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20 Inspiring Christian Women

Sep 21, 2018

Church history is full of amazing stories of great men of God who have done mighty things for God. But sometimes we can overlook the many great women who have also been so wonderfully used of God. There would be countless women that we could mention in a list of faith-filled female Christians.

Indeed, to just feature 20 of them will undoubtedly mean that many of your favourites are not included here. Feel free to send in comments mentioning your own heroes of the faith. I will likely do further articles about godly women who have made a great impact for Christ and the Kingdom.

Here I present to you 20 of them. I offer them simply in chronological order. Each brief write-up will be followed by something for further reading. If I have already penned a full-length piece about one of them in my “Notable Christians” series, I will provide a link to it. Otherwise, I will offer one good biography under each of the other women featured here.

Susanna Wesley 1669-1742
John and Charles Wesley are known worldwide, but much of the credit for their godly and devout lives has to go to their mother. As such, she can rightly be described as the mother of Methodism. Of course she bore 17 other children as well, nine of whom died in infancy. She was a Proverbs 31 sort of woman, one who was deeply involved in the spiritual formation of her children, drenching them in godly counsel and intercessory prayer.
Arnold Dallimore, Susanna Wesley. Baker, 1993.

Hannah More 1745-1833
More was an English educator, poet, playwright, religious writer and philanthropist. One of her most memorable activities was to work as an abolitionist alongside people like William Wilberforce, whom she first met in 1787, along with John Newton. As with Wilberforce and the other members of the Clapham evangelicals in London, she fought not only against the slave trade but for the “reformation of manners”.
Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More. Thomas Nelson, 2014.

Florence Nightingale 1820-1910
Although famous for her medical work, nursing and health care, and her work as a social reformer, Nightingale was also a devout theist. Jesus’ life of service and sacrifice was a powerful model for her. Born in Italy, she spent much of her life in England. She really did help to revolutionise medical care, laying the foundations of modern nursing.
Lynn McDonald, Florence Nightingale at First Hand. Continuum, 2010.

Fanny Crosby 1820-1915
The American hymn writer left an amazing legacy in so many ways. Within weeks of her birth she became blind, yet she was throughout her life a dynamic Christian witness and evangelist, proud of her Puritan heritage. Incredibly she wrote over 8000 hymns and gospel songs, including “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour” and “Rescue the Perishing.”
billmuehlenberg.com/2013/09/02/notable-christians-fanny-crosby/

Catherine Booth 1829-1890
Along with her husband William, we have here the powerful team who founded the work of the Salvation Army in England. They married in 1855 and ten years later the Salvation Army was born. The amazing work they did not just in preaching the gospel but working with so many destitute and despondent souls, including prostitutes and the homeless, is always worth reading about. Some of her important books include: Practical Religion (1878), Godliness (1881), and Aggressive Christianity (1883).
billmuehlenberg.com/2017/01/07/on-aggressive-christianity/

Mary Slessor 1848-1915
Slessor was a Scottish Presbyterian missionary to Nigeria. She was there from 1876 until her death, except for some health furloughs. Although she long-suffered fever from malaria, she was a tireless missionary in Calabar and beyond. She wanted to go where no missionaries had been before, learning the language of those she sought to reach, and getting involved in dangerous tribes – even those practicing cannibalism and head-hunting. She built schools and established churches, and adopted a number of local children.
Bruce McLennan, Mary Slessor: A Life on the Altar for God. Christian Focus, 2014.

Amy Carmichael 1867-1951
The famous Irish missionary and orphanage founder in India has been an inspiration to millions. Although she suffered greatly with various physical ailments, she served in India for 55 years without a furlough. She wrote three dozen books, many of them about her incredible work in Dohnavur. They include such classics as Rose from Brier (1933) and Gold by Moonlight (1935).
billmuehlenberg.com/2018/03/22/notable-christians-amy-carmichael/

Ida Scudder 1870-1960
The missionary to India was born there to missionary parents. At first she wanted out, but God had other plans. She attended seminary in the United States and returned to India in 1890. She went back to America and graduated from Cornell Medical College in New York City in 1899. She went back to India in 1900, treated some 5,000 patients in two years, and then opened the Mary Taber Schell Hospital in 1902. In 1928 she began a Christian Medical College in Vellore, now one of India’s top-ranked medical colleges. She often felt she had done little for Jesus, but in her dying days she had a vision of her Lord standing by her side, thanking her.
Janet and Geoff Benge, Ida Scudder: Healing Bodies, Touching Hearts. YWAM, 2003.

