Have you looked at women like Corrie Ten Boon and wondered how she lived a life so difficult with loss and kept her faith so strong? Or, maybe you have heard of Anne Askew, a woman of social influence and wealth, and wondered how she became so brave as to give it all up for Christ? She was tortured on the rack and burned at the stake, in the Tower of London, for the sake of religious freedom.
My friend, Michelle DeRusha has written a book, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know – Learning From Heroines Of the Faith. This is quickly becoming my favorite book of all time!
I had the privilege of interviewing Michelle about her book, and here is what she had to say.
Me: What person surprised you most when you researched the history?
Michelle: I’d have to say probably Katharina Luther, Martin Luther’s wife. I admit, I initially questioned why we were including Katharina Luther in the book, because as far as I was concerned, she was “just Luther’s wife.” I didn’t see any reason to include her just because she was a big-wig theologian’s spouse.
Of course I was quickly proved wrong by her story. Katharina Luther was a dynamo in her own right. First of all, she was a nun who courageously abandoned the convent during one of the most tumultuous periods in Christian history. Second, she risked marrying one of the most controversial men of the time.
Third, she raised six kids, ran a boarding house, oversaw a large working farm and advised her husband, often engaging in theological and political discussions with him. In fact, Luther’s colleagues, knowing how persuasive Katharina could be, often enlisted her to convince Luther of a particular action or response. She may not get much credit in the history books, but Katharina Luther was an integral part of Martin Luther’s success.
Me: Who would you like to be most like from these women?
Michelle: Oh, that is such a hard question – I think I’d like to take at least one characteristic or attribute from every single woman in this book!
If I had to pick one woman out of the fifty, though, I might say Mary McLeod Bethune. Most people probably haven’t even heard of her, but I guarantee you will be totally wowed if you read her story. Bethune was one of 17 children; her parents were slaves in South Carolina. When she went to the Moody Bible Institute to train as a missionary, she was the only African American out of 1,000 students.
Bethune had her heart set on serving in Africa, but when she graduated the board informed her that there were no openings for “Negro missionaries” in Africa. Instead of succumbing to bitter resentment, though, she simply turned her attention to a new mission: the education of black children in America.
Long story short, Bethune opened a school for six black girls in Florida in 1904. Today, that same school, now known as Bethune-Cookman College, enrolls 3,500 students on an eighty-acre campus in Daytona Beach, Florida.
I find Bethune’s tenacity and determination so inspiring. She never gave up, no matter what obstacles were put in her way. She faced pervasive racism every step of the way, yet she always turned to love as her foundation, never hate or bitterness. If I had half as much determination, faith and love as Mary McLeod Bethune, I would be a good woman indeed!
Me: As you have grown older, what has changed about your faith?
Well, I think I’ve grown a bit more fluid in my faith. Early on I tried to figure everything out; I tried to make faith black and white. What I’ve learned is that faith, at least for me, is a bit greyer. I give myself permission to live with and in the questions now, and I allow myself to trust that God will provide the answers in his time.
Me: Was there any woman you thought about throwing out? If so, why?
Maybe not “throw out,” per se, but I definitely questioned whether a couple of the women should be included in the book. I already mentioned Katharina Luther, and I would add Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Billy Graham (I know – gasp!), for similar reasons. In fact, I didn’t have Ruth Graham on the original list I submitted to my editor. When he suggested that I add her, my initial reaction was, “Who? Oh. Yeah…okay.”
But as with Katharina Luther, I was quickly impressed by what I learned about Ruth Bell Graham, even apart from her role as the famous evangelist’s spouse. She was fiercely loyal to and supportive of her husband, but she was also a compassionate advocate for prisoners, drug addicts and other societal outcasts; a writer who published more than a dozen books; and a trusted advisor to her husband. Most importantly, though, Ruth Bell Graham taught me about obedience and sacrifice. She was a phenomenal woman, and I’m so glad I got to know a bit about her through researching and writing this book.
Me: If someone were to add you to a book about Christian women, what would you want them to most remember about you?
Michelle: Wow, Diane, good question, girl!
I think I would say my perseverance in faith. I joke sometimes that God didn’t give me faith as one of his fruits of the Spirit. I’ve always struggled with questions and skepticism and have weathered long periods of deep doubt. Yet I persevere, trusting that I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living, as Psalm 27 says.
I would hope, too, that in being honest about my struggles and in telling my story authentically, that I have given others reason to hope and trust in faith, too.
A Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. She is the author of Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith. Michelle writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at MichelleDeRusha.com, as well as a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star. She’s mom to two bug-loving boys, Noah and Rowan, and is married to Brad, an English professor at Doane College who reads Moby Dick for fun.
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