks to places no Western woman had ever visited before. First by rail, then horse-drawn carriage and finally hired camels, Lilias and her co-worker penetrated the dry, hot desert, trekking by day and camping under the stars by night to reach Christless communities. Lilias would paint literal and verbal pictures for the desert dwellers, hoping to get them to begin to understand the love of a God they did not know. Few responded, but many listened eagerly to this earnest, artistic woman and readily accepted the booklets she left with them.
Lilias was deeply burdened for men to come and serve in the fledgling mission. The first few men who answered the call were turned back by illness, death, or governmental restrictions. Distrust of these westerners and their new ways increased as political unrest grew in Northern Africa. It wasn’t until years later that Lilias’ mission had men as well as women serving in Algeria.
God allowed many disappointments and discouragements throughout the years, but Lilias kept her heart fixed on the Lord. She embraced the seemingly impossible task of reaching Muslims for Christ and took as her verse of promise, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: Is there anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) Though the outward results of her ministry were not abundant, Lilias walked with the God of the impossible and trusted in Him throughout her life.
Rockness, Miriam Huffman. A Passion for the Impossible. Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 2011. 346 pp