Elisabeth (Howard) Elliot was born in Belgium on December 21, 1926 to missionary parents. She was known as “Betty” to those closest to her. When she was only a few months old, her family moved to the United States. In her early years, she loved to write poetry. Her God-given ability to write would later be utilized to author many great books.
As a young lady, she attended Wheaton College and studied classical Greek. She would later use her knowledge of various languages to help translate scripture. While at Wheaton, she met a young man named Jim Elliot. Jim also had a heart to share the Gospel. He was instrumental in recruiting many of his friends to the mission field. Jim was a happy-go-lucky sort of character and he loved to laugh. But when it came to mission work, he was very serious and dedicated; so much that he considered remaining single so he could freely serve as a missionary. However, after he met Elisabeth, he began to wonder if he should marry her.
Jim and Elisabeth dated for an extended amount of years; not wanting to marry if it was not God’s will for them. Through much prayer, seeking God, and careful consideration, they decided it was in God’s will that they should marry. They could serve as missionaries together. Their inclinations were further confirmed when, one night, Jim and Elisabeth went on a walk. As they walked, they found a quiet spot in a cemetery to visit. As they sat together, they were both astonished at what they saw. As the moonlight shone behind them, it cast a shadow from a cross headstone behind them. The shadow of the cross was set perfectly between their shadows. Tears welled up in Elisabeth’s eyes. It was a special moment for both of them and they knew it was God’s will for them to marry. In 1953, Jim and Elisabeth became husband and wife. However, they didn’t wait long after marriage to begin their mission work. Two years after their wedding, Elisabeth gave birth to a little girl they named Valerie. When their daughter was just a few months old, they intensified their efforts to reach the Auca Indian tribe in Ecuador with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Auca Indians (later known as the Waodani Indians) were an isolated, savage tribe who would kill anybody that tried to make contact with them. They lived as naked beasts in the jungles. The Aucas had their own language, their own beliefs, and their own customs. In fact, they would even kill each other. The bloodshed got so intense that their tribe was threatened with extinction. The Elliot’s, along with four other missionary families, endeavored to witness to this tribe of Indians. Their entire story is fully told in various books and movies. Nonetheless, we find that the five men that went in to make contact with this tribe were ultimately speared to death on January 8, 1956. Those who died as martyrs that day were Jim Elliot (Elisabeth’s husband), Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully. In her writings, Elisabeth said, “Faith’s most severe tests come not when we see nothing, but when we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain.”
Of course, it was a very difficult and sad day for these five widowed ladies and their small children. Yet, through it all, hope remained. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Faith does not eliminate questions. But, faith knows where to take them.” In faith, something profound happened next. Instead of becoming resentful and bitter, these widows chose to forgive the Auca Indians. A short while later, Rachel Saint (sister of Nate Saint who was killed), and Elisabeth Elliot with daughter, Valerie, quickly established contact and a home among the Auca Indians. There were many who converted to Christianity due to the efforts made by all to reach this tribe. Elisabeth recorded her encounters in the book, “Shadow of the Almighty”. She shared her amazing testimony of forgiveness, obedience, and God’s grace all across the world. She was a poet, author, and a highly-respected Christian speaker. She lived by the motto, “There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.”
In Elisabeth’s latter years, she suffered from dementia. But, she remained faithful to Christ until the end. She lived what she wrote; she once penned these words, “Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.” On June 15, 2015, after an apparent stroke, she passed into glory. She was 88 years old. Her legacy lives on and her wise words still bring hope to so many today. May her Christian example help inspire all of us to forgive, reach the lost, and shine bright for Jesus! “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” Matthew 5:14. I quoted Ms. Elliot in my blog post last month, but it seems so fitting to leave you with her words, once more… “Of one thing I am perfectly sure; God’s story never ends with ashes.”
Facts About Elisabeth Elliot
*Elisabeth was known as “Betty” by her family and close friends. Her mother used to call her “Bets”.
*Many years after Jim Elliot’s death, she married Addison Leitch. They were only married four years until he passed away. She would later marry Lars Gren in 1977.
*While in the United States, she lived in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
*Elisabeth Elliot authored over 20 books.
*Prairie Bible Institute (in Canada) has a prayer chapel named in her honor.
*Ms. Elliot was an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for several years.
*Elisabeth Elliot was portrayed by actress Beth Bailey in the 2006 film, “End of the Spear”.
*In 2005, an award-winning documentary film, “Beyond the Gates of Splendor”, was released. This film features interviews with Ms. Elliot and other family members of the men martyred by the Auca Indians.
*Elisabeth used to be a very skilled mountain climber.
*Elisabeth Elliot passed away at her home in Massachusetts as her husband, Lars Gren, gently read scriptures to her.