Faithful and Courageous Lives
A Review of
50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from the Heroines of Faith
Paperback: Baker Books, 2014
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Reviewed by Tiffany Malloy
Take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Quickly jot down all of the Christian women you’ve learned about over the years in your community of faith. Next to each name, write a couple words describing what they are known for. How many did you come up with?
I came up with 9.
Thankfully Michelle DeRusha did us all a favor and put some great research and writing into her newest book, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from the Heroines of the Faith. 357 pages of research are filled with brief biographies of 50 courageous, faithful women from all walks of life who have a few things in common: loving the Lord passionately, sensitivity to His voice and obediently walking the path before them.
In these pages, DeRusha takes us on a trip through Christian history, highlighting women born in the eleventh century all the way through the 1920s. We are told stories about Medieval anchoresses, civil rights activists, authors, mothers, spies, nurses, educators, missionaries, and musicians from many denominations. Each chapter provides just enough important information about each woman to stand alone but also leaves the reader with a desire to learn more.
DeRusha expertly gives a balanced view of each woman—helping us see great faith is not always completely unwavering. In fact, many of the women in this book went through seasons of doubt or depression. Questioning her own salvation was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s biggest challenge in life (156). While suffering in a concentration camp, Corrie ten Boom’s faith (unsurprisingly) struggled at times (277). Mother Teresa went through a very long dark night of the soul, feeling abandoned by God yet remained incredibly faithful to what she had last heard from Him (311). These spiritual giants were great not because of some certain set of personality traits or because a lot of people knew who they were, but because their love for God informed and compelled their loving, bold action for others.
DeRusha does not present the women as Christian giants sitting atop some spiritual pedestal, but instead as those who are both encouragingly relatable and spiritually inspiring. For example, we learn about Ruth Bell Graham, a woman who gave up a dream when marrying Billy Graham but determinedly found a ministry niche of her own. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, had a colored history yet, because of her work, she is considered by some as a candidate for sainthood.
With each story, my heart grew more inspired and deeply encouraged. These women did not take no for an answer. They did things that others thought they shouldn’t or couldn’t, not because they were rebellious but because they refused to shrink back from the calling God had put on their lives. One woman I found particularly inspiring was Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker prison reformer from the 1800s. A mom of 7, Elizabeth pioneered women’s prison ministry, advocating for better prison conditions as well as an education system for the imprisoned women and children. All of this work required her and her husband to have nontraditional roles at home. Her husband joyfully supported Elizabeth’s need to travel by taking on household responsibilities, causing quite a stir. DeRusha sums up her challenges well:
“[Elizabeth] struggled her entire life with anxiety and depression. She wrestled with her faith as well as with her role as a wife and mother, and she suffered the criticism of many who disagreed with everything from her prison reforms to her parenting. Yet she persevered, courageously defying societal expectations, weathering sharp and often vicious criticism, and forging ahead, determined to fulfill what she believed was her God-given calling.” (118)