Mothers Whose Love Changed Church History

Mothers Whose Love Changed Church History

Two streams of thought have influenced this April column. The first was a Sunday, 9 May 2021, Christian Post article on the top Mothers of Christian history, written by Mainline Church Editor, Michael Gryboski. That set me to thinking about the women I might choose. The second was a recent movie I watched with my daughter and a friend, Unsung Hero*, which affected me deeply.

We have highlighted in our PeaceWeaver articles the lives and work of many women across the years, both single and married. This month, however, we celebrate Mothers with our own selection of seven women whose care and love for their children changed the world. Perhaps you have known a mother like these . . .

1. Helena (d. 330) was the Roman Emperor Constantine's mother. Her love and support of him, even when he was a boy and following in his pagan father's footsteps, was remarkable. Her husband divorced her when he was raised to the rank of Caesar, and after he died, Constantine became Emperor and became a Christian in October of 312. Helena then became a devoted follower of Christ too, and began distributing part of her wealth to the poor and destitute. Constantine sent Helena on a special journey across the region to visit sites where biblical events took place, particularly those from the life of Jesus. She interviewed local historians, walked these places, gave offerings to the Christians living there, and took the details back to her son, who began building churches on these sites. The Church of the Nativity, where it was believed Jesus was born, is one of these, where Christians have worshiped for centuries.

2. Anthusa of Antioch (c.330-374) was John Chrysostom's mother. He was the leader of the Eastern Church in Constantinople (Istanbul today), and a famous preacher. Anthusa was widowed at age twenty, so as a single mother, she was free to devote her life to Christ without distractions, becoming known for her generous heart and service to the early church. She was one of the first women of Antioch to organize relief efforts for the poor.
3. Monica (c.332-387) was the mother of the famous 4th century church leader and prolific author Augustine of Hippo. Writer of City of God and Confessions, he was an intellectual leader of not only early Christian theology, but of the western world. But it was not always that way. As a youth, Augustine was wayward, even a "profligate," but his mother never ceased praying for him and his father, both of them without Christ. Her fervent prayers and faithful lifestyle so impressed upon them the love of Jesus that they both eventually came to know Him. Augustine credits his mother's diligence as a large part of this life transformation.

4. Pica de Bourlemont (1155-c.1210) was descended from a noble French family and was given in marriage as a teenager to the wealthy Italian merchant, Peter Bernardone of the house of Moriconi. She gave birth to Francis, who grew up rather wild. He almost died in a battle at one point, but her prayers at his bedside as she nursed him back to health, resulted in a dynamic conversion and produced one of the leaders of the Medieval Church. By her prayers and sterling example, she reared a son who walked away from his family's wealth and lived instead among the poor, ministering to the lepers, the outcasts, and founding the monastic order of Franciscans. After the death of her husband, Pica committed herself to Francis’s spiritual guidance and lived a secluded life devoted to prayer and service to others.

5. Susanna Annesley Wesley (1669-1742), an Anglican pastor's wife, was the mother of the two famous brothers, John and Charles Wesley. She influenced all of her nineteen children to love Christ above all else. When they went to Oxford to study, they formed the Holy Club, where they attended to the weak, the poor, the jailed, and hungry, even as they engaged in deep discipleship. They studied scriptures, prayed, preached, and became missionaries. Susanna is the person most instrumental in forming their Christian characters, educated them well, and entrusting her little ones into God's care.

6. Orianna Marie Molen Barclay Moon (1809-1872), was called "Anna" most of her life. She was the beautiful mother of influential overseas Baptist missionaries - the medical doctor Dr. Edmonia Moon and her sister Lottie. Widowed in 1852, Anna reared four children while they all managed their large farm in Virginia, just down the road from Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson had lived. Anna sent her daughters to college, some of the first women to earn degrees in the south at the time. In 1859, Lottie came to know Christ in a revival led by John Broadus. In just a little more than a decade later, Lottie left America in 1873, when Edmonia, her younger sister, requested her help in China. Lottie spent the rest of her life there, leading several hundred Chinese people to come to know Jesus.

7. Morrow Coffey Graham (1892-1981), known as "Mother Graham," was the faithful and loving mother of the famous evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, and grandmother of Ann Morrow Graham Lotz and Rev. Franklin Graham, the latter of whom is now head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In May of 2018, this group published a list of seven “life lessons” that Billy Graham remembered learning from his mother Morrow. These included: “There Is Dignity in Hard Work,” “A Mother’s Prayers Are Powerful,” “Spend Time in God’s Word Every Day,” “Start Reading at a Young Age,” “Marriage Is Worth Fighting For,” “Even the Best Parents Make Mistakes,” and “Finish Well.” Billy said his mother had the greatest influence on him, and he was certain that one reason the Lord directed and safeguarded him and his family through the years was the consistent prayers of his mother and father.
This month, we celebrate the mothers who have prayed, served, sacrificed, loved, and cared for their children. Whether they are married, divorced, widowed, single, or borrowed, mothers who lead their children to Jesus have changed and will continue to alter the world for Christ. We honor you who are doing the eternally-significant work of motherhood today.

-Karen O'Dell Bullock
*Unsung Hero movie trailer.
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