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Archive for May, 2010

Books About Extraordinary Women

— Anderson, James, “Memorable Women of the Puritan Times”, (General Books, 2009) This book was originally published in 1862. This book contains the stories of Elizabeth Bunyan and many other women who lived during the time of the Reformation. This reprint is difficult to follow at times, but well worth it for the information and encouragement for Christian women.

—  Barton, David, (forward), Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence (Wallbuilder Press, 1997)
Back Cover: “Great American men have always understood the importance of women. John Adams described them as “the most infallible barometer . . . of morality and virtue in a nation.
Wives of the Signers describes those women who, alongside their husbands experienced the trials and triumphs of the struggle for independence and the challenge of building a new nation. Who were they?
*  Abigail Smith Adams, wife of one president, mother of another, and perhaps the most influential woman of her day;
*  Annis Boudinot Stockton, wife of Richard Stockton, whose home was looted and burned during the savageries of war;
*  Deborah Scudder Hart, wife of John Hart, who suffered for months as her patriotic husband was hounded and hunted as a criminal;
*  . . .and many more.”
This book is excerpted from The Pioneer Mothers of America, originally published in 1912. Subtitled, “A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods” by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, Volume Three.
The Wallbuilder book reprints the great stories about the women who made many sacrifices so that we may enjoy the freedom in our country that we have today. I highly recommend it. If you can find the entire three volume original set, it will be worth your while for encouraging, entertaining, and patriotic reading.

—  Cook, Faith, Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England (Evangelical Press, Webster, New York, 2004)
Back Cover: “Kneeling down on the hard wooden scaffold Jane turned to Feckenham who stood by her. “Shall I say this Psalm?” she faltered. Overcome with emotion . . he simply said, “Yea”. Jane then began to repeat Psalm 51 in English, David’s great prayer of contrition. Jane recited all nineteen verses “in a most devout manner” and then both she and Feckenham rose to their feet. A deep silence rested over that sad scene, nothing could be heard except for the quiet sobbing of her lady attendants. Hardened soldiers who had witnessed brutality many times before stood without moving.”
. . . “Lady Jane called out in a clear voice. “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Then with a stroke, swift, sharp and terrible, Jane’s short life was ended. Like the Apostle Paul she had fought a good fight, finished the course and kept the faith. Henceforth there was laid up for her a crown of righteousness – a crown that none could take from her.”
This is the story of a remarkable young woman, living during the time of the Reformation. After the death of Edward VI, (son of Henry VIII) there was a struggle for the throne. Eventually, Mary, Henry’s eldest daughter would be crowned queen, and she would have her “rival” Lady Jane Grey executed by beheading.
Jane was not just a political pawn. She was incredibly intelligent, devout, kind, and courageous. Included in this book is the debate between her and Dr. John Feckenham, who was sent to interrogate her. It is worth the price of the whole book and must reading for anyone who would like to see how a woman of courage stands up to those who are stronger than herself in order to protect her own integrity and faith.

—  Kim, Esther Ahn, If I Perish (Moody Publishers, Chicago, 1977)
Back Cover:  “Ahn Ei Sook stood alone among thousands of kneeling people in bold defiance of the tyrannical command to bow to a pagan Japanese shrine. After months on the run, she was captured and condemned to a living death in the filth and degradation of a Japanese prison.
Although she was imprisoned and tormented for many years, her determination and fortitude never diminished. In spite of the brutality, oppression, and ruthlessness of her captors, Miss Ahn remained true to Christ and won many of her fellow prisoners to Him by her example. Her courageous activities in prison not only brought the light of the Gospel to many, but also resulted in a reduction of torture.”
This is the true story of a young Korean Christian school teacher who set out on a journey to Tokyo to make the Japanese leaders aware of the atrocities that were committed against Korean Christians. Many are not aware that during World War II, the Japanese controlled Korea. We have read a lot about the brutality of the Nazi’s and the Soviets, but there was much brutality occurring in the Eastern hemisphere as well.
Ahn’s story will encourage your heart. Her life is a testimony of the goodness of God towards His children.

—  MacDonald, Rose Mortimer Ellzey, Mrs. Robert E. Lee (American Foundation Publications, Stuarts Draft, Virginia, 1998)
Preface: “A daughter of Mrs. Lee’s, writing after her mother’s death, said, “I want the world to know how worthy she was of her husband. . .Her attitude and example during the entire period of the war were an inspiration not only to her husband but to all who came within the radius of her influence.”
Mary Custis Lee lived during a time when women were not supposed to allow their names to be printed in newspapers or in public. Fortunately for us, there is much correspondence between her and her husband, and her daughters and friends so that we can get to know how remarkable this woman was. For a picture of graciousness in womanhood, read this story.
A good companion story would be that of her husband. I recommend, Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee, by J. Steven Wilkins. (Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville, 1997).

