What Can Christians Learn from the Life of Lilias Trotter?

Even though Lilias passed away in 1928, her legacy still lives on. The materials and methodologies she used with the Arab Muslim people are still circulated among missionaries today and her artwork remains an encouragement to Christians around the world.

Bible with a world map

On July 17, 1928, Lilias Trotter penned these words in her journal while living in North Africa, “He didn’t promise us ease and comfort — but He did promise joy which we may have in the midst of any weight or heaviness which may be ours to bear.” Lilias Trotter was a woman after God’s own heart, who dedicated her life in service to Him. Not many people are familiar with Lilias Trotter; however, there are many lessons we can learn from the life of this humble woman.

Turning Down a Dream to Follow God

Lilias Trotter was a skilled artist, who attracted the attention of many famous artists during her time including famous art critic, John Ruskin. She grew up in a wealthy, Victorian, aristocratic family. The Trotter family had everything they could ever need or want. Like other young women, Lilias was expected to settle down, become wedded, and raise a family.

Lilias’ mother particularly wanted Lilias to find a good husband and live a typical English aristocratic life. Despite her mother’s wishes, Lilias had her own dreams, and these dreams did not include getting married. Lilias enjoyed painting and she was quite the gifted artist.

People from across the world can still view her paintings in her books as well as on the official Lilias Trotter Legacy website. Her paintings are a mix of flowers, outdoor landscapes, and people. Some of her paintings have Bible verses or other sayings painted alongside the artwork.

Lilias’ dream was to become a famous artist and spend her days painting scenery, flowers, and beautiful evening skies. However, God had other plans for Lilias’ life. Lilias turned down her dream of being a painter in order to serve God in Algeria, Africa.

She could have lived in the comfort of an aristocratic, wealthy English family, but she chose to follow the Lord and He led her to Algeria. We can learn much from her life, but this first lesson is extremely important.

Lilias could have lived in luxury, relaxation, and ate and drank the finest foods and beverages England could have offered, but she gave up the comforts of a wealthy English family to devote her life to serving the Lord with every fiber of her body.

More than that, she willingly gave up her dream of being a famous artist in order to serve God halfway across the world in Algeria. Even though Lilias never described herself as a “missionary,” but rather as a “worker,” she nevertheless participated in mission work to the lost in Algeria (Ibid.).

Her outreach was focused on helping Muslims in Algeria to know Christ through her own unique methods and materials, which modern-day missiologists have now stated were far ahead of her time (Ibid.). The impact she made on the Muslims in Algeria was astonishing as she helped many of them come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord through her own methodologies.

Bravery was a hallmark of Lilias’ life in Algeria as she had to possess courage in order to make the journey to this distant land as well as she had to courageously anticipate the awaiting hostility that would be found when she landed in North Africa. The Arabs were extremely hostile not only to people of English ethnicity but also, they were extremely hateful towards Christians.

Well-known research of Lilias Trotter’s life, Miriam Huffman Rockness, articulates this truth beautifully about Lilias’ life, “She spent the remaining forty years of her life in a French colony (which resented England) bringing the light, life, and love of Jesus to the Arab Muslim people (who resented Christians), learning the language and loving the people.”

If we ask ourselves, “Would I leave the comforts of home, my dreams, and my secure future to serve Jesus in a foreign land, hostile to the gospel,” how many of us would willingly answer yes as Lilias Trotter did?

Lilias never had any regrets about leaving her old life behind to serve Christ as she remained in Algeria until her death. In her detailed journal entries, Lilias never wrote about herself regretting coming to serve in Algeria. Her writings always displayed a vast amount of praising God and all that He was doing in her ministry among the Arab Muslims.

A Courageous Heart

It would have been extremely dangerous for any person to travel to North Africa — especially a woman. However, Lilias Trotter was not afraid because she knew the Lord was with her. In the same way, God promises to always be with us (Psalm 23; Hebrews 13:5).

In 1919, Lilias started writing her own tracts for the Nile Mission Press and she also helped another missionary translate the Gospels of Luke and John into the languages of the Algerians, Arabic (Paula Hemphill, International Mission Board).

Her courageous heart also shined through prior to arriving in Algeria. Lilias was rejected by the North African Missions, which was a mission agency board who were known to send missionaries to North Africa.

She was rejected because they deemed, she was in too poor of health (Ibid.). Despite being rejected by North Africa Missions, her passion aroused great bravery within her.

With two friends, Lilias Trotter made the difficult journey from her Victorian home in England to Algeria, Africa via ship. The life of Lilias Trotter teaches us that we have to be brave and possess courage in order to do many of the things God wants us to do in our life.

Lilias could have retreated and lived the rest of her life in the comforts of Victorian England and became a famous painter. However, Lilias had the passion and courage to follow God wherever He led her even if it was overseas to the foreign land of North Africa.

Resting in the peace of Jesus, she knew that He would protect her and work through her ministry to the Arab Muslim people. Through Lilias’ willing, passionate, and courageous heart, she helped many Arabs come to know the Lord.

Even though Lilias passed away in 1928, her legacy still lives on. The materials and methodologies she used with the Arab Muslim people are still circulated among missionaries today and her artwork remains an encouragement to Christians around the world. Lilias always kept a heavenly perspective and lived each day as if it was her last.

Her perspective was focused on eternity with God, not the pleasures of the world nor the difficulties of the world. With this same eternal perspective, she courageously told others about the life of Christ and broke cultural barriers in order to help the Arab Muslims hear the Good News of Jesus Christ (Ibid.).

Why Does This Matter?

More than anything, Lilias allowed her heart to be willing to the Lord’s direction. She chose to serve God overseas because of her passion for Christ. The Arab Muslim people will eternally be grateful for Lilias’ ministry as she brought the truth of Jesus to their shores.

In our modern 21st-century lives, God still calls us to boldly take His Word to all people (Matthew 28:18-20). Answering the call is up to us. Will we courageously follow God where He leads, or will we shrink back under the fear or uncertainty of living outside of our comfort zones?

If we choose the former rather than the latter, we will be able to make huge strides for Christ and be successful to bring His Good News to all people throughout the world.

For further reading:

What Does it Mean to be a Godly Woman?

On the Front Step with a Woman of Courage

4 Beautiful Prayers for Missionaries

What Did Jesus Mean to 'Go and Make Disciples’?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/artisteer


Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Christian Ministry and is currently working toward her Master’s Degree. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is probably embarking on an adventure.