Lilias Trotter: Extraordinary Artist, Devoted Missionary—Have You Not Heard of Her Either?

July 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

A few months ago, I came across the trailer for the documentary Many Beautiful Things and was introduced to the life of Lilias Trotter. My first thought was “What rock have I been living under to have never heard about her before?” I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad since I’m not the only one who’s been in the dark when it comes to Miss Trotter. Though she’s gained much admiration for her artistic ability and missionary endeavors, hers has certainly not become a household name in either field.

One person who is in the know concerning Trotter is Miriam Rockness, author of the biography A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter and A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter. But she says herself concerning Trotter’s artistry, “If she’s as good as I think she is, why has nobody else heard of her?”

What is there to hear about? Well, Trotter’s is quite a story. Born in London in 1853, she grew up simultaneously developing her devotion to God and practicing her skills in watercolor painting. When her mother sent some of her paintings to John Ruskin, the leading art critic of the time, he recognized her talent and took her under his wing. He was so impressed with her abilities, that he said that with his help (as Trotter wrote to a friend), “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.”

But in order to reach this greatness, this immortality, said Ruskin, she would need to devote herself fully to her art, as he believed that her work at the YWCA was detracting from her devotion to painting. Unwilling to give up her ministry endeavors, Trotter made her choice—serving the downtrodden women in London.

At the age of 33, she was introduced to the idea of missions in North Africa and felt God’s call to go to Algeria. Then, after being turned down by the North African Mission, she, along with two other single women, traveled to Algeria on their own. In time, she founded and led the Algiers Mission Band. Trotter’s mission work ended a full 40 years later, with her death in Algiers.

It’s quite a story, but one that without the efforts of Rockness would rarely be told. (Most of the information above comes from Rockness’s blog, where she continues to write about Trotter.)

Rockness first heard about Trotter from “two elderly sisters” who were spending the winter in Lake Wales, Florida, where Rockness lived. The sisters told the story of Trotter’s life and shared that they had a collection of devotional books that she had written. Wanting to find a good home for the books, the two ladies sent their library to Rockness over the course of several years, one volume at a time. Much traveling and investigating later, Rockness had become a Trotter expert.

Now, the story is on video with the release of Many Beautiful Things late last year—available on DVD at the movie website. The film features the voice talents of Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings) as Trotter and Ruskin, respectively.

In an interview with Christianity Today, the film’s director, Laura Waters Hinson, tells how she was also one of those who had never heard of Trotter . . . until she got an email from Rockness. After learning more about the artist/missionary for the project, Waters Hinson understands why she has stayed so obscure:

Partly because she lived in Algeria for 40 years, until she died. A lot of her work did get smuggled back bit by bit to England by missionaries, so some of it’s preserved. But some of it was lost. The Algiers Mission Band of hers disbanded when things got politically tense in Algeria, and they pushed all the missionaries out. Even though she was a contemporary or an influence like Elisabeth Elliot and Amy Carmichael, she just didn’t gain the prominence of these other famous female missionaries. She had written books, but they didn’t catch on; she also came earlier.

While many Christians don’t know her name, many know a hymn inspired by Trotter’s writings: “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.” As referenced by Rockness, the prolific hymn writer Helen Howarth Lemmel—who was born in England but moved to the US at the age of 12—penned the song after reading the following passage from “Focussed,” a devotional pamphlet authored by Trotter:

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him, and the Divine “attract” by which God’s saints are made, even in this 20th century, will lay hold of you.  For “He is worthy” to have all there is to be had in the heart that He has died to win.

There are plenty of reasons for why Trotter should be famous, and there are reasons for why she has become relatively forgotten, as well. But Waters Hinson states what is probably most responsible for her lack of fame: It’s that “she was really content with full-blown obscurity.”

