MTW Missionary and Best-Selling Author Sarah Young Has Died
By Melissa Morgan Kelley

Sarah Young, author of the popular “Jesus Calling” devotional book series and longtime Mission to the World (MTW) missionary to Japan and Australia with her husband Steve, died yesterday, Aug. 31, at the age of 77. 

Young’s “Jesus Calling” books sold more than 45 million copies in 35 languages, making her the bestselling Christian author of all time.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 15, 1946, Young grew up as the daughter of a college professor and was encouraged to read widely and think for herself. She majored in philosophy at Wellesley as a non-Christian searching for truth. 

“Each time I began studying a new philosophy I’d get excited, thinking this one might end my quest,” wrote Young. “Eventually, I became disillusioned and concluded there was no absolute truth. A few years later, though, when I read Francis Schaeffer’s ‘Escape from Reason,’ I found in that book answers to questions I had previously considered unanswerable.”

This opened the way for Young to study at L’Abri, a Christian community in Switzerland led by Francis and Edith Schaeffer. While living and studying there, Young became a Christian.

Later she attended Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, where she earned a master’s degree in counseling and biblical studies (she also earned graduate degrees from Tufts University and Georgia State University). While there she met her husband, Steve, a third-generation missionary to Japan. 

Soon after their marriage, Steve and Sarah moved to Japan as missionaries with Mission to the World. To cope with the challenges of learning a new language and assimilating into a new culture, Young began spending more time in Bible study and prayer. 

“I realized I needed to keep my eyes on Jesus and depend on Him more fully,” wrote Young. “I starting getting up early each morning to spend time ‘seeking God’s face’ (Psalm 105:4). I needed my focused time with the Lord to be as free of distractions as possible. Early morning worked best, while our house was quiet and our children were still sleeping. I treasured this time of being alone with Jesus.”

Her journaling changed from monologue to dialogue, and this new way of communicating with God became the high point of her day. “Of course, I knew my writings were not inspired, as only Scripture is,” wrote Young. “But they were helping me grow closer to God. This became a delightful way to ‘encourage myself in the Lord.’”

Her first devotional book, “Jesus Calling,” grew out of many years of writing in prayer journals and was published in 2004. It sold millions of copies, largely by word of mouth. Many other titles followed over the years, including “Jesus Always,” “Jesus Today,” “Jesus Lives,” “Dear Jesus,” “Peace in His Presence,” and other books, including children’s devotionals, Bible storybooks, and journals.

“The success of my books has surprised me tremendously,” wrote Young. “I often refer to it as miraculous, and I continue to view it that way. I’ve never employed an agent or been on a book tour. The success has definitely been God’s doing — not my own. I give Him the glory.”

One of the most remarkable things about Young’s publishing success is that it occurred despite debilitating chronic illness. Young contracted Lyme disease in 2001 and has been in poor health since, unable to do media interviews or book tours, instead communicating entirely through email as her health allowed.

Young said that her books might not have been written had she not struggled with her health. “My inability to be ‘out and about’ very much has given me more time to focus on Jesus and enjoy His Presence. I continue to have significant limitations in my life, yet I have found joy in my journey.”  

In her introduction to “Jesus Today” she wrote: “I am convinced that if I had been healthier I would not have been able to write this book. It chronicles my journey from discouragement to hope.” Years of unanswered prayer for healing taught her to “trust God in the dark, when His ways are far beyond my comprehension.”

Ultimately, her books sought to point readers to the timeless truths of the Bible: “The hope we can find in the Bible is a sturdy reality — no matter what is happening in our lives or in the world. My books tend to speak to different people in different ways, meeting them right where they are. I think that’s because the books help people connect with Jesus, and He meets us right where we are.”

Sarah Young and her husband Steve spent nearly 30 years ministering in Japan and Australia through MTW and moved back to Tennessee several years ago to be closer to family. Young is survived by her husband, two children, and six grandchildren. 

Scroll to Top