Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God is a collection of short biographies of women who’ve been used by God. Noel Piper wanted to call them ‘ordinary women’ to emphasise that they weren’t necessarily very healthy, gifted, wealthy or glamorous. She tells the stories of Sarah Edwards, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim and Helen Roseveare, highlighting their struggles, turning points and the ‘crossings’ with women today: where we can learn from them.
I found the stories a little hit and miss. I thought that Piper’s opening and closing stories belonged in the middle: the first wasn’t trumpeting overture nor the last a resounding finale. The book opened with Sarah Edwards and though Piper describes her in glowing terms, I came away feeling that I didn’t really know Sarah Edwards. I knew that she was the perfect model of a conservative, complementarian wife, but her story was told in terms of her role with few details of her loves, concerns and personality. There wasn’t much flesh and blood to the story. On the other hand, the last biography, about Helen Roseveare, was flooded with personal memoirs and quotes, but so much so that it felt clumsy and the story somewhat stilted. It read more like an interview than a narrative. There was plenty of inspiration material there but it was obscured by too many ellipses.
The three middle stories were well worth the read though and I’m glad I persevered past the cardboard cut-out of Sarah Edwards. I could hear the indignation in Lilias Trotter’s voice when someone called Muslims a doomed race: “It does not sound very like ‘the God of Hope,’ or ‘the God of Love’!” I was encouraged that God didn’t let even one of Gladys Aylward’s experiences go to waste, using even working in the most menial tasks as preparation for her work of evangelism in China. I felt the tension of Esther Ahn Kim as she waited for execution in a Korean prison and, like her, wondered if I could bear up for Jesus under torture. These three were full-colour pictures of what it is to serve Jesus with everything, including your personality. Seeing how God worked through these women is a great reason to trust him in my own situation.
I’d give this book 3.5/5. It’s not outstanding as a whole but parts of it are solid gold.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.