After my freshman year in college, I went to England for seven weeks through a study abroad program. Our first week during the trip was spent in London, and on Sunday most of us went to a small church that one of our professors recommended. It was a church built out of grey stone, cool on the inside and airy.
During the service, the pastor announced that they had a guest speaker present, an American woman who would be sharing her testimony with the congregation. She had been a missionary for many years, he noted, and she had lost her first husband as a result of such missionary work. The woman he was introducing was Elisabeth Elliot.
I nearly fell out of the pew. During my first year in college, Elisabeth Elliot had become a literary mentor to me through her book Passion and Purity. I read about her life with fascination and awe, as well as with a sense of closeness—years before, she had been a student at the college I was attending, and while I read the book I sat in some of of the same places she described within her pages.
This book challenged and touched me for many reasons, one of which was that it is a book about Elisabeth’s love story with Jim Elliot, how the two fell in love and then surrendered this love to the Lord for five years until they were married. There were months when the two could not communicate, years when they only saw one another for a few days at a time. Their story of God’s provision and their commitment to purity is truly incredible; their love is the stuff of fairy tales.
Elisabeth’s life, however, has not been a fairy tale. Less that two and a half years after their marriage in 1953, Jim and four other men went to share the Gospel with the Auca people, a native tribe in Ecuador. All five men were speared to death, and Elisabeth was left as a single mother. Instead of folding into herself, however, Elisabeth soon took her young daughter and went back to the jungle, back to the same Auca tribe that had killed her husband. She went to share the Gospel with them, and through her strength, courage and faithfulness to the vision she believed God had given to her a Jim, many in the tribe of self-proclaimed killers came to faith in Christ and gave up their murderous ways.
Sitting in that church in England, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I heard her speak about her life and faith in Christ. I could not believe that it was actually Elisabeth Elliot standing 15 feet in front of me—this woman whose words has shaped me so deeply was in the same room! Later, I asked for her signature in one of her books and smiled at this living hero across from me. I still don’t know why she was at that small church in England on the one particular Sunday when I happened to be across the world in the same church. Whatever the reason, I know that morning was a gift.
Elisabeth has entered into glory, now. She is with Jesus, her greatest prize.
Although she wrote many books and spoke across the world, Elisabeth Elliot was not flashy, was not self-focused and she did not even have an “issue” that she campaigned for—hers was a message of a God who is faithful, regardless of the circumstances. In her own circumstances of losing Jim to Auca spears and her second husband to cancer, she stayed the course and lived as a testimony of Christ’s sufficiency in a world that increasingly tells us otherwise. In Passion and Purity, she asks herself:
“…The question to precede all others, which finally determines the course of our lives is, What do I really want? Was it to love what God commands…and to desire what He promises? Did I want what I wanted, or did I want what He wanted, no matter what it might cost?” (Passion and Purity, 41)
Elisabeth Elliot decided, again and again, that she wanted what God wanted, no matter what the cost. Her life is a deep witness to God’s ability to work in a woman completely surrendered to Him.
I am so thankful for her life, and for that brief moment in England when I heard her voice with my own ears. I look forward to seeing her again.