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Erica Galindo
Celebrating Food, Faith and Family
Last edited on: June 15, 2015.

Early this morning Elisabeth Elliot, the beloved Christian pioneer and missionary, passed away. She lived 88 years in powerful service of Jesus Christ.

After her years as a foreign missionary, Elisabeth Elliot became an inspirational author and speaker whose books, courageous faith and words of wisdom have influenced generations around the world. She inspired many to serve God with reckless abandon.

This article was originally published September 30, 2013. Today we remember and honor her life of bravery and faith. 


Born to Serve

Elisabeth was born to missionary parents in Brussels, Belgium. Her parents moved soon after her birth to Pennsylvania and then eventually to New Jersey where she saw as a child what a life serving others could mean. Her parents daily modeled their faith for her one day at a time resulting in her sensing a call to missionary service at an early age.

As a young woman, Elisabeth fondly remembers the mentor God provided for her when she was a student at Prairie Bible Institute. “Many were the afternoons when Mrs. Cunningham poured tea for me and I poured my soul out to her,” Elisabeth recalls. This tea cup mentor prayed and stayed in contact with Elisabeth until she passed on. “Above all, “Elisabeth ponders, “She herself was the message.”

After graduating from Wheaton College, Elisabeth surrendered to missionary service in Ecuador. In 1953, she married a former Wheaton College classmate, Jim Elliot, and together they worked on translating the Bible into the language of the Quichua Indians.

Elisabeth’s book “Passion and Purity” chronicles their love story and challenges couples to approach courtship and marriage God’s way.

Jim and Elisabeth were married in Ecuador in 1953. They would not marry until both were sure it was God’s will for their lives.

 

In 1956, ten months after the birth of their daughter, Valerie, Jim and his comrades were speared by the Auca Indians while attempting to make contact to share the gospel with them.


The story of these five slain missionaries sent shock waves throughout the world in January of 1956 and has continued to inspire thousands to missionary service.

 

Seasoned and Mature in her Faith

Although Elisabeth was a mere 28 years old when her faith was put to the test, she was well grounded in her faith. All the influences in her life had paid off in her moment of need. Imagine being a young mother and wife living in a primitive culture and your husband and part of your mission family are brutally speared!

The normal reaction is to cower in fear and retreat to safety. But Elisabeth persisted in her obedience to God’s call on her life and continued to serve the Quichuas. She later reflected on her feelings at that time saying, “We just felt that God was in the whole thing, and there wasn’t anything that had happened that was not in the Providence of God.”

She later took her daughter Valerie and joined Rachel Saint to work among the Aucas. Yes, Elisabeth would raise her daughter in the jungle while serving the very tribe that speared her husband and his friends. She was a radical in her day.

Elisabeth and her daughter, Valerie eventually lived with the tribe that speared her husband. Her actions painted a picture of forgiveness to the world.

Valerie plays with the Auca children. Photo by Elisabeth Elliot

This photo taken by Elisabeth Elliot of Valerie and one of the Auca women is on the cover of “The Savage My Kinsman.”

Elisabeth understood that God uses every circumstance for His purpose for those who love Him. Her days at Wheaton College and Prairie Bible Institute, her strong Christian upbringing, her time alone with God and studying the Bible, and mentors like Mrs. Cunningham were all the resources God used to make her into one of His choicest servants. And then she began to pour herself into others. Her life became “Her Message” to millions.

 

Pouring by Writing

Through the Gates of Splendor was Elisabeth’s first pouring of herself into others. Written while she served as a missionary and before peaceful contact was made with the Auca Tribe (also known as Huaorani), it is her best-selling book. It shares the story of Operation Auca, an attempt by five missionary men (including her husband) to reach this tribe with the Gospel.

As the book continues to sell and is reprinted, updates about the families of the five men and the miraculous work to the Auca tribe continue to be added.


Elisabeth believes, “If we want real life, our hearts must be set on glory.” She set her goals on living for eternity and that has carried her through many trials in life. In 1956, Life Magazine documented this tragedy as it unfolded and later in another story credited their “Mission to Forgive” with propelling the evangelistic missionary movement in the late 1950’s.