Henrietta Mears 1890-1963
Mears was a teacher and educator who made Christian education a chief calling in her life. She taught her first Sunday School class at the age 12. In 1928 she became the director of Christian Education at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California – a position she held until her death. She completely rewrote the Sunday school curriculum there, and in 1933 she founded Gospel Light Publications. Her ministry impacted many, including Bill Bright and Billy Graham. Her most well-known book, What the Bible is All About, has sold over 4 million copies.
Marcus Brotherton, Teacher: The Henrietta Mears Story. Tyndale, 2016.

Corrie ten Boom 1892-1983
The famous Dutch Christian who suffered so horribly as a prisoner of the Nazis was a gifted writer and speaker who inspired so many others worldwide with her words of love, forgiveness and grace. Her story was told in her classic 1971 book, The Hiding Place, which was later made into a motion picture. Other books of hers include In My Father’s House (1974) and Tramp for the Lord (1975).
Carole Carlson, Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith. Revell, 1982.

Dorothy Sayers 1893-1957
The English academic, novelist, lay theologian and apologist has had a huge influence. Her impact comes not only from her theological and academic works, but as a popular novelist as well, with her Lord Peter Wimsey detection fiction still read and loved today. But her important essays from the 1940s such as “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” and “Creed or Chaos?” are tremendously important works in defending orthodox Christianity.
billmuehlenberg.com/2018/04/23/dorothy-sayers-christian-doctrine-and-the-offence-of-the-gospel/

Isobel Kuhn 1901-1957
Kuhn was a Canadian missionary who ministered mainly in China but also in Thailand. In 1929 she married John Kuhn and they served together for many years. The disappointments and hardships they endured so bravely are quite inspiring, and the importance of intercessory prayer is certainly highlighted in their lives. Some of her important books include By Searching (1957) and In the Arena (1960).
Gloria Repp, Nothing Daunted: The Story of Isobel Kuhn. JourneyForth, 1994.

Gladys Aylward 1902-1970
The British missionary to China also had a powerful and inspiring life that is well worth knowing about. Her many missionary endeavours and work with orphans is soul-stirring, and her protective rescue of 100 orphans when the Japanese invaded China is especially moving. One book about her life, mentioned below, was made into a film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, in 1958.
Alan Burgess, The Small Woman, Pan, 1957, 1969.

Betty Stam 1906-1934
Betty and John Stam were American missionaries in China with the China Inland Mission. She had grown up in China, but went to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in the mid-1920s where she met John. She returned in 1931, followed by John in 1932, and they married in 1933. Their work there did not last long however. They were both martyred by the communists in December of 1934, leaving behind a young baby.
Vance Christie, John and Betty Stam. Christian Focus, 2008.

Mother Teresa 1910-1997
Born in Albania, Anjezë Gonxhe of course is known worldwide for her work with the poor and outcasts in Calcutta. In 1928 she joined the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland. She went to India in 1929, and her missionary work with the poor began in earnest in 1948. Soon the Missionaries of Charity was formed. It would care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God. Harper Collins, 1971.

Edith Schaeffer 1914-2013
Edith and her husband, Francis Schaeffer, were the founders of L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland in 1955. Born to missionary parents in China, she met Francis in college in Pennsylvania and they married in 1935. Francis was one of the great Christian apologists and evangelists of last century, and he penned over 20 books. But Edith also wrote over 20 books, including such important works as L’Abri (1969), Hidden Art (1972), and A Way of Seeing (1977).
Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Word, 1981.

Sophie Scholl 1921-1943
Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were young German students who withstood the Nazis, paying for it with their lives. Together with a handful of others they formed the White Rose, a clandestine group of young people who distributed anti-Nazi literature at German universities, and sought to actively resist Hitler and his evil regime. Both were arrested and put to death in 1943. She was just 21 years of age.
billmuehlenberg.com/2018/07/30/notable-christians-sophie-and-hans-scholl/

Helen Roseveare 1925-2016
Roseveare was an English missionary to the Congo, as well as a doctor and an author. For twenty years she laboured there (1953-1973). She knew plenty of hardships and trials, including her capture in 1964 by rebel forces. She was held prisoner for five months and was viciously raped and beaten during this time. Her incredible story is told in her various autobiographical books, including Give Me This Mountain (1966), He Gave Us a Valley (1976), and Living Sacrifice (1979).
May Beth Lagerborg, Helen Roseveare: Though Lions Roar. CLC, 2012.

