“I have been thinking lately what a work for God it is, just loving people. He says in Deuteronomy 22, ‘If an ox or an ass has gone astray, thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee till thy brother seek after it.’ I think He gives us sometimes a like service for souls – wandering souls that we cannot bring back to Him. Sometimes all we can do is to keep them near us, and show the kindness of God to them, and hold them in faith and prayer till He comes to seek them.” 25 April 1891
A vocation of loving. Can loving truly be considered a vocation? This was the question Lilias pondered early on in her ministry to Algiers. The above diary entry was written in relation to her decision to focus their limited resources of time and energy on the Arab people in the Casbah – a decision that would inevitably limit her work with other people. She found solace in believing that there was a “service for souls” even in simply holding them close through faith and prayer.
If ever there was a vocation of simply “loving,” Lilias was its personification. Her vocation of loving did not begin in North Africa. It began when, as a young women of considerable means and exceptional talent, she began to go beyond the volunteerism popular with her peers. She ministered not only to the hapless prostitutes at Victoria Station but helped them break from that lifestyle by setting up shelters and programs to enable them to be self-supporting in respectable jobs. At the same time, she recognized the spiritual poverty of women of means and offered “at homes,” in her upscale residence in London, providing opportunity to study the Bible. And, for the working class woman, forced to eat bag lunches on the London sidewalks, she established the first public restaurants for women.
She intended to spend her life “loving London” until an encounter with God led her to leave the comforts of home and family and venture to North Africa. Her call was to bring the “light and life and love” of Jesus to people who never heard His name. It should come as no surprise that love compelled her to move into the Casbah, the old city of Algiers, to come alongside the women and children who were love-starved having left the harems of their fathers to enter, at the age of 12, those of their husbands – only to be cast off, eventually, for yet younger brides. Her love went beyond the old city to mountain villages and, over time, deep into the desert where she brought the love of Christ to the searching Sufi Mystics of the Southlands.
It is tempting, at face, to look at Lilias and conclude that this is not the life for me. That my love falls short. Nonetheless, a “vocation of loving,” is not really an option for me or, for that matter, any person who claims to be a follower of Christ. Loving was mandated in Scripture: Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, was given in response to the Pharisee’s query, “Which is the greatest commandment?” His answer was love. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” By defining one’s “neighbor” as the wounded stranger, Christ settled once and for all the indiscriminate nature of love. By laying down His life, Christ demonstrated the ultimate measure of love: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…. since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 10, 11)
Mother Teresa wrote, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Love begins in our homes in the smallest courtesies (to the smallest person) and extends beyond those walls to our neighborhood, our church, our community. Love continues, potentially, through every interaction throughout each day: school, workplace, playground, shop, post office – in every place we travel, to every person we greet. I am not Mother Teresa (or Lilias Trotter, for that matter) but I can love. And when love is too much for me to muster, God can love through me.
Love knows no boundaries. Corrie Ten Boom wrote, “I made another discovery about love. Mama’s love had always been the kind that acted itself out with soup bowl and sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat at her chair at the window and loved us. Her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls that shut it in.”
Lilias, the active pioneer, spent the last several years of her life in bed. Behind her hung a map of North Africa. Daily she prayed through each mission station – people and ministries – along the coast and down into the desert. She penned letters, itemized by name and topic in her daily log, she wrote and painted. She never stopped reaching out in love. Her contribution to the world may never be accurately measured. But she lived a vocation of love. She left a legacy of love.
London, Algeria, Holland, Mt. Dora. Little matter. Love.
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” Mother Teresa