Jani: Hello, everyone. We’re so grateful you’re listening in again today. We love sharing the summer months with you. And I’m happy that my dear friend,
Heidi: Heidi Howerton.
Jani: Is here with me today. I’m Jani Ortlund. And we’ve been sharing some podcasts on summer reading. We’ve been encouraging you all to pick up a good Christian biography and be encouraged by another person’s walk of faith. And so today, I’ve asked Heidi to share one of her favorite biographies. And she very kindly said she would.
BOOK #1: I Dared To Call Him Father
by Richard Schneider & Bilquis Sheikh
Jani: Heidi What’s the name of your biography?
Heidi: This one is titled, I Dared To Call Him Father. By, I’m going to probably pronounce this wrong, but by Bilquis Sheikh, that’s Bilquis and her last name is Sheikh.
Jani: Yes, a foreign name that’s hard for us Americans to pronounce. I think you did a great job.
Heidi: Mike would say I’m horrible at pronunciation, whether it’s English words or foreign words are even more difficult. He’s always helping me, “Heidi, before you go to the podcast, slow down, think carefully about what you’re saying.” And I’m so grateful for his love.
Jani: Oh, we need our husbands.
Heidi: Yes. But I’m excited to share about this biography, Jani.
The Power Of Christian Biographies
Heidi: I don’t know about you but I find that biographies give me a shot of faith, just like you said last week. They encourage me in my race to go after Christ. They remind me of who Jesus is. They oftentimes, I can’t think of a better way to say it, but blow my mind open to the world and the faith of women in this world and the extraordinary things that they do and the even more extraordinary things that God does. And they just encourage my soul to keep running.
Heidi: So wherever you are today, I would encourage you to find a good Christian biography and make it one of your goals to read that biography this summer. And if you’re like me, where sometimes you’re counting the money in the budget and wondering where are we going to afford a book, I would encourage you to either make the money in the budget or go to your local library, and they have ebooks available and there’s so many options to find good books to read.
Heidi: But the story I want to share about today, like I said, It’s entitled, I Dared To Call Him Father, and it’s about a Muslim woman born in 1912. Her name was Bilquis. She was born and raised in a devout Muslim family in Pakistan. Her family was very wealthy, her father served in the government there. But she would say for the first 46 years of her life, she neither strongly embraced the Muslim faith nor rejected it. She said that she often felt lukewarm. She was raised in this devout family, but she felt lukewarm in her heart towards it.
Heidi: In 1966, after the death of her parents and her own divorce from a government ranking husband, she left her homes in London and Paris and move back to a small town in Pakistan.
Heidi: And this is kind of where her story of coming to know Jesus begins.
Heidi: She lived on a large estate and had many servants but kept to herself much of the time the village knew her as a recluse. So she was this, you know, rich woman born in a wealthy family lived in London and Paris, but then her parents died and she got divorced. And she, I think, was trying to find herself and just move back to this small town in Pakistan and really stayed to herself. And then after she moved to the small town in Pakistan, her daughter’s marriage fell apart. And her daughter had had a son and so Bilquis had offered to adopt him.
Bilquis’s Path To Knowing Christ
Heidi: So Bilquis’ grandson moved in with her. And this is where, like I said, really where much of her story to know Christ began. One day Bilquis was walking in her garden, and she had an unnerving experience that something very spiritual was going on. As she walked, it felt like a cold damp unholy presence touched her arm and she felt frightened and quickened her pace to her house. And before she entered her house, she felt once again an uncanny tap on her right hand and she screamed and ran to seek comfort in two of her closest servants. One was a Muslim and one was the Christian.
Heidi: The next morning she woke from this frightening experience in her garden, to the Muslim call of prayer where it says “There is is no God but Allah”. After this scary experience in the garden, she tried to find comfort in those words, but found no comfort at all. It was just like a familiar noise in the background, but nothing that spoke to her heart.
Heidi: And so later that morning that she was playing with her grandson in the garden, she begins to notice how worried she is about him. That he hadn’t been eating much and he seemed very solemn. Her Muslim servant approached her and said that she was worried that the boy was under a spiritual attack. And Bilquis got even more unnerved after her experience in the garden, and now her grandson wasn’t behaving well, so they decided to bring the boy to a pediatrician who can find nothing wrong with him.
Heidi: But per the servants request, Bilquis then asked the Muslim priests to visit and pray over the boy wondering if some sort of spiritual attack was going on. He brings the Quran and ask Bilquis to read from it. Once again, she reads from it, but she’s finding no comfort in these words.
