It is the 19th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1961.
Depending on when you were born, this might seem like ancient history. It may also seem like a very recent or lived history. Let's put the year in context.
It was the year that legendary actor Gary Cooper died. 1961 was also the year that George Clooney was born. 1961 was the year that a member of the first class of the baseball Hall of Fame, Ty Cobb died. It was also the year that the greatest NHL player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, was born. Lastly, it was the year that Ernest Hemingway died, and the year that the Karate Kid Ralph Macchio was born.
Our location for today's show is Egypt, a place that can be similarly misleading historically, depending on your perspective. Egyptian history may evoke images of pharaohs, pyramids, and hieroglyphs. But those steeped in 20th-century history might be quicker to jump to the legacy of Suez, Nasser, and Sadat.
Egypt in the 20th century is a fascinating story. The "veiled protectorate" of Britain became a colony again with the outbreak of World War I. After the war and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there was a flood of missionary action followed by robust anti-missionary measures. In World War Two, Egypt became a crucial base for Allied powers, but then the military coup led by Abdul Nasser turned the country towards the Middle East. They were an important "Non-Aligned" nation during the Cold War, and the Muslim Brotherhood has helped shape the nation's modern nationalist tendencies.
What was once a short-lived center of missionary work was constantly shuttered by wars and coups. As fast as American mission boards sent in missionaries, they were expelled by the Egyptians.
They were all expelled except one they called the "Virgin Mother of a Thousand Egyptians," Lillian Trasher of Brunswick, Georgia. Mother Lillian had decided to become a missionary in her early 20s in 1910 but was denied the opportunity by mission boards that did not want to send a single woman. So, Lillian and her sister Jennie set out for Egypt on their own. Upon arriving in a village near Cairo, a dying woman asked her for assistance with her young child. Lillian took in the child, and soon others were bringing local orphans, children of lepers, widows, and the deformed to stay with her.
In those days, American missionaries, associated with the Presbyterians and the Assemblies of God, often co-mingled with the British colonial forces. They were lumped in together in the Egyptian mind with their military rulers. The Lillian Trasher Orphanage was not. With no western support initially, Lillian would ride on a donkey from village to village after the harvest to ask for donations for the orphanage.
When all missionaries were sent home during World War Two, Lillian stayed. Her orphanage would take in over 1,000 orphans and refugees from the war. When General Nasser came to power and western influences were banned, he allowed Lillian's Orphanage to stay. As a boy, he spent summers at an adjacent village from the orphanage and had fond memories of it. The Muslim brotherhood gave money to the orphanage run by the explicitly Christian Mama Lillian.
In 1960 Lillian made her first furlough back to the States after the 50th anniversary of the orphanage's opening. She fell ill but could not imagine dying anywhere outside her home at the orphanage. She came back in February of 1961 and died in December of that year. She died on the 17th, but in congruence with how she lived as an ecclesiastical outsider, the 17th was full on the only Calendar of Saints that does recognize her. And so she was politely moved to this, the 19th of December, the day we remember this remarkable woman, the Virgin Mother of a Thousand Egyptians, Lillian Trasher, who died in 1961.
The reading for today comes from Christopher Harvey, a 17th-century poet, his "Nativity."
UNFOLD thy face, unmaske thy ray,
Shine forth, bright Sunne, double the day.
Let no malignant misty fume,
Nor foggy vapour, once presume
To interpose thy perfect sight
This day, which makes us love thy light
For ever better, that we could
That blessèd object once behold,
Which is both the circumference,
And center of all excellence:
Or rather neither, but a treasure
Unconfinèd without measure,
Whose center and circumference,
Including all preheminence,
Excluding nothing but defect,
And infinite in each respect,
Is equally both here and there,
And now and then and every where,
And alwaies, one, himselfe, the same,
A beeing farre above a name.
Draw neer then, and freely poure
Forth all thy light into that houre,
Which was crownèd with his birth,
And made heaven envy earth.
Let not his birth-day clouded be,
By whom thou shinest, and we see.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who reminds you to "sweep the leg" and "put him in a body bag." The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember…the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.