Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage (Psalm 41) transports me to Elhanan, an orphanage in Marion, NC, founded by Miss Mattie Perry in 1898. In 1910, a young 20-something named Lillian Trasher came to work in the orphanage. Lillian was praying for God to use her in some way, and upon hearing a missionary speak at a local church, she discerned the call to go to Africa’s mission field. The problem was, she was ten days away from matrimony, and her fiance didn’t hear the same call. So she called off the wedding and made plans to go to Africa. Lillian had no idea where in Africa she should go, and her sister Jenny encouraged her to open her Bible for inspiration. She opened the Bible and her eyes fell on 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. . . I will send you back to Egypt. Before long she was on a boat with less than $100 in her possession. She arrived in the predominantly Christian city of Assiut, south of Cairo, not at all sure what her work would involve. Soon, a man came asking if someone could come pray with a dying woman. Lillian went and found that this woman was the mother of a three month old baby girl, and before the woman died she gave the baby to Lillian. This, along with her experience at the Marion orphanage, was a confirmation of what God wanted her to do there, and in February 1911 she opened Egypt’s first orphanage. By the time she died 50 years later, she had served over 10,000 orphans and widows.
I thought about Lillian Trasher when reading the beginning of today’s Psalm: Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; (or blessed is the one who considers the poor). . . The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness. . . the LORD delivers them in times of trouble. The LORD protects and preserves them— they are counted among the blessed in the land— God does not give them over to the desire of their foes. The history of martyrdom teaches us not to take this promised blessing of protection as a magic shield. It is worth noting that today, as I reflect on Lillian Thrasher and her work in an Egyptian orphanage, is also Catholicism’s feast day for the Martyrs of Egypt, a group of saints who were slain by the Emperor Diocletian in 303. And we just experienced the New Year’s Day terrorist bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt. So we cannot take the Psalmist’s words too literally as we affirm the faith claim that the Lord protects and preserves the faithful. The truth has to have a deeper and longer lasting meaning in the face of day to day sufferings and tragedies.
Lillian Trasher, who “had regard for the weak” and “considered the poor” as much as anybody and who was no stranger to suffering herself, gives me a clue about what this promised blessing of preservation means. When she was on her sickbed in the last year of her life, she received a visit from a 21 year-old American who was trying to find out what life was all about. Don Mosley was destined to inherit his family fortune and run the family business down in Texas, but he was not enthusiastic about it, and told his father he wanted to first travel and see the world. His father gave him leave, hoping he’d get it out of his system, and Don proceeded to backpack across Europe and the Middle East. His travels took him of all places to Assiout, Egypt, where he paid a visit to the local orphanage and met its founder, Lillian Trasher. He had never met anyone like her, and her application of the Christian faith radically altered the trajectory of his life. He turned down the family fortune and eventually teamed up with Millard Fuller to co-found Habitat for Humanity. Don helped get Habitat established in Egypt, where they have now completed over 10,000 homes. Don Mosley then founded Jubilee Partners in Comer, Georgia, an intentional Christian community that re-settles refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Many friends of mine have had their own life trajectories radically altered by visiting and volunteering at Jubilee – Missy, Brian, Beth, Amanda, David, Joseph, to name a few. As I see it, they are the continuing fulfillment of the promised blessing of preservation in Psalm 41, starting back when a young woman gave up her dreams of marriage to go and save the lives of children in Egypt, and through her work a young man found his calling, and through his work others are finding their calling to consider the poor and have regard for the weak. It’s this work, this consideration and regard, that is protected and preserved, no matter how much the Emperors and terrorists of the world desire its destruction.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.