Heidi: After these experiences, she begins reading the Quran more really starting to wonder what do I believe? She had always read it as an obligation before but this time, she felt like she was reading it and trying to search its pages. And once again, she found no comfort. Every time she read this book, looking for reassurance, she only found directions on how to live and warnings against other beliefs. She whispered a prayer, “Oh, Allah, where is your comfort?”
Heidi: And so as she’s reading the Quran, she begins to realize how often it references the Jews and Christians. And so she thought, why don’t I begin to study these books as well? But where would I find a copy? And I won’t go into the details, but God does amazing things, and uses other people to bring her a copy of the Bible. You know, in those days, the Bible was forbidden, and he just does miraculous things to bring a copy of the Bible to her.
Heidi: And one night, she’s opening up her Bible to start reading that. And she came upon the verse in Romans 10:8-9 that says,
“For the secret is very near you in your own heart, in your own mouth. If you openly admit by your mouth that Jesus Christ is the Lord and if you believe in your own heart, that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”Romans 10:8-9
Heidi: And she really felt her heart touched by those words. So she began to kind of search after God and hold both books out, she had the Quran and the Bible, and she would say, “God, which one are you in? Where are you?”
Heidi: One day she was talking to somebody about this and it happened to be a nun who was a Christian, and the nun just encouraged Bilquis, to pray to the gods she was searching for and asked him to show her the way, to talk to him like he is her father. And so like I said, she held up the Bible and the Quran in front of her and she said, “My father, which one is your book?” And she could sense God’s presence with her. And he answered her, “Bilquis, in which book, do you meet me as your father?” And she knew the answer was the Bible. And so she began reading her Bible with great enthusiasm and learning to sense God’s presence. And the Lord just continued to come to her.
Heidi: So that’s kind of, I didn’t want to give you guys too much information, because I want you to read the book yourselves. But it’s a taste of how the Lord acted in Bilquis’ life, how he brought her from this lukewarm Muslim faith, and really revealed his presence to her, just as her father.
Being Mindful Of God’s Presence In Our Lives
Heidi: The book really challenged me to be more mindful of God’s presence in my life. I think just in that short, little snippet of a story that I shared, you can see God’s presence pursuing her, loving her, bringing different people into her life. And it reminded me to slow myself down and to just sit in God’s presence, or as I go throughout my day is to say, “God, where is your presence?”
Heidi: So there’s so much more to this story that I’m not going into. God does amazing things in our life. She undergoes very, very hard persecution. She has to escape eventually, from the small town that she’s a part of. And God keeps showing up again and again and again, in the same ways that he did as he brought her to faith. So that’s just a little teaser. The book is called I Dared To Call Him Father, but I’d highly encourage you to read it and be encouraged. And I just, I think my last comment, Jani, is I love the way that she viewed God as a father. I think in my own life, I view God as my father. And that tender sweet love and just oh, I’m so thankful that he’s our father.
Jani: Yes. Oh, yes, Heidi, I love her story. I love that book. I agree with you. I hope our listeners will try to get a copy. Maybe some of them who are listening, have friends who listen to the podcast and they can share some of these biographies among themselves. And that’s a wonderful story of miraculous leading by God. That’s so encouraging.
by Ray Rhodes Jr.
Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon: While many Christians recognize the name of Charles H. Spurgeon, the beloved preacher and writer, few are familiar with the life and legacy of his wife, Susie. Yet Susannah Spurgeon was an accomplished and devout woman of God who had a tremendous ministry in her own right, as well as in support of her husband.
Jani: Well, I think for our final book in our summer reading series, I just wanted to mention briefly a favorite biography of mine, called Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, who was the wife of Charles H. Spurgeon. It’s by Ray Rhodes Jr. And it’s a newer book. It came out just a few years ago, but I found it very helpful, particularly because she was a pastor’s wife, and I am a pastor’s wife. So, some of our pastors wives would enjoy this book, but I think any Christian woman, single or married could benefit from seeing how God brought Susie Spurgeon along, through singlehood, through marriage, through raising children, through widowhood, through ill health, so many issues.
Susie Spurgeon’s Background
Jani: Susie was born in London in 1832. And she was an only child in her family, which was rather unusual. All of her life, she lived 71 years till she was my age, she died at age 71. All of her life was characterized by the Victorian culture around her. She was a woman of her culture as we are today. She was very well read, accomplished in literature and music and art and language. Charles, her future husband was two years younger than she was. Susie escaped the rampant disease and death of her era. She also escaped factory work. She was also educated in Paris, which was unusual in the home of a minister, and she visits Notre Dame on the eve of the wedding of Napoleon The III, a new king. Isn’t that amazing?
