Why Did They Call Lillian Trasher Mother of the Nile?

How did Lillian Trasher go from arriving in Egypt with fewer than $100 to becoming a historic missionary?

Contributing Writer
Aug 30, 2023
Why Did They Call Lillian Trasher Mother of the Nile?

Do you recognize the name Lillian Trasher? Perhaps you learned about this woman through conversation, homework, or Sunday School. Or maybe her name is a discovery. God equips everyone to help further His kingdom. Some people become more famous than others. Although Lillian Trasher may not be a recognizable name to some, her influence and dedication had a great impact.

How Did Lillian Trasher Receive Her Call to Ministry?

Trasher was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on September 27, 1887.

Her mother was originally a Quaker but converted to the Roman Catholic Church, so she was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. The family lived in areas of North Carolina and Georgia.

Trasher attended Bible college in her late teens and went on to work at Faith Orphanage in North Carolina. She is said to have asked God for guidance and said, “Lord, I want to be Your girl.” Also, she is quoted as saying, “Lord, if ever I can do anything for you, just let me know and I’ll do it.”

As she listened to missionaries share their experiences in Africa and other areas, Trasher decided to go to serve people in Africa.

Trasher was so dedicated to joining the efforts in Africa that she asked her fiance, a minister named Tom Jordan, to join her. He decided not to travel and suggested they postpone their wedding until she returned. However, Trasher ended the engagement 10 days before the wedding.

Trasher opened her Bible and found the words in Acts 7:34. “I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.”

Trasher decided this was her calling from God. She would go to Assiut, Egypt, in Africa. She and her sister Jennie traveled with less than $100.

What Ministry Did Lillian Trasher Do in Egypt?

After Lillian and Jennie Trasher had arrived in their new homeland of Africa, they met a dying woman who gave her baby to Lillian. Heartbroken for the mother and child, Trasher opened the Lillian Trasher Orphanage on February 10, 1911.

Donations and faith were vital to keeping the orphanage open. At one point, Trasher contracted bubonic plague. Another time, during travels, the boat she was on almost sank. Yet, she continued with her work.

By 1914, she had established a school and Bible study program for orphans. She also created a new widow’s dormitory. In 1918, she cared for 50 orphans and 8 widows. A local Presbyterian hospital helped care for sick children at no charge.

Because of political unrest, she was ordered to leave Africa in 1919. However, in 1920, she returned, and the orphanage grew. Trasher experienced many problems with her health, safety, and provisions. Yet, she persevered so she could help God’s creations.

Trasher shared some of her experiences in the Dec. 21, 1935 issue of The Pentecostal Evangel, a weekly publication by The Gospel Publishing House. Trasher shares some of her daily experiences. She discussed needing funds to help the orphanage with food and supplies, yet her options were limited. At one point, a stranger waved an umbrella at her and approached her. The man handed her $50. She was able to send someone to purchase needed items because of the donation.

Another time, a money order for $40.00 arrived when needed. Other money came through anonymous donors. People were being touched by her dedication to helping needy children and widows. Trasher always thanked God for His provisions.

At the time of her death in 1961, the Lillian Trasher Orphanage had housed over 1200 children and widows. “Mama Lillian” was laid to rest in the orphanage’s cemetery.

Although she has died, her ministry continues today. Donations from various people, churches, and organizations help continue the effort to help children and widows.

Who Did Lillian Trasher Work with and Influence?

Lillian Trasher performed much of her missionary work working with Pentecostal denominations—particularly the Assemblies of God, a new Pentecostal denomination formed in 1914. Early Pentecostals emphasized living by faith, which enabled single women like Trasher to travel to the mission field, believing that God would equop them every step of the way.

Trasher lived during a particularly formative time when Pentecostals particularly emphasized living by faith: various Pentecostal revivals (such as the Azuza Street Revival starting in 1906) increased these denominations’ reach during the 1910s-1920s when Trasher started her ministry.

Trasher lived during a particularly formative time for the Pentecostals: various Pentecostal revivals (such as the Azuza Street Revival starting in 1906) fueled these denominations during the 1910s-1920s when Trasher started her ministry.

Trasher influenced various people throughout the world. In about 1926, Thrasher encouraged a missionary to Africa named Mabel Dean to help children in the village of Minia. This small area was located 70 miles north of Assiut.

Another person influenced by Trasher was Hazel Crouch. Hazel was an Assemblies of God World Missions missionary. She was married to Philip Crouch, the former Central Bible College president. Hazel and Philip worked with Lillian at the Assiaout Orphanage in Egypt from 1948 to 1955.

What Lessons Can We Learn from Lillian Trasher?

Although we may not start an orphanage or travel to a foreign land to minister to people in need, there are lessons we can learn from Lillian Trasher, Mother of the Nile.

