Yesterday a great woman passed into glory. Elisabeth Elliot was 88 years old. Widowed twice (Jim Elliot, Addison Leitch), Elisabeth is survived by her husband, Lars Gren; daughter, Valerie Elliot Shepard; son-in-law, Walt; and eight grandchildren.
I first became acquainted with Elliot’s work as a writer and speaker while I was attending Bible college in Portland, Ore., (where Jim Elliot was born and raised). I recently wrote a piece about Jim Elliot and his peculiar brand of God-Passion, in which I recalled an embarrassing moment that happened during my first week of college.
As I was carrying my tray through the cafeteria, during the dinner rush, I noticed an upperclassman wearing a Missions Club t-shirt with the words: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’
“Attempting to start a conversation, I said, ‘I love that verse.’ The older guy stifled a smile while politely telling me it was actually a quote by Christian missionary and martyr, Jim Elliot. I smiled and slunk away to another table.”
But that embarrassing moment led to a fascination with the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth Elliot’s account of the spearing of the five missionaries to Ecuador — Through Gates of Splendor — was practically required reading at my school. And for the women there (who were perhaps secretly hoping to get their “Mrs. Degree”), her account of her romance with Jim Elliot, recounted in Passion and Purity, was even more riveting. Their romance was not without angst, and Elisabeth found herself having to constantly trust the Lord for what might (or might not) happen between her and Jim.
They did marry in 1953 (six years after they first met at Wheaton University), but their union was short-lived. Jim was killed Jan. 8, 1956. And Elisabeth was the one to tell his story.
On his Facebook page, Steve Saint, son of pilot and martyr Nate Saint, said of “Aunt Betty”:
She will be remembered, and rightly so, as a wonderful and prolific writer, and as a wonderful speaker. A number of years ago I wanted to send Aunt Betty a manuscript of mine and we began talking about the book that she compiled and authored, Through Gates of Splendor.
“I believe God has used that book to influence more people to consider missions and to give their lives to missionary service than any other book written in the last century. Elisabeth’s comment was, ‘that really wasn’t much of a book, but I guess God uses what He wants to use.’”
Similarly, God also used Passion and Purity: Bringing Your Love Life Under God’s Control. As a young college woman, reading Elisabeth Elliot’s story of endurance in godliness and trust in the Lord for her romantic life convinced me that doing things God’s way was always worth it. I could trust Him with my future — including who I might marry.
Obedience and submission to God’s will was a theme of Elliot’s life. In Let Me Be a Woman, she wrote: “If you believe in a God who controls the big things, you have to believe in a God who controls the little things. It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.”
Common-sense, and yet deeply profound, words from one of the most influential Christian women of the 20th century. And perhaps that special blend of insight and pragmatism is her greatest legacy. She taught us that living this Christian life doesn’t have to be complicated when trust and obedience are paramount. But it can be very sweet — even in the face of tragedy.