We have no idea how the Lord will use us, where He will call, or whose lives He wants us to impact. Of course, it’s never of our own doing, but by His Spirit and His grace, we are able to spread the gospel, to truly impact people and places. We won’t necessarily get to see the fruit of it all, but we can leave a legacy, one that touches hearts, spreads the gospel, and opens doors for years and years to come.
Mabel Francis left that very kind of legacy. She touched so many lives, led so many to Christ, opened so many doors, and persevered in incredible ways; even she didn’t get to experience all the fruits of her ministry—her legacy is ongoing.
Isn’t it beautiful when the Lord opens doors? Isn’t it even more beautiful when we lean so much on Him that we walk through those very doors even when it seems impossible?
Mabel did just that. She felt the Lord calling her to missions, to serve Him, to go to unreached places and proclaim the Good News. In the early 1900s, when she was in her late twenties, she wrote to A.B. Simpson, the founder of the C&MA, and asked to be sent as a missionary to Japan. At the time, single women weren’t permitted to travel for mission work internationally, so Mabel took extra steps to explain her situation—her desire and call—and she paved the way for ministry. Because she was such a successful and mature preacher, Mabel’s dream was encouraged in 1909, and she was given permission to go and serve in Japan as a missionary.
Four years later, in 1913, Mabel’s brother Tom joined her in Japan, and their sister Anne joined them in 1924. Because of their sacrifice and encouragement, more than twenty churches were established—the gospel was shared in these places that resulted from the work of the sibling trio. Even when Tom went back to the U.S. and The Alliance withdrew its workers from Japan in 1939, Mabel and Anne decided to remain and continue serving where they felt the Lord calling them. They remained even when hardship almost jeopardized everything.
In 1941, World War II threatened more than just the Francis sisters’ ministry; it threatened their very lives—staying in Japan could have meant imprisonment or death. The U.S. and Japanese governments offered the sisters safe passage back to the U.S., but they wanted to remain and help the Japanese once the war was over.
They were certain that the suffering of war would inevitably bring an openness to the gospel—a hope and assurance that kept them in Japan. They weren’t mistaken; many opportunities arose. The same year that the war began, Mabel turned her house into a clinic in order to tend to the sick. She joined Anne a year later in an internment camp near Tokyo, and they stayed there for three long years.
As the war heightened, so did the effects of such brutality. Bombs fell, fires engulfed their camp, and they narrowly escaped the dangerous and treacherous conditions that intensely threatened their lives. While she witnessed the horrible suffering by the morning light, Mabel wrote that her hope was continuously in the Lord. She was not relying on her own strength, but the strength that only He could give to her.
That very strength brought Mabel to continue to minister to the Japanese in their suffering, through their deepest pain and trials. She traveled all over Japan giving witness of the Lord’s goodness and provision, desiring to present the hope of the Good News and to rebuild the church. As the devastating atomic bombing of Hiroshima wrecked the city and its people, Mabel was there leading many survivors to Christ, and she organized a church and a Bible school. Out of the wreckage, she rebuilt pieces for the Lord’s glory.
Over the four years that followed the war, Mabel and Anne planted six churches, a Bible school, multiple grade schools, orphanages, and medical clinics. They knew that they couldn’t do it on their own, so Mabel wrote to the C&MA missions board and requested that they send workers back to Japan. Mabel was there to welcome them when they arrived, and once more, writing to the C&MA brought Kingdom impact to a somewhat unreached and broken people group.
Mabel’s efforts were, of course, for the glory of God, but all that she did and accomplished did not go unnoticed by others, even the local Japanese government. The Japanese emperor held a ceremony for Mabel on May 7, 1962, in which he presented her with the 5th Order of the Sacred Treasure, the highest honor Japan gives to a foreigner, awarded to those who have made incredible impact and achievement. She was recognized for how she helped the Japanese in their lowest, most distressing moments and for how she led hundreds of Japanese to know more about Christ.
Mabel’s declaration of faith in the Lord was evident in the ways she followed God’s calling on her life, led others to know Him, and aided the broken in their greatest time of need. She exemplified love and grace by being a light to those around her, and her legacy lives on.