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Pioneer Women - Part 3 - Hannah Hurnard
This is the third part in a series on women with a pioneering spirit taken from the Bible and history.
While I reflected on what exactly a pioneering spirit is, I kept coming back to Proverbs 31. I realised that if we, as women in the Body of Christ, are able to take a hold of and begin to live out Proverbs 31 daily then we would all make a greater impact on our environment and begin to see a change in our history for the glory of Jesus. Thus becoming pioneering women in our own right.
Proverbs 31 : 10 – 31 is our blueprint for this series, perhaps you would like to look at the text in your Bible before you read further.
The word pioneer means to prepare or open up ( a way, road etc), initiate, originate, lead the way or innovate in, lead, guide ( a person). To be a pioneer you would be likened to a member of an infantry group going with or ahead of an army or regiment to prepare the roads or terrain for the main body of troops. This is the example that highlights exactly what we are to be doing in our purpose as a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was a pioneer for Christ; he spent his whole life preparing the way for the One whom John was not even fit to carry his sandals. Throughout the Bible you find countless men and women who have prepared the way for God’s children, encouraging us to look beyond ourselves and the temporal to looking into the heavenlies and the eternal. So that we would come face to face with His destiny and purpose for us. All of us, as disciples, are pioneers. Some more so than others because they have counted the cost and not loved their lives unto death and accepted that they are crucified with Him, it is now no longer them that liveth but Him that liveth in them.
My prayer is that this series will stretch and challenge you into becoming a pioneer for Christ. This is not something that is a way off in the distance out of your reach; this is something that you are able to do every day within your own home. If you are a wife and mother then you are pioneering the way in those areas for your husband and children. If you are single then you have the opportunity, like Paul before you, to go out and pioneer in your work place or ministry or the place that God has called you to. I am not saying as a wife and mother that pioneering stops in your home, what I am saying is that it does begin there, for the Proverbs 31 woman has already shown her priorities are God first, then her husband and then her children. When these priorities are balanced and in order then she goes out into the community and helps the poor, and increases her family’s resources through wise investments. To many this woman seems out of reach, yet you fail to realise she had a key to being a successful pioneer, the key is that she feared and reverenced the Lord above all else and through this her relationships and responsibilities were wisely balanced.
Now let us begin on the road to being a pioneering woman:
Hannah Hurnard was born into a Quaker family in Lexden just outside of Colchester on May the 31st 1905. Her grandfather James, was a great English poet whose famous masterpiece ‘The Setting Sun’ is a collector’s item. Her father Samuel, was orphaned at the age of thirteen, his heart was totally devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. He was an evangelist in every sense of the word and was the Justice of the Peace at Lexden and Winstee for fifty-two years. Hannah was the third amongst four other siblings. She had an idyllic childhood with a quality education as the family were very well off, but yet Hannah was very unhappy.
It seems that she had inherited something of her grandfather’s melancholy and a double dose of her father’s stammer. Through this she found herself drawing inwards and living in a world of rebellious isolation. It was at her mother’s skirts that she learnt what a shining example of a true lover of Jesus Christ was. Her mother Rose was a preacher, although not recognised as one, in those days they called her a public speaker and she was very much in demand. To Hannah though, it was at home that she heard her mother’s greatest sermons. Yet, for all the devoted and patient loving care her parents bestowed upon her, Hannah found within her a heart in rebellion. Her petrifying speech defect cut her off even from those who wanted to love her and her attempts to walk the path of the Lord were disastrous. She herself said, “Until I was nineteen I never remember feeling happy.” It was this very year that her father, Samuel was able to convince Hannah to attend the 49th Keswick Christian Convention. Here she found a freedom that even she was so surprised by that she knew from that very moment of release that she would wholeheartedly serve the Lord the rest of her days.
Hannah had always had a great love for the mountains and she found herself constantly retreating to the high places over the course of her life, it was also in the mountains that she would write her now famous masterpiece ‘Hinds Feet on High Places’. It was at the Convention that she heard the Shepherd’s call to leave for the High Places, it was there that He challenged her to stop limping between faith and unbelief, it was there that she heard Him say to her that she was to be His communicator, stammer and all.
She arrived at the Ridgeland’s Bible College in Wimbledon three months after this awesome encounter with her Lord and found that here in training she was asked to speak publicly for the first time. She was terrified but decided to speak on her favourite text ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12 : 9, KJV) When the day arrived for her to speak, the miracle happened. Her speech flowed without hesitation and without a stammer. From that point onward Miss Much-Afraid was quite unrecognisable, she started to preach in the open air, teach in Sunday School and address any number of women’s meetings confidently. The stutter only reared its head again if she was tired or under stress. At these times she would cry out to her Shepherd and choose to lean very hard upon Him, she knew her new freedom was something she could not take for granted.
