elisabethelliot

A life detoured

She was not an aspiring author and yet her anthology of work persists today among the greats of Christian literature. No, Elisabeth Elliot’s early aspirations didn’t include bestseller lists or writing and speaking circuits, and yet, that is how her life evolved.

What happened?

Tragedy.

After her marriage to Jim Elliot in 1953, Elisabeth’s new husband and his colleagues followed God’s call to the unreached Auca people of Ecuador. Their attempt to evangelize this remote tribe ended quickly in martyrdom, as the Aucas speared them to death in the jungle.

Elisabeth’s response to this immense tragedy stunned her family, friends, and still stuns anyone newly introduced to her story. She chose to stay in Ecuador with her 10-month-old daughter, living with a native tribe and learning the language of the Acau. Elisabeth and her young daughter eventually received the welcome from the Acau tribe that her husband had been denied, and went on to live with and serve them for several years.

While in Ecuador, Elisabeth began to tell her story with the pen and wrote Through Gates of Splendor (an account of her husband’s tragic end), Shadow of the Almighty (a biography of her husband), and The Savage, My Kinsmen (a summary of her own time among the Aucas).

Upon her return to the United States in 1963, the widowed missionary continued to tell her story through books and speeches, providing inspiration and courage to an entire generation of women and missionaries.

Her story is your story

Your life’s narrative may not include spears, unreached people groups, or martyrdom. But your story is more similar to Ms. Elliot’s than you think. Your current circumstances surely include events, tragedies, twists, and turns that you never anticipated in your early life. Divorce, death, miscarriage, financial loss, ministry setbacks, and illness all steer our lives in unexpected directions. Like Elisabeth Elliot, many of us have found ourselves forced to respond to detours we could have never anticipated.

And yet, it is from these life detours that our greatest impact can be made. Ms. Elliot’s work has reached far and wide to affect millions of readers, whose faith has been built up by her testimony.

Joshua Harris, author of the bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, recounts the effect Ms. Elliot’s work had on him in his article for the Washington Post titled How Elisabeth Elliot messed up my love life:

My mother had given me a copy of “Passion & Purity” [by Elisabeth Elliot] and asked me to read it. I was immediately suspicious… So I skimmed the book to appease my mom and tossed it aside…

But after a few years of frustration with my own approach to dating (and without the pressure of my mom forcing me to read it) I picked up Elliot’s book again. This time it changed my life. I read the story of Jim and Elisabeth — two people who were passionately in love and yet chose to put Jesus first. Before their romantic longings. Before their own timetable for marriage. Before their sexual desires…

I guess a lot of people who read her writing would consider it all very backward and old-fashioned, but when I read it I can’t shake the sense that this woman had a real relationship with a glorious God. And then chose to cut the crap and take God seriously in every part of her life. I love that about her. I need her directness. I think our whole generation of evangelicals needs her directness…

Five years after I dissed Elliot’s book, I was 21 and typing with trembling hands a letter to her to ask if she’d be willing to review the unpublished manuscript of a book I was writing called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

I’ll never forget the day I received a typed, postcard reply from her. It read: “Bravissimo! I applaud your forthrightness, courage, God-given conviction, and ability to articulate a message that is desperately needed.” I still have that little note taped in a journal. Her encouragement fueled me to keep writing. And helped me to sell my book to a publisher and not a few readers.

Upon Elisabeth’s death in 2015, famed pastor and author John Piper wrote a remembrance piece about her life, in which he recounted a journal entry that he had written in 1997:

This morning, as I jogged and listened to a message by Elisabeth Elliot which she had given in Kansas City, I was deeply moved concerning my own inability to suffer magnanimously and without pouting. She was vintage Elliot and the message was the same as ever: Don’t get in touch with your feelings, submit radically to God, and do what is right no matter what. Put your love life on the altar and keep it there until God takes it off. Suffering is normal. Have you no scars, no wounds, with Jesus on the Calvary road?

These two testimonials offer just a minuscule representation of the impact Ms. Elliot has had upon the Body of Christ. Yet this was only possible because she chose to embrace her life’s detour and use her pen and voice to build the faith of her audience.

Will you make the same choice? Will you embrace your detour and the opportunity it offers you to share the Gospel and encourage the Body? Certa Publishing has the unique opportunity to offer Christian authors a platform for their message. Contact us today so that we can partner with you.

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Elisabeth Elliot: An author profile

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