Elisabeth Elliot (1926—2015) was a Christian missionary, speaker, and author. She rose to prominence after her husband, Jim Elliot, and four other missionaries were killed by the Auca tribe (now known as the Waodani/Wourani/Hourani tribe) in Ecuador.
Elisabeth Elliot (née Howard) was born on December 21, 1926, in Brussels, Belgium, where her parents were missionaries. They returned to the United States shortly after her birth, and Elisabeth grew up in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. Her father was editor of The Sunday School Times.
Elisabeth entered Wheaton College to study classical Greek for the purpose of becoming a Bible translator. It was there that she met her future husband, Jim Elliot. The details of their courtship are told in her book Passion and Purity. After a number of years of uncertainty, they married in 1953 and went to South America as missionaries. Their daughter Valerie was born 10 months later.
Jim and four other missionaries became convinced they should take the gospel to a hostile, unreached tribe who were referred to at the time as the Aucas. (The word auca is actually a derogatory term and has fallen out of usage.) After months of planning and preliminary contact with the Wourani, the five missionaries landed in their territory in a single-engine Piper airplane. Within a week, they were attacked and killed on January 8, 1956. Jim and Elisabeth had been married for less than 3 years. LIFE magazine covered the story of the missionaries in its January 30, 1956, issue. LIFE published a follow-up story on May 20, 1957.
Elisabeth and her daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, the sister of one of the other missionaries, remained in Ecuador and looked for an opening to take the gospel to the Wourani. During that time Elisabeth also told the story of the five martyrs in the book Through Gates of Splendor. Then she edited and published the journals of Jim Elliot (Shadow of the Almighty). The opening to take the gospel to the tribe that had killed her husband came when a Wourani woman fled the violence of the tribe and came into contact with Elisabeth and Rachel. After coming to faith in Christ, the native woman agreed to lead the missionary women back to the tribe, where they were received in safety in 1958. Elisabeth, Valerie, and Rachel lived with the tribe for several years. They translated the Gospel of Mark into the Wourani language, and many tribe members came to faith. Elisabeth Elliot returned to the United States in 1963, while Rachel continued working with the tribe.
After returning to the U.S., Elisabeth married Addison Leitch, a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Wenham, Massachusetts, although she continued to write and minister with the last name Elliot. Leitch died of cancer in 1973, about four years after his marriage to Elisabeth.
In 1977, Elisabeth married her third husband, Lars Gren, a hospital chaplain. Elisabeth became a writer-in-residence at Gordon-Conwell and also an adjunct professor. She served as a stylistic consultant for the New International Version. She continued to write (over 20 books total) and speak around the country. From 1988 to 2001, she could also be heard on her daily radio program, Gateway to Joy.
Several themes are apparent throughout Elisabeth’s ministry: sexual purity, growth through suffering, surrender and obedience to Christ, and biblical gender roles. Elisabeth refused to speak in Sunday morning services. (Her radio program was aimed at women, although many men listened as well.)
She continued to be rigorous and disciplined in her personal and public life, until she had to withdraw from public ministry in 2004 due to the onset of dementia. She died on June 15, 2015, at the age of 88. Her ministry lives on in her books, which are still popular, and in reruns of her radio program, which can be heard on the Bible Broadcasting Network.
Selected bibliography of Elisabeth Elliot:
Through Gates of Splendor, 1957
Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, 1958
The Savage My Kinsman, 1960
Love Has a Price Tag, 1979
These Strange Ashes, 1979
Marriage Is a Gift, 1982
Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control, 1984
A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, 1987
A Path Through Suffering, 1990
And here are a few quotes from Elisabeth Elliot:
“There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.”
“Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.”
“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 in vain.”
“To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss.”
“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.”
“We are to worship ‘in spirit and in truth.’ Never mind about the feelings. We are to worship in spite of them.”
“Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”