Born SEPTEMBER 27, 1887
Sacrificial missionary service has a way of inspiring people the world over. Just mention the name Lillian Trasher, known as “Mother of the Nile.”The church of God (Cleaveland, Tennessee) includes her in their history. The Assemblies of God claims her as one of their pioneer missionaries. The Episcopal Church calendar honors Lillian’s years of service on December 19 of each year. In Egypt, where Lillian gave over 50 years of her life, she’s esteemed for starting that country’s first orphanage, which continues operating today.
Lillian died on December 17, 1961, but her influence continues. A Muslim man once said of her, “I believe that when she dies, in spite of the fact she is a woman and a Christian, God will take her directly to paradise.”
The initial spark of Lillian’s journey to help children in Egypt began when she was only a child herself. At age nine, she knelt beside a log in a forest and prayed, “Lord, if ever I can do anything for you, just let me know and I will do it.” A few years later, she joined the staff of a faith-based orphanage in North Carolina.
As a young woman in her early twenties, Lillian became engaged. She anticipated her future as a pastor’s wife. Then, while attending a missionary service Lillian sensed God’s call to serve overseas. As a pastor’s wife or as a single missionary, she would be in a position to change lives, but which should it be? Her heart was divided. Ten days before her wedding, Lillian broke the engagement.
Years later, a friend asked if she ever regretted her life-changing decision. She answered, “When I think of Tom, if I had married him, what would have happened to all these children?”
Serving God By Faith
A missionary couple invited her to work at an orphanage in Assiut, Egypt. Opening her Bible on board ship before it embarked, Lillian saw Acts 7:34- “ I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.” Lillian stepped onto Egyptian soil for the first time in autumn of 1910.
Three months later she answered a call to the bedside of a dying mother. The mother requested that Lillian take her baby and raise it. That child became the first resident of Lillian’s own orphanage.
The number of children under her care grew. She’d gained invaluable skills at the North Carolina orphanage where she’d worked. She’d also learned to live by faith in God’s daily provision. In the early years, a few gifts from donors came in. Lillian also rode a donkey to solicit help from local supporters.
No Orphans in God’s Family
God takes care of His own. The orphanage survived the first world war. Afterwards, however, an anti-English fervor led to rioting. Lillian wisely returned to America. Her itineration to churches raised the profile of the orphanage and helpful amounts of financial support. In 1920, she returned to Egypt to continue her life’s work.
In 1935, Lillian stated, “He has never failed me all these years and we are being fed like the sparrows, who have no barns or storerooms. Seven hundred little ones. We are still looking to the Lord for our hourly needs. Oh! He is such a wonderful Saviour!”
The orphanage faced a cholera outbreak in 1947. But no child died.
God continued blessing Lillian—one of His children—as she continued caring for orphans according to His word (James 1:27). By 1960, over 1,000 children resided at the ever-growing campus. In 1961, Lillian celebrated the orphanage’s 50th anniversary.
Lillian died in Egypt in December of 1961. She was buried in the orphanage cemetery. She once said, “I’d rather do this work than anything else in the world–taking care of babies in Egypt.”
Today, the Lillian Trasher Orphanage is a 12-acre campus. It houses 650 children (and widows) and is led by a couple who grew up in the orphanage. Since its beginning, it has welcomed over 25,000 children.
LET ME KNOW: How has Lillian’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- McGee, Gary B. People of the Spirit. Springfield, Missouri. 2nd ed. Gospel Publishing House, 2014.
- Baron, Beth. “Nile Mother: Lillian Trasher and Egypt’s Orphans.” Assemblies of God Heritage 31, (2011): 31-39.
- Gohr, Glenn. “Lillian Trasher: Serving the Widows and Orphans of Egypt.” PE News, December 24, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2017. https://ifphc.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/lillian-trasher-serving-the-widows-and-orphans-of-egypt/.
- You can find books about Lillian Trasher at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_15?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lillian+trasher&sprefix=lillian+trasher%2Caps%2C259&crid=WR9CATKU49.
- Find videos about Lillian at AGTV and on YouTube.