(The video below is of Pentatonic beatboxer, Kevin “K.O.” Olusola, playing “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” on the cello. Olusola was born in Kentucky to a father from Nigeria and  a mother from Grenada. He starts out on this hymn playing a fairly straightforward melody, which is impressive in its own right, but at the 1:40 mark, he really starts to get it going.)

(Miriam Rockness, “About Lilias,” and “About Miriam” Lilias Trotter; Katelyn Beaty, “When God Calls You to Leave the Art World,” Christianity Today, March 9, 2016; Miriam Rockness, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” Lilias Trotter, October 26, 2012)

 

Another Song, Another Memory: The Call

June 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

Speaking of songs, here’s another one I like: “The Call,” by Regina Spektor. It shows up at the end of Prince Caspian, the second film in The Chronicles of Narnia series.

I watched the movie with my kids during one of our times on furlough/Stateside service. It’s easy to draw parallels between the Pevensies’ travels and cross-cultural service, and given the Christian underpinnings of C. S. Lewis’s writings, the missionary aspect isn’t too far away either.

The lyrics of “The Call” certainly are evocative for me. They begin

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word
And then that word grew louder and louder
‘Til it was a battle cry

I’ll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

The song plays over the closing scene of the film, as Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmond return from Narnia to World-War-II London. If you’ve ever come back “home” after living abroad, you know the feeling. It’s as if nothing has changed, but everything has—in big and small ways. Susan is called by the wrong name and Edmund realizes he’s left his new flashlight behind.

Of course, the lyrics don’t fit the missionary “call” perfectly, and “The Call” isn’t a “missionary” or “Christian” song. That makes sense, as Regina Spektor isn’t a Christian songstress. Born into a Russian Jewish family in 1980, the Spectors moved to the Bronx when Regina was nine. She tells The Village Voice,

I don’t even know half the time what exactly I believe. I do know that in some moments, I’m sarcastic about religion, and sometimes, I’m in awe of it, and sometimes, I’m angry at it, and sometimes, I love it.

The Village Voice says Spektor “can’t explain the meaning behind any of her songs, because she doesn’t so much write them as much as let them happen” and then goes on to cite “The Call” as an example of that process. Spector referst to writing the song, which she did late at night after a private screening of Prince Caspian, as “one of the most pure things that ever happened to me.”

If even Spektor doesn’t claim to know what her songs mean, I figure that gives me liberty to work my own meanings into “The Call.”

It also lets me stop trying to understand “Samson.”

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
He ate a slice of Wonder Bread and went right back to bed
And history books forgot about us and the Bible didn’t mention us
And the Bible didn’t mention us, not even once

(Cristina Black, “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Regina SpektorThe Village Voice, June 10, 2009)

A Couch, a Song, a Memory

June 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

2476830065_9ca3ca3943_mI have nice memories from people coming to visit us while we were overseas. Yes, the visits were often hectic and tiring, but some of the best moments were the quiet times when we were all sitting in our living room, having honest conversations about life in another country—honest, thoughtful, and heartfelt conversations.

During one of those times, Laura, a young lady from our home church sang for us. Her father, Phil, was our church’s worship minister, and he’d written a song named “Sovereign Lord,” which had gone on to win the grand prize at the 2002 Write about Jesus competition. We knew that Laura had recorded it, accompanied by her brother, Nathan, who was also on the trip (yeah, they’re a gifted family). So as we sat, gathered around our couch, we asked Laura to sing.

When people came to visit, they often brought us gifts—books and DVDs and cake mixes and games. This was a different kind of gift, and one of the best that we received.

What a nice memory.


[photo: “My New Couch,” by Star Athena, used under a Creative Commons license]

In the Light, in the Dark, Remember

May 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light.

In Where Is God when It Hurts? Philip Yancey quotes these words of Joseph Bayly, former director of InterVarsity press and former president of David C. Cook Publishing. Then Yancey adds, “Yet sometimes the darkness descends so thickly that we can barely remember the light.”

Missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot has this to say about God’s truths in the dark times:

Take the word of the Lord in your darkness. If He died to let us live in His company, is he likely to abandon us just because things look dark?

