In the Spring of 2004, I went on a mission trip to Ecuador through Taylor World Outreach, a program run at the college I attended. We spent a few days in Quito at the beginning and end of our trip, but the bulk of our work was centered around Shell, where we stayed in the hospital built by Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, whose story is chronicled by Elisabeth Elliot in Through the Gates of Splendor. The above picture is of the bridge we crossed daily to reach the hospital and village.
We read Through the Gates of Splendor ahead of our trip, the story of how Jim Elliot, Elisabeth Elliot, and Nate Saint travelled to Ecuador to build a hospital in the rain forest. Jim was a pilot and attempted to make Washington with a local tribe. On their second trip to visit the Waorani people, Jim and Nate were brutally murdered when they landed. Elisabeth responded to this by taking her young daughter, just 10 months old at the time, and travelled to the same tribe that killed her husband. She found them and remarkably, decided to learn their language and live among them with her daughter - the very same people who had killed her husband, Jim. Where the Waorani had a horrible introduction to Christianity at the hands of Conquistadors who put them through Inquisition trials and enslaved them, they accepted Christianity through Elisabeth Elliot who sought to love and understand them.
This story is made all the more remarkable when considering her relationship with Jim Elliot. Passion and Purity details two people who were attracted to each other but painfully delayed their expressions, sensing that God was calling them in different directions. Of course, the non-spoiler is that they do eventually end up together after several difficult, lonely years - but only to have their marriage and family abruptly ended in an Ecuadoran forest. The resilience of Elisabeth Elliot in responding to and persevering through these events is astounding - chosing to obey the call of God on her life to love even those who killed her husband even over her own personal security.
In her adult life, it's hard to argue her impact on American Evangelicalism. Through telling her story, as only she could, through her books, as a chapel speaker, and at churches, she both pressed American Christianity to move beyond staleness, embracing a "reckless abandon" in their devotion to God and provided an undeniable example of the potential effectiveness of women in ministry.
While we have certainly lost a saint in our midst, any sadness is quickly cut with a sense of joy for her reunion with Jim and resting with the God she so faithfully served.