December 19: Lillian Trasher, Missionary in Egypt, 1961

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About this commemoration

Lillian Hunt Trasher was born in 1887 in Brunswick, Georgia. As a young woman she worked at an orphanage in North Carolina, not knowing at the time that her life’s work would be devoted to caring for abandoned children.

In 1909, while engaged to a man she loved deeply, she heard the testimony of a missionary from India, and she was aware at that moment that she could not be married. God had called her to service as a missionary. Not knowing where she would go, she opened her Bible and read Acts 7:34: “I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning and am come down to deliver them.  And now come, I will send thee to Egypt.”

In 1910, she arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, with her sister Jenny, and they found their way to the village of Asyut near the Nile. Shortly after arriving, Lillian was called to the bedside of a dying mother whose malnourished daughter was also near death. Though ordered by the mission directors to return the child to the village, Lillian refused to abandon her to poverty and certain death. In 1911 she rented a small house and some furniture and nursed the child back to health.

As she took in additional children, she had to rely on charity, though she eventually received aid from the newly formed Assemblies of God in the United States.  In 1916 she was able to purchase additional land, the buildings for which were built from bricks which Lillian and the older children made themselves. In 1919 she was ordered out of the country by the British government in the midst of political turmoil, and when she returned, she took in widows and the blind in addition to children. Despite the Nazi invasion of Egypt and the subsequent violence during World War II, she kept her orphanage running. When she died in 1961, she had become known as the “Mother of the Nile”and had cared for nearly 25,000 Egyptian children. Her orphanage remains open today.

Collects

I God, whose everlasting arms support the universe: We offer thanks for moving the heart of Lillian Trasher to heroic hospitality on behalf of orphaned children in great need, and we pray that we also may find our hearts awakened and our compassion stirred to care for thy little ones, through the example of our Savior Jesus Christ and by the energy of thy Holy Spirit, who broodeth over the world as a mother over her children; for they live and reign with thee, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II God, whose everlasting arms support the universe: We thank you for moving the heart of Lillian Trasher to heroic hospitality on behalf of orphaned children in great need, and we pray that we also may find our hearts awakened and our compassion stirred to care for your little ones, through the example of our Savior Jesus Christ and by the energy of your Holy Spirit, who broods over the world like a mother over her children; for they live and reign with you, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Genesis 21:8–21

2 Corinthians 1:3–7

Luke 17:1–6

Psalm

10:12–19

Preface of  a Saint (1)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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16 Responses to December 19: Lillian Trasher, Missionary in Egypt, 1961

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    True, this missionary is particularly remembered by the Assemblies of God. But, should she be included in our book? We don’t have an concordat/agreement with the AoG. I doubt that they are going to reciprocate by adding Archbishop Cranmer to their calendar (if they even have a calendar).

    Hebrew reading: Do you think that verse 21: ‘He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.’ might be omitted? Though it mentions Egypt it seems a tad inappropriate.

    Bio. She has no ‘who she is’ and ‘why she is important’ statement. And, no ‘She died …’ statement.
    1st paragraph: “…not knowing at the time that …” None of us know something at the time that will affect the rest of our ministry.
    2nd paragraph: it is repeated again ‘Not knowing where she would go …” I suggest re-writing to eliminate the words ‘not knowing.’
    The entire bio has many sentences with dependent clauses that would read better on their own, IMO.

    Example: ‘As she took in additional children she had to rely on charity, though she eventually received aid from the newly formed Assemblies of God in the United States.’ Make it two sentences. ‘As she took in additional children she had to rely on charity. She eventually received aid … etc.’
    The very next sentence is the same thing. ‘In 1916 she was able to purchase additional land, the buildings for which were built from bricks which Lillian and the older children made themselves.’f Make it two sentences. ‘In 1916 she was able to purchase additional land. On the land she built building from bricks … etc.’

    Oh, and she has barely been dead 50 years (1961). I thought there was a 50 years rule.

    I recommend the Wikipedia article on her. It is more inspiring than our bio I think.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lillian_Trasher

  2. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    I, too, wonder why she is in our book. I do accept that there have been many worthy people who were not Anglicans or Episcopalians, and certainly figures like Martin Luther are well included. But as Michael points out, we have no formal relatinship with these folks, as we do with Lutherans.

  3. John LaVoe says:

    The other questions raised in the “comments” notwithstanding, IF SHE IS INCLUDED, it strikes me as odd that while the biography points out that “she took in widows and the blind in addition to children,” the collect seems (pointedly) to push aside (4 times) all but her work concerning children.