Missionaries are known for shining light in dark places, but that doesn’t mean that they never experience the pain and confusion of personal darkness themselves.

What about you? Did you wake up this morning to bright sunshine . . . or do you find yourself in a dark night of the soul?

Following are some promises of Jesus that we will all do well to recall, regardless of current circumstances. If you’re living in brightness, may these add to your joy and confirm your resolve. If you feel enveloped by darkness, may even one or two push against the shadows and take root in a corner of your heart.

As you read the promises below, I hope you’ll be able to hold tightly to each one. But if you find it hard to hold on to them, know that one who said them is holding on to you.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Read the whole post at A Life Oversees. . . .

(Philip Yancey, Where Is God when It Hurts, Zondervan, 1977; Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet: The Bible’s Light for Daily Living, Servant, 1985; All scripture quotations are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org. Used with permission. All rights reserved.)

[photo: “Exodus 3:2 – the Burning Bush, B&W,” by zeevveez, used under a Creative Commons license]

Personality Tests Can Be Functional and Fun, or Pass Me the Ball, Cinderella, We’re on the Same Team

May 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

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What are you? An ISFJ? Hmm. Me? I’m an INFP. Hmmmmmmmm.

Many people, including current and potential missionaries and other church-worker types, have taken the popular personality test the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI). And many of them have their four-letter label memorized. This gives them the ability to carry on quite a conversation based on their combination of characteristics. It also gives them the ability (or at least some think it does) to announce their letters as a way to say, “Don’t blame me, that’s just the way I am.” Take, for instance, what Sarah Condon, blogging at Mockingbird, has to say about the MBTI:

As a J, I can tell you that it was the fastest way to sort out the weirdos from the weirdest. And also, it was a great way to preemptively excuse your bad behavior. Once I learned my Myers Briggs, I could say whatever I wanted. It was like the “God put it on my heart to tell you . . .” of liberal Christianity. As long as I reminded people that my INFJ plight makes me “decisive and strong-willed” or “easily mistaken for an extrovert,” I could dole out all kinds of insistent and unwanted opinions.

Don’t judge Ms. Condon too harshly. She later repented of her ways.

In the missionary world, agencies and churches often use the MBTI to learn about candidates and to help them learn about themselves. The test can also be a tool for building teams and for giving team members insights on how to deal with each other. In addition to the MBTI, other useful tests include the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, the Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory, and the Color Code.

But is there a better test for looking at team dynamics? I think I may have found one. It’s ESPN’s new-just-last-week Which NBA Team Are You? quiz. Of course, you’ll have to care about professional basketball to get into this one, but what better way could there be to analyze teamshipfulness? Come on, the quiz even has Team in its title! (A word of caution: Before you take the quiz, please understand that we all can’t be Warriors.)

Not a basketball fan? Then try the Major League Baseball Fan Compatibility Test or Which NFL Team Should You Really Be Cheering For?

Obviously I’ve gone from “useful” personaly tests to simply fun (which can be useful in its own way). So, in that spirit, here are some charts for your MBTI type.

Who are you? Hermione, or Dumbledore? Superman, or Batman? Or are you a great dane, or a chihuahua?

Which Disney Princess or Heroine Are You?
Which Disney Prince or Hero Are You?
Which Saint Are You?

Which Star Wars Character Are you?
Which Battlestar Galactica Character Are You?
What Dr. Who Character Are You?
Which Harry Potter Character Are You?
Which Downton Abbey Personality Are You?
Which Avengers Character Are You?
What Marvel Characters Are You?
Which Hobbit Character Are You?
Which Lord of the Rings Character Are You?

For some more stand-on-their-own tests, ones that don’t require an MBTI code, here are

Which Superhero Are You?
Which Bible Character Are You?
What Shakespeare Character Are You?
Which Disney Character Are You?
Which Zootropolis Character Are You? (I guess Zootopia is called Zootropolis in the UK.)
Which Force Awakens Character Are You?
Which Hunger Games Character Are You?
Which John Hughes Character Are You?
Which Children’s Book Character Are You?
Which Dessert Are You?