The title of the book is derived from the fourth stanza of the hymn, “We Rest on Thee.”  The wives of the martyred missionaries sang this hymn at the memorial service that was also sung by their husbands before they entered the Auca territory. The lines to the song read:

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days

The book was later released as a documentary in 1958 called Through the Gates of Splendor with Elisabeth herself narrating the film. The movie also included information from her later book , The Savage My Kinsman, which includes many pictures of Elisabeth and Valerie and their primitive life in the jungle.

The following year she wrote Shadow of the Almighty. It is the life and testament of her husband, Jim Elliot. Heralded as a classic, well-known author, Eugenia Price called it, “Proof that Jesus Christ can bring bright creativity out of any shadow which ought fall across any life and any love.”

In 2006, the movie End of the Spear used information from this book, but tells the story from the perspective of Steve Saint (the son of Nate Saint, one of the slain missionaries), and Mincaye, one of the tribesmen who killed the missionaries. The two eventually formed a bond that continues to this day.

Produced by Kevin McAfee and Every Tribe Entertainment, it became one of the few independently released Christian movies in its day to draw attention at movie theaters and in DVD rentals and sales.  The movie portrays the moving story of the plan God had from the beginning to reach this savage tribe.

Nine years after the tragedy, the Gospel of Mark was translated in the Auca language. More astonishing, one of the killers, Mincaye, would eventually give his life to Christ and became the pastor who baptized the children of slain missionary Nate Saint.


A Role Model of Wisdom

Elisabeth Elliot’s best selling books continue to inspire 50 years after some were written. Photo by Sydney Swails Brant

Her other favorite titles include Passion and Purity, Let Me Be a Woman, God’s Guidance, and The Shaping of a Christian family. During her life, Elisabeth has poured her God-given wisdom into more than 30 books and her thirteen year radio program, Gateway to Joy. As Elisabeth always said, “Anything, if offered to God, can and will become your gateway to joy.”

Although she ended her radio program in 2001, her devotionals continue today at Devotionals by Elisabeth Elliott. Her radio programs can be accessed at Gateway to Joy

She is revered today as a woman who’s lived through every season of life and uses her experiences to reach out to those who endure the same. Her name is actually Elisabeth Howard Elliot Leitch Gren. In 1969, she married Addison Leitch, a professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. After his death in 1973, she began teaching the next year as an adjunct professor at that same seminary. In 1977, she married Lars Gren, a hospital chaplain who has traveled with her and helped to manage her ministry. They currently live outside of Boston.

Lars Gren has been Elisabeth’s faithful companion and spouse for nearly 36 years.

Here is Elisabeth’s advice to her about-to-be-married daughter from her book, Let Me Be A Woman:

Who is it you marry? You marry a sinner. There’s nobody else to marry. That ought to be obvious enough, but when you love a man as you love yours, it’s easy to forget. You forget it for a while and then when something happens that ought to remind you, you find yourself wondering what’s the matter, how could this happen, where did things go wrong? . . . Acceptance includes acceptance of his being a sinner. He is a fallen creature, in need of the same kind of redemption all the rest of us are in need of.


The Jungle Child Continues the Legacy

When Elisabeth’s daughter Valerie turned eight, she moved her back to the US for an American education. After graduating from her mother’s alma mater, Wheaton College, Valerie married Walter Shepard, a pastor whose family served as missionaries in the Congo. Their marriage has produced eight wonderful children who were home-schooled by Valerie and Walter and also four grandchildren. They are now in the empty-nester stage which leaves Valerie more time to pour herself into others through speaking and writing.

Valerie cherishes her memories growing up in the jungle. She describes her childhood as adventurous, happy and simple. Photo by Sydney Swails Brant

In 2010 she wrote a children’s memoir about her jungle experiences which tells this same amazing story through her eyes called Pilipinto’s Happiness: The Jungle Childhood of Valerie Elliot. Pilipinto is the name the Quicha tribe gave to Valerie which means “butterfly.”

Before going to the Congo to serve as missionaries, Walt pastored for 30 years in the states. After serving as missionaries in the Congo, Valerie and her husband are currently planting a church in Southport, NC. It’s clear this jungle child did not fall far from the tree.

