Sunday, February 05, 2017

More about Lilias Trotter: newsletters, show and tell, and single women on short-term teams

As I mentioned briefly in The Legacy of Lilias Trotter, Lilias served in and around Algiers, on the coast of North Africa, with easy access to Europe. In contrast with some other pioneering missionaries (say, David Livingstone, who famously dropped off the radar and refused to go back to England when he was finally found) Lilias made time for public speaking tours, refreshing vacations in the Alps, mission conferences, and Keswick conventions. Keeping up with her contacts in Europe does not seem to have dampened her commitment to Africa or her appreciation of Arab ways and mindsets. And the ministry seems to have benefited a great deal through her connections.

The growth and support of the ministry may have owed something to her faithfulness in sending what we now call prayer letters:
“At the beginning of 1907 Lilias started the habit of sending out a bi-monthly prayer circular to a large group of friends in England and France. They were beautifully written and illustrated and, no doubt, greatly increased the volume of believing prayer that ascended to God at that time; and all this tied in with what she had been learning the past few months, for God was about to send new workers and open new doors of opportunity in a remarkable way” (Patricia St. John, Until the Day Breaks, p. 118).
Around that time, Lily got a letter from a friend letting her know that a two ships carrying some 600 American delegates to Rome for an international Sunday School convention would be stopping in Algiers for a few hours. The leader was hoping they could stop in and meet with missionaries in Algiers and learn about the work. Sounds like Lilias was felt pressured to sum up her work in such a short visit, and embarrassed that they didn’t have schools, hospitals, and what she calls "the ordinary outworks of a Mission Station to show,” but she told them they could have the chance to see a work just at its beginnings and carefully prepared an engaging, hands-on exhibition that introduced the visitors to some of those they were serving among and showed their work at its best advantage.

When an offering was later taken, that short shore excursion would bring in full funding for five women who arrived to begin work in that year (Rockness, A Passion for the Impossible, p. 199; St. John, p. 119).

A few years later, in 1911, Lily used a summer visit to England to recruit short-term missionaries, “educated girls who could ‘come on a self-supporting basis for a time of service in all the countless ways in which such can be rendered with a small knowledge of the language, if hands and hearts are ready.’”

The short-term mission movement would not take off for another 50 years or more and I’m not sure what other early models may have existed. But a steady stream of young ladies-of-leisure came to Algiers for periods of different lengths until World War I interfered. Lilias, who would have been in her late fifties at this point, seems to have enjoyed having the young people around (Rockness, p. 200).

The tributes that came in after Lily’s 1928 death claim “she never lost her enthusiasm or her capacity for wonder,” that she was “always interested in new points of view, or new methods, even though she might not agree with them,” and never failed to offer mercy and encouragement to her younger coworkers (Rockness, p. 274-5).

Sending out engaging reports, inviting fans and supporters to see the ministry up close, hosting short-term teams, and committing oneself to benefiting from the fresh wind of new people and ideas also characterize many of the healthier ministries I know today... just as they did in Lily’s day.

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