A Passion for the Impossible – Biography of Lilias Trotter

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

It Is Not Death to Die: A New Biography of Hudson Taylor

Many biographies have been written about Hudson Taylor, including the excellent two-volume bio written by Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law and first published about 100 years ago.  Hudson’s great-nephew, A. J. Broomhall, later wrote a comprehensive 7 volume work on Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. Others have written about Hudson Taylor and his first wife, Maria, about the CIM, and about the CIM martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion.  There have literally been thousands of pages written about the remarkable life and ministry of James Hudson Taylor.

It Is Not Death to Die:  A New Biography of Hudson Taylor by Jim Cromarty is a very good updated biography of Hudson Taylor, missionary to China from the mid 1800’s  to the early 1900’s, and founder of the China Inland Mission.  At 481 pages of text plus end notes, bibliography, and indices, the book is not a quick read.  Cromarty does do a very good job of synthesizing his research and information from previous published works into an easy to understand chronology of Taylor’s life.

As a young man Taylor studied to be a doctor in preparation for his ministry in China.  He lived an exceptionally frugal life to prepare himself for the privations he expected to face in China.  Taylor was convinced that he must learn to trust God while still in his homeland or he would struggle to trust the Lord once he got to China.  A man who walked with God, Hudson Taylor prayed about everything, and trusted that God would literally supply his daily needs.  He decided never to ask any man for financial support, but to cast himself solely upon God to meet all his needs. You will be blessed and amazed at God’s very specific provision for his servant when you read this book.

A British citizen, Taylor grew up in a time when British ways were held dear, even when her citizens lived abroad.  British subjects worldwide dressed, ate, and conducted themselves as much as possible as if they were still in the homeland. After arriving in China, Hudson Taylor quickly saw that the gospel of Christ would not easily move forward since the Chinese feared and avoided foreigners due to their strange appearance and conduct.  He made the controversial decision to live and dress just like the people he was ministering to.  Initially he was mocked, shunned and ridiculed for this choice – not by the Chinese, but by his own countrymen.  Almost immediately after he started dressing and quietly living like the Chinese people he found greater acceptance and increased freedom to preach the gospel.

There are several things I like about this book.  First, Cromarty quotes extensively from the original writings of Hudson Taylor, his family members, and those associated with the China Inland Mission.  To read in his own words the joys, struggles, and challenges of daily living in an unfamiliar culture helps the reader feel a sympathetic connection with this humble missionary.

Second, I like biographies that portray the whole person, weaknesses as well as strengths.  Though written from a sympathetic viewpoint, the book still shows us the frustrations, disappointments, character flaws, and troubles that were part of Hudson Taylor’s life.  Bottom line:  He was an imperfect man who loved God wholeheartedly and whom God chose to use.  This gives every one of us hope!

Third, I like the way Cromarty arranged the chapters so that the reader better understands how intricately the CIM and Hudson Taylor were woven together.  Taylor understood the necessity of face to face encouragement of missionaries on the field and frequently spent his own time, resources, and energy traveling to help, encourage, and mediate for CIM missionaries. He also traveled extensively around the world to represent the mission and ask people to pray for more missionaries for China.  In a sense Hudson Taylor was the CIM (or at least the face of it!) and the CIM was Hudson Taylor.

Fourth, I appreciated the child-like dependence on God that Hudson Taylor displayed. The CIM was a faith mission and Hudson Taylor never once asked for donations or took up an offering at a public gathering.  He asked God directly to provide and trusted that God Himself would move individuals and groups to supply the needs of the missionaries.  Hudson Taylor drew deeply from a close fellowship with the Lord.  By the end of his life Taylor had read through his Bible over 40 times.  He was always quick to pray about matters that concerned him and was equally as quick to offer praise for answers to prayer.

Finally, I was deeply moved by the sacrifices and challenges the missionaries and Chinese believers faced in order to preach the gospel to China’s millions.  Loneliness, deprivations, illness, persecution, abuses, lack of privacy, unsanitary conditions, interpersonal struggles, death, and even martyrdom faced many.  Yet they set aside personal comforts and preferences for the cause of Christ.  Hudson Taylor’s burning desire, and the desire of those who volunteered for missionary service in China, was to reach every inland province and every Chinese person with the good news that Christ died and rose again to save us from our sins.  For some that meant death, but these devoted missionaries believed as Henri Cesar Malan’s poem states, “It is not death to die.” (See hymn text at the end of this blog.)

James Hudson Taylor lived in close communion with the Lord he loved and served faithfully for over 40 years.  Most of his adult life was spent establishing, working in, and overseeing the China Inland Mission.  Reading this book will inspire and challenge believers in their walk with God.

Cromarty, Jim.  It Is Not Death to Die:  A New Biography of Hudson Taylor. Fearn, UK:  Christian Focus Publications, 2008.

It Is Not Death to Die
by H. A. Cesar Malan, 1787-1864
translated by George W. Bethune, 1805-1862

It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.

