The Greatest Women of the 20th Century

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If you were to ask me, “Carol, in your opinion, who were the greatest women of faith in the 20th century?”

This would be my answer:

  • Corrie ten Boom.
  •  Ruth Bell Graham.
  •  Mother Theresa.
  •  Elisabeth Elliot.

The only one of these four extraordinary women that I had the honor of meeting was Corrie ten Boom. 

Corrie, a clock-maker’s daughter from Holland, was born on April 15, 1892. 

The ten Boom family built a hiding place in their home in order to protect Jewish people during World War II.  A friend betrayed the ten Boom family and this Godly and courageous family was then taken to be tortured in a concentration camp.  Corrie was the only one of her family who came home alive.

Corrie wrote a book about her family’s life experiences entitled, “The Hiding Place” and spent the latter years of her life tramping about for the Lord.

Corrie entered heaven on April 15, 1983.  What an entrance that must have been as she greeted her family and her Savior!  There was Betsie, her beloved sister, her father, Casper, and all of those people that Corrie and Betsie had led to the Lord at Ravensbruck.

The Jewish people believe that only truly great people die on the day of their birth.  Corrie, who housed and protected Jews during some of the darkest days of history, died on her birthday.  What a roar went up from Abraham, Esther and Daniel as this elderly spinster walked into heaven’s glory!

“There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” – Corrie ten Boom

“This is what the past is for!  Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” – Corrie ten Boom

And then, there was the infamous … the noble … the much applauded … Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Teresa Bojaxhiu was born in Albania on August 26, 1910.

Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic sister and missionary to the poor, the starving and the desperately ill in Calcutta.  She founded a religious order called Missionaries of Charity that has opened numerous hospices and homes for those with AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis.  The impact of her life lingers on as a gift of hope to those that the world has ignored or rejected.

Mother Teresa was unafraid to touch dying, contagious lepers.  She was courageous enough to love the victims of AIDS.  She held children on her lap and embraced prostitutes.  This diminutive, weathered soul sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t she?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta walked into heaven on September 5, 1997.  Can you even imagine the applause?!  I imagine that as she began to walk upon those streets of gold that she was greeted by those who had been earthly beggars … by political leaders … and by children who had died much too early. 

I know that Mother Teresa was enthusiastically greeted by Jesus, her Savior, Who joyfully exclaimed, “Well done!”

I always wanted to meet Mother Teresa but I never did. 

"By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus." – Mother Teresa

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

Ruth Bell was born on June 10, 1920 in Jaingsu, China, the daughter of missionary parents.

Ruth attended Wheaton College where she met a tall, southern preacher.  Ruth and Billy Graham were married in the summer of 1943.

Ruth’s greatness and call, although intrinsically linked to that of her husband, had enough fiber and fortitude to stand on its own. 

Ruth was a poet, a scholar and a theologian in her own rite. 

Ruth stood strong for what was Biblically correct and played a formidable role in the development of her husband’s international ministry.

Ruth left the shores of earth and jubilantly danced into heaven on June 14, 2007.  I wonder if all of those thousands of men, women and children who were saved at her husband’s crusades were part of the welcoming committee for Ruth Bell Graham.  I wonder if the song that they were singing as she walked through the gates of eternity was, “Just as I am … without one plea … but that Thy blood was shed for me.”

Oh!  As a young wife and mother, how I ached to meet Ruth Bell Graham and just spend an hour with her … but I never did.

“Down through the years, I have turned to the Bible and have found in it all that I needed.” – Ruth Bell Graham

“A marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” – Ruth Bell Graham

And then … there was Elisabeth Elliot. 

Elisabeth Howard was born on December 21, 1926, in Belgium to missionary parents.

Elisabeth was only 30 years old when her husband, Jim Elliot, was murdered by the Auca Indians, a fierce tribe who had never been reached with the Gospel.  Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador with her 10 month-old daughter after her husband’s horrific death.  Elisabeth ministered to this group of Indians for nearly 10 years.

Elisabeth’s best-selling book, “Through Gates of Splendor”, told the story of her husband, Jim, and their missionary work together in Ecuador. 

Elisabeth’s second husband, Addison Leitch, succumbed to cancer only 4 years after their marriage.  Her third husband, Lars Gren, has been her loyal companion and caregiver for the last decades of Elisabeth’s life.

Elisabeth was a prolific writer and speaker.  Her books made a profound impact on my life as a college student and young mother. 

But it was her radio program that gave me the grace to become the woman that I am today.  The name of her daily radio program was “Gateway to Joy”.  Elisabeth believed that every life experience that one encounters has the potential of bringing joy to one’s life.

When I was the homeschool mother of 5 curious, creative and lively children, I would often send them outside to play at 10:25 every weekday morning so that I could sit in my car and listen to her radio show that began at 10:30.

“You are loved with an everlasting love.  That’s what the Bible says.  And underneath are the everlasting arms.  This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot.”

It was 30 minutes of life coaching … of personal counseling … and of life-changing teaching for this young, overworked and frazzled mother.

“Gateway to Joy” became my place of grace in the busy, never-ending, sloppy life in which I lived.  Her voice became my compass for mothering, for marriage and for ministry.

Elisabeth Howard Elliot Leitch Gren walked through those gates of heaven’s splendor on June 15, 2015. Her days of physical suffering and dementia are over for all of eternity.  But the wisdom that she has imparted and the strength of character that she has left behind have left significant ripples on the ocean of history.

I wonder who greeted Elisabeth?! 

I wonder if a tribe of formerly fierce but now faith-filled Indians were in her crowd of witnesses as she passed from this world to the next?

I wonder if Jim Elliot, who had been speared to death for the sake of the Gospel, stood beside the One with nail-pierced hands as they looked with love upon the entrance of Elisabeth.

I always wanted to meet Elisabeth but never did.

Someday you and I will walk into heaven. 

I wonder … who will be there to greet you?   Who will be there to welcome me home?

Will our lives make any difference in someone else’s life?  I hope so. 

I hope that you and I will lead the kind of lives of which people will say, “I always wanted to meet her … I always wanted to meet him … and someday … I will!”