God has used many faithful women to do great works in his name. One example is Mary Andrews. She lived out her faith by helping other women to flourish in Kingdom work, as well as ministering to and caring for the gospel-poor and the disadvantaged. Throughout her life, there was a verse that guided and inspired Mary – Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Living by faith in Jesus led her to serve in dangerous and challenging places; to become a champion for the marginalised; and to be a fearless Bible teacher.
Mary was born in 1915 in the small town of Cooma in NSW. Her father was a grazier, and her mother had always hoped to be a missionary. As her mother saw that it was God’s will for her to remain in Australia, she prayed that somebody else in her own family would become a missionary.
Mary became a Christian as a little girl. Reading through the Bible when she was 10 years old, she wept at the injustice of Jesus’ crucifixion and at the realisation that she shared responsibility for his death. This led her to pray for forgiveness and, in thankfulness, she committed her life to Jesus – a commitment that she honoured for the rest of her life.
As a teenager, Mary heard the voice of God say to her, “China, China, China”. In response, Mary said to God, “From this day, I yield the control of my life to you. I am willing to be obedient, even if it means going to China.” After she finished school, Mary trained at Gladesville Psychiatric Hospital and then studied at Sydney Missionary and Bible Training College. Afterwards, she studied at Deaconess House, beginning a long-lasting relationship with the institution.
Mary spent time working among the poor, the sick and those who had suffered great injustice. She fought hard against what she called the “powers of darkness” around her. This impulse to work selflessly for the gospel continued when Mary felt the call of God to mission work in China in 1937. Despite her fears of going to China on her own as the threat of World War II loomed, and the dangers and obstacles that she knew that she may face, Mary was convinced that to fulfil the will of God, she must go. She was comforted by the knowledge that she was “in the centre of the circle and will of God”. Mary was sure that God had sent her to China to share her experience of God’s transcendent grace with the war-torn country, and that God would protect her and provide for her as she endeavoured to do his will. While in China, she taught Sunday school and English Bible classes, ran home evangelistic meetings and made hospital visits. She also taught at short-term Bible schools.
In 1944, as the war progressed, Mary escaped from China to India. There she continued her ministry and care for the disadvantaged by working at a children’s home and a home for destitute women and girls. She returned to China in 1947, but was forced to move back to Australia when the Chinese Community Party came to power. However, this did not lead to the death of her ministry in China. It continued to flourish in her absence, prompting a pastor from Beijing to tell Mary on her visit there in 1991, “It is good that you came back to see that the fruit of your work, and that of the other Christian missionaries, is still going on, in fact increasing.”
Mary served as the Principal of Deaconess House (which later became Mary Andrews College) from 1952 to 1975. In her time as Principal, Mary was devoted to helping women flourish with the gifts, and in the ministry contexts, that God had given them. A student wrote this about her experience with Mary at Deaconess House: “My memory of Mary Andrews is that of a loving yet firm director in a very big house of women … She always seemed to be calm and joyful … Her focus in all things was on the Lord. ‘Whatever you do, in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus …’. She used the practical parts of the epistles with real effect as she attempted to guide us and mould our Christian characters. [Mary] made it clear that her strength and help came from our Lord.”
Mary was a strong advocate for recognition and respect for women’s ministry. She said, “The more I studied the gospels, the more amazed I was by the way our Lord elevated women and entrusted them with the deepest truths, and gave Mary the privilege of telling Peter and his other disciples that he was risen.”
In speaking about her life, Mary said, “The measure of what you can do for the world will be simply what you let God do with yourself. With most of us, God can do so little because we are so little between his hands. That Jesus really wants me and needs me is the wonder and strength of my life. He has met my every need and in him I am fully satisfied.”
Mary died in 1996. She leaves behind for Mary Andrews College and ADM a powerful legacy of what it looks like to be a courageous Christian woman, unafraid to boldly answer the call of God to fight injustice and help women flourish in Kingdom work, regardless of the personal cost. She has inspired Christian women for generations to use their gifts to serve God’s Kingdom, and her story continues to do so today.
All quotes taken from Going it Alone, by Margaret Yarwood Lamb.
*Mary Andrews College is a ministry of Anglican Deaconess Ministries. The college was first established as Deaconess House in 1891. The aim of the college is to raise up women with theological formation for practical ministry. For more information about the history and purpose of Mary Andrews College, visit www.mac.edu.au/about