—  Piper, Noel,  Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God (Crossway, Wheaton, 2005)
Back Cover: “These are the stories of five ordinary women – Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim, and Helen Roseveare – who trusted in their extraordinary God as he led them to do great things for his kingdom.”
Readers may recognize the name of Gladys Aylward from the movie, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman. The movie does a pretty good job of faithfully telling the story of this remarkable missionary to China; I would recommend seeing it.
The other stories will be an encouragement to you to be willing to trust and follow God where you believe He is leading you. Not very many women in our society today are willing to go against the tide. It is good for us to read these stories of women who were not afraid to follow God.

Stjerna, Kirsi, Women and the Reformation (Blackwell Publishing, Malden, Massachusetts, 2009)
Back Cover: “Women were critical participants in Christian life during the Reformations. Women and the Reformation gathers historical materials and personal accounts to provide a comprehensive and accessible look at the status and contributions of women as leaders in the sixteenth-century Protestant world.”
Kirsi Stjerna provides some background and introductory material to the period of the Reformation. She explains what the options were for women at that time, and then gives examples of women who would courageously step out and follow God using the gifts that He gave them as writers, wives of famous pastors, prophets, and leaders for the Protestant refugees.
Here are the courageous women whose stories are told in this volume:

Ursula Jost and her publisher, Margarethe Pruss
Katharina von Bora (Mrs. Luther)
Argula von Grumbach (Apologist and a Pamphleteer)
Elisabeth von Brandenburg, and Elisabeth von Braunschweig (Exiled Mothers, Reformation Leaders)
Katharina Schutz Zell (Writer, Pastoral Care giver)
Marie Dentiere (Reformer and Writer)
Marguerite de Navarre, and Jeanne d’Albret (French Reformers)
Renee de France (Friend and Protector of the Huguenots)
Olimpia Fulvia Morata (Italian Scholar)

—  Sultan, Wafa, A God Who Hates (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009)
Back Cover: “A searingly personal and deeply affecting indictment of the oppressing and life-destroying features of Islamic teachings and Islamic societies – and a moving testimony to the hope that America still offers to the world with its principles of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and equality of rights of women and men (all of which are denied by Islamic law). Wafa Sultan is a great heroine of our time, willing to risk everything to stand up to these immense evils when most people are too fainthearted or politically correct to do so. I A God Who Hates should be read closely and studied by the president, European leaders, and all Western policy makers and opinion shapers – before it is too late.”
The only thing I would like to add to that, is that it should be read by all women who value their freedom. We need to pray for women who are being oppressed by Muslim societies. We need to pray that the Gospel would go forward in Muslim countries, bringing the freedom of Christ with it. We should thank God for Wafa’s testimony, and pray for her, too.

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Mary Custis Lee

House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: but a prudent wife is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:14)

Men who are blessed with godly wives know that they are more valuable than gold or silver. The famous general, Robert E. Lee, knew that his wife Mary was such a woman.

Though Mary had been born with a “silver spoon”, she put God and His Word first in her life. When she would lose all of the advantages that she had been born with, she would trust in God and His righteousness and truth and follow Him bravely.

It seems a shame that the life of the one who was the inspiration to one of the greatest generals who ever lived should be so neglected. This is in part due to the fact that Mary Custis Lee lived during a time in the South when it was not considered proper for women to have their names in the papers. Fortunately, we have many fine stories about her from the letters of her friends. Her daughter, Agnes kept a vivid diary. We can also glean much from the correspondence between her and her famous husband, General Robert E. Lee.

Mary Anna Randolph Custis was born on October 1, 1808, the only surviving child of George Washington Parks Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and the adopted son of General Washington, and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis. As a young girl, she grew up at Arlington, former home of her renowned ancestors, George and Martha Washington.

Robert Edward Lee proposed to Mary in the summer of 1830, and they were married at Arlington House June 30, 1831. They had seven children. The Lees had a warm and loving family life, both committed to following the Lord.

Mary was a godly woman. She had been blessed with a godly mother who taught her all of the womanly arts, and also the disciplines of the Spirit.

She was a gracious hostess and enjoyed having frequent visitors at Arlington. She inherited artistic ability from her father and painted delicate landscapes. She also loved gardening.

