Lillian Trasher - the Nile Mother
Recently my children and I read the biography of Lillian Trasher, missionary to Egypt. Lillian was born and raised in the Southern United States. As a result of her friend’s mother encouraging her to seek after God, Lillian gave her heart and life to God.
A memorable moment occurred when Lillian was 11 years old – While in the woods of Georgia, Lillian, kneeling on the ground beside a fallen tree, prayed, and told God that she would do whatever He wanted her to do. Years later, when Lillian visited Georgia again at the age of 17, she knelt beside the same tree again and told God that she still meant it.
Within days, Lillian found that God used her circumstances to direct her from pursuing a career as a sketch artist for an Atlanta newspaper to caring for orphans at Faith Orphanage in Marion, NC.
One of the most important lessons that Lillian learned at the orphanage was to live by faith. There were many needs to be met while living at the orphanage – food, clothes, emotional strength, and other financial needs. Without any guaranteed income, Miss Trasher learned to take every need to God in prayer. He never let her needs go unmet.
After several years working in the orphanage, Lillian met a godly man, they fell in love and were going to be married. Just shortly before the wedding, Lillian realized that God was calling her to the mission field of Africa. Much to her grief, Tom was certain that he was not called to be a missionary. As hard as it was to follow God’s leading in her life, Lillian did choose obedience to God over following her heart.
Shortly after this breakup, Lillian went to a missions conference. She met Mr & Mrs. Brelsford who were missionaries to Egypt. As they got to know each other, Lillian let them know her plans to go to Egypt also. Mr. Brelsford did not believe that Lillian was doing the best thing at first, but later he came to her and apologized for his response. By the time the Brelsfords and Lillian were parting ways, Mr. Brelsford had let Lillian know that she was welcome to stay at the mission house in Assiout. He made sure that she understood that he could not pay her, but she would have a place to live and meals to eat.
Lillian did take the Brelsfords up on their offer, and Jennie, Lillian’s sister, accompanied her to Egypt. Lillian began studying Arabic when one night a stranger knocked on the door asking for someone to come with him and help quickly. Lillian, Sela, and Kamil went off into the night. The group of missionaries followed their guide through the streets of Egypt and down alleys until they found themselves in a very dark room. There was a sick young woman and an older woman. As Sela and Lillian began checking the young woman, they realized she was dying, and they did not arrive soon enough to save her life.
The young lady spoke a few words to Lillian, but the only word she recognized was “Please”. Moments later the girl died. The older woman came forward and held out a bundle toward Lillian. Lillian smelled an awful stench and would have pushed the bundle away, but then she realized the bundle was an emaciated baby. Kamil asked Lillian if she realized what the mother had said. He informed Lillian that the lady had given her child to Lillian. Lillian started to explain why she could not take care of this baby. The older woman motioned toward the Nile River and mumbled something that left Miss Trasher aware that if she did not take this little girl, she would be thrown into the Nile to die.
Lillian took the baby and fled into the night. Lillian cried as she walked through Assiout. She whispered to the infant that she would take care of her. When Lillian arrived at the mission house, Sela had already arrived and let the Brelsfords know what had taken place. Immediately Sela, Jennie, and Lillian began to take care of the baby. They found that the reason the baby smelled so badly was because her clothes were sewn around her body. Lillian cut the clothing and bathed the baby. She found that the baby’s flesh was rotting from the infection caused by not having a diaper changed for some time.
As Lillian washed the baby, Sela brought a bed sheet and began cutting and sewing to make the tiny baby some clean clothes. By the time they were finished that baby was clean, clothed, and being fed drops of warm milk. The ladies named this pitiful child Fareida. Fareida was weak, thin, and screaming. For the rest of the night the baby screamed and ate with only a few moments where she fell asleep out of weakness. Everyone at the mission house was utterly exhausted. This continued for several days.
Eventually Mr. Brelsford came to Lillian and told her the mission house was no place for a screaming baby. None of the missionaries were able to function in their regular duties because of the lack of sleep. Lillian was appalled that Mr. Brelsford actually expected her to return Fareida to her family – the ones who would throw her into the Nile to die. Lillian told Mr. Brelsford that if Fareida had to leave, then she would be leaving also.
Lillian went out into the city of Assiout alone. Mr Brelsford was concerned about a single American woman trying to make it on her own in the Egyptian city, but by the time Lillian returned she had rented a house, bought furniture, and had it delivered to the house. She had enough money left for food for one month. After that Lillian did not know what would happen. Lillian did not realize it on that day, but God had nudged her out of her comfort zone to pursue his calling on her life. Lillian was going to start an orphanage. There are numerous stories that one could share – amazing stories, but I will share just one with you today.
In 1941, during World War 2, there were many times of need. Supplies were costing more and more. 900 children were in the orphanage. Egypt was suffering, and there seemed to be no hope of the orphans’ needs being met. Lillian decided to stop all activities at the orphanage, and she and the children spent the whole day in prayer.
That night Lillian did not sleep much. The next morning she received a message to meet the American ambassador for lunch. Lillian took the train to Cairo wondering why the ambassador wanted to see her.
Before eating lunch, the ambassador shared exciting news with Lillian – a ship full of supplies for the country of Greece had been sent to Alexandria because of developments in the war. When it was feared the ships would be attacked, the captain ordered that the ship’s cargo be dumped overboard; however, God used a Scottish soldier to meet the needs of Lillian and the orphans!
This soldier’s mother prayed for the orphanage every day. The soldier remembered Lillian and begged the captain to unload the supplies to give to Lillian instead of throwing them overboard. Finally, the captain listened, and the supplies were unloaded into storage to be delivered to the orphanage.
The ambassador proceeded to tell Lillian what was on the ship – 2,600 dresses, 1,900 hand-knit sweaters, 1,900 pairs of boys’ pants, 3,800 blankets, 1,100 towels, 700 kegs of powdered milk, 1,200 sacks of rice, and the list continued on!
Lillian could not keep from crying as she realized the goodness of God. The ambassador sent some supplies home with Lillian that day, and the rest was delivered shortly after.
Lillian worked as a missionary in Egypt for 51 years. During those years, Lillian saw what God called her to do and continued in that work. Over her lifetime, Miss Trasher raised 10,000 orphans in Egypt. The lesson of living by faith was her life. By faith, she saw an orphanage built, food provided, clothing donated, lives protected from sickness and fire, and the list could go on and on. Though she came close at one point, in all of her time in Egypt, she did not turn away one child from living in her care. Toward the end of her life, Lillian became known as the Nile Mother. There was a movie made about her work, and reporters came to interview her at various times.
One reporter asked Lillian what was her secret. She let him know that she did not have a secret. Lillian said that she just “stayed at the work which God had given her to do.” This really struck me. If all of use would just find out the work that God has for us to do and stay working at what He asks, imagine what could happen in our world!
Today, 50 years after Lillian Trasher finished her work and died, the orphanage which she started is still providing Christian homes for children. Between Lillian’s life work and the continued work after her death, 20,000 orphans have had loving care, a good education, and have been taught of the love of God.