I recently read Ellen Vaughn’s biography Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. Having had the privilege to meet Elisabeth (who was known as Betty in her younger years) when she spoke at a women’s event, in the late 1980’s, at my former church in Texas, I was interested in how she became the wise woman of faith she was.
Perhaps you know her story of mission work in Ecuador. Her husband and 4 other missionary men were speared to death by an unreached tribe of warriors to whom they were trying to share Christ. Elisabeth was a young woman with a baby when this occurred.
When I met her upon her arrival at our women’s event, I didn’t experience a warm, affectionate woman, yet she spoke deep words of wisdom that has challenged my own spiritual depth for years.
In reading her biography, it made even more sense to me, who this woman was and how she followed Christ so faithfully and unquestionably. I was also surprised by the difficult relationship she had with the sister of one of the slain men. Elisabeth and Rachel Saint worked together within this very tribe, along with Elisabeth’s young daughter Valerie, sharing Christ and translating the tribal language. Yet, they agreed on very little, if anything at all.
I also had the honor of meeting Rachel while on a mission trip to Ecuador in 1990. She was rather brash, and had only come out of the bush for a short time. We couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to be in the city where she was and would get to meet her personally.
This one biography re-introduced me to both women and how hard they sought to follow God’s call to share Christ with this tribe. And yet, revealed how difficult their relationship. What I saw in both was an ability to give up earthy desires to obey God’s purpose. Lack of electricity, strange foods, incessant insect attacks, deadly snakes, torrential flooded rivers, loss of life.
I’ve loved reading Elisabeth’s books over the years, but now I see more clearly how she became wise and faithful. She suffered great grief and confusion, yet she never stopped seeking God’s ways, or His plan for her life.
Here are a few of my fav quotes to whet your appetite:
- “Obviously, God has chosen to leave certain questions unanswered and certain problems without any solution in this life, in order that in our very struggle to answer and solve, we may be shoved back, and back, and eternally back to the contemplation of Himself, and to complete trust in Who He is. I’m glad He’s my Father.” Elisabeth Elliot
- “But sometimes we look at outcomes in this life, seeking the reassurance of a happy ending, and it’s just not there. What then? As Betty put it, His ways are ‘inscrutable.’ So we have to rest, not in the peace of a pretty story, but in the reality of faith in a Person we cannot see.” Ellen Vaughn
- “There is always divine meaning and purpose in doing what He commands. It’s just that most often w can’t see that purpose; our human vision is not equipped with enough transcendent dimensions to access the loving purposes of eternity.” Ellen Vaughn
- “The only problem to be solved, really, is that of obedience. As Betty noted, futility–that spirit-numbing sense of despair–does not come from the thing itself, but from the demand to know ‘why.’ It is the question of the child, like little Valerie’s endless ‘whys?’ in the jungle. For Betty, the adult question is ‘what?’ As in, ‘Lord, show me what You want me to do. And I’ll do it.’ And in that acceptance–‘I’ll obey, whatever it is’–there is peace.” Ellen Vaughn reflecting on Elisabeth’s response to those asking ‘why’ about the tragedy in her life of losing her husband to the people Jim wanted to connect to the Gospel.
- “God led Israel to Marah. He could have led them directly to Elim, but He has chosen to lead His people into difficulties in order that they may know Him, and He may know them.” Elisabeth Elliot
- “The times of dust in our lives, their gray purposelessness, may well be God’s building blocks.” Ellen Vaughn
- “I belong to God. He is faithful. His worse are true.” Elisabeth Elliot
- “Do the next thing.” Elisabeth Elliot
- “And suffering is one of God’s sanctifying tools. God is not a cosmic plumber who shows up to make things run smoothly for us. When He doesn’t fix broken situations in our lives, it’s usually because He is fixing us through them.” Ellen Vaughn
I won’t give away any other details but will encourage you to read this biography (and the one to follow on Elisabeth’s later life). But I wonder, if, like me, as you read this book you ask yourself, “Who am I becoming?”…when I suffer, when I just don’t see God’s hand in my situation, when I ask “how long?”, when I face huge loss? Can I just keep my eyes fixed on Christ and serve Him however He asks, trusting His plan and bringing Him glory?