Elizabeth Elliot 1926-2015
Elliott was an American missionary, author, and speaker. She especially came to prominence as the wife of Jim Elliot, one of five young American missionaries killed in Ecuador in 1956, just three years after their marriage. Her 1957 and 1958 volumes, Through Gates of Splendor and Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot have become classics in missionary biography and devotional spirituality. She wrote many other important works, including A Slow and Certain Light (1976), and A Path Through Suffering (1990).
billmuehlenberg.com/2015/06/16/notable-christians-elisabeth-elliot/

Joni Eareckson Tada 1949-
This is my only champion who is still alive. Her story is well known: at 17 years of age, she dove into shallow waters and fractured her spine. She has been wheelchair-bound as a quadriplegic ever since. While at first suicidal, she turned her life over to Christ, and now she ministers the world over, testifying to the matchless grace of God. She is a strong advocate for the disabled and speaks a strong pro-life message in the face of the euthanasia movement. Some of her well-known books include: Joni (1976), A Step Further (1978), When Is It Right To Die? (1993), and Finding God in Hidden Places (2010).
Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni: An Unforgettable Story. Zondervan, 2001.

I hope all Christian women (and men) are greatly challenged and inspired by these women and their amazing stories. We all need heroes and role models, and these 20 women certainly qualify.

For further reading

There are a number of books which feature stories of godly women. Here are just three recent volumes. The first one looks at great saints who had godly mothers.

Tim Challies, Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms. Cruciform Press, 2018.
Vance Christie, Women of Faith and Courage. Christian Focus, 2011.
Eric Metaxas, Seven Women and the Secret of Their Greatness. Thomas Nelson, 2016.

(Australians can find many of the books mentioned here at Koorong: www.koorong.com/ )

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26 Responses to 20 Inspiring Christian Women

  • This is a great list. One correction: Dorothy L Sayers did not write the Father Brown series (that was G K Chesterton); she wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

  • Thanks Kerry. Yes perfectly correct, as I state in my articles about both writers. Put it down to old age, or a momentary brain freeze. And I made the change.

  • Well Done Bill.

    I voted for you for recently for a Media award

    God bless Phil

  • I count it a rare privilege to have spent an evening with the godly and gracious Elisabeth Elliot back in about 1987, having been so challenged as a new Christian by both her early books some 20 years earlier.

  • A great list, many of whom are/were writers and had films made about their lives, including those who were viciously abused and martyred. Those who would dismiss faith as being some kind of ‘pie in the sky’ fairy tale, cannot deny the strength of human conviction. Film makers who persevere in a largely godless industry with films in this genre of the ‘triumph of the human spirit’, will constitute a tremendous cultural witness.

  • Very inspiring list of role models!

  • Thanks Bill, I really appreciate your list.

  • A favorite of mine Bill is Edith Cavell, the First World War Nurse who refused to betray her soldier patients for which she was shot at dawn. Brought up in a Vicarage, where it was instilled in her to never tell a lie, she protected her soldier patients by remaining silent about the help she gave them to escape. I once attended a small Remembrance Ceremony, held every year in London at the foot of her statue..poor Edith was terrified as she was dragged to her execution at dawn. Closer to home, but born in England also, was Caroline Chisholm who wrote long and frequent letters (no faxes, emails, phones those days! ) to the British PM Wm. Gladstone urging him to send women and established couples to Australia to create families for the lonely early settlers.. and convicts..and the good of the fledgling nation. Then there was Mary McKillop committed to educating poor Australian children ..all her siblings made similar contributions to Christian and non- Christian lives in Australia. Her poor, chronically cash strapped mother was ship wrecked and drowned at sea, journeying from Adelaide to Sydney with items she had gathered for a fund raising bazaar to help Mary’s work !!! And Mary Glowery from Birragurra in Victoria who trained as a doctor at a time when few women graduated from University, went to India to work among the sick, founded an order of nuns and spent the rest of her life there running a hospital for the sick and suffering.

