Surrendering Your Children to God: The Legacy of Katharine Howard
She was not well known, in fact, most people have probably never even heard her name. She never achieved anything the world would deem “successful” yet, as a faithful wife and mother of six, Katharine Howard’s life greatly impacted the course of eternity. Her life was one of unreserved surrender to Jesus. Not only did she surrender each aspect of her own life to Christ though, she also surrendered the lives of each of her children. Her prayer from the beginning of her motherhood journey was “Lord, send my children.” As many mothers have the tendency to do, she could have idolized her children, becoming unwilling to relinquish them in order to fulfill God’s purposes for their lives. She chose instead though, to hold onto them loosely realizing that she was only a steward of these precious souls and that her job, as Janet Stuart put it, was to “give a saint to God.” Her daughter Elisabeth once said, “When parents receive a child from the hand of God they receive a life to be shaped and molded…” Katharine Howard certainly had this perspective throughout her career as a mother. Day in and day out, she labored to train up her children in the fear and instruction of the Lord. She discipled, disciplined, molded and shaped these little lives, choosing to spend and be spent for the sake of their souls. She poured herself out for each of her children realizing that they were only lent to her for a short time and one day they would be shot out as arrows for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.
On April of 1952 her prayer “send my children” began to bear fruit as her eldest daughter Elisabeth set sail to serve in Ecuador. The day before she was to leave, Katharine wrote to her daughter:
“My own dear Bets,
How inarticulate I feel at this moment, as I try to put into words my thankfulness to our Father for His good hand upon you over the years, for His faithfulness when I have been so faithless, for His calling you into His service and giving you grace and faith to be obedient, for giving you courage when the way seemed hard, and utter and complete trust each step of the way. You have been such a comfort and very real help to me spiritually. I will miss being able to pour out my ‘woes’ to you, dear, but how I do thank God for you and that He is leading you.
As I write, a white throat sparrow is singing- one more reminder of His loving care! At your leisure look up these verses and may they give you fresh courage and joy as you begin life under new and probably difficult conditions: Deut. 1:17, 21, 29, 30, 31; Jer.1:7-9.
As I said the other day, it is a comfort to me to know that Jim (Jim Elliot was Elisabeth’s future husband) will be near you, but a much greater comfort to remember that ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’- the only safe place! God keep you, dear.
Loving you always,
The following year, on February 10th, 1953, Katharine’s son Phil and daughter-in-law Margaret left for Northwest Territory, Canada where they spent their lives serving the Slave Indians. Only eleven days after Phil and Margaret left, her son Dave and daughter-in-law Phylis went to Costa Rica with the Latin American Mission. In April of 1955, her daughter Ginny and her son-in-law Bud, along with their baby Kenny went to Palawan, Philippines with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism. Her son Tom married Joyce and moved to Minnesota where they raised a family and oversaw a small chapel, serving faithfully for many years and giving help to many. Her youngest son was also walking with the Lord while away continuing his education, he would later go on to become a writer and university professor. Katharine’s arrows were flying.
In 1956, Jim Elliot, Katharine’s son-in-law, and four missionary colleagues were killed by the Auca Indians to whom they were attempting to take the gospel. Many well-intentioned mothers would have written begging her daughter to come home where it was safe and she could be near to comfort. However, this was not the case with Katherine. Here is an excerpt from her letter to Elisabeth:
“How I long to take you in my arms and comfort you. As yet we have no official word as to the outcome. Rumors fly about. Well-intentioned people phone with the latest things from the radio or TV. The next one may completely contradict the one before. Hope rises and falls. But through it all God is giving unbelievable peace, not to ask that the boys be spared, but only that HIS perfect will may be accomplished and that you dear girls will be so wonderfully conscious of HIS strength and grace that you may be surprised at the peace of heart that He can give.
The following quote from Amy Carmichael seems to fit: ‘Jonathan… does not so comfort David that he becomes necessary to him. He strengthened his hand in God. He leaves his friend strong in God, resting in God, safe in God. He detaches his dear David from himself and attaches him to his Very Present Help. Then Jonathan went to his house, and David abode in the wood- WITH GOD.'”
Then there is this excerpt from a letter which Katharine wrote in a letter to the entire family two days later when the final word had come that Jim’s body had been found:
“Beloved Children: ‘The dead in Christ shall rise first… we… shall be caught up with them to meet the Lord… So shall we ever be with the Lord… Comfort one another with these words.’
