Widowhood Resiliency and Mrs. Oswald Chambers (Part II)

Widowhood resiliency is a skill I hope to never need.

I don’t think any woman wants to learn it.

For Mrs. Oswald Chambers, widowhood came young–she was thirty-four years old when Oswald Chambers died in Egypt on November 15, 1917.

One hundred years ago this week.

Left without a pension in the middle of the desert surrounded by ANZACresiliency, widowhood, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, WWI, Oswald Chambers, Zeitoun, Egypt, YMCA, mourning, poverty, skills troops during a world war with a four year-old, Biddy Chambers had a choice.

She could succumb to the vapors like so many other Victorian women in literature.

Or, she could trust God had her life and that of her daughter Kathleen’s in hand. She believed God never made a mistake and so she moved forward.

Resiliency–the ability to pick yourself up and recover from a catastrophe–helped Biddy stand straight and move forward without her husband.

(Click here for Part I)

Resiliency and a pragmatic woman.

As Biddy wrote a friend in early 1918, “Oswald has been released from his task; I have not.”

She never saw herself as an ornamental addition to her husband’s ministry in Egypt during WWI.

Taking down his words in shorthand, managing the Zeitoun YMCA camp’s hospitality, overseeing her child, Biddy knew her worth to the Kingdom of God.

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She had a YMCA camp to run

She also understood that the many troops who daily faced death, looked to her to set the tone for mourning.

Would she fall apart, or would she stand on her belief in God‘s providence?

Biddy knew her profound grief could not be allowed to overshadow the revival Oswald had led among those soldiers preparing to take Jerusalem.

She had to remain strong–for them and all the others who looked to her in Oswald’s place.

Mourning but not weak

Fortunately, Biddy had friends who loved her and understood the depth of her shocking grief.

Local missionary Samuel Zwemer found a place for Biddy, her daughter Kathleen and friend Eva Spink to grieve–away from onlookers.

American missionaries near Luxor provided a week for Biddy to grieve in private.

Other Americans near Wasta gave her a garden for a second week.

She missed Oswald’s memorial service at Zeitoun on November 17, as well as in London in December.

Instead, Biddy watched the eternal Nile River flow past, walked in the beautiful gardens, read her Bible and prayed.

She and Eva probably cried together and young Kathleen enjoyed a trip away from the desert.

On November 30, 1917, Biddy Chambers returned to Zeitoun to pick up the reins of Oswald’s ministry.

She drew her resiliency from knowing God was with her. That morning’s Daily Light reading reminded her of two pertinent Bible verses:

“My presence shall go with thee,” and “Jesus Himself came and stood in the midst of them.”

Oswald was dead, but God remained close to Biddy Chambers.

Resiliency and work

Resiliency often comes about because there’s too much work to do. You can’t sit down and cry, or nothing would get done.

Biddy spent the rest of World War I in Egypt, ministering to the troops.

She began the work of the books, she taught classes using Oswald’s material and she led Bible studies.

With the other YMCA women, she cooked meals, prayed with soldiers, listened and directed them back to God.

She tended her daughter, and worked with Oswald’s words–always.

Biddy Chambers’ ministry to soldiers through the theaters of war helped.

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London Memorial service folder

Letters came from all over the world; she knew very well her personal sacrifice was her gift to God–and thus, the world.

Widowhood may have removed her husband, but not her God nor her ministry.

Lessons for Me

Biddy paused in her ministry to deal with her grief.

Two weeks would not have been enough, but it was all that she could afford in 1917.

100 years later, in the middle of a book launch and a fire, I couldn’t really afford to take a lot of time either.

In the first few days of our emergency evacuation, I focused on what I could–though I had a radio interview the day we abandoned our home.

For me, as I imagine for Biddy, stepping out of the emergency into what I knew  well–the story of her life–was a pause of normality in the midst of great uncertainty.

I could talk about the book; everything else about our life, however, felt scattered and unfocused.

In those first few days of shock, my work both helped and required me to be resilient.

I’m thankful. (13 days later we got the good news, our house did not burn).

Next time: Resiliency in a Post-War World (Part III)


What did Mrs. Oswald Chambers do following his death? Click to Tweet

Mrs Oswald Chambers: Resiliency in widowhood. Click to Tweet


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