Images Courtesy Museum of the Bible Collection. All rights reserved. © Museum of the Bible, 2023
As one of the most prolific Christian communicators in the second half of the 20th century, Elisabeth Elliot seemed set on her vocational path from an exceptionally early age. Born in Belgium to American missionary parents in 1926, she attended Wheaton College, where she studied to be a Bible translator. There, she met Jim Elliot; the two became missionaries in Ecuador and married in 1953. Two years later, Jim Elliot was one of five missionaries killed by members of the Waorani, an isolated indigenous group of the Amazon region that the missionaries were trying to bring to Christ.
Elisabeth Elliot detailed those experiences in her first book, Through Gates of Splendor, published in 1957. Soon after, she returned to the same place and the same people – toddler daughter in tow – to continue the mission work for several years. She chronicled this second experience in a follow-up book, Shadow of the Almighty, published in 1958.
In Elliot’s 2015 obituary in The New York Times, Wheaton history professor Kathryn Long wrote that those two titles, for evangelicals especially, were “the definitive inspirational mission stories for the second half of the 20th century. ” Elliot’s stories and stalwart faith in God captured the imagination of millions; Through Gates of Splendor was reprinted in over 50 editions, the best-selling missionary story of the century.
Tragedy and inspiration as a missionary in Ecuador led the indomitable Elisabeth Elliott to a noted literary and speaking career that spanned four decades.
Elisabeth Elliot went on to a long and successful literary and speaking career – she wrote over 20 books and hosted the daily radio program Gateway to Joy from 1988 to 2001. She served as an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in the 1970s and writer-in-residence at Gordon College in the 1980s. Despite her long and influential career, Elliot is still best known for her years in Ecuador. Through Gates of Splendor has been translated into many languages and for a documentary film and other media. In 1974, the Fleming H. Revell Company published a comic book based on the title. Today’s readers likely will see the comic book content in a much different light than earlier readers, but it exemplifies the popular understanding of its time.
The comic book and many more items connected to Elliot can be found in the Museum of the Bible’s “Personal Stories” exhibit, along with items donated by her family, including photos and a poison dart blowgun. Also on display are Jim Elliot’s shoes, Elisabeth Elliot’s glasses, and other personal artifacts. The exhibit closes Jan. 31, 2024.
“Buildings can be replaced, even though our church has an awful lot of history. Our strength lies in our people, who are just as important, if not more....This church, this congregation, has a resiliency unlike any other. That’s why I know we will rebuild and be better than ever.”
—Anela Rosa, lay minister at Waiola Church in Lahaina, which was destroyed in the Maui wildfires in August. Founded in 1823 by Queen Keōpūolani, wife of Kamehameha the Great, and the first Christian church on the island of Maui, it has been an important community gathering place for 200 years. (USA Today, Aug. 10, 2023)