6 Women Who Changed the World

Bertha Smith

Olive Bertha Smith could be called the unknown or forgotten successor of Lottie Moon. Biographer Lewis Drummond refers to her as a “Woman of Revival” and that she was. A spiritual awakening fell on the Shantung Province of China in the late 1920’s and “right at the center of this exciting movement stood Miss Bertha Smith.” She was a “soul-winning machine” and would to God that her tribe would increase 10,000 fold here in America and around the world.

Miss Bertha understood that by Christ living in us we would more and more reflect His character, His likeness. In her self-deprecating and folksy manner she once said, “Children are supposed to favor their parents. Parents are happy for their children to look like them… Thru the years when I came home on furloughs, the neighbors who came to greet me invariably said, to my great delight, “The older Bertha gets, the more she favors her mother.” When I looked around at my beautiful mother to see how she was responding to the thought of her ugly daughter looking like her, I saw the biggest smile on her face.” She then adds, “Do people think of Jesus when they see you? Are you holy enough to favor Him?”

Miss Bertha was utterly mastered by the cross. She never doubted the specific, personal, particular love Christ had for her and the millions of Chinese she longed to see saved. One of her favorite Bible verses was John 14:20; “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” After thinking of this verse, Bertha wrote,

How safe! Anything touching me would have to pass by God the Father, then it would have to get by Jesus Christ the Son, before it could reach me; and if it did, there would be the Lord inside of me, so filling me with Himself that there would be no problem. What the Chinese friends called courage, boldness, strength, was Christ Himself living His life in me. Now you may be sure that I had my sins forgiven [and] up to date at such a time! I was not only keeping clean enough inside for Him to dwell, but I was choosing His will in advance, daily and moment by moment. Since Christ was faithful to the one who was trusting Him, every day was filled with joy, with never a thought of what might happen, or of any personal danger. I was in the place to which the Lord had brought me, and if I should die with the others, it did not matter. I was completely possessed with the desire to do all that I could, for all the people that I could, while I could, for the night would surely come.

Darlene Diebler Rose

“Remember one thing, dear: God said He would never leave us nor forsake us.” Those words were spoken on March 13, 1942 and would be the last words Darlene Diebler would ever hear from her husband Russell as they were permanently separated in Japanese prison camps during World War II. She was a missionary in her early twenties. She did not even have a chance to say goodbye.

As a missionary, Darlene would endure separation from her husband and then widowhood, the brutal conditions of a WWII Japanese internment camp including near-starvation, forced labor, inhumane conditions, false accusations of espionage, many serious illnesses, solitary confinement, and torture. Through it all, Darlene was sustained by God, who never left her nor forsook her, just as He had promised. As the news of Russell’s death spread throughout the camp where she was imprisoned, Darlene was summoned to Mr. Yamaji’s office, the prison camp commander. He was a hard and brutal man who had beaten a male POW to death in another camp. He was standing behind the desk, and the following conversation took place:

“Njonja Deibler, I want to talk with you,” he began. “This is war.”
“Yes, Mr. Yamaji, I understand that.”
“What you heard today, women in Japan have heard.”
“Yes, sir, I understand that, too.”
“You are very young. Someday the war will be over and you can
go back to America. You can go dancing, go to the theater, marry again, and forget these awful days. You have been a great help to the other women in the camp. I ask of you, don’t lose your smile.”
“Mr. Yamaji, may I have permission to talk to you?” He nodded, sat down, then motioned for me to take the other chair.
“Mr. Yamaji, I don’t sorrow like people who have no hope. I want to tell you about Someone of Whom you may never have heard. I learned about Him when I was a girl in Sunday School back in Boone, Iowa, in America. His name is Jesus. He’s the Son of Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth. He died for you, Mr. Yamaji, and He puts love in our hearts—even for those who are our enemies. That’s why I don’t hate you, Mr. Yamaji. Maybe God brought me to this place and time to tell you He loves you.”