Mary was a modest woman and followed the custom of the times for Southern women by spending most of her time in domestic pursuits. She was extremely intelligent and well educated; she knew both Greek and Latin. She frequently discussed politics with both her father and husband.

Both Robert and Mary Lee had the humility that comes from the graciousness of God. Mary never allowed her wealthy background to interfere with her duty. Her husband also put duty first. Even when he was away soldiering, he would often inquire in his letters as to how the family was doing in their spiritual lives. Mary took care to always have family prayers twice daily and saw that the children read and honored the Word of God.

Like many Christian Southerners, Mary Lee taught Arlington slave women to sew, read, and write. She wanted to be sure that they could read the Scriptures on their own. She also taught Sunday School for the blacks. She was as careful about the spiritual well-being of her servants as that of her own family, and would often write about the progress they made in their lessons to Robert while he was away. Many slaves obtained eternal life under the care and tutelage of their masters. While we deplore slavery, we will make no effort to explain it’s presence, North and South, in this story. Mary Lee was faithful to the task that she inherited. She saw herself as a servant to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lee’s released their slaves early during the war. Many of these former slaves were loyal to the Lees and indeed many remained friends for life. They loved Mary, and felt like family. They would be a big help to Mary when the Union soldiers overran Arlington, and they were distressed when the Union soldiers went about stealing or destroying as many things as they could. The Union soldiers did not even respect the fact that Arlington was of national interest, having been the home of their beloved first president. But Arlington was the home of the former slaves and they loved it too. They rescued as many of the precious artifacts as they could, and helped Mary to move on to the home of a friend.

During her adult life, Mary developed severe rheumatoid arthritis and became  increasingly debilitated as she grew older. Mary and her family often visited many spas and springs that were reputed to improve health until the War started. In letters to her husband, she tried to downplay her illness, but it worsened as the years passed. She was eventually confined to a wheelchair. In spite of all of the pain that she was in, she still managed to support the Confederate war effort by knitting hundreds of pairs of socks. In one three month knitting spree, she and her circle sent over two hundred pairs of socks for distribution to the Stonewall Brigade.

It broke her heart to leave her lifelong home of Arlington, but she had no choice. The Union soldiers wrecked the property, cutting down many beautiful trees. Years later, when she visited Arlington shortly before her death, she would say that she hardly recognized her old home. But, she did not let this loss keep her from quietly submitting to God’s providence.

Mary and her daughters moved between several plantations of family and friends before settling in Richmond where they spent most of the War. She continued to be an example of courage to all of the other wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters who had been sacrificing their men to the war effort. The Southerners all loved General Lee and looked to Mary Lee for leadership and guidance. Their daughter Mildred put it very well, “Yes, my Mother was a hero, as veritable a one as my Father.”

After the war ended, Mary accompanied Robert to Lexington, Virginia where he became the president of Washington College, which would later be renamed Washington and Lee University. While there, Mary would be the gracious hostess to countless young people who would visit. Though she had been raised as the heiress to Arlington, and missed it very much, she never expressed regret. She lived modestly at her new home at the college and joined her husband in his efforts to rebuild the shattered South.

Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee died on November 5, 1873 at the age of 66. She is buried next to her husband on the Washington & Lee campus in Lexington, Virginia.
A notice in the Southern Collegian paid her a tribute, which sums up the heroic life of this courageous woman.

“Tempting as the theme is, we forbear to offer any eulogy on the character of this woman, so venerated and loved by the entire community in which she resided, related to our University — we may say linked to its history and its destiny – by so many strong and tender ties, and around whom there was gathered for years past a degree of public interest and affectionate solicitude that has never attached to any other woman in the history of our country. It is enough to say that in intelligence and in refinement of taste, in kindness of heart and attractiveness of manner, in cheerfulness under the heaviest reverses of fortune and the agonies of bodily pain, in sympathy and in benefactions towards the impoverished and suffering people of her country, in her manifold and ceaseless self-denials and labors on behalf of religion and the church of her fathers and of her choice, in all this she was an ornament to her sex, was worthy of her illustrious husband.”

Courageous in the face of the enemy, in the face of the loss of almost everything she held dear, including her heritage at Arlington, in the face of the defeat of her beloved South, in the face of debilitating illness, and eventually in the face of the loss of her dear husband, Mary willingly submitted to the Sovereignty of God. She is truly a woman worth emulating.

