Elisabeth Elliot, wife of Jim Elliot, passed “through the gates of pearly splendour,” on June 15, 2015 at the age of 88. For the past ten years prior to her death, she battled Alzheimer’s, accepting it with her usual grace and trust in God when she first learned of it.
Jim Elliot was one of five missionaries killed by the Huaorani (formerly known as Auca) of eastern Ecuador. Despite this tragedy, Elisabeth, left a single mother with a 10-month-old baby girl, spent two years ministering to the tribe that had murdered her husband.
Elisabeth’s best-selling book, Through the Gates of Splendor, recounts the details of Operation Auca, the name given to the mission of Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian to evangelize the unreached Huaorani tribe of eastern Ecuador. In addition to Jim Elliot, all four men were also killed by the tribe.
In her simple, unassuming way, this saint tells her life story:
My parents were missionaries in Belgium where I was born. When I was a few months old, we came to the U.S. and lived in Germantown, not far from Philadelphia, where my father became an editor of the Sunday School Times. Some of my contemporaries may remember the publication which was used by hundreds of churches for their weekly unified Sunday School teaching materials.
Our family continued to live in Philadelphia and then in New Jersey until I left home to attend Wheaton College. By that time, the family had increased to four brothers and one sister. My studies in classical Greek would one day enable me to work in the area of unwritten languages to develop a form of writing.
A year after I went to Ecuador, Jim Elliot, whom I had met at Wheaton, also entered tribal areas with the Quichua Indians. In nineteen fifty three we were married in the city of Quito and continued our work together. Jim had always hoped to have the opportunity to enter the territory of an unreached tribe. The Aucas were in that category—a fierce group whom no one had succeeded in meeting without being killed. After the discovery of their whereabouts, Jim and four other missionaries entered Auca territory. After a friendly contact with three of the tribe, they were speared to death.
Our daughter Valerie was 10 months old when Jim was killed. I continued working with the Quichua Indians when, through a remarkable providence, I met two Auca women who lived with me for one year. They were the key to my going in to live with the tribe that had killed the five missionaries. I remained there for two years.
After having worked for two years with the Aucas, I returned to the Quichua work and remained there until 1963 when Valerie and I returned to the U.S.
Since then, my life has been one of writing and speaking. It also included, in 1969, a marriage to Addison Leitch, professor of theology at Gordon Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. He died in 1973. After his death I had two lodgers in my home. One of them married my daughter, the other one, Lars Gren, married me. Since then we have worked together.
In addition to being a prolific writer, for approximately thirteen years from 1988 onwards, Elisabeth hosted the daily radio program, Gateway to Joy. She almost always began the program with the words, “You are loved with an everlasting love…that’s what the Bible says…. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot.”
Elliot’s former radio producer Jan Wismer described the missionary as a “pioneer and prayer warrior” in a 2013 tribute by Today’s Christian Woman (a CT sister publication). Wismer wrote: Elisabeth believed in asking this foundational question: Is this God’s will for me, right now, in this place?
Elisabeth’s courage and strength inspired and emboldened women (and men) to heed God’s call to leave a life of ease, take risks, and to pursue their dreams in the midst of danger and uncertainty.
Tsh Oxenreider sums it up beautifully for all of us in her article in The Washinton Post, This wife of a murdered missionary has died. Here’s why Elisabeth Elliot’s life mattered to so many.
Because of her, I dared to leave my comfort zone.
Nate Saint’s son Steve posted on his Facebook, “I think Elizabeth would be happy just being remembered as not much of a woman that God used greatly. To the rest of us mortals she was an incredibly talented and gifted woman who trusted God in life’s greatest calamities, even the loss of her mind to dementia, and who allowed God to use her. He did use her.”
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.
Power to the strong and death to the weak.
–We Rest on Thee
(The hymn the men sang before they launched “Operation Auca” that inspired the title of Elisabeth Elliot’s book Through the Gates of Splendour)