Elisabeth Elliot's life began overseas. She was born in Brussels,Belgium, on December 21, 1926. On October 8th, 1953, Elisabeth married Jim Elliot and they became missionaries in Ecuador. There Jim, along with four other missionaries, was murdered. Elizabeth currently lives in Beverly Farms, in Massachussetts, with her her husband, Lars Gren. She is the host of a daily fifteen minute radio program entitled Gateway to Joy.
The following comments were made by Elisabeth Elliot in an interview with CBD on August 5th, 1999.
CBD: Could you describe yourself, your ministry, and your interests?
Elisabeth Elliot: I don't think my interests have changed very much since I was a little girl. I grew up in a very strong Christian home, and one of the great blessings of that home was that we had many missionaries come through our home. Many of them were guests at our table who usually stayed overnight, sometimes a number of nights, and we six children sat enthralled listening to missionary stories. So, as long as I can remember, I hoped and prayed that the Lord would give me the privilege of being a missionary. Although I am not currently an active missionary in the usual sense, I did spend 11 years as a missionary in Ecuador and since then I have been writing and speaking, and I have a radio program called "Gateway to Joy." Those are all part and parcel of my desire to serve the Lord. That is really all that I am interested in. I just want to do what God wants me to do. It just so happens that on this particular day I'm getting ready to pack a suitcase because my husband and I are going to Wales where I will be speaking. Then we will go from there to Edinburgh and speak there also. So, it's pretty much the same sort of thing. It's "Lord, here I am. Do anything you want with me." If He wants me to write a book or do a radio program, or something else, I am available.
CBD: Through Gates of Splendor is a book about a tragedy with a triumphant message. It certainly must not have been an easy book to write. What motivated you to record this story?
Elisabeth Elliot: I never dreamed of being a writer. It's just that when five American missionaries were killed in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956, this was actually world news, not just 'Christian news' at that time. It shook everybody up, because in those days television was in its infancy and we weren't inured to disasters every 10 minutes as we are now. It had a tremendous impact all across the world, and the publishers in New York got wind of what a big story this really was turning out to be. Through a very long series of very strange ways, I was asked to write a book. It was not my idea to do this at all, but that is what precipitated me into the writing field. So, Harper & Row in New York City, asked me to come there from the jungle, and they put me up in a hotel in Park Avenue. They said "We need a book, and we need it fast, and we want you to sit here and write it." They gave me a stack of blank paper and a typewriter, and I proceeded to write the book that turned out to be Through Gates of Splendor.
CBD: In the eyes of most people, the story of Through Gates of Splendor is only a tragedy. Yet, the title points to a glorious outcome. The death of your husband, Jim Elliot, and the four other missionaries seemed to turn from tragedy to triumph, and bring God great glory . . .
Elisabeth Elliot: Yes, and of course there is nothing new about people getting killed because they are doing the will of God. The Bible is full of stories of people who because they trusted God, were killed in one way or another. I think of John the Baptist who, because he was being faithful to God himself, he lost his head. Throughout all the ages since then, Christians have been losing their lives in various ways. So it is not by any means a unique thing, but I think that the very fact that there was communications—this then new thing called a television—made it so much more vivid to Americans and to other people as well.
CBD: After reading Through Gates of Splendor, one is faced with the question "are you willing to die for your faith in God?" Is there something in the message of Through Gates of Splendor that Christians today need to come to grip with?
Elisabeth Elliot: Yes, I think that anyone who reads the book seriously ought to face the same challenge that "we are crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live. Yet, it is not I, but Christ who liveth in me."(Gal 2:20) We should realize that Scripture from beginning to end points out that we do not belong to ourselves, we belong to Jesus Christ, and we are therefore disposable in any way that God wants to dispose of us. There is nothing unusual about this. It's just that we need to recognize again and again that this is what Jesus spoke about. He said "If you want to be my disciple . . ." Of course you don't have to be his disciple. There were plenty of other rabbis around in his day. But he said if you want to be my disciple, then there are three conditions: Number One, give up your right to yourself. That is probably the most difficult thing that God asks of us. Give up your right to yourself. Jesus put that right at the beginning. The second condition of discipleship is "Take up the cross . . ." The cross means torture or death! Are we prepared to accept those conditions? The third condition of discipleship is "Follow me." Give up your right to yourself, take up your cross, and follow. I do believe that this is the gateway to joy, to life.
CBD: That Christianity is not a casual commitment comes across loud and clear in Through Gates of Splendor . Are there any particular things you would like your audience to receive from your book, in addition to this wonderful message?
Elisabeth Elliot: Of course, God is not going to call very many people to go to the jungles of Ecuador for example, or necessarily to be speared to death. But the great question is: "Will you follow Jesus Christ no matter where he takes you or no matter what he requires of you? The three conditions of discipleship (Give up your right, take up your cross, and follow) are perfectly clear. I would remind my audience that one can follow any other teacher. There are plenty of them around. But Jesus said "If you want to be my disciple, these are the things that you have to do." Through Gates of Splendor is just one story of five men who had the same goal in mind. It is that they might fulfill the will of God by life or by death.
CBD: The dedicated prayerful life of Jim Elliot and the four missionaries is evident. Is this a call that God has place upon His children?
Elisabeth Elliot: Well, Jesus taught his disciples to pray. He gave us a very simple prayer that most readers will certainly recognize, "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name . . ." If we are going to follow him, we are going to do some pretty serious thinking about where that following may take us. Are you really prepared to do anything he says? I think that most of us, if we examine our hearts, would have to say honestly that we are not very well prepared. I was thrilled that God gave me the privilege to be a missionary in Ecuador and gave me the privilege of working with three different tribal groups. Yet, the challenges continued, one after the other. When my husband died, the great question was "What am I supposed to do now?" Well, it never crossed my mind to do anything other than stay where I was on the station where God had sent me. God had not changed his mind about my being a missionary. He had simply taken away one person on whom I was leaning, and I had to learn to lean on the Lord himself. The wonderful thing to me is that God loves us with an everlasting love, and He will never require of us anything for which he will not give the grace, which we will need at that time.
CBD: Is there anything that you would like to share with us in closing?
Elisabeth Elliot: Yes, I would certainly want to make it clear that you don't necessarily have to be a foreign missionary in order to do the will of God, or consider yourself a disciple. I believe that everything that Christians do ought to be offered to Jesus Christ. I mean that absolutely and quite literally. I don't think God is impressed, shall we say, with my writing a book, or speaking from a platform, or broadcasting on the radio. Those are things that the average person would think of as a "ministry," but the word "ministry" simply means serving. Because God has given me all three of those things, He also requires me to do housework, to wash the laundry, and to cook breakfast, lunch, and supper for my husband. I don't think that God makes a dichotomy between these so-called spiritual things that God gives us to do, and the secular things. It is all a piece and a part of the will of God. Let us never forget that we know nothing of the first 30 years of Jesus' life, except a little vignette when he was 12 years old. It is assumed that he lived a very quiet and secluded life in a carpentry shop with his earthly father, Joseph. When it came time for Him to have a public ministry, we have the story of Jesus' life and the things that He did just for those last three years or so. I don't think that in God's sight those three years are different than the last 30.
CBD: Thank you, Mrs. Elliot, for sharing these wonderful thoughts with us!