On Reading

The Most Remarkable Missionary You’ve Never Heard Of

The eyes of the world have been watching Arab refugees pour into Europe the last several months. Fear has fueled many of the reactions of folks across the continents as there has been talk and concern about the people flooding Europe–they are Muslims and could therefore possibly be terrorists.
Because of this fear many countries have said to the refugees, ‘You are not welcome here,’ leaving Muslim as well as Arab Christians abandoned and exiled, fearful of ever returning home, trapped in a life-changing limbo.

The country of Germany, however, has said, “Yes. Yes, you are welcome and we will help you.”
And miracle of miracles, many of those same Muslim people are coming to Christ.
Story after story is coming out of a church work in Germany recounting just that; using no real names, only initials–“A” was baptized, “C” received Jesus, and so on–I have personally read of the move of God changing the lives of these desperate people.**

“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.”  Lillias Trotter’s diary, 1894


The work of evangelizing the Muslim people may well have begun at the end of the 19thCentury when a brave, young lady left a world promising her fame and fortune and decided instead to follow God’s call to bring the Gospel to the Muslims in Algeria.
Lilias Trotter(1853-1928) was that daring young woman. She defied all the norms of Victorian England by winning the favor of England’s top art critic, John Ruskin. In an era when women were thought incapable of producing high art, Ruskin promised her work could be “immortal.” But with her legacy on the line, Lilias made a stunning decision that bids us to question the limits of sacrifice. As Lilias journeys to French Algeria in the late 1800’s to pioneer missionary work with women and children, (film) viewers are left to wonder, “Could you abandon a dream to pursue your true calling?” (from ‘Many Beautiful Things’ website).
Lilias’ biography, “A Passion for the Impossible” by Miriam Huffman Rockness, recounts the tale from Lilias’ British childhood of privilege, filled with art and leisure, to the sands of North Africa where she laid down her life for forty years. 
Her story was recommended to me by my friend Kimberlee, who insisted I’d be carried away not only with the heart of the book’s message but by the beauty of the language as well.  She was right.The text is rich and deep, full of Lilias’ observations not only of God’s faithfulness but her own deep abiding in the presence and power of God. The miraculous tales of God’s intervention and move among the Muslim people in Algeria are stirring as well as inspiring.

In 1888, without knowing a speck of Arabic and without the sponsorship of any organization, Lilias left her London home of comfort for a modest dwelling in Algeria. From the courts of their headquarters at Rue de Croissant in Blida near the North African Coast, Lilias’ love of literature and art became dynamic tools for evangelism. Many of her hand painted illustrations and sketches were part of the printed work that went into the Arab world of that day; her compassion and enthusiasm carried off the page.
“The pebble takes in the rays of light that fall on it, but the diamond flashes them out again: every little facet is means, not simply of drinking more in, 
but of giving more out.”
(letter from Lilias to her friend Blanche Piggott, 1894).
Today, over a century after John Ruskin’s encounter with Lilias, many of her exhibition paintings, along with thirty-four other leaves from her sketchbook, are buried in the Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, a hidden testament to “potential recognized, promise unrealized,” as the Lilias Trotter website declares.

Although I dream of seeing these works in person some day in England, I am thrilled to tell you that a glimpse of Lilias’ life will be available soon via film. “Many Beautiful Things” releases on March 8th on DVD.

The film has been playing to private screenings across the country and will now be available to the general public.  The movie features the voices of Michelle Dockery(Lady Mary of Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings).
In Dockery’s words from the film’s trailer, “Even though I’m a Brit, I had never heard of Lilias Trotter. Now I think the whole world should hear of her and see this film.”  
Why? Because the legacy Lilias left is continuing to this day–barriers she crossed in the frontiers of Northern Africa in the 1900’s paved the way for many to hear the Gospel of Christ for the first time. Her artistic vision and the work of words and paintings she left the world are inspiring treasures and a testimony to God’s love and creativity.

“Things still look dark and heavy all round–but “when the clouds be full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth”–it is better to wait as the parched ground waits here, for the torrents that will set life going.  
And I am beginning to see that it is out of a low place that one can best believe.
It is water poured down into a low narrow channel that can rise into a fountain–
faith that comes from the depths has a spring in it! (10 July 1896)

Sharing is caring!


  • www.nancyaruegg.com

    Thank you for introducing me to Lilias Trotter. I'm adding “A Passion for the Impossible” to my book list. Just the title is inspiring!

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    I love love love Lilias! Thank your for shining a spotlight on her and her work, Jody. She is one of my heroes. There's a wonderful line in a book by August Turak in which one of his Trappist friends, at a funeral for one of the monks, says, “Everyone wants to die like a Trappist, but no one wants to live like one.” Lilias lived like one, and it's one of the most beautiful stories I know. I still weep with hope and longing when I think of her words on her deathbed. May we all so live that we may so die.

  • Jody Lee Collins

    Gayl, thanks for stopping by…I'm so glad this whetted your appetite to read more about Lilias.

  • Jody Lee Collins

    Amy, you will savor every word of that book, I promise you. (and isn't it funny how small the world is? you and I have a lot of friends in common, eh?)

  • Jody Lee Collins

    You're right, Natalie…what an inspiration to use the things God has gifted us with to bless and serve others.
    Thanks for saying 'hi', neighbor. God bless you today!

  • Natalie

    What an inspiring life. I've heard of Lilias Trotter before, but now I know so much more. This is stirring: From the courts of their headquarters at Rue de Croissant in Blida near the North African Coast, Lilias' love of literature and art became dynamic tools for evangelism. To be able to better use our loves as tools! Thanks for sharing. By the way, I'm your neighbor at Small Wonder to day and I was excited to find you again!

  • Amy Young

    First of all, Hi Gayl! I love when paths and worlds cross!! Jody, I hadn't heard of her but have post haste requested this book from the library and want to see the movie!!!! Thank you so much for this post 🙂

  • Gayl Wright

    Wow, she was quite a talented woman! I had heard of her before but didn't know much about her. Thank you for sharing. I think I'd like to read the book some day and also see see the movie. Blessings to you! I'm visiting from #SmallWonder

Leave a Reply to Natalie Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: