Updated: Nov 30, 2022
“... We are called to be women. The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman because I have accepted God’s idea of me and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that He wants me to be.” (Elizabeth Elliot’s words from one of the episodes of her radio program Gateway to Joy, 1988)
The life of Elisabeth Elliot is a tale of incredible faith and courage in her suffering. It almost feels surreal that people of a faith like hers lived and walked among us. She has undoubtedly left a legacy of unshakable faith and confidence in God for us today.
Elisabeth was born to a missionary couple, Philip and Katharine Howard, in Belgium in December 1926. Some years later, she left for mission work to Quito, Ecuador in 1952. That was where she married Jim Elliot, her first husband in October of 1953. In February 1955, their daughter, Valerie was born.
Her tragedy began in January 1956, soon after celebrating New Year, when her first husband, Jim Elliot along with four other missionaries began Operation Auca. They flew over the Waodani tribe and camped at Palm Beach of the Ecuadorian jungle in hopes to reach out to this tribe.
The tribe was referred to as ‘savage’ because no missionary had ever returned alive when engaging with its members.
The initial response was a promising one. A few members of the Waodani tribe came to visit the five missionaries on 6th January 1956 and enjoyed a friendly exchange with one another. However, the same tribe members returned on 8th of January, armed with spears. All five of the missionaries including Elisabeth’s husband Jim, were slaughtered.
This was probably the lowest point in the story of Elisabeth’s life that culminated in the most inspiring and evergreen missionary story of our time.
A Journey of Faith and Courage
This young and tenacious lady took her Bible, a snakebite kit, a journal and her toddler daughter and sailed to live among the very tribe that had brutally killed her husband. Rachel Saint, sister of one of the missionaries killed during the Operation Auca, accompanied her to serve the Waodani tribe too. They left in 1958, about two years after the incident.
These two amazing women of God lived there for three years preaching the Gospel to the ‘savages'. This was the same tribe that sent no missionaries back to their countries alive, but this time, many came to faith, even the ones who had murdered Elisabeth’s husband, Jim.
Jim and the four missionaries became the last to die at the hands of the Waodani people, while Elisabeth, Rachel and Valerie became the first to live to tell the story.
It is mind-boggling to imagine how two women, all alone with a little girl, survived the terror of living among such dangerous people. They could have killed them too. What gave them the courage to be that brave, if not the Spirit of God? Is this not a beautiful testimony of faith and courage?
Her Return from Ecuador
Upon her return to the States in 1963, Elisabeth became a great speaker and a critically acclaimed Christian author. Some of her bestselling books are Through the Gates of Splendor, The Savage My Kinsmen, Let Me Be a Woman and Passion and Purity.
In 1988, she began a radio programme called Gateway to Joy which gained much popularity among the young and old. She spoke on topics like Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Discipleship, Missions, Parenting, Prayer and so on and so forth. The show was aired daily for 13 years.
Her Final Years
In her final years, Elisabeth was still writing, speaking and hosting the radio programme. In August 2001, her final episode of Gateway to Joy was aired; and shortly before her health began to decline, she was able to publish her last and final book Be Still My Soul in 2003.
In 2004, however, she discontinued public speaking due to her deteriorating memory. She suffered from dementia for almost a decade and eventually went to be with the Lord in 2015.
Elisabeth has been an inspiration to many belonging to her day and time, as well as for us and the generations to come – leaving a splendid legacy of unshakable faith and courage that has never faded. Her story gives us the strength and encouragement we need today to continue serving the Lord with a passion like hers and to remember that life will never be easier especially for us, the followers of Christ. We are called to enter through the narrow gate for it leads to life.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14