“I have one desire now - to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it” – Elisabeth Elliot
Who was Elisabeth Elliot? Throughout her life she was a missionary, wife, and mother, but above all she was a courageous follower of Christ. By looking back at her life, we can draw encouragement in our own faith walk.
Who Was Elisabeth Elliot?
Elisabeth Elliot (née Howard), was born in 1926 to missionary parents in Brussels, Belgium. When she was only a few months old, they moved to Philadelphia, PA and she became the older sibling to five others. Her parents nurtured her in the Christian faith, providing her with a firm foundation that would sustain her all the days of her life.
She went to Wheaton College and studied Classical Greek as she endeavored to translate the Bible for remote regions in the world. Wheaton College was also where she would meet her husband Jim Elliot. They married in 1953 in Quito, Ecuador, where they both served as missionaries to the Quichua Indians. They had a daughter, Valerie, but in 1956 when Valerie was just 10 months old, she tragically lost her father.
Jim, along with four other missionaries, were speared to death by Waoroni men from another indigenous tribe when they tried to reach out to them in love with the gospel.
The tragic loss of Elisabeth’s husband was the beginning of a beautiful redemption story. She stayed on as a missionary to the Quechua people of Ecuador with her daughter Valerie and the sister of another missionary who was killed, Rachel Saint. They had the help and friendship of Dayuma Caento, a member of the Waoroni tribe who had fled and joined the Quechuas, explains this Christianity Today article.
She would later introduce Elisabeth and Rachel to the Waoroni, teaching them her native language. Dayuma also would become the first Christian member of the Waoroni tribe in Ecuador. This opened up a remarkable, God-ordained opportunity for them to minister to the tribe that killed the missionaries, and to share the message of Christ in the Waoroni language. Elisabeth lived amongst the Waoroni people for two years.
Upon returning to the United States in 1963, Elisabeth became a writer of over 20 books including Through the Gates of Splendor which told the story of her late husband Jim Elliot. She was also a speaker who shared her story and God’s Word with others across the world. Elisabeth was on a daily radio program aimed at women called Gateway to Joy where the opening words were “You are loved with an everlasting love, that’s what the Bible says, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
In 1969, she was remarried to Addison Leitch, a professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary who sadly died from cancer a short while later in 1973. She was married a third time to Lars Gren until her death on June 15, 2015.
4 Lessons from Elisabeth Elliot’s life
1. A Life of Obedience and Devotion
Although marked by sorrow, Elisabeth’s life was one that was wholeheartedly devoted to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She walked by faith in obedience to her call, and has inspired many to keep their eyes on Jesus and trust Him, regardless of the circumstances. She also understood and lived a life of obedience to Jesus by returning to the tribe that killed her husband after sensing the Lord’s direction that this was what she should do.
2. A Life of Suffering and Joy
For Christians today, Elisabeth provides a godly example of what it means to follow Jesus no matter the cost. She demonstrated with her own life how to love others in the face of grief and loss and to show real forgiveness. She knew and experienced a joy that was not dependent upon her circumstances, but rather joy was a decision for her to choose. Elisabeth said that it is often through the deepest suffering that the Lord teaches us the deepest lessons. Through her missionary calling, daily life and the written and spoken word, Elisabeth pursued the way of the cross, and gave her life in surrender to follow Jesus completely, know His love for her and share that love with those she encountered.
3. A Life Committed to Purity and Biblical Womanhood
As well as writing and speaking on life as a missionary, Elisabeth wrote about her love story with Jim Elliot in her book Passion and Purity which guided singles to put their love life under God’s authority whilst giving compassionate advice and spiritual guidance. She shared memories, diary entries and letters speaking of the honest experience of two young people who were fully committed to Jesus Christ above one another.
Her book Let Me Be a Woman explored what it means to be a Christian woman through her personal observations and experiences. She wrote, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” Both of these books gave a message that is sorely missing – yet needed in our culture today; a culture that is often consumed with sex, dating and relationships. Elisabeth pointed readers to a greater love that is found in the love of Jesus.
4. A Life That Left a Bountiful Legacy
The life of Elisabeth Elliot has continued to bless readers and listeners across the world. On April 27, 2020, Elizabeth Elliot’s website announced that “a foundation is being created based on the life, love, and ministry of Elisabeth and Jim Elliot.” The work of both Elisabeth, Jim and their daughter Valerie will come together under the ElisabethElliot.org website and continue the work and ministry of the family, particularly centered on: hope in suffering, restoration in conflict and joy in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Although Elisabeth is now with the Lord, her ministry and legacy continues.
Reflecting on the Words of Elisabeth Elliot
Elisabeth Elliot’s life was a beacon of light and love to many. Her words and actions have been recorded through the written word, audio and visual media that are sure to capture a new generation. Below are a selection of quotes that were written or spoken by Elisabeth that reflect her life and ministry, and will undoubtedly encourage believers as they seek to live their life in “reckless abandon for the Lord:”
“Fear arises when we imagine that everything depends on us.”
“Sometimes life is so hard you can only do the next thing. Whatever that is just do the next thing. God will meet you there.”
“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now!”
“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
“God will not protect you from anything that will make you more like Jesus.”
“The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things I know about God.”
“Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”
Elisabeth Elliot’s life was no easy path, but wherever the Lord led her, she was ready to follow. Through her courage, faithfulness and the lasting legacy of her earthly ministry, may we also draw encouragement to work boldly to build up the Kingdom of God!
Photo credit: Facebook/Elisabeth Elliot Foundation