The History & Passion Behind Set Apart Girl
By LESLIE LUDY
When I was eighteen, I read a book* that became a defining influence upon my life. It was a biography written by Elisabeth Elliot about the life of Amy Carmichael who was missionary to India in the early 1900s. As a young woman in Ireland, Amy felt God calling her to give up the pursuits and pleasures of the world and become fully consecrated to Him. From the day she responded to this call, she determined, “nothing could ever matter again, except the things that were eternal.” While other girls her age were consumed with clothes, social events, and marriage prospects, Amy chose an entirely different focus — pouring out her life for the Kingdom of God. Elisabeth Elliot made the observation: “The preoccupation of seventeen-year-old girls don’t seem to change much from generation to generation. But in every generation, there seem to be a few who make other choices. Amy was one of the few.”
“One of the few” — the concept fascinated me. As I read the words, I felt a longing to become “one of the few” in my own generation. Two years earlier, God had challenged me to embrace a life of surrender and consecration to Him. He had asked me to not merely fit Him into my life, but to build my life around Him. I walked away from the shallow pursuits and pop-culture pleasures that had been occupying my time and energy, and I began to truly put Jesus Christ first in my life.
Often, it was a lonely path. There were many people who didn’t understand my commitments. Some asked, “Why aren’t you out having fun and going to parties like all the other girls your age?” or “How do you ever expect to get married if you aren’t out there flirting and dating?”
I was seeking to live a set apart life for Christ, but the road was narrow and difficult. Though my relationship with Him was rich and fulfilling, there were also times when I was flooded with doubts and discouragement about the path I had chosen. When I read Amy’s story about becoming “one of the few” young women in her generation who had chosen a set apart life for Jesus Christ, I was deeply inspired. I knew those words were an enunciation of what God had called me to — even if others didn’t understand. Even if I experienced hardship and loneliness that others couldn’t relate to, my greatest desire was to live with an undivided heart toward my King.
It was a huge comfort and encouragement to know there were other women who had walked this path before me. Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliot, Corrie ten Boom, Catherine Booth, Gladys Aylward, and Elisabeth Fry were some of the “heroes of the faith” whose stories strengthened and grounded me in the set apart life. As I was moved and inspired by these women’s lives, a new desire began to awaken within my heart — the desire to inspire young women in my own generation toward a Christ-centered, consecrated life, just as these women had done for me.
A few years after Eric and I were married, God gave me the opportunity to teach and disciple young Christian women. As I traveled the country and interacted with girls, I began to realize how foreign the concept of being set apart for Christ has become in this generation. Many young women I met had grown up in church, but had never truly surrendered their lives to Christ. They were living for themselves, and attempting to blend Him into their self-focused lives. As I shared my own journey of exchanging mediocre Christianity for a lifestyle of absolute surrender to Christ, many of them were challenged and inspired. Thousands of young women began to catch a vision for the beautiful lifestyle of set-apartness that God had called them to. I had the privilege of witnessing countless young women say a whole-hearted yes to God and choose a consecrated life for His glory.
I began to receive hundreds of letters and emails from girls who had chosen to live a set apart life for Christ. They had made difficult decisions in order to follow Jesus without reserve — decisions that others didn’t always understand. Though they were deeply fulfilled in Christ, they often felt lonely and isolated in the path that they had chosen. Like Amy Carmichael, they were “the few” in their generation who had chosen a different path, and the road was not easy. The enemy sometimes hounded them with doubt and discouragement. They faced constant temptations to compromise — to give in to the easier path of shallow, self-indulgent mediocrity.
I knew God was asking me to strengthen and encourage these precious young women around the world, many whose names I didn’t even know. I started a simple website, posting insights, encouragement, scriptures, and testimonies about living set apart as a young woman in today’s world. Almost immediately, the number of visitors to the site exploded far beyond my expectations. I was amazed and excited to see the overwhelming hunger and passion for set-apartness among young women all around the world.
