Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness

A Passion for the Impossible

A Passion for the Impossible
by Miriam Huffman Rockness

Trade Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Discovery House Publishers
First Released: 1999

Source: Review copy from the publisher

Back Cover Description:
This is the story of the woman whose life of faith and devotion inspired the hymn "Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus." Although art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed Lilias Trotter's potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, her devotion to Christ compelled her to abandon the life of art, privilege, and leisure she could have enjoyed.

Without knowing the language and without sponsorship of any organization, Lilias left her London home of comfort for a modest dwelling in Algeria, where her love of literature and art became dynamic tools for evangelism, and where her compassionate heart captured the hearts of the people. For forty years, despite frail health and many obstacles, Lilias devoted herself to missionary service among the people of Algeria through her lifestyle of love and encouragement.

A Passion for the Impossible is a biography of Lilias Trotter (1853-1928) who did outreach work to women in England and then went to Algeria as a missionary. The book used primary sources as much as possible and often quoted diaries, journals, and letters written by Lilias and those who knew her.

I liked that the author showed how Lilias Trotter was influenced by the events and society of her day and how she influenced them. Thus, the reader also learns about D.L. Moody, the YWCA, John Ruskin, and others who touched her life.

The writing style was easy to understand and read, though a bit formal in tone (which matched the material). The book described the barriers Lilias Trotter faced and the methods she used to reach Muslims with the gospel. I especially liked Lilias' descriptions of Algeria (of both the setting and the culture).

There were several pages of black and white photos of Lilias Trotter with a few also showing her colleagues or the places she worked. There were charming sketches by Lilias at the bottom of many pages or at the ends of chapters. The black and white map of missionary stations in Algeria in 1924 wasn't easy to read or use. I would have enjoyed another map that clearly showed the places she visited on various trips.

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about history or anyone who enjoys reading missionary biographies. In fact, if a person was only going to read one missionary biography, I think I'd recommend this one since it gives a broader view than just Lilias' work.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Five
[From pages 67-68, which is the middle of the chapter:]

Lilias, revitalized by a deepened understanding of the Christian life and newly immersed into a life of service, soaked in this new experience. The confidence and boldness with which Moody preached, on this occasion as well as others, and the receptiveness of the people to his message, reinforced all the lessons she had learned in the past two years and demonstrated what God could do with one willing life. Where she was not specifically instructed by Moody, she was inspired by him. Four decades later, Lilias would challenge her coworkers in North Africa with a detailed account of Moody's compassionate address to five thousand men at a meeting expressly for "atheists, skeptics, and free thinkers of all shade." Moody himself maintained, "I know perfectly well that wherever I go and preach, there are many better preachers known and heard than I am; all that I can say about it is that the Lord uses me."

Moody's innovative methods alone would have provided Lilias with a study in strategy. He intuitively recognized the shift from the rural to an industrial-urban age, and he effectively adapted the tools of evangelism to reach a more sophisticated audience. Many of his techniques newly implemented in the United Kingdom--advanced organizational preparation, house-to-house visitation, avoidance of direct appeals for money, joint ministry with a song leader, and arrangement of a separate inquiry room--changed the very character of evangelism and introduced methods practiced to this day.

Moody, by example and by teaching, provided training for Lilas and many others in relating the life of faith to the unbeliever. He personally presided over the volunteers whom he trained to counsel the hundreds of people who flocked to the inquiry room at the conclusion of each service. "You must ply them with the Word of God," he insisted. "Work patiently until you see that they have grasped the truth and are resting on Christ alone for salvation. Don't be in a hurry; think, oh think what it means to win a soul for Christ and do not grudge time spent on one person."

While it is, of course, impossible to determine fully the direct influence of Dwight L. Moody on Lilias Trotter, it can be stated with certainty that many of the approaches and attitudes that marked Moody's work would be evident later in Lilias's ministry--first with women in London, and later with Arabs in the slums of Algiers, in nearby mountain villages, and in the desert oases of the Sahara. Innovative, thoughtful, and practical, she, like Moody, would pioneer new methods and materials while never compromising the essential message.

Read the first 36 pages.


Carole said...

Debbie, thanks for linking up with Your Favourite Biographies. Cheers

Debbie said...

Thank you for invited me to link up there. :)