Can someone you’ve never met so impact your life that you feel like you’ve known him or her forever? For me, the answer is yes. Why? Because of the influence one woman has had on my life from the time I became a Christian at age 16. Her name: Elisabeth Elliot . . . Actually, Elisabeth Howard Elliot Leitch Gren.
To me it seems that Elisabeth has lived through every possible season of life a woman could experience. She’s been married three times and widowed twice, yet has lived as a single woman for half of her 85 years.
She’s lived with her young daughter among a savage tribe of natives, walked jungle trails, met dignitaries and celebrities, taught
college, helped translate an unwritten language, and been featured at women’s conferences. As an author she’s written about her firsthand experiences with loneliness, longing, heartbreak, passion, purity, and triumphant love.
Her life was part of a story that shook the world in 1956 when five young missionaries risked everything to preach Christ to the Auca Indians of Ecuador.
Though I’ve never met her, Elisabeth has made an indelible impression on me–especially during my first years as a Christian–through her books and personal testimony.
Elisabeth’s story began in 1926 when she was born to missionary parents. She grew up in a loving, Christian home and knew from a young age that God wanted her to be a missionary. She was quite, studious, serious, contemplative, and didn’t make friends easily. She was not a social butterfly. Not thought to be beautiful. Not into dating. And, of course, who should catch her eye but a handsome, athletic, popular boy–Jim Elliot.
Elisabeth Howard met Jim Elliot at Wheaton College in 1947. At first, he was really her brother’s friend.
Elisabeth wrote about those years in her book Passion and Purity: “There was a student on campus whom I had been noticing more and more. My brother Dave had been encouraging me to get acquainted with him. He and Dave were on the wrestling squad, so I went to a match, ostensibly to watch Dave. I found myself laughing with the crowd at Jim Elliot, the ‘India-rubber man,’ who could be tied in knots but could not be pinned.
I noticed Jim in the Foreign Missionary Fellowship—earnest, committed to missionary service, outspoken. I noticed him in dining hall lines with little white cards in his hand, memorizing Greek verbs or Scripture verses. I heard his name read out semester after semester in the honors convocation.
Finally Dave invited Jim to come home to New Jersey with us for Christmas vacation. We had long, long talks after the family went to bed. The more Jim talked, the more I saw that he fitted the picture of what I hoped for in a husband. He loved to sing hymns, and he knew dozens by heart. He loved to read poetry, loved to read it aloud. He was a real man, strong broadchested, unaffected, friendly, and—I thought—very handsome. He loved God. That was the supreme dynamic of his life. Nothing else mattered much by comparison.
He was a Greek major and so was I. After Christmas, I began to hope that he would sit by me in class once in a while. He did. He sat by me often, even when at times he had to trip over other people to get the seat. Was it possible? Could he be interested? My hopes rose, but very timidly.”
However, Elisabeth wanted to make sure that she did not step outside God’s will, and she knew she could not trust her emotions. She was afraid her feelings for Jim Elliot might conflict with God’s call on her life. Her advice for someone torn between two desires? “Discipleship usually brings us into the necessity of choice between duty and desire. They are not mutually exclusive, however. When our hearts are set on obedience, we can be sure of the needed wisdom to tell the difference between a conflict and a harmony.”
Eventually, as Elisabeth had hoped, Jim declared his feelings. This is how she recorded the occasion: “I looked up to see Jim sitting on a picnic table . . . he was swinging his legs and gazing at me. He jumped off the table and ran over to where I was . . . ‘Walk you home?’
“We walked half a block in silence. Then suddenly [he said,] ‘We’ve got to get squared away on how we feel about each other,’ Jim said. I was dumbfounded. No preliminaries, nothing. Just like that. Bang. The revelation I’d been hoping for–he had some feelings for me . . .
‘Feel about each other? You mean–’
‘Come on, Bett. Don’t tell me you didn’t know I was falling in love with you?’
‘I noticed. I was afraid to believe my eyes. I told myself you couldn’t possibly be interested, let alone–’
‘In love. That’s what I’m telling you.’”
But the longed-for conversation did not exactly go as planned. You see, Jim was called to pioneer missions and had become convinced that God wanted him to experience the
mission field as a single man–maybe for a few short years. Or maybe for the rest of his life. He decided to wait on God’s leading. And only if God so led, would Jim ask Elisabeth to marry him.
Elisabeth wrote: “I began to learn to wait. Patient waiting does not come naturally to most of us, but a great deal is said about it in the Bible. It is an important discipline for anyone who wants to learn to trust.”
She shared the details of a difficult parting on the night before she and Jim left Wheaton to go their separate ways, not knowing if God would ever bring them back together:
“Jim and I walked to a cemetery and sat down on a stone slab. He spoke of a story he had read in his Bible study that morning–the story of Abraham’s offering up Isaac. ‘So I put you on the altar,’ he said.
Slowly we became aware that the moon, which had risen behind us, was casting the shadow of a stone cross on the slab between us.
We were silent for a very long time, pondering this undeniable sign.”
That was in 1949. After that night, Jim headed for his home in Oregon, and Elisabeth to a Bible college in Alberta, Canada. They wrote. They saw each other for a few brief visits. Months passed. Jim left for Ecuador in 1952–alone. And then, amazingly, God led Elisabeth to Ecuador, too. Even though they were miles apart, they were in the same country.
Finally in 1953, Jim felt God give him the go-ahead to propose . . . five years after the first time he’d said, “I love you.” But Jim had one condition: he wouldn’t marry Elisabeth until she learned the Quichua language!
If Jim sounds tough, he wasn’t. In her book Passion and Purity, Elisabeth shares Jim’s letters from those years they were apart. The letters are filled eloquent messages of love and longing. The book ends with a brief description of Elisabeth and Jim’s wedding supper, with Jim gazing at her across the candles at their table for two. She says of their honeymoon, “It was unspeakably worth the wait!”
A few years later, Jim and his four close friends and coworkers were gone–martyred by the Auca Indians.
And if you’re not familiar with the adventures of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully, you’ll have the chance to read about them in a future post, also. Maybe a video excerpt from the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor will whet your appetite!
See Elisabeth for yourself: The video clip below is about 7 minutes long. The first minute or so is Elisabeth talking about Jim. Next, Dave Howard and Olive Fleming share memories of Jim. Then Dave and Mary Lou McCully talk about Jim’s best friend Ed. After that, the widows of the other fellows martyred in Operation Auca talk about what brought them to Ecuador. The last few minutes show Elisabeth (Betty Howard) and Jim getting married. (She’s in a blue suit.) The thumbnail showing a thin woman in a dark dress trailing a white handkerchief is also Elisabeth. Unfortunately, the video contains a few seconds of commercials which I was not able to delete.
Now it’s time for my Giveaway Trifecta!
I have three items to share with you, my lovely readers: Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot, and a dvd of the movie version of Operation Auca, End of the Spear.
Steps to enter: Everyone who leaves a comment today will be entered in the giveaway. Name #1 will be drawn for the movie. Name #2 for Passion and Purity, and name #3 for Let Me Be a Woman. No mandatory entries and extra entries required this time.
What about you?
- Is there someone you’ve never met who has made an impact on your life?
- Was there something in your life you struggled to give up to God?
- What experiences have you had with waiting on the Lord?
- Do you have a unique courtship story to share?
- Have you read any of Elisabeth’s books?
- Are you familiar with Operation Auca and Jim Elliot?