Over the years I’ve heard many stories about women who were left at the altar when the man they were to marry found someone else. In 1910 Tom Jordan was left at the altar when his fiance Lillian found someone else... she found God.
Actually Lillian Trasher had found God many years before when as a little girl she knelt in the woods near her home and promised Him, "Lord, I want to be your little girl." Then she added bold words. "Lord, if ever I can do anything for You, just let me know and I'll do it."
After failing to get a newspaper job that she really wanted (she was hired, but staff mistakenly told her the job had been given to someone else) she met up with Miss Perry who ran an orphanage near her hometown of Brunswick, Georgia. Soon after that she moved to an orphanage in North Carolina that operated on ‘faith principles’, that is, they did no active fundraising. It was a hard time for Lillian, in which she rarely had all she needed to run the orphanage properly. At one point the only clothing she had for herself was men’s clothing found in a pile of children’s clothing that had been donated.
Lillian attended God's Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio. She pastored a church in Dahlonega, Georgia, did evangelistic work in Kentucky and in 1909, returned to the orphanage in Marion, North Carolina. It was during this time that she met and became engaged to Tom Jordan. After taking care of so many other people’s children she was looking forward to having children of her own. Ten days before her wedding date she attended a meeting with Miss Perry and heard the testimony of a missionary from India. She left the meeting crying, knowing that the wedding would not take place - God had called her to the mission field. She canceled the wedding and later that year (1910) arrived in Egypt with her sister Jenny, less than $100 dollars in her pocket, and no idea what it was God wanted her to do.
Settling in with a Christian mission in the predominantly Christian village of Assiout it was not long before she found out what God had in mind for her. Invited by a neighbour to come pray with a dying woman, she arrived with an interpreter and was horrified to discover a three month old girl trying to suck green, stringy milk out of a tin can. Lillian prayed and as the mother died she gave the baby to Lillian, who took the child back with her to the mission compound.
The two sisters took turns rocking the child and trying to get her to take some milk.For twelve days and nights they tried and the baby howled. Soon the other missionaries' patience wore out and the senior missionary ordered Lillian to take the baby back. But where was Lillian to take her back to?
In the traditional mission structure, single women were required to be submissive to male leaders. So Lillian obeyed,deciding to take the baby back... but she was going to go back with the baby to stay. An American woman, unmarried, in an Arab world! No one held out much hope for her success.
With the sixty dollars she had left to her name she rented a small house, bought a kerosene stove for cooking and some furniture. Now she was alone, (her sister had returned to the States), she had no money left, and her mission board support was terminated. But she had confidence in God.
Before long the fledgling orphanage had 50 children. Lillian traveled on a donkey pleading for money and many times received children instead. The government officials were amazed that no one did anything to alarm or hurt Lillian. The governor taunted her since she was riding a donkey which was very degrading for a very attractive young lady. Lillian reminded him that a donkey was good enough for the mother of her Lord and that it certainly was good enough for her. She was known as the "Lady on a Donkey."
But a time of political turmoil was coming upon Egypt. The British government, under whose protection the Missionaries in Egypt operated, became concerned for the safety of all non-Arabs living in Egypt. In 1919 they ordered all whites, Lillian included, to leave the country. As she stood by the railing on the boat watching the shores of Egypt fade in the distance she cried for her love of the country and vowed to return.
In the United State the newly formed Assemblies of God took Lillian’s cause to heart and sponsored her return to Egypt in 1920. With renewed vigor she set to work once again vowing to take in every orphan who came to her.
By 1923, she housed three hundred orphans. One night when the Egyptians once again rose up against the British, she huddled her children into a brick kiln to shelter them from the fighting in the streets. When she counted heads, she realized that two children were missing. Crawling back to the orphanage she found the terrified toddlers. Tucking a child under each arm, she slowly made her way back to the kiln.
When rebels almost discovered her, she dropped into a ditch, landing on a dead soldier! Fearing discovery she muffled the scream that stuck in her throat, and hid the two children underneath her up against the dead soldier’s body. The rebels came closer and closer until one of them actually stepped on Lillian. He probably assumed she was dead, and kept moving on. When the danger was over, she crawled to safety back in the kiln.
God had protected her, and the children, and would continue to do so. As the years went by the number of children continued to grow, and so did the support. In the 1930s one Lord MacLay of Scotland became a major patron of the orphanage donating thousands of pounds to the mission. With his help and the help of an increasing number of local supporters, the mission expanded until Lillian Thrasher became known as “the Mother of the Nile.”
Lillian died in December of 1961, and by that time the Lillian Trasher Orphanage had grown to some 1200 children. Today, the institution is entirely the responsibility of the Assemblies of God of Egypt, with some 85% of its daily needs being met by donations from the Presbyterian churches of Egypt, the Soul Salvation Society, and other Egyptian church bodies.
"Mama" Lillian lies buried in a simple Egyptian tomb several miles outside the city of Assiout. She left behind a legacy of love and devotion in the face of danger that will live on for many years to come. Her resolve and determination stands as a example to us all.
The day that “the Mother of the Nile” was forced to leave Egypt by the British government was March 27, 1919 – 88 years ago this week.
Other Events that happened this week - March 25-31
March 25, 1829 - Caroline Chisholm dies in London of Bronchitis. While living in Australia Caroline started homes for poor girls teaching them life and trade skills so they could care for themselves rather than winding up in drugs and prostitution. Such was the impact of her social work on Australian society that her picture graced the Australian 5 dollar bill for 20 years.
March 26, 752 - Stephen III assumes the papacy after Stephen II dies. But Stephen III is sometimes called Stephen II, since the real Stephen II hardly counts: he died a mere four days after his election!
March 28, 1937 - Billy Graham gets his first opportunity to preach when his teacher John Minder unexpectedly assigns him the Easter evening sermon. Graham tried to get out of it, saying he was unprepared, but Minder persisted. Desperately nervous, Graham raced through four memorized sermons, originally 45 minutes each, in eight minutes.
March 29, 1602 - John Lightfoot, English scholar and theologian is born. In an England that had recently expelled all Jews from the country, Lightfoot taught himself to read Hebrew from the documents left behind by numerous rabbis. He then went on to examine the teachings of the rabbis and was able to demonstrate from the Jewish teachings that Jesus of Nazareth was definitely the Hebrew Messiah. He went on to create a massive body of work, filling fifteen volumes that explained the meaning of the New Testament in the light of the teachings and culture of the Jewish world.
March 30, 1858 - During a rally of 5,000 men in Philadelphia, Dudley Tyne, an Episcopal minister, declares, "I would rather this right arm were amputated at the trunk than that I should come short of my duty to you in delivering God's message." Over 1,000 men were converted. Two weeks later, Tyne lost his right arm in a farming accident, and died soon after. His last words, "Stand up for Jesus, father, and tell my brethren of the ministry to stand up for Jesus," inspired the hymn "Stand Up, stand Up for Jesus.
March 31, 1146 - French monastic reformer and theologian Bernard of Clairvaux preaches for the Second Crusade at Vezelay, France. He urged his audience to "take the sign of the cross," and so many responded that he ran out of cloth crosses to pass out. (He ended up tearing pieces from his own habit to stitch onto the shirts of would-be crusaders). When the crusade proved to be a failure, people were shocked that a venture supported by such a powerful man of God could go wrong.