Elisabeth Elliot died today. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, I suppose she is best known for a tragedy that occurred almost 50 years ago – and her incredible courage in the midst of great personal pain. She and her husband, Jim Elliot, were living in the jungles of Ecuador doing missionary work with several other families.
Jim and four of his associates went further into the jungle where they knew an unreached tribe was known to live. The Huaorani tribe with whom they made contact killed all five of the men and disappeared back into the jungle. Jim and Elisabeth had been married little more than two years. Elisabeth was left to care for their 10-month-old daughter.
Details of the contact between the missionaries and the tribe are documented in a 2005 film, End of the Spear, and I referred to the film in a 2010 post. I won’t repeat what I wrote in that post other than to say I remember when the men were murdered. I was a small child and it left an impression on me.
Whether it was a weekend or just an afternoon, I can’t recall, but I had the privilege to spend time in Elisabeth Elliot’s company. It might have been the late 70s or early 80s. She had come to an event with her husband, Lars Gren, whom she married in 1977. (He was her third husband.) I can’t remember exactly what she said but I remember our group was relatively small so the gathering was sweetly intimate. Even though the only personal connection (outside the group Q&A) was when I shook her hand, she made me feel as if I were the only person in that room. She was warm and attentive.
After that gathering, I subscribed to The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter. These were quarterly letters. Every single time one arrived, I felt as though she was writing for me, writing to me, writing to help me navigate young motherhood as well as the challenges of my life with Christ. The newsletter began in 1982 and ceased publication in 2003 but I was an eager reader the entire time.
One of the things I will never forget about the time I enjoyed in her company was watching the interaction between her and husband Lars. He was the most delightful man, tending to her requests (anticipating some) with a cheerful and devoted spirit.
During most of the event, Lars stayed in the background, sitting at a book table where he handled her book sales. Though he was friendly and easy to talk with, he didn’t seem to be a man who would seek the limelight. In fact, I sensed he was delighted to watch Elisabeth as the center of attention. Still, I couldn’t help notice his tender regard and oversight of her.
At that time, Elisabeth and Lars Gren were a couple in their forties, I think, but I knew my Beloved and I had been married longer than they … and yet they seemed so much wiser! Certainly, the events of their lives had given them a wealth of understanding which my Beloved and I were still too young to comprehend.
Another thing that lives in my memory is a recording of Elliot reciting the poem by Amy Carmichael, No Scar. A copy of the poem is posted here. Toward the end of his life, this poem meant a great deal to my dad. He had memorized it … to my shame, I had not.
Elisabeth began to suffer from dementia a decade ago, and Lars has continued to care for her and share his life with her. I grieve today for his loss, even as I rejoice that Elisabeth has gone to her reward. I know the angels of heaven are rejoicing too, glad to hear the Savior greet her, Welcome Home.