If you knew how long I’d been looking at the computer screen and trying to work out where to start, you’d probably think it was because I didn’t know very much about Jim and Elisabeth.
In actual fact, I’ve read a fair bit about them. Looking on my bookshelf I can see five of Elisabeth’s books and I’m sure I’ve read them all. Unlike William Carey for whom I just knew the quote and ‘India’ before I started writing – could you tell? 😉 – when it comes to the Elliots, it’s an attempt to do their story justice that makes me significantly hesitate.
Jim and Elisabeth met at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois in the 1940s. He was born in Oregon, she in Belgium. Jim was convinced that he would be an overseas missionary and completed a short mission trip to Mexico in 1947, the year before he met Elisabeth.
Jim shared a room at Wheaton College with Elisabeth’s brother. Additionally, Jim and Elisabeth would ride the train together to downtown Chicago where they engaged in evangelism. However, the story of their actual getting together as a couple took 5 years and included much separation. They continually prayed for the right way ahead as Jim did wonder whether he was to be a single missionary. However, I do recall reading about one year that Elisabeth called Jim’s “renaissance year” in which he dated a number of other women.
No gender related comments to be made here…
Eventually they married in 1953, once in Ecuador where they both worked as missionaries. The record of their romance is well summarised by their daughter, Valerie:
“My mother gave me my father’s letters many years before I got to read them. I was most amazed by his writing ability and poetic imagery, my mother’s brilliant logic and clarity, and the delightful sense of humor they both had. I also didn’t know how they struggled with not being sure of whether God wanted them to marry, and why and how long it took for my father to know when he had “the green light”!”
However, their marriage was only short, as Jim and four other missionary men were martyred early in January 1956. Having made contact with an Auca Indian tribe only days earlier, the five were ambushed and speared to death on the beach when they flew back to make their second contact.
After the death of her husband, Elisabeth continued her missionary work and then wrote many books until her death, as recently as 2015.
Having read some of her books, I know that our current society might read some of her comments and detect a cultural superiority which is reflective of the cultural context of the time of her writing and not of Biblical ideas. As a result of reading these comments, I feel there are many who would consider themselves a cut above Elisabeth Elliot in their interaction with other cultures and therefore take her writing and ideas and metaphorically throw them in the bin.
To do so, however, would be to make a very foolish error.
After gaining contact with two Auca women who had fled their tribe, Elisabeth spent two years learning this tribe’s language. She was joined in this endeavour by Rachel Saint, whose brother was one of the men martyred. Then in October of 1958 the two of them with Dayuma (an Auca woman who helped them gain access) relocated to live with the tribe that had speared the men to death.
They shared the most valuable thing they believed they had – the gospel – with those who had murdered their loved ones. One of the first men to convert to Christianity had speared two of the missionary men to death.
Elisabeth lived among the Auca for two years, but Rachel Saint remained there until her death in the 1990s.
As an interesting side note, Rachel’s nephew, Steve Saint returned to Ecuador many years later and met Mincaye, the man who had speared his father to death. By this time Mincaye had converted to Christianity and he actually baptised, Steve: the son of a man he had murdered (just writing that makes me emotional).
Regardless of how long she stayed, Elisabeth’s love for a people group who had murdered her husband was extraordinary. Whatever we may think of some things she wrote, we have to check ourselves and ask whether we could live among people who killed those nearest to us and whether we ourselves might call them primitive for spearing peaceful men to death.
As with the other missionaries, Jim Elliot was known for a famous quote, yet I’m going to avoid finishing with it (too clichéd and you can find it easily anyway… you can also easily find another quote “Wherever you are – be all there”… decades ahead of mindfulness with that one…)
Instead I’m going to take a leaf out of my grandparents’ book (the ones who were missionaries in Nigeria). I don’t know if they had a missionary quote, but they definitely had a missionary verse:
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable Romans 11:29
I am certain that all the missionaries mentioned in the past five posts would say Amen to that.
Yours in nodding her head,