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A Review of A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter

Lilias Trotter and two female friends arrived in Algiers, Algeria; they faced huge obstacles as they embarked on a mission to present Christ to the Muslims.

  • Byron Snapp,
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On March 9, l888, Lilias Trotter and two female friends arrived in Algiers, Algeria. After a four-day trip from their native land of England, they faced huge obstacles as they embarked on a mission to present Christ to the Muslims. Lilias, due to a heart condition, was unfit to pass a medical exam. The three ladies did not know a sentence of Arabic or have a contact person there. They faced a major problem in being in a male-dominated society.

As the author, Miriam Huffman Rockness, unfolds Lilias Trotter’s life, the reader sees the foundation for failure replaced by a greater foundation — that of a sovereign God, who opened many hearts to hear the Gospel.

Trotter was born into a wealthy Victorian family in l853. She grew up in a home of Scottish ancestry, a home staffed by servants. Surrounded by a number of brothers, her independent nature became strong as she stood her ground against their teasing.

Her father died when she was eight years old. This loss affected her deeply. Many changes resulted in her life, including a move to another home. Most importantly, she deepened her prayer life and grew in love and sympathy toward others. Her artistic talents began to be evidenced. During one trip to Europe, her mother learned that a noted art critic was in Venice. She took the liberty of sending him some of Lilias’s sketches. Impressed with her ability, he befriended her and encouraged this talent.

Though she loved art, Lilias had an even greater passion for those who were spiritually lost and/or hurting. Increasingly, she began to minister to young, single women from her London home.

Her artistry and ministry took parallel paths until she concluded that she must choose between the two. Her choice of serving God through ministry gave her great peace, joy, and purpose.

She resolutely devoted herself to those in need by opening a restaurant for poor women and addressing the desperate needs of streetwalkers.

In God’s providence her heart turned to foreign missions, particularly ministry to the Muslims. She already had a love for travel and sufficient wealth to fund her labors on foreign shores. Due to health needs, she could only work in conjunction with the North Africa Mission.

Using many quotations from Lilias’s diary and journal, the author gives an enlightening picture of her forty-year ministry in Algeria. Her love for Christ and for Muslims motivated her to learn Arabic. She prevailed on her teacher early in the learning process to translate some Scripture verses into Arabic. These were passed around in public for others to begin to learn about Christ.

Learning the complex language was only the beginning of difficulties that assaulted the three ladies throughout the years. How could they minister to women who remained isolated and inaccessible? How could young females be trained to be self-sufficient in preparation for the day when their husbands would likely cast them aside? How could they tell men about Christ? Although their initial ministry began in the coastal city of Algeria, their hearts burned to take the Gospel to the interior. These cities were separated from one another and the coast by days of travel and miles of sand. How could they be reached? These are a sampling of the questions that Lilias had to work through. The insightful methods she tried were blessed by God.

Conversions to Christianity led to new problems. Family animosity was difficult for a new Christian to withstand. Often converts were secretly drugged. The Christian had to be discipled in how to apply his faith in the Muslim culture.

Lilias and those with her made a conscious effort to live among the Muslims and to identify with them. She was able to incorporate her artistic talents in the ministry. She illustrated the missions work in brochures sent to English supporters. She also used art to explain the Gospel to those in the Muslim culture.

Lilias Trotter was a woman of great faith, hope, and love. She prayed and persevered, constantly looking to who God was and what He would do. Her artist’s eye perceived many lessons from nature that taught spiritual truths regarding God’s glorious workings in the midst of this fallen world.

This well-written book provides stimulating, informative, and encouraging reading. With so much attention turned to events in the heart of the Muslim region, this book serves as a reminder that culture must be changed, one heart at a time, by God-given faith and repentance. While Algeria and other Muslim countries remain in need of regeneration, it is encouraging to be reminded that Gospel seed was and is being sown. Lastly, this volume teaches us much about our own need to love the lost, to serve God without compromise where He calls us, and to be a people of prayer who seek to bring Biblical reform to our own culture.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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