After her two-year course finished at Bible College she joined an evangelistic agency which is now known as The Fellowship for Evangelising Britain’s Villages. This was to be her training ground for the next four years, living constantly on the road in a horse drawn gypsy caravan, going from village to village throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland preaching the Good News to one and all. Although the FEBV was interdenominational Hannah’s Quaker upbringing remained strong in many ways, especially the practice of waiting silently upon the Lord. Daily in the early hours of the morning, Quaker fashion, sitting in quietness, free from any undue excitement she would come and simply seek His Presence. It was through these times that she found Him giving her the words for the many books that she wrote in later years. In 1930 again she heard her Shepherd calling her to go but this time He emphasised to the Jew first. He was calling her to the Holy Land, Israel. What she was not to know at the time until many years later was that her own mother had once longed to serve among the Jewish people herself, and that Hannah had been dedicated while still in the womb, to go in her place.
So finally after two years of testing and fire Hannah found herself setting out with her Shepherd for the uplands of discipleship more than 2,500 miles from home, but with a hymn singing out it’s words within her heart:
My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace,
Not even blessing, but Himself, my God,
Tis His to lead me there, not mine, but His –
At any cost, dear Lord, by any road.
One thing I know, I cannot say Him nay;
One thing I do, I press towards my Lord:
My God my glory here from day to day,
And in the glory there my great reward.
She arrived in Haifa in the midst of the early warning signs of unrest and frustration amongst the Jews and Arabs in the land in 1932. It was only a year later that a great many Jews arrived out of Germany and Europe as Hitler was already setting up concentration camps for them. Hannah found herself reaching out to the many villages surrounding Haifa and ministering to Jew and Arab alike. For twenty years her heart was for Israel, she was one of only eleven English people allowed to remain in Israel through those years of upheaval and rebirth of God’s chosen nation. She alone encountered war on a daily and large scale, many times being narrowly missed by snipers and bombing near her home, even so close as the next wall along crumbling under explosion. The Lord watched over her with tender loving care, she was so in His will that miracle upon miracle was her daily experience. Hannah watched over those He had given her to care for with the fortitude and strength of any mother, in essence she had become a mother to Israel. She often travelled hundreds of miles in her beat up jalopy to villages that were hungry to hear of the love of Jesus. Many were giving their life to the Messiah because of her lying down of her life for the sake of the Gospel. She remained in the land until once again she heard her Shepherd calling her to the High Places. Leaving this land was one of the hardest things she found she ever had to do, this land had become hers in every sense of the word and somehow knowing that she had been a pioneer through the pregnancy, labour and birth pains of Israel made it more poignant. This land had been given her to help with the birth and now her job was done. It was as if this was yet another chapter in her life, which was to be closed, but instead God took her on an even higher journey. An even deeper path that required a stronger pioneering spirit than she ever imagined she would have, thanks be to God.
From the mountains of the Lord He then took her throughout the world to countries that she learned to love and in these countries she spoke about intercession for Israel, it was through these travels that ‘Intercessors for Israel’ was birthed. Pioneering the way for the church to embrace the Jews and Israel again and to love them as Jesus had said, praying and interceding on their behalf, knowing that Israel plays such an awesome part in the end time plan. It was as she started to travel extensively she found that a new vision had been birthed; books of many kinds were to be written over the course of ten years. Twelve in all and there was indeed no doubt that it was during this time that Hannah’s creative gift as a writer reached full bloom. Of these twelve books three stand out as having stood the test of time. They are ‘The Hearing Heart’, ‘Watchmen on the Walls’ (based on the journal she kept during the War of Independence in Israel, 1948 – 1950) and of course ‘Hinds Feet on High Places’ her spiritual allegorical classic of which over one million copies have been sold.
There truly is so much more to this lady who pioneered a new intimacy into so many thousands and thousands of lives throughout the four corners of the earth. I would have loved to have known her personally for she has touched my life like no other woman has apart from Corrie Ten Boom. Indeed she is now with her one true Love, her dear Shepherd, Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus). She went to be with Him in the early hours of the morning of May the 4th 1990, aged 84 years. She departed singing a chorus from years gone by:
There’ll be no sorrow there,
In my Father’s House, In my Father’s House,
There’ll be joy….joy….joy.
She leaves behind her fruit eternal and a road clearly marked that reaches out across the earth and speaks of intimate love for the Shepherd. A sturdy bridge of renewed love for God’s chosen people Israel is also left, for Hannah surely put all of her strength into seeing that this bridge would never be blown apart.
Excerpts from ‘Hannah Hurnard, the Authorised Biography’ by John Wood