    Enumerating:
    (1) We thank you for moving the heart of Lillian Trasher to heroic hospitality on behalf of orphaned children in great need,
    (2) and we pray that we also may find our hearts awakened and our compassion stirred to care for your little ones, through the example of our Savior Jesus Christ
    (3) and by the energy of your Holy Spirit, who broods over the world like a mother over her children;
    (4) for they [children] live and reign with you, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    Shouldn’t we at least add a sentence that says, “P.S., and by the way Lord, if you want to care about widows and blind people, that’s okay too? Amen.”

    • John LaVoe says:

      I’m not really sure who “they” refers to in my enumberated #4, above. It could mean “our Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit” live and reign with one God (I hope!) — but it SOUNDS like it means the children live and reign (eschatologically?) On reflection, I would have to say the pronoun in #4 (above) is a second and independent problem (of clarity), even if it is supposed to refer back to Christ and the Spirit.

      • John LaVoe says:

        … Nor am I sure what “enumberated” spells. It could be a case of my fingers knowing how to type “number,” but my head not paying attention to the typing. (A clear case of “BUSY hands can be the devil’s workshop, too.”) Sorry! [Enumberated — bah, humbug.]

      • Michael Hartney says:

        The editorial committee for HWHM has tried to alter the usual concluding ascriptions in the collects. There are all sorts of variations. I am not convinced that they ‘work.’ John is right about #4 in this collect. I could practically open HWHM at random and find any number of differing concluding ascriptions. It is as if the editors/composers were bored with the ‘tried and true’ and think that various word changes will make it more: inclusive, relevant, fresh-sounding. To me it is more distracting than helpful.

  4. John LaVoe says:

    Two other problems with this “collect.”
    1) It lacks a “so that” clause, thus turning it into a “to do list” for God’s attention.
    2) It claims “your Holy Spirit, who broods over the world like a mother over her children.” I believe this is meant to echo either the Genesis creation story (“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”) or the Gospel’s reference to the mother hen’s anxiety over her young (Matt 23:37 and Luke 13:34). None of the three says the Spirit “broods” over anything. (The OT reference is “moved” (KJ), or “swept” (NRSV); the Gospels have Jesus ruing (i.e., lamenting) Jerusalem’s stubburn refusal to be “gathered” (to Jesus) “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Brood, here,is a noun not a verb, and it involves chickens not children. The picture of the Spirit brooding over the world like a mother over her children describes a “helicopter parent” more than anything. It needs to be re-hatched.

    • Michael Hartney says:

      The image of a mother caring for her children is found, too, in Eucharistic Prayer 2 of Enriching Our Worship 1. It reads:

      We praise you and we bless you, holy and gracious God,
      source of life abundant.
      From before time you made ready the creation.
      Your Spirit moved over the deep
      and brought all things into being:
      sun, moon, and stars;
      earth, winds, and waters;
      and every living thing.
      You made us in your image,
      and taught us to walk in your ways.
      But we rebelled against you, and wandered far away;
      and yet, as a mother cares for her children,
      you would not forget us.
      Time and again you called us
      to live in the fullness of your love.

  5. Philip Wainwright says:

    All the above seems on target. All I would add are a couple of points about the collect:

    First, ‘and by the energy of your Holy Spirit’—usually, it’s ‘by the power of’, and while this may be intended to be just a different word for the same thing, it doesn’t quite come across that way. ‘Energy’ we experience as something that comes and goes, ‘power’ has a more permanent, steady overtone. We don’t want to suggest the idea that the Holy Spirit has had an extra cup of coffee this morning or something.

    Second, ‘through the example of our Savior Jesus Christ’—usually we say ‘following the example of’ or (a bit archaically, in my opinion) ‘after the example of’. ‘Through’ seems to be expressing a completely different idea, as though Jesus’s example somehow makes something possible rather than suggesting something or giving us the courage to do something we we know we should and can do.

    Which raises another point that I’ve been meaning to make. I don’t know what sort of responses the SCLM expected on this blog, but it seems to me that they have been thoughtful, well informed comments by people that know and care quite a bit about liturgical issues, good use of language and accurate historical statement. At times I really notice the absence of a response—‘here’s what we were trying to do with this or that thing that doesn’t seem to have worked as we hoped’. There have been responses from SCLM members once or twice, but more about the mechanism of the blog if I remember correctly than the liturgical issues that commenters regularly raise. I appreciate their desire to give others the floor, but I also think the SCLM is missing an opportunity to put a pretty competent group to work. If we knew what had been intended by ‘through’ and ‘energy’ and ‘broods’ and their equivalents in other commemorations, we might be able to suggest better ways to achieve the purpose.

