Letter from the Rectory - July 2021
In the challenging times in which we live, the stories of other people’s lives can be an inspiration. One such person was Elisabeth Elliot. She was born in 1926 in Brussels to missionary parents who soon relocated to the USA. In 1944 she first met Jim Elliot who also felt called to this work. In 1952 they both went independently to Ecuador. The next year Elisabeth and Jim married in Ecuador, and in 1955 their daughter Valerie was born.
There was a totally unreached Amazonian tribe, the Waodani. Links with this tribe, deep in the rainforest, were almost non-existent and their language was unknown. The Waodani also had a fearsome reputation for violence. Drawn by the challenge of the Waodani, a group of five young Americans, including Jim Elliot, decided to try and befriend them. After seemingly friendly initial encounters, in January 1956 they flew in. Tragically, on arrival, all the visitors were suddenly speared to death.
The murder of these five men had a huge impact in the United States and beyond. The press focused not just on the events and the ‘savage’ tribe involved but also on the survivors, notably Elisabeth and baby Valerie. Elisabeth left for the States with her daughter. In a very short time, she wrote a book about the dramatic events entitled ‘Through Gates of Splendor’ which became a bestseller.
Elisabeth felt called to return to Ecuador with her daughter. A Waodani woman enabled Elisabeth to begin to learn the language. Promised safety, Elisabeth and her three-year-old daughter went to live with the tribe. That Elisabeth, as a single mother, was taking her little daughter to live with the violent tribe who had killed her husband stunned many.
For two years Elisabeth and Valerie lived with the Waodani. They were accepted and, learning the language, Elisabeth taught the tribe the basics of the Christian Faith. That Elisabeth was able to display forgiveness to the men who had killed the man she had loved has a lasting impact for good.
Eventually, Elisabeth left Ecuador in 1963, returning to the USA. She led an active life into old age until her death in 2015. Elisabeth Elliot’s fruitful life and ability truly to forgive remain an inspiring example.