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Remembering Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015)

Category Articles
Date June 26, 2015

On October 28, 1949, twenty-two year old Jim Elliot, then completing his studies at Wheaton College, Illinois, wrote in his journal:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

In less than seven years he had given his life as a missionary in Ecuador, attempting to reach the Auca Indians (now known as the Huaorani) with the gospel. He was speared to death along with fellow missionaries Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and missionary pilot Nate Saint on January 8, 1956. Jim Elliot left a wife – Elisabeth – of just over two years, and a baby girl – Valerie – ten months old.

Early in the morning of June 15, 2015, Elisabeth Elliot herself died, aged 88. She had been suffering from dementia. She was ‘one of the most influential Christian women of the 20th century’ (Christianity Today). Wheaton College President Dr Philip G. Ryken, said,

Elisabeth Elliot has inspired generations of evangelicals to pursue personal holiness and to offer their lives without reservation to missionary service around the world.

Many other tributes have been made . . .

Steve Saint — son of Nate Saint — posted about his ‘Aunt Betty’s’ death on Facebook, saying:

I think Elisabeth would be happy just being remembered as not much of a woman that God used greatly. To the rest of us mortals she was an incredibly talented and gifted woman who trusted God in life’s greatest calamities, even the loss of her mind to dementia, and who allowed God to use her. He did use her.

Tens of thousands of people will mourn her loss. I will certainly be one of them. But isn’t it incredibly wonderful that our loss is certainly her gain. She can think and talk once again! Let’s remember her daughter Val and son-in-law Walt and her eight grandchildren. Let’s also remember and pray for her husband Lars who cared for her and saw that she was cared for during her ten year battle with the disease which robbed her of her greatest gift.

Ray Ortlund, senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition, said,

She embraced the secret to practical Christianity, the very thing we today are most disinclined to: ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (John 12:24). Oh, may we not lose our way but follow this woman into the death that cannot die!

John Piper, founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, who served for 33 years as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, wrote –

Just like Jesus, and Jim Elliot, she called young people to come and die. Sacrifice and suffering were woven through her writing and speaking like a scarlet thread. She was not a romantic about missions. She disliked very much the sentimentalizing of discipleship . . .

And then there was her tough take on feminism and her magnificent vision of sexual complementarity. When Wayne Grudem and I looked around thirty years ago for articulate, strong, female complementarian voices to include in our book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, she was at the top of the list.

Elisabeth Elliot (née Howard) was born in Belgium of missionary parents. She studied Classical Greek at Wheaton College, believing that it was the best tool to help her with the calling of New Testament translation into an unknown language. It was here that she met Jim Elliot. They went individually to Ecuador to work with the Quichua Indians, and married in 1953 in Quito. Their daughter, Valerie, was born in 1955.

After Jim Elliot’s death, Elisabeth wrote Through Gates of Splendor, telling the story of the five Auca martyrs, and then, in Shadow of the Almighty, a biography of her husband. She continued to work in Ecuador with the Quichua for two years until 1958, when, with three-year-old Valerie and fellow missionary Rachel Saint, she went to live with the very tribe that had killed her husband, a story told in her book The Savage, My Kinsman.

In 1963, Elisabeth returned to the United States, and became a much-loved speaker and writer. Her many books include Let Me Be a Woman: Notes on Womanhood for Valerie; Passion and Purity; and Secure in the Everlasting Arms.

In 1969, she married Addison Leitch, professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Just four years later, Leitch died. In 1974 Elisabeth was appointed an Adjunct Professor on the Faculty of Gordon-Conwell. In 1977, she married Lars Gren, a Hospital Chaplain.

From 1988 to 2001, Elisabeth could be heard on a daily radio programme, Gateway to Joy. She almost always opened the programme with the phrase,

‘You are loved with an everlasting love,’ – that’s what the Bible says – ‘and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot …

Let us leave the final word to Elisabeth herself – this from The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter, July/August 2002:

There is nothing by which death can hold any of His faithful servants, either. Settle it, once for all — YOU CAN NEVER LOSE WHAT YOU HAVE OFFERED TO CHRIST. It is the man who tries to save himself (or his reputation or his work or his dreams of success or fulfilment) who loses. Jesus gave us His word that if we’d lose our lives for His sake, we’d find them . . .

A quiet heart is content with what God gives. It is enough. All is grace.

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