Bets, my darling, perhaps even TODAY you will be with your dear one! May the hope of His coming be wonderfully precious and strengthening to us all. I can only say with Job ‘The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away- BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.’ He has promised that we ‘shall know hereafter’ what He is doing, but till then let us ‘love Him, trust Him, praise Him.’…
All this past week of uncertainty, anguish, hope, despair, there has been a peace that has passed understanding, the promised grace which has been sufficient. Two words have been in my heart- “redeemed to God by Thy blood our of every kindred and tongue and people and nation.’ There MUST be some Aucas there- how my heart goes out to them in love and pity and longing that they may hear the word of hope, and how honored I feel to be the mother of six dear children who all have the burden to take that Word to the ends of the earth. Let us unite in prayer for the Aucas, for the Slaveyes, for those in Costa Rica and Palawan who do not know and are without hope.
And the other word that returned to me continually was that in Daniel 3:17, ‘Our God whom we serve IS ABLE… and will deliver (fear not them that kill the body)… BUT IF NOT… Though He slay me, yet will I TRUST HIM.”
Two days after this, Katharine wrote yet another letter to her dear Elisabeth:
“Of course we are wondering what you will do, dear. I have not written to urge you to come home for a time, as I know you know how dearly I would love to have you, but never for a minute would I want you to come unless you were sure it was God’s will for you. I am sure that you will want to carry on, and I am right with you in that.”
Katharine’s role in the life work of each of her children was crucial. She labored in prayer for each of them from the home front, backing them up every step of the way. Her heart was joined in their efforts and she supported them from afar, often writing them letters of encouragement and always, though far in distance, keeping them close to her heart.
Katharine’s passion for the gospel and the ministries of her children is evident in this poem she composed entitled “The Comfort of the Scriptures to a Mother of Six” which she thought out at 3 a.m. on April 25th, 1959
I see him, Lord, in all that frozen waste,
A gallant figure pushing dauntless on,
The stinging snow and wind beat in his face-
I need Thy promise, Lord, to lean upon.
For Indian hearts are cold and icy too,
“A heart of flesh for stone,” I hear Thee say?
And also, “He shall let my captives go!”
Now rest, my heart, in this sure Word today.
In steaming jungle, Lord, midst crawling life,
She labors patiently to tell Thy love,
Where naught is known save only human strife.
Whence comes my help if not from Thee above?
Arrows by day! Ah Lord, those Auca spears!
Thine angels charged to keep her? Yes, I know-
But, Lord, terror by night, loneliness and tears-
Yes, Lord, such rivers “shall nor overflow.”
And then another son, O God, so dear,
The opposition there is fierce and real;
The cunning black-robed hatred- this I fear,
The foe is mighty, Lord, his heart is steel!
What was that whispered word? Greater art Thou?
The mighty God… all pow’r, shield and fortress!
In THEE I rest my troubled heart just now,
And find Thy Word my comfort in distress.
But Lord, those typhoons toss the little boat,
Where still another daughter seeks to bring,
To unreached peoples of those isles remote,
The Word- “Christ died- He is thy Savior-King.”
What say’st Thou, Lord? (How kind He is to me!)
“E’en wind and sea obey Me. Peace be still!
Through jagged coral reefs and weltering sea,
I will be with her. Thou shalt fear no ill.”
Two more on my heart, Lord. These I bring.
Dear sons for whom Thou shedst Thy precious blood.
So quickly comes Thy Word (my heart would sing!)
“The steps of these are ordered of the Lord.”
Imagination stayed on Thee, didst say?
Yes, only then can perfect peace be won.
Commit them unto Thee? Each night and day,
My Father, take them for Thine own.
Much like the renown Hannah who dedicated her firstborn child to the Lord’s service, Katharine gave each of her children to God for the furtherance of His kingdom. Because of the faith she had in her loving Father, she was able to fully commit each of her children to His care, knowing that He loved them more deeply than she ever could. May her prayer “My Father, take them for Thine own” be the prayer of godly mothers today. May her plea, “Lord, send my children” be your plea for your children. May God raise up a generation of godly mothers like Katharine who strive, as she did, to raise their children up in the fear of the Lord, shaping them for our Master’s use.