1. Remember God has a plan. Be alert for His calling on your life.

2. Pray continually. God is listening.

3. Read His Word daily. Seek guidance in Scripture.

4. Remember that in good and bad times, God is always with us.

5. In every word and action, put God first.

6. Don’t give up when times are hard. Rest in the presence of God.

7. Be open to accepting help from others.

8. Know that we can’t fix every situation, but we can help lead others to know God.

9. Our words and actions can have a great impact.

10. Trust God.

Trasher helped many people through her dedication and devotion. Her ministry has impacted many people. Her faith was strong, and she believed God would provide what was needed in each situation.

Books, Articles, and More about Lillian Trasher

Additional information about Lillian Trasher can be found in books, articles, newspapers, and more. Below is a list of interesting ways to learn about this special missionary.

1. Lillian Trasher: The Greatest Wonder in Egypt by Janet and Geoff Benge.

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2. The Life of Lillian Trasher: Nile Mother by Beth Prim Howell, edited by Bruno Andrad.

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3. “Nile Mother: The Story of Lillian Trasher” by Lucinda Yang for CBE International.

4. “Lillian Trasher: I Just Stayed” an episode of the Martyrs and Missionaries podcast.

5. “Lillian Trasher Biography” by Kelly Boyer Sagert for InspirationalChristians.org.

People can also learn about her life from books she wrote herself, such as Letters from Lillian and The Assiout Orphanage, Assiout, Egypt, 1933. She also wrote the short story collection Fables for Young and Old.

Her work has been discussed in several books about missions works and denominational history. For example, A Light to the Nations: Explorations in Ecumenism, Missions, and Pentecostalism, edited by Stanley M. Burgess and Paul W. Lewis, discusses her as an early Assemblies of God missions worker.

In His Name,

Melissa Henderson

Lillian Trasher FAQ: Her Life In Five Minutes

Dan Graves gives a short look at Lillian Trasher’s life and ministry, perfect for short conversations:

The civilization on the Nile is one of the most ancient in the world. And yet, a Christian woman of the early twentieth century became known as “The Mother of the Nile.” What did Lillian Trasher do to win that accolade?

Lillian was born in Boston to a Quaker family that moved to Georgia after the US Civil War. Although she left a fine Boston home for a cash-strapped farm, she delighted in the change. Later, when she had to live in Egypt on a coarse diet and hard work, she was used to it. Neighbors told her that she could have a true relationship with Christ and she believed them. As a young girl, she went into the woods and prayed, “Lord, I want to be your little girl.” Then she added bold words. “Lord, if ever I can do anything for You, just let me know and I’ll do it.”

After failing to get a newspaper job that she really wanted (she was hired, but staff mistakenly told her the job had been given to someone else) she served in a North Carolina orphanage that operated on faith principles. She met Tom and felt sure he was to be her husband. Ten days before the planned wedding, she heard a missionary from India speak and knew God meant her to be a missionary. Sobbing bitterly, she abandoned her marriage plans and told Tom she was going to Africa.

The holiness church she attended couldn’t support her. So she sold all of her small belongings and raised money to go. A sister used the money to pay a debt, leaving Lillian with only $18—enough to take her as far as Washington, DC. She set out anyway, confident the Lord would provide. He did.

By 1910 she was in Egypt. Then came long years of discouragement. She ate the poorest food, including Besara, a cereal she detested. She even slept in jails as she built credibility with local authorities. Finally she announced that God was going to build a great Christian orphanage in Egypt, one that would operate by faith.

God was going to do just that. But Egypt entered a period of political turmoil. The British ordered Lillian out of the country. On this day, March 27, 1919 she stood at the rail of the boat and wept. “Egypt, I love you!” she said, vowing to return. In the United States, the newly-formed Assemblies of God took her to heart. She returned to Egypt in 1920 and promised the Lord she’d take whoever he sent to her orphanage. It was up to him to provide the food and funds.

She kept her word. And God kept his. Lillian became famous world wide. Which is why she is remembered as the “Mother of the Nile.”


1. Durkin, Jim. “The Profound Impact of Lillian Thrasher [sic] on My Life.” http://www.verbo.org/site/durkin17.htm

2. Howell, Beth Prim. Lady on a Donkey. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1960.

3. Various mission encyclopedias and internet articles.

Last updated May, 2007.

(“Lillian Trasher forced to Leave Egypt” by Dan Graves, MSL published on Christianity.com on May 3, 2010)

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/mariusz_prusaczyk

Melissa HendersonAward-winning author Melissa Henderson writes inspirational messages sometimes laced with a bit of humor. With stories in books, magazines, devotionals, and more, Melissa hopes to encourage readers. 

Melissa is the author of Licky the Lizard and Grumpy the Gator. Her passions are helping in the community and church. Melissa is an Elder, Deacon, and Stephen Minister. 

Follow Melissa on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and at http://www.melissaghenderson.com

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