One of the most influential Christian women of the 20th century, Elisabeth Elliot, has died.
Elliot, the Christian author and speaker whose husband, Jim, was killed during their short-lived but legendary missionary work among unreached tribes in eastern Ecuador in the 1950s, passed away Sunday at 88, according to reports. She had been suffering from dementia.
She wrote two books about her husband’s martyrdom and the years she and her newborn daughter spent living among the Aucas, the tribe that killed him. Her Through Gates of Splendor ranked No. 9 on CT’s list of the Top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals. The book became a bestseller, as did Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot.
“Those became the definitive inspirational mission stories for the second half of the 20th century,” said Kathryn Long, professor of history at Wheaton College. “She really had a sense of her audience as evangelicals, and she could tell this story in a way that keyed into [their] values.”
Long said that Elliot’s later books on missions, No Graven Image and The Savage My Kingsman, raised important questions about mission work. Her legacy, Long said, reflects her complexity as both “a gifted, inspiring writer, and one who’s extraordinarily perceptive.”
The daughter of missionaries to Belgium and a graduate of Wheaton College (which offers a full biography), Elliot went on to write more than a dozen additional books and launched a radio show, Gateway to Joy, that ran through 2001. She wrote for CT on the prayer of the five widows, disappointment in Jesus, alesson from the Resurrection, and what happens when death takes away a loved one.
Her former radio producer, Jan Wismer, described Elliot’s ministry as a “pioneer and prayer warrior” in a 2013 tribute by Today’s Christian Woman (a CT sister publication). Wismer wrote:
Elisabeth believed in asking this foundational question: Is this God’s will for me, right now, in this place? … Unapologetically, Elisabeth espoused such truths as: give to get, lose to find, and die to live. Setting her sights “on things above” (Colossians 3:1), Elisabeth ministered among three indigenous groups in Ecuador before helping listeners and readers find joy in the ordinary affairs of life—like cooking meals and cleaning toilets—on her globally syndicated radio program. She called it living sacramentally, and her rock-solid principles shaped my life.
Last year, as Elliot’s health declined, WORLD interviewed her third husband, Lars Gren. Elliot met him while he was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and they were married for 36 years, until her death. The magazine reported:
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.”
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