Jim Elliot Biography

Jim Elliot Photo

Jim Elliot in Ecuador

Early Life

Jim Elliot began his life in Portland, Oregon in the USA. His mother, Clara, was a chiropractor and his father, Fred, was a minister. They married and settled in Seattle, WA where they welcomed their first son, Robert in 1921.

Later they relocated the family to Portland where Herbert arrived in 1924, Jim in 1927, and Jane in 1932.

Jim knew Christ from an early age and was never afraid to speak about Him to his friends. At age six Jim told his mother, “Now, mama, the Lord Jesus can come whenever He wants. He could take our whole family because I’m saved now, and Jane is too young to know Him yet.”

The Years That Cemented His Desire To Serve The Lord In Missions

Jim entered Benson Polytechnic High School in 1941. He carried a small Bible with him and, an excellent speaker; he was often found speaking out for Christ. He and his friends were not afraid to step out and find adventure. One thing Jim didn’t have time for in those early years were girls. He was once quoted as telling a friend, “Domesticated males aren’t much use for adventure.”

In 1945 Jim traveled to Wheaton, IL to attend Wheaton College. His main goal while there was to devote himself to God. He recognized the importance of discipline in pursuing this goal.  He would start each morning with prayer and Bible study. In his journal he wrote, “None of it gets to be ‘old stuff’ for it is Christ in print, the Living Word. We wouldn’t think of rising in the morning without a face-wash, but we often neglect the purgative cleansing of the Word of the Lord. It wakes us up to our responsibility.”

Jim’s desire to serve God by taking His gospel to unreached people of the world began to grow while at Wheaton.  The summer of 1947 found him in Mexico and that time influenced his decision to minister in Central America after he finished college.

Jim met Elisabeth Howard during his third year at Wheaton. He did ask her for a date which she accepted and then later cancelled. They spent the next years as friends and after she finished at Wheaton they continued to correspond. As they came to know each other there was an attraction, but Jim felt he needed to unencumbered by worldly concerns in order to devote himself completely to God.

In addition to his hope to one day travel to a foreign country to share Christ with the unchurched of the world, he also felt the need to share with people in the United States.  On Sundays while at Wheaton he would often ride the train into Chicago and talk to people in the train station about Christ. He often felt ineffective in his work as the times of knowingly leading people to Christ were few. He once wrote, “No fruit yet. Why is that I’m so unproductive? I cannot recall leading more than one or two into the kingdom. Surely this is not the manifestation of the power of the Resurrection. I feel as Rachel, ‘Give me children, or else I die.’”

After college with no clear answer as to working for the Lord in a foreign country, Jim returned home to Portland. He continued his disciplined Bible study as well as correspondence with Elisabeth Howard whom he called Betty.

They both felt a strong attraction to each other during this time, but also felt that the Lord may have been calling them to be unmarried as they served Him.

In June of 1950 he travelled to Oklahoma to attend the Summer Institute of Linguistics. There he learned how to study unwritten languages. He was able to work with a missionary to the Quichuas of the Ecuadorian jungle. Because of these lessons he began to pray for guidance about going to Ecuador and later felt compelled to answer the call there.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote in Shadow of the Almighty:

“The breadth of Jim’s vision is suggested in this entry from the journal:
August 9. “God just now gave me faith to ask for another young man to go, perhaps not this fall, but soon, to join the ranks in the lowlands of eastern Ecuador. There we must learn: 1) Spanish and Quichua, 2) each other, 3) the jungle and independence, and 4) God and God’s way of approach to the highland Quichua. From thence, by His great hand, we must move to the Ecuadorian highlands with several young Indians each, and begin work among the 800,000 highlanders. If God tarries, the natives must be taught to spread southward with the message of the reigning Christ, establishing New Testament groups as they go. Thence the Word must go south into Peru and Bolivia. The Quichuas must be reached for God! Enough for policy. Now for prayer and practice.” “

The Ecuador Years

In February 1952 Jim finally left America to travel to Ecuador with Pete Fleming. In May Elisabeth moved to Quito and though they didn’t feel the need to get engaged she and Jim did begin a courtship.

In August Jim left Elisabeth in Quito and travelled with Pete to Shell Mera. At the Mission Aviation Fellowship headquarters in Shell Mera, Jim and Pete learned more about the Acua Indians, a people group that was largely unreached and very savage.

Leaving Shell Mera, Pete and Jim moved on to Shandia where Jim was captivated by the Quichua. He felt very strongly that this was exactly where God intended for him to work to spread the Gospel.

While Jim was in Shandia, Elisabeth was working to learn more about the Colorado Indians near Santa Domingo.  In January of 1953 he went to Quito and she met him there and they were finally engaged. They married in October of that year and their only child Valerie was born in 1955.

They settled in Shandia and continued their work with the Quichua Indians. It was Jim’s desire to be able to reach the Waodoni tribe that lived deep in the jungles and had little contact with the outside world.  A Waodoni woman who had left the tribe was taken in by the missionaries and helped them to learn the language.

Jim, along with Pete, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and their pilot Nate Saint began to search by plane in hopes of finding a way to contact the Waodoni. The found a sandbar in the middle of the Curaray River that worked as a landing strip for the plane and it was there that they first made contact with the Waodoni. They were elated to be able to finally be able to attempt to share the love of Christ with this people group.

After their first meeting, one of the tribe, a man they called George lied to the tribe about the men’s intentions. This lie led the Waodoni warriors to plan an attack for when the missionaries returned.  The men did return on January 8, 1956 and were surprised by ten members of the tribe who massacred the missionaries.

Jim’s short life that was filled with the desire to share God’s love can be summed up by a quote that is attributed to him.  “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Author Info

Tamara is a freelance writer living the dream in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Her desire is to glorify God through the words that He has given her. You can find her at www.rockymountainwriter.com

Tmara D Fickas