  • I have another one for you Bill: Granny Brand. I was given the biography of her life many years ago, and she was an inspiration to me – along with Isobel Kuhn, Corrie ten Boom and many others. She was a very dedicated missionary – and also very stubborn. She lost her husband from black water fever only a few years after their marriage, and went on to fulfill the commitment they had both made to God to evangelize and build churches in each of the mountain stations in the south of India – despite the advice of her Missions Board. After all, she was, by then, elderly, single …. and opinionated!
    Here’s the link to one of several articles about her … https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/evelyn-granny-brand-11630789.html

  • I read about most of these by the time I was 10-11. Joni, of course, came later. Their lives inspired me.
    Judith McDonald

  • Also Rev Sue Rankin – ordained in Wales in 1925. She worked with the London Missionary Society in Papua as a teacher, preacher, linguist and healer. She planted many new churches and trained native pastors. I found this comment very telling, ‘When they married the young women were demoted from missionary to missionary’s wife. . .The many years of leadership she was to give after her marriage were ignored.’ page 63 of Sinbada – woman among warriors by Laurel Gray.

  • What sort of Christian would describe marriage as a “demotion”? Astounding. I am sure the many years of leadership Sue Rankin “was to give after her marriage” were not ignored by God, as were the many years Christ devoted to his parents – only 3 of His 33 were spent in preaching – were ignored by His Father.

  • Two women who inspired me, where Madame Guyon of France who went to the Bastille twice for her emphasis that a person could have a personal relationship with God. And then Maria Woodworth Etter, the incredible woman preacher who saw many miracles recorded in the book, A Diary of Signs and Wonders.’ She was still preaching without a microphone to thousands, at the age of 70.

  • Denise, this quote does not say anything about marriage being a demotion. Neither Sue Rankin or Laurel Gray thought that. Of course God will not ignore good work. The point is that the missionary work of women was not accurately portrayed, post marriage.

  • I daresay one could keep adding to the list above, but one I would particularly mention is Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), a Victorian lady whose fluency in German enabled her to translate into English the great heritage of German hymnody, especially those of German Protestant Pietism. Some of her translations have become famous, e.g.
    Now thank we all our God
    Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the king of creation
    Jesus priceless treasure
    Whate’er my God ordains is right
    Rise, my soul, to watch and pray
    In all, Miss Winkworth translated over 800 German hymns, beginning with her first publication , Lyra Germanica in 1855, and followed by numerous others.
    Catherine Winkworth also did much to promote education for women, helping to found a University college in Bristol, which provided equal opportunity for women to study at tertiary level, and also went as an official delegate to a Congress for Women in Germany in 1872.
    Also, while she lived in Manchester during the 1850s she worked tirelessly for the poor in the slums of that industrial city, under the auspices of the Sunday School and District Visiting Society, giving help and comfort to many poor and destitute people.
    A devout Christian from an evangelical Anglican home, she became deeply interested in German Pietism during a stay in Dresden in 1845-6, and this was later reinforced by a friendship with the German ambassador to England, Christian Karl von Bunsen, a devout German Christian who also produced his own devotional book of sermons, hymns, and prayers. This book in particular inspired Miss Winkworth into what would be her life’s work and lasting legacy.
    Catherine Winkworth sadly died suddenly of a heart attack on 1st July 1878 in Monnetier, in the Savoy, where she lied buried until our Lord comes in glory. A memorial plaque can be seen in Bristol cathedral.

  • Thanks everyone for the various additions. Many worthy additions here. As mentioned, I will likely need to pen a few more articles to supplement this first one!

  • For those who like movies, see “Sophie Scholl; the final days”. This film is very confronting and compelling and won awards for the young actress who plays the lead role of Sophie Scholl.
    It needs to be shown to all teenagers to help cure them of any snowflake tendencies!

  • I agree with you Celia – Teenagers need some Godly role models – not pop culture.
    Very inspiring list Bill.
    Thanks,
    Kyle.

  • Great list! I would add Gladys Staines – an Australian missionary in India working with leprosy sufferers. In 1999 her husband Graham and two sons were murdered in a car fire. Gladys and her daughter chose to continue to serve in India, forgave the killers, and have since transformed a house of lepers into a real hospital.

  • Wonderful servants of our Lord Jesus. Dr Catherine Hamlin is another one whose story is told in “Hospital by the River”. Dr Hamlin has cared for the women of Ethiopia for over 50 years. The particular work involved caring for women with obstetric fistula- childbirth injury.

  • Rissa Hann???

  • Yes she and others could be included here. But given that all but one of these twenty have passed away, I may wait a while yet for some of the younger ones!

  • One of my heroes is Baroness Cox. She is an intrepid woman who loves the Lord and has fought all over the world to help people in trouble. She has not just spoken up on behalf of the suffering. She has travelled into some of the most dangerous places and situations on earth. She has put herself on the front line and not counted her life dear, to stand with those who are being persecuted.

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