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Dear readers: I did not make a posting to this Blog last week. That is because I went to China to visit my daughter who is serving Christ there. She is teaching English at a Chinese university. It was a small act of courage on my part to go to a country halfway around the world. It is a bigger act of courage for my daughter to give up the comparative luxuries of an American home to live in less than desirable surroundings. It is an incredible act of courage for the Chinese women who give up family and freedom in order to follow Christ.

I had the inestimable privilege of meeting some dear sisters in Christ while traveling in China. They said that they were blessed and honored to have a visitor in their homes, but I was also richly blessed to have spent time with them.

Some very interesting things came up during the course of our conversations. I had to take several steps back and really think hard about some of the ideas that I have taken for granted as an American Christian. I would like to share those ideas and I hope that I get some responses from you.

1.  We were able to rejoice in our common belief in Christ. It is so wonderful to know that I have sisters all over the world. As we gathered in a quiet place to tell of our Christian experiences it was so thrilling to know how powerful God is. No matter that there was a language barrier; the Holy Spirit’s presence in each of us made us recognize each other. As Jonathan Edwards said, “There is a spiritual light imparted to the soul by God, which is different from anything that is obtained by natural means.” All Christians, no matter where they are in the world, have this light. He went on, “There is nothing so powerful as this, to support persons in affliction, and to give the mind peace in this stormy and dark world. . . It causes the soul to give itself up entirely to Christ.” We praised God as we could see this spiritual light in our new Christian friends.

As we were talking, the subject of “denominations” came up. My new friends were frankly confused. They thought that there was only one true religion – Christianity. They did not understand what I meant when I asked them which kind of church they were patterned after. “Baptist”, “Methodist”, and “Episcopalian” had no meaning for them. As I tried to explain about the Reformation and the subsequent splitting of the churches in the West, they were surprised and upset.

Of course, I reminded myself, the Reformation is Western history. They would most likely only know Chinese history. I could understand that easily enough. But what really made me stop and think was the part about, “Why do you have so many different churches? Why don’t you get along?”

Why don’t we all get along? Why are we so ready to have a church split over whether or not we “sprinkle or dunk”? Why are there women who won’t speak to each other ever again when their choice of the color of the church carpet was rejected? Why are there so many seminary students spending countless thousands of hours trying to prove that their own theological ideas and perspectives are the correct ones? Are we really supposed to be figuring out how many Angels are dancing on the head of a pin while thousands or millions of souls are dying without Christ?

2.  While trying to get around the city, we did encounter some prejudice against foreigners. Taxi drivers would not stop for us. Finally, we asked my daughter’s Chinese friend to get the taxi while we stood a few yards at a distance. When she had engaged it and was holding open the door, we ran and scrambled in. The drivers would scowl at us, but would not make trouble and they took us where we wanted to go.

By contrast, we were treated especially well by our new Chinese friends when they learned that we were sisters in Christ. They treat each other like family. They go out of their way to help each other. It is enough that one is a believer in Christ. They don’t have time for the petty differences that we argue over here in America. After all, they risk fines or arrest if they are caught meeting without a government permit. They need to cling to each other. I understand that. Somehow, though, I don’t think that our comparative freedom should give us an excuse to mistreat each other the way we do. I know that their circumstances are extreme, but must we have persecution before we will love each other as Christ commanded us?

3.  On the day that we visited the Great Wall, we had beautiful weather. The sun was shining, there was not a cloud in the sky, and it was 20 degrees C. (68 F) We had a marvelous time and took about a hundred pictures! We visited a nearby park where there was a statue of Chairman Mao. The Chinese revere him very much. Even my Christian sister wanted us to have a picture with him. I stalled for a while, but finally decided to be in the picture with her. She knows only what history she has been taught. I did not think it my place to start a discussion with her on the millions of deaths and the hardships that have been caused by the government they inherited from Mao Zedong.

Standing in the shade of the statue, I began to think about our own history. How much do I really know about the events that have shaped our American culture? In the last few years, for instance, I learned that Franklin D. Roosevelt knew about the bombing of Pearl Harbor before it happened. He wanted to be involved in the war, but the American people did not. He allowed for the bombing of the ships in Pearl Harbor so that the American people would be outraged enough to go to war. There are also many myths surrounding the 16th president. If I am really concerned about the truth of history, perhaps I should begin by studying our own. Perhaps I will just pray that as I want to earnestly seek truth, because it pleases God, my sisters in China will seek truth also. And I pray that my American sisters will seek the truth. The courageous woman will seek the truth no matter what it costs.