It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears
And wake in glorious repose
To spend eternal years.

It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.

It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust
And rise, on strong, exulting wing,
To live among the just.

Jesus, Thou Prince of Life,
Thy chosen cannot die;
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife
To reign with Thee on high.

Isobel Kuhn and Rosalind Goforth

Isobel Kuhn

God has permitted the writings of two well know Canadian women missionaries to remain in print for our benefit today.  Not only were these women deeply involved in Christian ministry, they were both gifted in their ability to record the lessons God taught them along the way. 


Rosalind Goforth, born in England, raised in Montreal, and saved as a child, was attracted to her future husband, Jonathan, because of his spiritual mindedness. God granted them almost fifty years of missionary service together in China. In Mrs. Goforth’s easy to read conversational style we discover the joys as well as the trials of missionary service.  Rosalind Goforth is poignantly forthright in admitting her own struggles and spiritual rebellion and the consequences of her attitudes. 


Isobel Kuhn grew up in Vancouver and was saved through God’s clear and dramatic working in her life as a young adult.   Isobel Miller and John Kuhn both left for China after attending Bible college. After their marriage they began their life work of ministry in Asia.  Separation, serious illness, war, disappointment, privation and death were an almost continual part of their lives.  Through these difficulties Isobel Kuhn saw the Lord’s guiding hand of love and blessing.  Her books reflect a heart that works through trials and sees a loving Father ordering all things.  Though her life was cut short by cancer, Isobel’s legacy of writing remained to encourage us.


Available from online booksellers:

By Rosalind Goforth:

            Goforth of China      


            How I Know God Answers Prayer

Out of print, but occasionally found at used bookstores:

            Chinese Diamonds for the King of Kings

            Miracle Lives of China        

By Isobel Kuhn:

            Ascent to the Tribes

            By Searching   (Her personal testimony)

            Children of the Hills

            Green Leaf in Drought

            In the Arena

            Nests above the Abyss

            Stones of Fire

Rosalind Goforth

IF by Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael’s missionary labours extended over five decades beginning in the late Victorian period and sweeping through the Edwardian period of Britain’s history. Though she began her work in Japan, the majority of her years were spent ministering to women and children in India.

A serious evaluation of her soul’s health was a daily habit with Amy. She understood clearly that to minister effectively to others one must first tend to his own relationship with the Lord. She realized that though we cannot always control what comes into our lives, we can, and should, control our responses to those events as we daily yield our lives to the Lord.

Amy Carmichael wrote profusely about her experiences and the lessons she gleaned from walking closely with the Lord. One of her best-loved books is entitled IF, a small volume that cuts right to the heart of those seeking to show the love of Christ to the world. Some poignant excerpts include the following:

 If I do not feel far more for the grieved Saviour than for my worried self when troublesome things occur, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

 If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude forgetting ‘Who made thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou hast not received?’ then I know nothing of Calvary love.

 If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, ‘You do not understand,’ or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

 If I refuse to be a corn of wheat that falls into the ground and dies (‘ is separated from all in which it lived before’), then I know nothing of Calvary love.

IF is a book all Christian workers should read prayerfully. Out of print blue-covered copies may be found in second hand stores. More recently Christian Literature Crusade Publishers has reprinted a number of Amy Carmichael’s works. IF is well worth reading through from year to year.


Mary Slessor Missionary to Africa

Last year it was my great privilege to visit the McManus Museum of Dundee Scotland.  There we saw a display about the brave redheaded missionary, Mary Slessor.  We were saddened to observe that much of the display touted her humanitarian efforts and downplayed her evangelistic zeal.  Mary Slessor was a godly woman who served the Lord and her African brothers and sisters whole-heartedly.  The following article summarizes an excellent biography of her life and ministry, Mary Slessor of Calabar by W. P. Livingstone.  It was originally published in the early 1900’s and can be found used online.  Modern reprints, or rather copies, are available but do not always contain clear renditions of the photos from the original, so you may want to check on that before ordering one.

Mary Slessor:  Brave Missionary Example

Mary Slessor was a sensible, thrifty Scottish lass born in 1848.  Her father’s alcoholism ruined the family financially and forced Mary to begin working at the mills when she was just eleven. An elderly neighbour woman was burdened for the souls of area children, earnestly urging them to forsake their sins and come to Christ.  Mary responded and soon began gathering street children to attend religious meetings.   A missionary spoke of the great need in Africa, particularly the Calabar region and Mary’s heart grew burdened for missions. After arranging for the care of her mother and sisters, Mary left for service in Africa.  She was 28 years old.