What Kind of Car Are You?
What Cat Are You?
What Dog Breed Are You?
What Tree Are You?
What Instrument Are You?
What Animal Are You?

OK, on those last two. . . . For team building, I know that a complete orchestra needs all kinds of instruments, but when it comes to animals, would you want a pride full of lions, or should there be a couple sheep around for mealtime balance?

(Sarah Condon, “Personality Assesmentss: Grace and Neurosis,” Mockingbird, Marh 24, 2016)

[photo: “Cinderella | Soundsational,” by chris.alcoran, used under a Creative Commons license]

Mom and Dad, Thanks for Letting Us Go without Letting Go of Us [Repost]

July 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

[In honor of Parents’ Day, July 26, I am reposting an open letter from my wife and me to all parents of missionaries. We wrote it during our time serving in Taiwan.]

Dear Mom and Dad:

Thank you for raising us to know about God and his love for the world.

Thank you for letting us go without letting go of us.

Thank you for forgiving late birthday cards.

Thank you for praying for us.

Thank you for giving up time with your grandchildren.

Thank you for your e-mails and letters and calls.

Thank  you for sending Barbie Dolls, Tic Tacs, Koolaid, socks, Reader’s Digests, and Lucky Charms cereal.

Thank you for your questions about our new home and work.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when we tell you how exciting it is to live in another part of the world.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when, two days later, we complain about living in that same place.

Thank you for not making us feel selfish for wanting to go.  Sometimes we feel that way on our own.

Thank you for listening to our stories about people you’ll never meet with names you can’t pronounce.

Thank you for being our ambassadors.

Thank you for sending clippings from our hometown newspaper.

Thank you for telling us about our neighbors, classmates, and cousins—all the stories that don’t make the news.

Thank you for letting our brothers and sisters stand in for us when we’re too far away to do our part in the family.  (They really should get their own letter.)

Thank you for loving us.

Thank you for trusting Jesus to take care of us when you can’t.

Thank you for being proud of us.  We are proud of you.

We chose to be a missionary family, not you, and we understand that our move has meant many sacrifices for you.  You are not only a part of our family but an invaluable part of our team.

With all our love,

Your children

[photo: “leaving us,” by Petras Gagilas, used under a Creative Commons license]

Encountering God: A Tale of Two Bushes

July 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

[I’ve written a post for today at A Life Overseas. The introduction is below. Come join me there, finish the post, and stay awhile.]

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A fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican Museums

I want to hear God. I want to know his specific will for my life. I want him to tell me what to do next. I want . . .

A Burning Bush

It worked for Moses. When he was on Mt. Horeb and saw the bush that burned but didn’t burn up, he went over to get a closer look. That’s when God spoke to him in an unmistakable, clear, audible voice.

God called him by name.
He announced who he was.
He told Moses the overall plan.
He answered Moses’ questions.
He promised to be with him.
He gave Moses a sign to show that he had sent him.
He revealed his name to him.
He gave him step-by-step directions.
He told him what to expect.
He gave him the ability to perform three miraculous signs.
He promised his help.
And he responded to Moses’ fears by allowing him a helper.

Yeah, a burning bush. That’ll do it.

As a former missionary—oh, forget that—as a believer in God, I’ve faced many times when I’ve wanted him to communicate with me through a miracle. I’ve even been tempted to let my imagination wring meaning out of not uncommon occurrences: The supermarket is selling spagghetti 50% off? Surely that means that God want’s me to move to Italy . . . and I can leave with only half the money raised . . . right?

But when it comes to hearing from God, I think there’s another kind of Old Testament bush that we should look for—

A Broom Bush . . .

Go to A Life Overseas to continue reading.

[photo: “O Adonai,” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license]

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