One of the reasons that I started this Blog was to post stories of women who may be little known to us. I wanted to show just how many courageous women have lived. How many of us know about Anne Askew, or Sophie Scholl, or Esther Ahn Kim? One of the reasons that I want to tell their stories is so that we can be better informed about our history. Knowing what happened to any of these women tells you something about the times in which they lived. How many people know just how badly the Japanese treated the Koreans? This is a very real, but forgotten, part of history.

Learning our history, our real history, helps us better understand ourselves. Reading the stories of the many great women who lived gives us courage to face our own circumstances. I pray that you will not shy away from seeking truth, even if it causes you to change some of your cherished beliefs.

And, pray for our sisters in China.

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In part 2 of our series on Katherine von Bora, we learned that she and 11 other nuns escaped from the cloister with the help of a city councilor named Leonard Koppe. When they got to the town where they were going, they had to marry quickly or try to work on their own. Luther helped them all to find respectable jobs or husbands, all except Katherine. She befriended a man whom she wished to marry, but his family would not accept an ex-nun. She was heartbroken. Luther tried to match her with someone else; she refused that man.

Luther didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to marry. He was 42 when he started to consider Katherine as a bride. Finally, in 1525 he decided to please his parents and irritate the pope and the devils by “getting married with the last ex-nun available in town.” Some people rejoiced in the marriage; others were scandalized. This was not just because it was Luther, but because clergy were only just beginning to get married. 
It took some getting used to for people in the early 16th century.
They were married on June 13, 1525. There was only a small group attending the ceremony. Two weeks later they had a larger feast with many more guests.

Katherine modeled the wife of a pastor exceedingly well. She mothered six children of her own, and cared for six or seven nieces and nephews, and four orphans, along with many others who came under her roof.

Her home was a Pastor’s and professor’s home, and she set the standard for reformer’s wives. The parsonage was a place where the evangelical faith would be fostered. Her convent training enabled her to help Luther run a boarding school for theology students, a hostel for visitors, theological conversations centered around her husband, occasionally turning her house into a hospital, receiving refugees, providing meals and beds for all, and finding money to cover all the costs. She also made tasty beer.

Though we know that Luther appreciated all that she did, affectionately calling her “doctor, preacher, and lord,” Katherine did not exercise authority as a theologian or preacher outside of their home. Luther did not encourage it.

Katherine was able to use her gifts of intelligence and organization by managing the “Black Cloister,” an abandoned monastery that she turned into a seminary. Here she “ruled” a “congregation” that filled all 40 rooms and she hosted the meals daily for the residents and hosted banquets for as many as 120 people. This was a popular gathering place, and would become the model for the parsonages in the future which would become places for people to come together to discuss theology, entertainment, and spiritual growth.

She managed to finance all of this by raising vegetables and fruit. She raised animals, fished, baked bread, and brewed beer. She increased their wealth by buying land. As an aristocrat, she understand the value of land and talked Luther into buying two farms and two orchards.

She still had to live by the rules of the times. She showed respect to her husband, by addressing him formally, subjecting herself to his authority, practical, legal, and spiritual. Luther considered her an equal partner “in Christ” but not as an equal partner in his preaching ministry.

However, she participated in “table talks.” She knew enough Latin and Scripture to join in, much to the annoyance of some at the table who thought her behavior inappropriate for a women. Apparently though, Luther made no effort to stop her. Martin called her “My Lord Katie”.

When he died suddenly in 1546, she was extremely sorrowful. She also found herself surrounded with many difficulties. There were no church widow’s pensions then, and she had to make do, supporting their children on what Luther had left her. She faced her situation squarely on as she had always done in life. Many other difficulties arrived; she soon found herself a refugee as armies turned her farm into a battlefield. There were also recurrences of the plague. As she was trying to escape from plague-ridden Wittenberg, she fell from a wagon. She died as a result of injuries from this accident in December of 1552.

Katherine contributed much to her husband’s ministry.  She certainly helped with his understanding of marriage, love, gender roles, and family life. By doing this, she contributed much to the spread of the Gospel. She modeled the ideal Christian woman.  By being a Proverbs 31 woman, her husband’s ministry was expanded further. Because she could manage everything on the home front, including the Black Cloister, Luther was able to be away on long journeys, preaching and teaching, knowing that he could come home to a restful, well-ordered, spiritually invigorating home.

Katherine loved Christ. She lived her life to the fullest. She showed us how to live the Christian life in our marriages, families, and communities. It takes a lot of courage to face the daily mundane tasks of cooking, cleaning, and mending. As we contemplate on the life of Katherine von Bora Luther, I hope it will give us renewed strength to find joy in whatever calling God has given us.

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