Mary Slessor window in Dundee, Scotland

Mary’s spent time on the African coast training under veteran missionaries.   A survey trip to the Calabar region caused her to observe, “Calabar needs a brave heart and a stout body.”[1]  Possessed of a stout heart, Mary found her body weakened by the many tropical diseases she was exposed to, but she persevered in her desire to work inland.  Mary was finally left in charge of her own station at Calabar (Nigeria).  Her earnest, winsome concern for the souls soon won the affection and admiration of the mission staff and the natives.  Mary exercised extreme frugality – eating native food, sleeping in a native house, and doing all her own work.  She quickly learned to speak the language.  Mary often travelled barefoot or by canoe to minister to various tribes, and campaigned tirelessly to end the superstitious and evil practices that often meant death for the innocent.  Her efforts were so joyful and devoted that her field directors noted, “Her labours are manifold, but she sustains them cheerfully – she enjoys the unreserved friendship and confidence of the people, and has much influence over them.”[2]

When Mary learned in 1886 that both her mother and sister had died, leaving her without family in this world, she commented, “Heaven is now nearer to me than Britain, and no one will be anxious about me if I go up-country.”[3]  She moved further inland to Okoyong.  The inhabitants were wild, fearless, and superstitious with no regard for life. Slowly Mary influenced the tribesmen to make changes by introducing the gospel and gently but staunchly standing against the vile tribal rituals and vengeful reprisals enacted when death or illness struck.

The “White Ma” was called upon to intercede to save lives and prevent tribal warfare.  “Run, Ma!” her friends would urge her when hearing of trouble brewing in a nearby area.  Mary would run to the area of conflict and bravely and calmly argue for the life of those facing certain unwarranted death. Her basis of argument was “the Book” and the words of the great God.  Many lives that would have been carelessly cast away at a whim or superstition were saved by the timely intervention of Mary.

When requests came from other interior tribes for White Ma to come to them with the stories of the good book, Mary longed to go.  Though her spirit was more than willing, her body was increasingly frail.  Years of privation and extreme frugality had left her body weak and unable to function and she entered heaven in her sixty-sixth year.  Mary Slessor was a faithful servant of her beloved Saviour who cared more for the souls of the lost than for any personal recognition or comfort in this life. Her unselfish work is responsible for numerous Africans coming to know the Lord.

[1] Livingstone, W. P., Mary Slessor of Calabar Pioneer Missionary (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1923), p. 32

[2] Livingstone, p. 35

[3] Livingstone, p. 51

Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose

Evidence Not Seen
by Darlene Deibler Rose is the autobiographical work of a young missionary wife imprisoned during WWII. Darlene McIntosh was only 19 years old when she married Russell Deibler, a veteran missionary and a man twelve years her senior. After six months of church meetings in North America and six months of language study in Holland, the Dieblers eagerly returned to the field to Russell’s pioneer missionary work in the interior of New Guinea. Darlene accompanied Russell into the jungle to establish a new mission station near a previously unevangelized tribe. Darlene was the first white woman any of them had ever seen, and she grew to love these child-like primitive people.

WW II reached them in January 1942 after the Deiblers had served in New Guineafor three years. The Japanese took control of the area and herded all foreigners into prisoner of war camps, interring the men in one location and the women and children in another. As no communication was allowed between the two camps, Darlene learned of her husband’s death three months after a fatal illness. When Darlene was informed of Russell’s death, God gave her a miraculous opportunity to witness freely to the Japanese commander of the prison camp

All types of abuses and atrocities were inflicted on the imprisoned women and children, and many of them died as a result. Despite being so young, Darlene was a recognized leader among the women and was soon appointed as barracks head. Her Christian testimony was clear and unwavering in the face of many privations and troubles.

Near the end of the war Darlene was accused of being a spy for the Americans against the Japanese. She was moved from a prisoner of war camp to a death prison where she was the only female inmate. Severe malnutrition, serious illness, and discouragement engulfed her as she was tortured, deprived and humiliated in that prison. She could not sense God’s presence and was despondent until God reminded her of a verse she had learned as a child, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Still in her twenties, her hair whitened, and so ill she was unable to stand on her feet, Darlene called out to God with renewed faith.

One day Darlene was able to hoist herself up to look through a small window in her prison cell. She saw an outsider sneak a few bananas through the fence to another prisoner. Starving after years of receiving only a tiny amount of spoiled rice as a daily ration Darlene longed for and dreamed about bananas. She pled with God to provide just one banana for her. In His mercy God laid it on the heart of the commander of her former prison to come and visit Darlene. Shocked by her spectre-like appearance, the commander left without speaking to her, composed himself, then returned a short while later and spoke kindly to her. When he asked what word she had for the other women prisoners, Darlene sent the message that she was still trusting the Lord. Soon after the commander left, a guard came to her cell and left her 92 bananas, a gift from the commander. She was absolutely humbled by God’s exceedingly abundant provision for her, and because of the provision her faith was strengthened.

In reading this book I was impressed by how frequently a memorized Scripture verse or stanza of a godly hymn came to Darlene’s mind as she suffered fear and abuse. We are reminded by Darlene’s experiences of God’s presence with believers even when we may not sense it. Difficulties in our lives may be part of a purifying process and not simply chastening for sin. This book challenges us to godly living in the midst of our circumstances.

Evidence Not Seen, a 1990 Harper Collins publication, is still in print and available in bookstores or online.