  6. Steve Lusk says:

    To second (or third?) the comments above, why include people who are not part of our tradition, when there are so many worthy individuals who are who aren’t (yet) in our calendar? The practice suggests that we lack faith in our own convictions. Either we (Anglicanism in general, and the Epsicopal Church in particular) have a better idea, or we don’t. If we have a better idea, we have a duty to express and defend it. And if we don’t have a better idea, why are we here?

  7. Karl Stevens says:

    I have another more general comment which follows, I hope, on Steve, Michael and Cynthia’s comment. I just counted up the saints included in Holy Women and Holy Men by century, and fully forty-eight percent of them come from the 19th and 20th centuries. As a priest, I find the saints days to be a very helpful way to lead parishioners out of the parochialism of time – in other words, away from thinking that Christianity as it is practiced today is the only possible or valid form of our faith. I feel like I’m losing this teaching tool when our saints days become so weighted towards what is, after all, a recent period in Christian history. Of course I realize that having saints like Trasher or, in a few days, Lottie Moon, gives us a way to acknowledge the importance of worldwide Christianity to our present era, but we seem to be sacrificing the past to the ecumenical concerns of the present. Beyond that, we’re making a strange historical claim. I think that an outsider looking at our calendar would assume that the nineteenth and twentieth century constituted a golden age for holiness, whereas the poor tenth century which has, by my count, exactly one saint was a period of complete atheism and self-indulgence.

    • Steve Lusk says:

      And that outsider would assume that we Episcopalians didn’t contribute much to that holiness!
      As for the 10th century, St. Dunstan is ornament enough for a millennium. It’s been said that the tenth century shaped the rest of English history, and it was Dunstan who shaped England’s tenth century.

  8. Nigel Renton says:

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “on September 27, 1887 in Jacksonville, Florida, and raised ” after “born”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: insert: “Raised by her mother (originally a Quaker) as a Roman Catholic, Lillian joined the Church of God in 1912, in which she was ordained, and later became a member of the (Pentecostal) Assemblies of God” after “Georgia”. I think it very important to include her religious affiliation, or folk might assume that she was an Anglican. It is also instructive that the Church of God would ordain women almost 100 years ago.

    Line 1, third paragraph: correct spelling to “Jennie”.

    Line 2, third paragraph: substitute “town” for “village”. It’s the largest town in Upper Egypt, and in the 19th Century had the largest slave market in Egypt.

    Line 2, third paragraph: add “, in Upper Egypt,” after “Asyut”.

    Line 2, fourth paragraph: hyphenate “newly-formed”

    • Nigel Renton says:

      The record shows that she died on December 17, 1961. This raises several questions:

      1. In 2009, why didn’t the SCLM put her on the “waiting list” (p. 708, HWHM)?

      2. She died 12/17, not 12/19. Why doesn’t she share that date with the abolitionists?

      3. As has been pointed out, we need a note of her death. I suggest simply: “Lillian died in Egypt on December 17, 1961”.

      4. The omission of the date and year of her death might encourage the speculation that these were deliberately omitted to obscure the breach of guidelines.

  9. Dale McNeill says:

    I read and use the collects and lessons throughout the year. I’d just like to say, as someone who came to the Episcopal tradition from an Assemblies of God childhood in 1979 (when I was 18) that I was enormously moved when I saw that Lillian Thrasher was in our calendar. I’ve never looked back, but I was nourished and fed in the Assemblies of God–and shocked when I realized that the Assemblies had been ordaining women far longer than the Episocopal church. Whether Lillian Thrasher stays in our calendar or not, I’m glad that Episcopalians have been reminded or informed of her and of this much longer tradition of ordaining women.

  10. Haruo says:

    Speaking as a Baptist who not infrequently worships in an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish here in Seattle, I must say that much of the parochial Anglicanocentrism in this set of comments is the antithesis of what I find attractive in Episcopalianism. Although I have no particular stake in AoG, I feel as Dale McNeill does above about the inclusion of Martin Luther King in your calendar, and the notion that your calendar should be limited to Anglicans and those who had the good sense to die too early to be Anglicans is highly irritating. Inclusiveness is itself one of the major aspects of the “better idea” that is Anglicanism’s strong point in reaching out for Christ.

    That said, I came here mainly looking for appropriate suggestions of hymns for Ms. Thrasher’s day in the limelight, for use on my daily post at the Facebook Page “Ĉiamverda Advento 2015”, and I am leaving pretty much empty-handed. Ah well.

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