My mother is one of several people I know who eschews all of the Christian Living type of books that dominate the Christian publishing industry. Apart from her Bible (the most beat-up, ink-covered, personalized Bible you’ll ever see) and a few commentaries, she reads only biographies. She feels that by reading about the lives of great Christians of the past, she will learn far more than what most of the Christian Living books can teach her. As much as I love reading books in a variety of genres, I can’t help but think that mom might just be right.
Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God is Noel Piper’s second solo effort that is targetted at an adult audience (she has previously authored Treasuring God in Our Traditions and has written the children’s book Most Of All, Jesus Loves You.). The book contains five short biographies of five faithful women: Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim and Helen Roseveare.
I particularly enjoy short biographies of this type as they provide only a glimpse of a person. If one of the people particularly intrigues me, I can seek out a more exhaustive biography. This book serves as an introduction to five particularly fascinating servants of the Lord – women who have in some way had a significant impact on the author. While the women are bound by a common thread, their zeal in serving the Lord, they represent several countries and hundreds of years of Christian history. Sarah Edwards lived in the New World during the mid-1700’s and was best-known for selflessly supporting and extending the ministry of her husband, Jonathan Edwards; Lilias Trotter grew up in Victorian England but served God as a missionary in North Africa; Gladys Alward left her native England in 1932 so she could serve the Lord in China; Esther Ahn Kim stood strong among the persecuted ranks of believers during the Japanese occupation of Korea; Helen Roseveare became a doctor to the native population of the Congo, remaining there through years of war and bloodshed. Each of these women suffered in their own way, but did so joyfully, knowing that they suffered for the Lord.
A great deal of the value of this book lies in the author’s closing comments for each of the sections. Piper adds a personal touch to each biography, describing what it is about the person that has so touched her. She ends each of the chapters with a dedication to a person whose life and faith exhibits the same qualities as the woman just described. For example, at the end of the first chapter she writes, “Just as Sarah Edwards had little idea of the ongoing generations she would influence through her interaction with Samuel Hopkins, there are two women who probably have little notion of their impact on me and therefore also on my husband, children, friends, and church. Long before my husband was called to a pulpit ministry, I admired our pastors’ wives, one in California, one in Minnesota. God used them to help prepare me for my future role that none of us yet expected. And so this story of Sarah Edwards is dedicated to Deloris Hoeldtke and Ann Ortlund.”
I was transfixed as I read of these faithful women, and in some ways was also transformed. As I came to understand the faith of these Christians who gave so much, I came to see where I have been giving less than everything; less than what God asks of me. I came to understand that the religious freedom we enjoy as North Americans sometimes allows us to have a lazy faith. As I came to understand these women, I came to understand God just a little bit better. And if that is the ultimate purpose of any Christian biography, which I believe it ought to be, Noel Piper has done well with Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God. I am glad to recommend this book to you and trust that you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.