Elisabeth Elliot, wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, has died at 88

by Kimberly Pennington |

(Elizabeth Elliot.com)

MAGNOLIA, Mass. (Christian Examiner) – Elisabeth Elliot, a woman whose life story transfixed and inspired women through six decades and at least three generations, has died.

Author, speaker, and missionary pioneer Elisabeth Elliot Gren died this morning, June 15, at the age of 88 following a lengthy battle with dementia.

Born Elisabeth Howard in Belgium to missionary parents on Dec. 21, 1926, she came to the United States with her siblings and parents the following year. After spending the majority of her childhood in Germantown, Pennsylvania and Moorestown, New Jersey, she attended Wheaton College where she majored in Greek to facilitate her desire to use linguistics on the mission field and serve as a Bible translator. She graduated in 1948.

I read, constantly wiping the tears from my eyes so I could read the next sentence, and then cried even harder – and more than 40 years later those two books elicit the same response from me as they did sitting in my simple dorm room. Why? Because Elisabeth and Jim Elliott gave me a flesh-and-blood example of people in my generation who were willing to give their ALL to Jesus.
- Kay Warren, Saddleback Community Church

At Wheaton, Elisabeth met Jim Elliot, the man who would become her first husband. She wrote about their lengthy courtship in her 1984 bestseller Passion and Purity. The Elliots' 1953 marriage ended after only two and a half years when Jim became one of five missionaries killed by members of the Auca Indian tribe in Ecuador.

Following her husband's death, Elisabeth remained in the jungles of Ecuador with their ten-month old daughter, Valerie, to continue their missionary work along with Rachel Saint, sister of Nate Saint, another of the martyred missionaries.

Elliot chronicled this segment of her life in the bestsellers Through Gates of Splendor and The Savage My Kinsman. Through Gates of Splendor was made into a documentary by the same name and narrated by Elliot in 1967. It was produced again as a docudrama in 2005 under the title End of the Spear.

Elliot and her daughter returned to the United States in 1963, and Elliot began speaking and writing full-time. She served as an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts during the 1970s and 80s.

She married Addison H. Leitch, professor of Philosophy and Religion at Tarkio College in 1969. Following Leitch's death from cancer in 1973, Elliot married Lars Gren in 1977. Gren served as her agent for the remainder of her public ministry and updated Elliot's web site and blog during her later years.

In addition to her writing ministry, Elisabeth shared her spiritual insights through Gateway to Joy, a syndicated radio program that first aired from 1988-2001. Bible Broadcasting Network began re-broadcasting her radio programs in 2014. The programs are also available on-demand online.

Elliot discontinued her public speaking ministry in 2004 after being diagnosed with dementia. WORLD Magazine reported last year: "When she realized she was losing her memory, she put into practice what she had long preached: 'From acceptance comes peace.'"

Gren reported to the publication that Elliot gained comfort from the Bible, Isaiah 43:2 in particular: "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."

Admirers of her life and ministry are filling Elliot's Facebook Page with comments.

"Elisabeth's writings were used mightily in my life. God used her books, especially about the life of Jim Elliot to call me into a deeper relationship with the Lord. As a way of honoring her and Jim, my wife and I named our oldest son Elliot," wrote Justin Cockroft.

Elizabeth Adams Jordan commented, "She was a spiritual mother to me, though we never met. Her strong encouragements and corrections, and her adherence to the Holy Scripture were what I needed as a young Christian and what I still need as a more mature believer. I am thankful for radio and archives where I can still listen and gain wisdom from her teachings. 'Do the next thing' has stayed with me too."

Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., wrote a lengthy tribute about Elliot on her Facebook page.

Warren said she was a student at California Baptist University at the time the Jesus Movement was exploding across the nation and thigs at school were not very exciting in contrast to the "era of no dancing, drinking, smoking."

In reading Elliot's Through the Gates of Splendor, Warren said her life was "never the same."

"I was transfixed by the story of these five couples (and children) that let go of earthly ties to tell the good news to some who might never otherwise hear of God's love. Their sacrifices, commitment, radical obedience, and willingness to risk death if necessary struck a chord in my 19-year-old soul," Warren wrote.

After saving enough money, Warren said she purchased the next chronicle of Jim Elliot's life and journals, In the Shadow of the Almighty.

"I read, constantly wiping the tears from my eyes so I could read the next sentence, and then cried even harder – and more than 40 years later those two books elicit the same response from me as they did sitting in my simple dorm room," Warren wrote. "Why? Because Elisabeth and Jim Elliott gave me a flesh-and-blood example of people in my generation who were willing to give their ALL to Jesus."