I’d been to many Christian events for young women that were built more around entertaining and pampering girls than leading them into a life-changing relationship with Christ. Many Christian leaders seemed to believe that young women were incapable of grasping deep spiritual truth or developing a true hunger for the things of God. They thought the best way to keep young women interested in Christianity was to make it shallow, feel-good, and trendy.
But I found the opposite to be true. As I straightforwardly challenged young women to come away from their self-focused lives and choose a Christ-centered existence, they responded with excitement and passion. Many of them had grown up around shallow Christianity and had been longing for someone to call them to a higher standard. They were eager to surrender their lives to Christ with absolute abandon. As the ministry of Set Apart Girl grew, complete surrender to Jesus Christ became our message. Through this ministry my greatest desire was, and still is, to equip and inspire young women to become “one of the few” in their generation who will follow Jesus Christ with an undivided heart.
WHAT REAL SET-APARTNESS LOOKS LIKE
It’s easy to misunderstand the message of set-apartness. For example, when God first began challenging me to live a set apart life, I immediately worried that I would end up as a stiff, somber, “holier-than-thou” type of woman who was far too concerned about following a set of rules to ever relax or enjoy life. I’d seen many Christians who had used their own legalistic methods to become “separate from the world” and consecrated to Christ. They had ended up being dour and miserable, arrogantly looking down their noses on others who didn’t share their convictions.
But as I learned how to build my life around Christ and began to grow in Truth, I discovered the vast difference between legalism and true set-apartness. True set-apartness can only flow out of a genuine, passionate, intimate walk with Jesus Christ. Legalism is based on rules, but set-apartness flows from a relationship with the King of all kings. Legalism oppresses, but true set-apartness liberates. Legalism chokes life, but true set-apartness gives life. Legalism is based upon self-effort, but true set-apartness is based upon the supernatural enabling grace of God. Legalism is based upon rules, but true set-apartness is based upon a relationship with the King of all kings.
In my book Set Apart Femininity, I told a true story about two young women in China who were turned out of their homes and disowned by their families because of their faith in Christ. They had no money, no protection, and nowhere to go, but they began walking from village to village, sharing the hope of the Gospel with everyone they encountered.
The girls knew that if they talked openly about their faith, their lives could be in danger. Yet they were so passionate about Jesus Christ they couldn’t help but speak of Him everywhere they went. As they talked about Him, their faces glowed. Even though they had nothing — not even a place to sleep — they were joyful and content. More than once, strangers came up to them and asked, “Why are your faces so shiny and radiant? What do you have that makes you so happy? Whatever it is, I need it in my life too!”
There was something so beautifully different about these two young women. They were set apart for Christ. They loved Him so deeply that they gladly and willingly put Him above all else, even though it had cost them everything and put their very lives at stake.
This is true set-apartness. It has nothing to do with adopting a set of rules in order to become more righteous. When you encounter Jesus Christ in a personal and life-changing way, He transforms you from the inside out. He gently cleanses away sin and worldliness from your soul, and causes you to love light and hate darkness. Your decision to come away with Christ and become consecrated to Him is an outflow of your overwhelming love and gratitude for Him. He has given everything for you. And in light of this glorious, astounding, unfathomable reality, the cry of your soul becomes, “Lord, may I give everything to You in return!” When you are truly set apart, you will lose your desire for worldly things and simply desire more of Him. As the old hymn so beautiful says, “The things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
As the lives of the two young women in China demonstrated, true set-apartness exudes a heavenly beauty that magnetically draws people to its radiant light. It sparks in others a hunger to know Jesus Christ in a deep and life-changing way.
THE BEAUTY OF SET-APART WOMANHOOD
As the ministry of Set Apart Girl began to take shape, one of my greatest desires was to convey the principles of set-apartness in way that would capture the life, beauty, radiance, and joy of following Jesus Christ. God wonderfully answered this desire by sending along a young woman to join our team who is incredibly gifted in the art of creating Christ-centered beauty. Annie Wesche attended our very first girls’ weekend retreat over ten years ago. She was passionate about living a set apart life for Christ and wanted to serve the ministry of Set Apart Girl in any practical way that we might need. At the time, we were expecting our first baby and we asked her to come on board as an assistant to me and part-time nanny when the baby came along.