Following the end of World War II, Mr. Yamaji, the prison camp commander where Darlene was imprisoned, was tried and sentenced to be executed for the brutal beating to death of a man while he was in another POW camp at Pare Pare. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment with hard labor. Still later that sentence was also commuted and he was released. Many years later, in 1976, Darlene would learn from a friend that Mr. Yamaji had been heard on Japanese radio. He was heard sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Japanese people, testifying to his cruelty in World War II, but also bearing witness that he was now a different man because of Christ!

Eleanor Chestnut

Eleanor Chestnut was a female medical missionary whose love for Christ and others would be witnessed and sealed by her blood. The last year of her life, Dr. Chestnut treated 5,479 patients at the Woman’s hospital in Southern China. It is said that due to her work and that of the other missionaries, “Converts multiplied until in the city of Lien-Chou there was a church with an adult membership of over 300.” Her affection for the people of Lien-Chou was boundless. She used her own bathroom as an operating room, and once used skin from her own leg as a graft for a coolie whose own leg was healing poorly following surgery. She established a women’s hospital in Lien-Chou, living on $1.50 a month so the rest of her salary could be used to buy bricks.”

Eleanor Chestnut paid the ultimate price as she followed in the footsteps of her Lord and King. On October 29, 1905, at the height of anti-foreign sentiment in China, three new missionaries arrived at the Lien-Chou hospital; a single woman, and a married couple with their 11-year-old daughter. Less than 48 hours later a Chinese mob attached the hospital and killed them. Eleanor might have safely escaped, but she returned to the area of danger to help her fellow missionaries. One account of her martyrdom notes,

The last act of Dr. Chestnut, one of characteristic thoughtfulness and
unselfishness, was to tear off a portion of her skirt and bind up an ugly gash on the head of a Chinese boy who had been accidentally struck by a stone. Her last words were a plea for Mr. and Mrs. Peale. She told the mob to kill her if they desired to do so, but to spare the new missionaries who had just arrived and who could not possibly have offended them.

Harriet Newell

Harriet Newell was born October 10, 1793 in Haverhill, Mass. She had a deep and passionate love for her Lord. She took great delight in referring to Him as her “Immanuel.” On one occasion, she wrote in her journal,

I think I am willing to bear whatever God sees fit to lay upon me. Let my dear Heavenly Father inflict the keenest anguish, I will submit, for He is infinitely excellent, and can do nothing wrong.

It is hard for me to imagine that the death of any saint was more precious to King Jesus than that of Harriet Newell. As a teenager newly married, she left her widowed mother and 8 brothers and sisters knowing and accepting that she would never see them again. She was pregnant for most or all of the four-month journey to India where she and Samuel would be denied permanent residence. On the way to the Isle of France she, with only her husband at her side, would deliver a baby girl they named Harriet, only to watch her die 5 days later. Less than a month later, taken with both tuberculosis and pneumonia, she would die. And yet as the hour of her death approached she could write to Ann Judson,

How dark and mysterious are the ways of Providence….But it is well. Every thing that God does must be right, for He is a being of infinite wisdom as well as power….I think I have enjoyed the light of Immanuel’s countenance, and have known joys too great to be expressed.

Commenting on his wife’s death to a friend in Boston, Samuel Newell wrote,

Tell her [Harriet’s mother] that her dear Harriet never repented of any sacrifice she had made for Christ, and that on her dying bed she was comforted by the though of having had it in her heart to do something for the [lost], though God had seen fit to take her away before we entered on our work.’

Lottie Moon

Lottie served our Lord for 39 years on the mission field, mostly in China. “Best estimates” say this mighty, little woman towered all of 4 feet, 3 inches. It was never said that she was beautiful, but this little lady had a certain attractiveness about her and a powerful personality that would be essential in her service on the mission field. She taught in schools for girls and made many evangelist trips into China’s interior to share the gospel with women and girls. She would even preach, against her wishes, to men, because then as now there were not enough men on the mission field.

I have no doubt, having spent many months in her biography and letters, that Miss Lottie would be both amazed and embarrassed at all the fuss that is made about her each year by Southern Baptist. She knew that in 1888, Southern Baptist, at her request, raised $3,315.00, enough to send 3 new women missionaries to China. She, however, could never have imagined, that since the Lottie Moon Offering’s inception, over $3 billion has been raised for missions in her name. Here is the power of a consecrated life, a life sold out to the Lordship of Christ, a life our Lord sovereignly chose to multiple many times over.

