Ambassador of Reconciliation
6/23/15 at 11:35 PM 0 Comments

Elisabeth Elliot Joins the Great Cloud of Witnesses

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Legendary missionary Elisabeth Elliot Gren was laid to rest today. As a shy and humble person, she would probably resist the term “legendary” to describe herself, but she was a true pioneer in bringing the gospel to unreached peoples of Ecuador.

Her initial work as a missionary may have been regarded by some as a failure. In 1956, her husband, Jim Elliot, and four other men were murdered by members of the fierce and violent Waorani tribe they were trying to reach with the gospel, leaving five grieving widows and nine fatherless children. It seemed that the effort was doomed, but God had plans to use the martyrs’ deaths in ways that no one could have imagined.

By faith Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador with her little daughter Valerie. Instead of seeking revenge, as the Waorani would have done, she still longed to bring the love of God to them. She developed a friendship with two Waorani women and learned the language from them. Just two years after the tragedy, Elisabeth and three-year-old Valerie went to live among the very people who had killed their husband and father. As she communicated the gospel of Jesus Christ to them in words and in sacrificial love, the hoped-for day did come when they joined her in praise to the Savior.

Returning to the States after her time in Ecuador, Elisabeth shared her wisdom and experience through writing and speaking. She was well acquainted with grief, as she walked through the valley again when she lost her second husband, Addison Leitch. In addition to suffering, her themes included trusting God and building the Christian family. And photographer Cornell Capa, who chronicled the massacre and its aftermath for Life magazine, discovered another key theme in her life. He asked the young widows why their husbands went into that hostile territory in the first place. The one-word answer was “obedience.” They were all committed to following God no matter the cost.

By faith Elisabeth handled the dementia that struck her in her later years just as she faced the other losses in her life: with surrender and trust. She knew that fiery trials are to be expected in the Christian life and that they are opportunities to partake in Christ’s sufferings:

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

As her son-in-law explained at her funeral, she believed that, when put on a scale, “our troubles become like feathers” in comparison to the weight of glory to come:

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

She called to mind the promise of Isaiah 43:2 and the words of “How Firm a Foundation”:

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Another favorite song was “He Giveth More Grace,” by Annie J. Flint:

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

By faith Elisabeth walked with God throughout her life and was received into that great cloud of witnesses. Her brother Dr. David Howard read Revelation 14:13:

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

Elisabeth is now resting from all her labors, but her words and works will continue to testify of her Savior.


June 6, 2016 Update: Yesterday I saw Elisabeth's husband, Lars, and sent him this article about her funeral. I commented about how difficult this last year without her must have been, and he said, "What has helped in this past year is the gift of the last morning which the two caregivers and I had with her as she crossed into life evermore." God is faithful in sorrow, and He will be faithful to reunite them again.

For more about Elisabeth see her website, and articles about her in The New York Times, Christianity Today, and World magazine. Perhaps the most well-known of her many books are Through Gates of Splendor and Shadow of the Almighty. Her books are available on her website at less than retail and with postage paid.

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