Valerie tells the amazing story from her eyes as a child in her first book, “Pilipinto’s Happiness.” Photo by Sydney Swails Brant

Valerie learned much from her amazing childhood in the jungle. She learned to forgive fearlessly and love tremendously. She is thankful for the life her mother gave her which allowed contentment amidst the dangers of the Amazon. Photo by Elisabeth Elliot

 

Aging with Grace

Elisabeth now spends quieter days with her husband, Lars Gren, near the coast in Massachusetts. At almost eighty-seven, she no longer writes books or speaks in public. But her words of wisdom continue to inspire many as she awaits her journey home. As Billy Graham said, “All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever taught me how I ought to live in the years before I die. . . It’s not easy.”

Aging is a struggle in life—another season. And with the help of her devoted husband and some assistance, she is now weathering this one final storm.

Elisabeth now spends many days enjoying the outdoors from her rocking chair.


Tea with Elisabeth and Lars

Several years ago I was invited to have tea with Elisabeth and Lars. Since we are separated by one thousand miles, it’s taken me until now to accept the invitation. As my husband Alton and I drove towards the Gren home, I marveled at the opportunity to meet this courageous woman who has humbly modeled the beatitudes that Jesus taught to the world.

On a recent visit to North Carolina, Elisabeth visited Juana Mikels whom she mentored for years. As Juana sang “A Mighty Fortress,” Elisabeth’s big blue eyes looked into Juana’s as she sang each verse. Photo courtesy of Juana Mikels.

While sipping tea served by her husband, I noticed Pilipinto’s Happiness on her coffee table. The view from her living room window was breathtaking and she was comfortably seated where she could gaze at the ocean waves as they crashed upon the rocks. As I perused the pictures on her wall, they told the story of her life from living with the Quicha and Auca Indians in the jungle to those family members that mean the most—her husband, Lars, her daughter, Valerie, her son-in-law, Walt and her eight grandchildren.

Elisabeth’s life continues to pour into the lives of others through her words of wisdom and the message of her life. When accolades were given, she always pointed heavenward giving praise to God and referring to herself as, “A very small fish in a very big pond.” For a small fish, she has undoubtedly created a lot of ripples which caused others to look heavenward and desire to follow in her footsteps.

Her cup of life is so rich and overflowing—a life that modeled obedience, trust, and setting our desires on eternity. Her actions speak louder than her words. Her life continues to resonate with many today as a sweet aroma for God and will continue even after she graduates to glory.


For more information about Elisabeth and her ministry and books, go to www.elisabethelliot.org

All pictures of Elisabeth and/or Valerie are used by Valerie’s permission and are not to be copied or used without permission.

 

To learn more about Ginny visit www.ginnybrant.com

 

 

6 Responses

  1. Pamela Poole Rogers

    This was a wonderful interview with a woman I have admired for many years. She has always seemed like a Giant Christian Saint bigger than real life. I amagined her nothing like me but after reading your article I felt so peaceful , like I had just had afternoon tea with her myself. I realized that she is real and I felt like I was just talking to a friend. Her strength was not in herself but in trusting God day by day; not thinking ahead to the possible hurtful times but just enjoying the quiet moments right now whether in the jungle or just in my rocking chair. Now her story means more to me and in some strange way it has become part of my life now too. Thank you for the wonderful peek into her world and for the fabulous pictures that made me feel I was sitting right beside you as you interviewed her.

    Reply
  2. Juana Mikels

    Oh, this is beautiful, just beautiful. What a beautiful tribute Ginny has written to Elisabeth, and to Valerie and her father! I loved reading it and getting to see the photos was such a bonus! A wonderful tribute to a godly woman who has touched and influenced so many women’s lives of which I am just one! As Elisabeth herself would say, “To God be the glory!”

    Reply
  3. stacy harris

    Elisabeth Elliot I am sure has shaped my life in ways that I cannot imagine. Through reading her books and being introduced to Amy Carmichael through her, I have learned how to persevere and how to trust in the sovereignty of God! What a blessing her life has been. I hope to share Christ as she has done.

    Reply
  4. Joanne Mahar

    Thank you for this wonderful interview. I have followed Elizabeth Elliot since my high school years when news came out of the martyrdom of her husband and the others. At the time our family had recently returned from Congo (then Belgian Congo, today DRC Congo) where my parents served in the interior and in primitive conditions and where we daily faced challenges, similar to hers, and so I felt in her a kindred spirit. As a young missionary on my own she served as one of my mentors. I’m now writing too, but a totally different genre and will never attain to her level. Few have. She is one beautiful woman of faith.

    Reply

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