She gratefully trusted our Lord in trying and difficult circumstances. Her gratitude to God was also the basis of her challenging folks back home to give to the work of missions. She opposed raising funds by entertainments or gimmicks. She wrote:

I wonder how many of us really believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive. A woman who accepts that statement of our Lord Jesus Christ as a fact and not as “impractical idealism,” will make giving a principle of her life. She will lay aside sacredly not less than one-tenth of her income or her earnings as the Lord’s money, which she would no more dare touch for personal use than she would steal. How many there are among our women, alas, who imagine that because “Jesus paid it all,” they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ!

Ann Hasseltine Judson

Ann (“Nancy”) Judson has rightly been called, “the mother of modern missions.” This statement is all the more amazing when you consider she died from cerebral meningitis at the young age of 37 in the Southeast Asia Country of Burma, modern-day Myanmar. Her grave, along with her little daughter Maria, is located there under what her husband Adoniram called “the hope tree.” Not a long life, but a full life in service to King Jesus.

Ann Judson experienced many hardships while a missionary. Just reflect on the following:

  • On the way to India, she and her husband became convinced of believer’s baptism and had to forgo all support from the Congregationalist who sent them.
  • They would be denied entry into India and forced to go to Burma which was extremely hostile to Christianity.
  • Harriett Newell, Ann’s dearest friend, would die in childbirth (as would the child) at the tender age of 19, never making it to the mission field.
  • Ann’s first child was stillborn.
  • Her second child, a boy named Roger, died before his first birthday.
  • In 1820, after 6 years on the field, Ann nearly died and had to go to Calcutta, and eventually back to America to recover. She would be separated from her beloved husband for 2 years.
  • When Ann returned to Burma in 1824, she became pregnant. Soon thereafter, Adoniram, and fellow missionary Jonathan Price were imprisoned for 17 months. The conditions were beyond brutal. He nearly died several times and considered suicide. During this period Ann gave birth to a baby girl named Maria, pled repeatedly for her husband’s release, and daily walked 2 miles to and 2 miles back from prison supply him and others with water and food.

Ann bore these sufferings because she knew her God would not fail her and because she knew that his mission was worth her life. In an appeal to American women entitled, “Address to Females in America, Relative to the Situation of Heathen Females in the East,” she closes with these powerful words:

“Shall we, my beloved friends, suffer minds like these to lie dormant, to wither in ignorance and delusion, to grope their way to eternal ruin, without an effort on our part, to raise, to refine, to elevate, and to point to that Saviour who has died equally for them as for us? Shall we sit down in indolence and ease, indulge in all the luxuries with which we are surrounded, and which our country so bountifully affords, and leave beings like these, flesh and blood, intellect and feeling, like ourselves, and of our own sex, to perish, to sink into eternal misery?’ No! By all the tender feelings of which the female mind is susceptible, by all the privileges and blessings resulting from the cultivation and expansion of the human mind, by our duty to God and our fellow creatures, and by the blood and groans of him who died on Calvary, let us make a united effort; let us call on all, old and young, in the circle of our acquaintance to join us in attempting to meliorate the situation, to instruct, to enlighten and save females in the Eastern world; and though time and circumstances should prove that our united exertions have been ineffectual, we shall escape at death that bitter thought, that Burman females have been lost, without an effort of ours to prevent their ruin.”

Ann Judson and these other five women were remarkable women of God who changed the world. Of that, there can be no doubt.


For more on each of these women, see my biographical sermons:

  1. Galatians 2:20 & Bertha Smith, A Soul-Winning Missionary
  2. The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation: Darlene Diebler Rose — Psalm 27
  3. How The World Will Know We Belong To Jesus Beautifully Exemplified…Eleanor Chestnut – John 13:34–35
  4. Precious in the Sight of the Lord is the Death of His Saints: Harriet Newell – Psalm116
  5. The Power of a Consecrated Life Lived Out in the Ministry of Lottie Moon – Romans 12:1
  6. “The Lord Is My Refuge” Plainly Put On Display in the Life of Missionary Ann Hasseltine Judson — Psalm 142.1–7