The Importance of a Friendship in Biddy Chambers’ Life—and Ours! By Michelle Ule

Do any of you have a friend who would be willing to risk her life to help you?

Mary Riley

Biddy Chambers had such a friend in Mary Riley. Without Mary’s help, presence and encouragement, one of the most beloved devotionals, My Utmost for His Highest, might never have come into print.

The two were the same age, thirty-one, in 1915 when an opportunity arose for Biddy and her two-year-old daughter to travel to Egypt. Biddy’s husband Oswald, a noted Bible teacher, was serving as a chaplain at a YMCA camp north of Cairo during World War I.

Prior to sailing to Egypt, Oswald requested permission to bring his wife and child since Egypt was not yet a war zone.

The YMCA authorities considered his shocking request—no one else had a wife or child with them– and said yes. Biddy and Kathleen could come, along with a nurse.

How many of us have a friend who would volunteer to sail through winter U-boat infested waters to a war zone with a small child to live in an adobe bungalow in the Egyptian desert surrounded by Australian and New Zealand troops?

How many friends would volunteer to pay their way to live in a land of pestilence and illness in an era before antibiotics when summer temperatures regularly hit 130 degrees?

Mary Riley volunteered. She loved Biddy, Oswald and Kathleen and through her attendance at the Bible Training College (BTC) they ran in London prior to the war, she wanted to serve God, no matter where he sent her.

She also was a terrific cook and the ministry Oswald envisioned at Zeitoun camp could use her.

Three months after Oswald’s departure, Biddy, Mary and Kathleen caught a small ship. A passenger ship hit a mine and sank in the English Channel the day before they sailed. They passed two U-boat-sunk ships ruins in the Mediterranean Sea. The danger was real.

Once in sunny Egypt, they must have taken a deep breath when they saw their humble dwelling with sand as the floor.

Both women rolled up their sleeves and plunked a pith helmet on their heads. Mary cooked in the outdoors with the help of an Army orderly. Basically camping, she and Biddy turned the Zeitoun YMCA camp into a center of hospitality. They never knew how many people would drop by for dinner.

As one soldier wrote about Mary and Biddy’s arrival: “They kept open house for us all. Whatever they had they shared, and with little Kathleen running around and attending the Sunday services where she lustily sang the hymns, and Miss Riley’s cooking, we began to feel almost as if we were home again.”

When they went “up the line” to a more primitive camp, Biddy and Mary concocted fruit trifle to serve desert-weary soldiers at free teas on Sunday afternoons.

As one officer said, he would “forgo the comfort of a chair and sit on the sand to get such a meal,” as prepared by Biddy and Mary.

Oswald himself appreciated the women’s toil under arduous conditions, “it takes some vitality, morally, physically and spiritually to be cheerful in weather,” like they had in Egypt.

Mary mourned with Biddy when Oswald died unexpectedly from appendicitis in 1917. She helped keep the camp running while Biddy and Kathleen grieved.

At war’s end, the three sailed to England together in far less perilous seas.

Mary Riley did not have to lay down her life for her friend, but she was willing to do so when she accompanied the Chambers family to Egypt.

Biddy could not have traveled nor done the ministry she performed while in Egypt without Mary. Mary helped with Kathleen’s care (as did others), cooked and ministered to the soldiers while Biddy attended her husband’s lectures and “took down” in shorthand everything Oswald said.

From her notes, and those Biddy took at the BTC, Biddy compiled all 30 Oswald Chambers “authored” books in the years following his death.

For that reason, you can say that without Mary Riley’s friendship with Biddy and Oswald Chambers, readers for the last 90 years would not have had the bestselling devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.

We should all thank God for the friendship of Biddy Chambers and Mary Riley!

About the Author

Michelle Ule is the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman Behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional (Baker). You can learn more about her, as well as Biddy and Oswald Chambers, at her website, www.michelleule.com

http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/mrs-oswald-chambers/384330

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About shelia@sheliastovall.com

Shelia Stovall is a Southern, small-town librarian, and has an understanding of what women like to read. She is a member of ACFW and is currently the Treasurer of the Middle Tennessee ACFW Chapter. Shelia is a member of the Ky. Public Library Association and the American Library Association. Her short story, The Barber’s Sanctuary, won the fiction division of Kentucky Monthly’s sixth annual Writer’s Showcase in the November 2013 issue. Shelia is a weekly columnist for the Citizen-Times, based in Scottsville, Ky. Shelia’s Southern, small-town roots have given her an understanding of community and women's friendships. Her writing deals with difficult contemporary issues, but there’s always a thread of hope amid the calamity. Shelia is passionate about African missions and has traveled to Africa annually for the past four years. Community service is also important to Shelia, and she has volunteered as a crew chief for five years at Camp Habitat, (a Christian youth service camp that partners with Habitat for Humanity).

5 thoughts on “The Importance of a Friendship in Biddy Chambers’ Life—and Ours! By Michelle Ule

  1. rose

    Thank you Michelle and Shelia for sharing this wonderful story behind the scenes that I had never heard of before. Fascinating! I want to read My Utmost for His Highest again in 2018 with these two women in my head who served their Lord so faithfully despite the ‘weather’!

    Reply
  2. John King

    Hi Mary Riley was my Grandmothers sister,.. By all accounts the Rileys were a very devout Christian family… One I am proud to be descended from …
    John King

    Reply
    1. shelia@sheliastovall.com Post author

      Hi John, I’m glad you stopped by my blog. I hope you’ve had the chance to read Mrs. Oswald Chambers Did your grandmother share stories about her adventurous sister? I hope so. There is no doubt she was a servant of the Lord. I’ve had the chance to visit Africa but I’ve never stayed overnight in a mud-brick building. I cannot imagine the hardships she faced while serving the Lord. Her crown in heaven is filled with jewels. Because of her efforts, hearts are still be touched today through Oswald Chambers’s writing that never would have seen the light of day without Mary’s assistance to Biddy. You should be proud.

      Reply

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