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Great mothers in church history

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Great mothers in church history

Augustine of Hippo is known by Christians the world over for standing against heresy in the fifth century and laying a foundation for the Protestant Reformation a thousand years later.

Lesser known is the fact that Augustine might never have become a Christian if not for his mother Monnica, who prayed for his salvation for years before eventually sailing from North Africa to Italy to beg her son to attend church. He honored her wishes and was saved when he heard the Gospel under the preaching of Ambrose of Milan.

Monnica -- as her name is spelled on her tomb despite commonly being rendered as "Monica" -- is one of many noteworthy mothers in church history.

"Some of Christian history's greatest preachers, theologians and missionaries owe the first fruits of their ministries not to their exegetical insights, homiletic abilities or spiritual zeal, but instead to the faithful prayers of their godly mothers," Christian George, assistant professor of historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press in written comments. "In the lives of countless Christians throughout the ages, God has often granted second births as a result of those who gave them their first."

Susanna Wesley was another Christian mother whose witness and love for her children helped alter the course of church history. Born in England in 1669, Wesley oversaw the spiritual and educational development of her 19 children -- 10 of whom survived to adulthood -- while her husband Samuel was away from home for lengthy periods.

On a rotating basis, each child had a night for individual conversation and prayer with Susanna. She wrote commentaries on the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer as curriculum for her children. One of her sons, John, led thousands to Christ and organized what became known after his death as the Methodist Church. Another son, Charles, wrote more than 6,000 hymns, including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and "Rejoice, the Lord Is King."

Susanna has been called the "Mother of Methodism" though she never preached and published very few writings.

"Susanna patterns for us a mother who worked tirelessly to provide for her children," George said. "She shows us the power and influence that a mother can have over the development of a child's theology, spirituality and worldview. She proved to be a woman of great resilience in the face of a domestic life riddled with difficulty, illness and loss."

One of Southern Baptists' heroes similarly owes part of her success to her mother. When Anna Maria Moon's husband died of a heart attack in 1852, she was left to manage the Virginia family plantation alone and raise four surviving children, including a daughter named Lottie. Believing strongly in the value of education, Moon sent Lottie to the Baptist-affiliated Virginia Female Institute, where she became one of the first women in the South to earn a master's degree.

"Anna's belief that her daughter should receive a higher theological education placed Lottie on a trajectory that, in 1859, would intersect with a revival led by John Broadus at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary," George said. "It was during this revival that Lottie experienced a spiritual awakening that would later result, in 1873, in her decision to move to China and join her older sister Edmonia as a missionary through the Foreign Mission Board."

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