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Monday, April 14, 2014

Why Elisabeth Elliot Gren is One of My Heroes

Elisabeth Elliot Gren

Elisabeth Howard was born December 21, 1926 in Belgium. Soon afterwards, her family moved to Pennsylvania, and she grew up in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She attended Wheaton College, where she met and fell in love with Jim Elliot. Her studies were in Greek, with an eye towards translation. She dreamed of writing a language for people without a written tongue.

Elisabeth went to do missionary work in Ecuador. She married Jim in Quito a year later. Together, they worked with the Quichua tribe. Jim and the other missionaries had a burden to reach the hostile Auca tribe. After several friendly contacts, the five missionaries were speared to death.

Elisabeth and Jim’s daughter Valerie was just ten months old when her father died.

Elisabeth remained in Ecuador, working with the Quichuas. Providentially, she met two Auca women, who lived with her for a year. Through them, Elisabeth and Valerie went to live with the Aucas—the same people who had killed her husband. She worked with them for two years, writing their language from the sounds they spoke.

Then, Elisabeth and Valerie returned to the United States, where Elisabeth began writing books and speaking.

In 1969, she married Addison Leitch, who died of cancer in 1973.

Elisabeth married Lars Gren in 1977.

Elisabeth Elliot has written many books. Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty, and The Savage, My Kinsman describe the Elliots’ ministry among the Quichuas and Aucas. She has also written: Keep a Quiet Heart; Path of Loneliness; Let Me Be A Woman; A Path Through Suffering; Passion and Purity; Be Still My Soul; Discipline: The Glad Surrender; Quest for Love; Secure in the Everlasting Arms; God’s Guidance: Finding His Will for Your Life; A Chance to Die (a biography of Amy Carmichael); The Shaping of a Christian Family: How My Parents Nurtured My Faith; These Strange Ashes; No Graven Image (her only novel); and she compiled The Journals of Jim Elliot.

Her radio broadcast “Gateway to Joy” always started with this: “You are loved with an everlasting love. And underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Loosely based on Deuteronomy 33:27.) These inspirational programs aired from 1988-2001.

Today, Elisabeth resides with her husband Lars Gren and is cared for by him and two caregivers.

She quit speaking publicly in 2004 as her health began to fail.* “When she realized she was losing her memory, she put into practice what she had long preached, ‘From acceptance comes peace.’ Her husband said she turned to the Bible for comfort, especially Isaiah 43:2: ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’ Gren says Elliot has handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her husbands. ‘She accepted those things, knowing they were no surprise to God,’ Gren said. ‘It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.’”**

Why is Elisabeth Elliot one of my heroes?

There are lots of reasons: 
  1. As a single woman, she went to Ecuador, knowing God had called her. She was not with the man she loved, but she went anyhow.
  2. Her book, These Strange Ashes, tells the story of that first year. It shook me. It taught me about God’s perspective—and how it’s not the same as ours.
  3. After Jim’s death, and with a baby daughter, she stayed where God had put them. I admire her for that! I can’t imagine the fear she must have felt when she first moved to the Auca village. I cannot imagine living where everything you do is observed, including sleeping, bathing, and dressing. I also think the nakedness of the people would have taken some getting used to.
  4. I admire her brilliance. Elisabeth was very accomplished, perfect for the task of writing an alphabet, dictionary, and a language. More than that, she was a Bible student all her life.
  5. Having read eight of her books, I admire her as an author. She writes plainly. She doesn’t sugarcoat or romanticize. The facts are the facts, and she serves up the unvarnished truth, warts and all. I appreciate that! Especially in Christian books, we sometimes get a rosy posy version of Christianity, and we come away thinking that we’re entitled to an easy life. Elisabeth Elliot understands taking up her cross daily. Her books reflect that.
  6. Elisabeth Elliot understood her role as a woman and as a wife and mother. Let Me Be a Woman is written to her young daughter about womanhood. Passion and Purity advocates purity in romance, putting the physical out of the picture until marriage.
  7. Elisabeth kept working for her Lord. She wrote about Jim and the other missionaries and about their deaths. She wrote about the widows’ reactions and about the rainbow over the graves on the beach. She told about her ministry to previously unreached peoples, and she shared those experiences with groups all over the country.
  8. All her life, Elisabeth Elliot served the Lord. She used what God had given her—talents and experiences—to honor Him.
  9. Now, she has accepted her memory loss as God’s sovereign will, and she is content.

Elisabeth Elliot could have lashed out against God and gotten bitter. Can you imagine losing your young husband, along with four other friends—speared to death by the people they were trying to reach? And, she was left with a baby!

Her second husband suffered and died. They only had four years together. She could have gotten very bitter and railed at God, “You’ve taken away both my husbands! It’s not fair! I find love, and You take him from me.” But she didn’t. (She also didn’t “find love.” Mr. Leitch found her.)

Several years later, another man pursued her. She brushed him off. He came back—to shovel her driveway, to help around the house, and he kept loving her. Elisabeth finally responded and married Lars Gren. They’ve had a long marriage, and now, he is her mouthpiece.

So, I admire Elisabeth Elliot. She has been graceful (in every meaning of the word) through death, difficulties, disappointments, and trials. Her books challenge every woman to rethink her perspective. Her radio broadcasts and speeches encouraged many. She has glorified God all of her life, and now, in its final chapter, she gracefully embraces what God has chosen for her.

I pray I will do the same.

Post script: Elisabeth Elliot passed through the "gates of splendor" June 15, 2015. Heaven is richer.

Biographical information is from: and The booklist is from, books by Elisabeth Elliot. (Be careful. There is an author named EliZabeth Elliot. She is not the same lady!)
* This last part of Elisabeth’s story is from World Magazine, March 8, 2014, pages 57-58, “Walking Through Fire” by Tiffany Owens.
** “Walking Through Fire,” above.


  1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights. What a blessing.
    I was unaware of These Strange Ashes, and look forward to reading it.

    1. Thank you for your comment. You will be surprised and challenged by These Strange Ashes. It is one of my favorites.

  2. She is one of mine, too, for all the reasons you mentioned.

  3. She is definitely an amazing lady! I listened to her radio broadcast when I was in high school and learned so much from her. She is truly a godly example for all of us!

    1. How interesting! Since we live overseas, I only heard her radio program maybe twice. I mostly know her through her books. Thank you, Luba, for your comment. God bless!

  4. Stopping by from Paradise Praises. Thanks for linking up with What to Read Wednesday! Elisabeth is one of my heroes too!

    1. It was fun to be able to link up with Paradise Praises, especially since you were talking about missionary biographies. God bless!

  5. Elisabeth is my spiritual Mom and I love her very much. This was a very special tribute to her and I greatly enjoyed reading it. It was found by googling and what a nice surprise indeed!

    1. Thank you, Barbara, and welcome to "In the Way." I am thankful for godly women like Mrs. Gren. It's a blessing to know about those who have gone before us.


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