“One of England’s greatest living artists." That is what John Ruskin, one of the most famous men in 19th century England, said Lilias Trotter could become, but that was something she would never be.
Isabella Lilias Trotter was born on 14 July 1853, and grew up in London, England. Her mother was aware of her unique artistic ability and was the one responsible for Lilias and Ruskin's meeting. Ruskin soon became Lilias' mentor, teacher, and friend.
Not only was Lilias an extremely gifted artist, but she also had a deep and joyful spiritual walk with the Lord. She loved to serve, and volunteered at the YWCA at Welbeck Street Institute in London. She also ministered to prostitute women, giving them the gospel and helping them to train for jobs.
After studying under Ruskin for three years, Lilias came to a crossroads. She realized that Ruskin wanted her to give herself fully to art, to pursue this trade with her life, but Lilias felt a call in her heart to spend her life in another way.
Luke 16:13 says, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.“ Lilias' choice was between her ministry and her artistic career. After much prayer and wrestling, she chose to abandon the career that Ruskin claimed would produce “immortal” work, and gave herself entirely to gospel work.
“Life is grandly simple when we reach that point, when the spirit of calculating results and consequences has been left behind and when God himself, and no mere experience, is our exceeding great reward.” - Lilias Trotter
Eight years later, Lilias attended a missions meeting during which God called her to missions work in North Africa. She applied to a missions agency and was turned down because of her heart condition. Still as determined as ever, Lilias moved to Algeria the next year (1888) with two other women without the support of an agency. She did suffer from health breakdowns while there, but she never regretted the decision she made.
During her time in Algeria, Lilias continued to capture the beauty around her in her sketchbook. She treasured her times alone with the Lord and kept daily journals filled with heartfelt devotional thoughts and beautiful illustrations. She was passionate about living a life completely surrendered to Christ and about reaching the lost with the gospel.
Lilias spent her time in Algeria teaching women not only the gospel, but also skills and crafts so that they could have a means to provide for themselves when their husbands no longer provided for them. She was also always reaching out to children.
Lilias spent forty years in Algeria, and by the time of her death she had established thirteen mission stations. She was a pioneer in the methods of mission work and devoted herself to the task before her.
Some people may think that Lilias wasted her artistic talent and her life in general, but I am convinced that there are scores of Algerians in heaven, thanking her for her sacrifice and the eternal impact it has had.
Lilias is an inspiration to me, as well as an example of how to live in constant surrender to God's will in my life. She chose to live for the gospel's sake. Will you?