The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This wife of a murdered missionary has died. Here’s why Elisabeth Elliot’s life mattered to so many.

Books by Elisabeth Elliot (Christine Melamed)
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This opinion piece is by Tsh Oxenreider, the author of “Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World” and the founder of the Art of Simple.

I was 15, it was a scorching summer afternoon and I was sitting on a concrete pathway between the fellowship hall and the kitchen of a crumbling church in Reynosa, Mexico. It was the early ’90s, and as a teenager hailing from Texas, I was on the first of what would be many short-term mission trips, ubiquitous to those of us who grew up in the youth group culture. I had a break between VBS presentations, so I found some down time to do what I did best — I was reading. In my hand was a tattered, borrowed copy of “Passion and Purity” by Elisabeth Elliot, and the pages wouldn’t stop turning.

All the girls on the trip passed this book around, each of us poring over its pages in search of the key to unlocking the secret of being a godly girl who waited for the right boy. I read the book in a day, then spent the rest of the trip with Elliot’s words rattling in my brain. I re-read it several times throughout high school, as well as “Through Gates of Splendor,” which ultimately influenced me enough to major in cultural anthropology in my university years and head to post-war Kosovo as soon as I graduated.

As I walked through war-torn villages in the year 2000, single and in my early 20s, I sometimes thought of Elliot, who 50 years earlier walked a similar path in South America. She packed her bags and headed to Ecuador in the early ’50s to live among a then-unknown tribal group in the jungles; I lived in a village on the Serbian border with scant electricity or Internet to teach English to Albanian students. She ultimately married her first husband, Jim, in Quito, Ecuador. I met my husband on a dirt road in my adopted Albanian village, and we married a year later.

The similarities to our stories depart here, because Jim Elliot was killed shortly after by the Auca tribe in Ecuador, leaving Elisabeth a widow with a 10-month-old baby. She continued her mission work as a single mother, eventually leaving a decade later to begin a career of speaking and writing.

And it’s through this writing of hers that so many in my generation were influenced, particularly women seeking inner bravery to serve in distant lands, leaving their future in God’s hands. In reading Elliot’s words, we found a bit of courage to walk by faith and step out into the unknown. By her willingness to open her heart and process grief through writing, we were given a smattering of peace to trust God for provision.

I think back to that 15-year-old on the blinding Mexican concrete, so influenced by my first reading of Elliot’s words. Though I may not completely share her perspective or theology, I count her among a short list of writers who has left a legacy in my soul and in my own family’s story.

Because of her, I dared to leave my comfort zone.

I am not alone — many in my generation found similar courage and peace through her books, speaking, and radio program. There is little telling the breadth of her global heritage. I am grateful for her life, and for the profound influence she left on my own. Rest in peace, Ms. Elliot.

You can find Tsh Oxenreider on Twitter at @tsh.

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