Elisabeth Elliot Biography

“I have one desire now – to live a life with reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my strength and energy into it.” Elisabeth Elliot, an inspirational woman who remained faithful to God, and the calling he had laid on her heart, through many trials and tribulations.

The inspirational Elisabeth Elliot

The inspirational Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth’s Early Years

Elisabeth Elliot was born on December 27, 1926 in Brussels, Belgium, where her parents served as missionaries.   Before she was a year old they moved to America to Germantown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.  Her family grew when they came to America, and Elisabeth gained four younger brothers and one younger sister.

While they lived in Germantown, Elisabeth’s father was the editor for the Sunday School Times, which was a weekly journal that contained Sunday School lessons that were used simultaneously in several Sunday School classrooms to keep the teaching and learning cohesive in churches throughout the country.

Calling to Ecuador

Elisabeth Elliot as a young missionary

Elisabeth Elliot as a young missionary

A true pioneer in the world of Christianity, Elisabeth went to Wheaton College and studied Greek, because she desired to translate the Bible for the remote regions in the world.  While at the college, she met Jim Elliot.  After graduation, Elisabeth went on a missionary expedition to Ecuador with other students from Wheaton, including Jim Elliot.

In the first year of their missionary journey, Jim and Elisabeth worked in different regions.  A year after entering Ecuador, Jim joined Elisabeth in the Quichua Indian tribe.   In 1953, Jim and Elisabeth were married and continued to serve in Ecuador.  They had a daughter, Valerie Elliot Shepard.  When the Auca tribe in Eastern Ecuador killed Jim Elliot and his missionary partners, Elisabeth refused to give up on the people in that tribe.  She continued to live in the region with her daughter and Rachel Saint, the sister of another one of the missionaries that the Auca tribe killed.  They lived among the Quichua tribe.

While living in the Quichua tribe, two Auca women lived with Elisabeth for one year.  During that year of living with the two Auca women, Elisabeth came to understand why the tribe killed her husband and the other missionaries.  The tribe feared that outsiders were going to come into their tribe and take away their freedom.  With that understanding, Elisabeth and Rachel Saint were able to go to the Auca tribe and build relationships with them.  They led the people of the tribe to Jesus.  The tribe saw and understood the forgiveness and grace that Elisabeth and Rachel extended to them.

Elisabeth wrote two books while she lived in Ecuador that contained her experiences and Jim’s experiences with the Auca tribe.  She wrote Through the Gates of Splendor, which gives an account of her and Jim’s experiences with the Auca tribe.

Elisabeth’s Return to America

Portrait of Elisabeth Elliot

Portrait of Elisabeth Elliot

After spending two years with the Auca, Elisabeth came to America with her daughter in 1963. Elisabeth and her daughter, Valerie lived in New Hampshire when they returned to America.  Elisabeth met Addison Leitch, a theologian professor at Gordon Conwell University, and was thrilled to marry him in 1969.  During their marriage, Addison and Elisabeth toured the United States with speaking engagements.  Elisabeth never limited her message to women.  She would inspire other Christians to live their lives, both men and women, with a passion to live for God.

Four years after they were married in 1973, Addison lost his battle with cancer and died.  Valerie was thirteen when Elisabeth married Addison and was excited that God gave her a “Daddy.”  When he died, Valerie was devastated to lose the father that she knew.  She knew about Jim Elliot her biological father, but she knew Addison as a father who was present with her.

Elisabeth’s Love Redeemed

After Leitch’s death, Elisabeth had two lodgers in her home.  One of the lodgers married her daughter, and the other lodger, Lars Gren, married Elisabeth.  Lars Gren was a hospital chaplain.  Lars and Elisabeth were married until her death.

Elisabeth Elliot as an older lady

Elisabeth Elliot as an older lady

At the age of 89, on June 15, 2015 Elisabeth Elliot died.  As her soul resides in heaven, her legacy lives on earth with her writings and stories.

Elisabeth Elliot’s Beliefs on Feminism

Elisabeth was never afraid to tell where the woman’s place was.  She believed that women in the military needed to be in non-combative places because they would be needed at home, even if they were single.  Also, she believed strongly that a married woman, especially to a pastor, was to support his ministry and not begin her own career.  Her beliefs came because she counseled so many women whose marriages were falling apart because the women insisted on working outside of the home.  Also, she studied the Bible and understood what it meant for women. Elisabeth didn’t like addressing the issue, but she was very bold and forthright in her answers.

Elisabeth knew how to answer the question of women speaking in the church.  She declined speaking on Sunday mornings to a congregation.  If she were asked to speak at a Sunday School class or another meeting at a church, she would only oblige if a man who was a leader turned over the meeting to her.  She understood the Bible to be clear that women are not to usurp authority over men.  She knew that the Bible didn’t discriminate between Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, but she also knew that she could not usurp authority over men.  Her beliefs gained her respect, and men and women listened to her and read her books.

Books written by Elisabeth Elliot

Portrait of Elisabeth Elliot

Portrait of Elisabeth Elliot

In her lifetime, Elisabeth wrote and published twenty-four books.  She continued to travel and speak all over America sharing her story, her knowledge, and wisdom of God’s Word until her health stopped her in 2004.  Her most popular books were Through the Gates of Splendor and Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under God’s Control.

Through the Gates of Splendor tells the story of Jim Elliot and their encounter with the tribes in Ecuador that eventually took his life.  Passion and Purity: Your Life Under God’s Control is a book that deals with dating for single Christians and how to honor God in their romantic relationships.  It was published in 1984.  In a world where everyone is doing whatever they please, she gives her own examples of love, heartache with the deaths of her husbands, and romance with all of them, while maintaining a pure relationship with them and before God.  Elisabeth used her theological knowledge in her books and speeches.

Quotes from Elisabeth Elliot

“God never denies our hearts’ desire except to give us something better.”

“I have one desire now—to live a life with reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my strength and energy into it.”

“Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

“Fear arises when we imagine that everything depends on us.”

“We cannot give our lives to God and keep our bodies to ourselves.”

“And underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Author Info

Caroline Vandenbree has worked on full time staff as a youth pastor in churches.  She is a writer, teacher, and follower of Jesus.  She lives in Los Angeles and enjoys researching, writing, and inspiring others to live their lives to the fullest in Christ.  She is also a member and is on volunteer staff at Mosaic church in Hollywood, CA.

Caroline Vandenbree