Jani: Late in 1852, she became a Christian. She was almost 21 years old before she became a Christian. She had lived, the biographer says, with “an assumed Christianity”, which many people do, I think when they’re brought up in a Christian home. But one night at church, she gave to Jesus her whole heart. Now, that was in 1852. The very next year, on December 18, 1853, Charles preached his first sermon in London, at New Park Street Chapel. It was a very small crowd, and some friends invited Susie to come that evening, and she did.
How Susie And Charles Met
Jani: Eventually in April, Charles accepted a call to pastor there and revival began. He was only 19 years old. So that was pretty young to accept a pastorate in London, but he did. Now in 1854, Charles gives Susie a copy of Pilgrims Progress, and he signed it. Next to the Bible, it was Charles Spurgeon’s favorite and most valued book. Some biographers say he read it over 100 times. It’s amazing. He had heard of some of the doubts Susie was struggling with and felt that the story of Pilgrim might encourage her.
Jani: Well, four months later, they were engaged. Apparently, the book worked a little magic between them. Sometimes books will. And 18 months later, they were married. They honeymooned in Paris. At their wedding, this is unbelievable, Charles had become famous by then, over 2000 people were turned away from their wedding ceremony and they lined the streets. His popularity was really hard for her. She was not used to it and nine months after they married, she gave birth to twin sons, Charles and Thomas. So she entered into a marriage with a very popular pastor and then became a mom very early on to twin boys.
Key Moments In Susie’s Life
Jani: Some important events in their life together. In October 1856, just 10 months after they had married, Charles was preaching to 22,000 people at Music Hall. 12,000 people were inside and 10,000 were outside trying to listen. When someone shouted “Fire!” and people started running to escape. Panic ensued. Seven people were trampled to death and 28 more people were hospitalized. Charles was plagued by it the rest of his life and it aged him prematurely. He was only 22 when it happened, but after this he seemed much older. Susie had to comfort him. She tried scripture and prayer. And for a few years, she traveled with him when he was asked to speak at various venues. But at age 35, Susie fell very ill. She had intense physical pain and the records aren’t sure but they think she had some gynecological surgery that didn’t go well. But she was in pain the rest of her life. For 23 years, she rarely ventured out from 1868 until 1891.
Jani: During the years when she was an invalid, she began a book fund. She purchased, out of her own money, 100 books to give away. And over the course of 28 years, she gave away over 200,000 books free to needy pastors who couldn’t afford them. She even continued it 11 years after Charles died.
The Challenge Of Being Separated
Jani: Another interesting fact about Susie’s life that helped me was some of the time she had to spend alone because Charles needed to be away. From 1870 to 1892, that’s 20 years, Charles had to go to France during the winter months for his own health. And she was too ill to go, except at the very end in 1892. And that was the last time. He died that year. So she only got to go with him to France one year. They were married for 24 years. She was 46 when he died, he was 48. She lived 11 years after him as a widow.
Jani: And this gives me hope. I imagine, Heidi, I don’t know what the Lord has planned. But I imagine if everything plays out, as it normally does, I’ll probably live longer than Ray. Many women do. Well, she lived 11 years after Charles died, she wrote five books then she helped launch a church. She continued her book fund and her pastors aid fund, all as a widow with physical challenges. The biographer said “she did all that she could for as long as she could”. Reminded me of Mark 14:8.
Susie’s Hard Work And Care For Others
Jani: Her hard work really surprised me. One year in 1883, she wrote over 657 letters. Heidi, I divided that, that’s a lot of letters per day. Think of it. She was a meticulous record keeper. Every pound or shilling, every book that came in or went out. One year, she distributed 9,941 books, that’s over 27 books a day. Oh my goodness.
Jani: What challenged me in this book, I was challenged by how she cared for other pastors and their wives. And it made me want to care for Ray more and the young pastors who write us, who come to us for renewal days and their wives. I watched her life as Charles died, and I appreciated her faith in God. I would encourage our listeners to pick up a copy of this book and invest some good time in it. It’s well worth the time. If you need encouragement, and how to encourage your own husband, if your faith needs strengthening or deepening because of hard circumstances like illness, or feeling overworked, if you need a little shot in the arm in ways to help your husband, I say pick up this book, it will help you. I hope that it will restore your soul as it has restored mine.
Heidi: It’s restored mine, Jani. Even as I’ve heard, you’ve talked about it. All those trials that she went through, I think I would throw myself a pity party at each one and throw a fit and get upset or want to hide in bed and here she was sick day after day after day after day and she doesn’t throw a pity party. But she starts raising money to give books like what a shot of faith.
Jani: Yes, yes. Well, we hope this series has been an encouragement to our listeners. We hope that you’ll find a good book and invest in it and ask the Lord, to use it in your life as he restores your soul.