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.”
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.