Little did either of us realize that she would become an integral part of the vision and future of Set Apart Girl. Annie was joyfully willing to do whatever job needed to be done, from changing Hudson’s diapers to answering hundreds of emails to shipping boxes of books from our basement storage room. But she had a growing interest in design and photography. She had no camera or design software and no professional training. Yet as she began to ask God to equip and enable her to pursue the dreams He had placed in her heart, extraordinary things began to happen. Needed equipment was provided in unexpected ways. And as she allowed God to grow and develop her talents and interests in design and photography, Annie became supernaturally gifted at capturing and conveying the beauty of set apart femininity. The combination of powerful truth enhanced with beautiful images helped give women a vision for God’s sacred intent for their lives. It communicated the reality that set-apartness does not lead to stiff, somber legalism, but to life, joy, and true fulfillment.
Annie’s pure, radiant, and Christ-centered photography and design has also helped convey the fact that true feminine beauty, in God’s pattern, isn’t sensual or self-seeking. Instead, it is a loveliness that comes from a woman’s surrendered heart toward Christ — His loveliness that flows through her from the inside out.
Ten years after Annie first came on board with our ministry as a nanny and office assistant, she now serves a crucial role in our print magazine and ministry development as our Creative Director. Annie’s amazing creativity and Christ-centered focus has continued to shape and influence the direction of this organization, and her radiant example of Christ-centered femininity has made an impact on countless young women. A little over two years ago, Annie temporarily relocated to Haiti to care for Rees and Lily — the two toddlers we recently adopted. It was only supposed to be for a few months, but it turned into twenty-nine months. There were so many times that Annie had to carry on her design work for Set Apart Girl in extremely difficult conditions — battling rats, spiders, oppressive heat, power outages, riots, Internet failure, computer problems, and language barriers — all the while doing an incredibly beautiful job of making the set apart message shine. Looking back at how Set Apart Girl continued to flourish even with our beloved Creative Director in a third-world country, I am truly astounded at the enabling grace and faithfulness of God.
In addition to Annie, God has blessed Set Apart Girl with many other likeminded sisters who have come alongside this ministry to offer their skills in writing, photography, design, administration, and organization. All of us share the same primary desire — to point women back to Jesus Christ. Each member of the Set Apart Girl team has personally lived by the principles taught and promoted in this magazine. I have been inspired, blessed, and amazed by the humility, sacrificial love, dedication, and servant-heartedness I have witnessed in the life of each team member. None are involved in this work for earthly applause or human recognition, but because they desire to bring glory to Jesus Christ. Like every Christian woman, they all have their struggles and failures, and yet they have all chosen to walk this same narrow road of pursuing Jesus Christ with all of their hearts. It is an honor and privilege to serve alongside each of them.
IN EVERY GENERATION
What started out as a simple online magazine for Christian young women has morphed into a ministry that is reaching women of all ages in countries all over the world. Those who are drawn to the message and heart of Set Apart Girl aren’t typically looking for an easy road. They are ready to lay their lives at Jesus’ feet and put His glory above their own self-interest.
Just as things were sometimes difficult when I first chose to become “one of the few” who would seek Christ with an undivided heart, the challenges have continued as our ministry has grown. We have struggled against financial challenges, criticism, and the opposition of the enemy. Yet through it all, we have seen God remain so amazingly faithful. I have never felt that I needed to hold Set Apart Girl together on my own, or frantically work to see our message received. As we have made seeking Christ our number one focus, we have watched Him carry the set apart message to women around the world in His own amazing, perfect, miraculous way.
It is with great joy, gratitude, and wonder that I watched our very first print magazine roll off the presses. It has been a dream of mine to take this magazine to print for almost ten years now, and after much prayer and waiting, that dream is finally a reality in God’s perfect timing.
My hope and prayer is that what you read in these pages — and in the print issues to come — will continue to strengthen and equip you to stand strong as “one of the few” in this generation who chooses to give everything that you have to the King of all kings. Truly, He is worthy!
*A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot