Title: Becoming Elisabeth Elliot
Author: Ellen Vaughn
Major Themes: Missionaries, Suffering, Faith
Synopsis: The story of Elisabeth Elliot’s early years, from her days in school up through her time serving the Waodani after Jim’s death.
Several months ago, I downloaded Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, intending to read it soon. Well, it took a bit longer to get to than I thought it would, but it ended up being an excellent read once I got into it! I had to take it more slowly than some stories I read, simply because there was so much to take in—but in all, this book really blessed me.
Who was the Elisabeth Elliot we hear about so often? We know of her as the wife of the Jim Elliot who was speared to death . . . but who was she before she and Jim got married? What kind of girl was she growing up? When did she come to know the Lord for herself, and what experiences shaped her into the well-known writer we know of today? I haven’t read any of her books, and only being familiar with Jim’s side of the story (and some from Steve Saint), I found this book fascinating.
There were many portions of this story that I had no idea about . . . like how long she and Jim spent in their dating years, both of them wavering between wanting to be fully committed to the Lord and not having the entanglements of marriage, and feeling a strong desire to be together and get married. Watching that struggle—that seesawing back and forth—was encouraging to me. God does work His way out in His timing—and while the path there might not be easy, He does accomplish His will in the end. Later, then, after Jim’s death, I had no idea of the struggles Elisabeth faced to even get in to minister to the Waodani—or why she didn’t end up staying there long in the end. I’d love to know what the Saint family’s side of the story is, but I feel like the way it’s portrayed here is probably pretty accurate, historically speaking. To see the tensions and struggles Elisabeth went through makes me feel better about some of the things we’ve faced as a family and church group—no, life isn’t always easy, and often there aren’t clear-cut decisions waiting for you. But God is always faithful, even in those struggles.
I think my favorite part of Becoming Elisabeth Elliot wasn’t the history (even though that was fascinating) so much as the fact that I felt like I really got to know her as a person—the joys and sorrows that made up her life. Of course, many details had to be left out, but what did come through was a woman who was strong, yet full of compassion, one who understood her weaknesses, and wanted to live a life fully for Christ—but often failed. A woman who influenced and encouraged many people, even when she was desperately hungry for encouragement herself. I found her story deeply inspiring and convicting, but also a strength to my faith. Through her example, I saw that it’s okay to have questions and try to find answers—even the best of us have deep, painful problems at times that we can’t find reasons for. But when we bring it to the cross, we find the Answer.
This is a hard book to know how to categorize or recommend. In many ways, it’s a no-frills biography but written in a very readable manner. Just read it. I hope you’ll be as blessed by it as I was.
I was given a review copy of this book, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: “Gosh” is used in ch. 2. The story of John and Betty Stam’s deaths is told in ch. 4 (some description). There is some talk about the Second World War, and people who died, in ch. 8, and the word “golly”. Near the end of ch. 12, a quote from Jim’s diary talks about his desire for Elisabeth physically (a little description). Ch. 13 describes a terrible bus accident where people were killed and some badly injured. Ch. 16 describes a woman in labor with terrible complications, which she ended up dying from; later, a man was shot and killed, with some description around that (somewhat gruesome). In ch. 17, Jim was badly injured. In ch. 19, someone is bitten by a deadly snake, someone else is killed by a snake, and there is a bit of a description about helping a woman in labor deliver her baby. Ch. 20 talks about an old custom of the Waodani to bury children with a family member who had died, or was in the process of dying, and of their frequent spearing. Ch. 21 again quotes from Jim’s journal, about his struggles with desire for the things of the flesh (some description). Frequently in the latter half of the book, there are mentions of the Waodani wearing little or no clothing. Ch. 22 talks of one man who had two wives, but speared one when she displeased him, and later he spent the night alone in the jungle with another woman; then of how the Waodani speared Jim and the other men, with some description surrounding that. Ch. 23 talks of what the search party found of the remains of the men. Ch. 24 tells of a missionary family who were killed (a story Elisabeth read). “Hell of a good job” is used in ch. 25. In ch. 26, a quote from Elisabeth tells of her struggles with her desire for Jim. A spearing where a man was killed is told of in ch. 27. In ch. 29, there is a story of a man who committed suicide, and then was later found and speared by Waodani; “to hell” is used by Betty in her journal, and there is a supposition that a woman was tracked and killed. Ch. 30 mentions Mincaye and his wife laying together in a hammock, and how sexual matters of all kinds were public knowledge and talked about frequently (some description). Ch. 31 tells of a man with a terrible snake bite, and “to hell” is used a couple of times. In ch. 35, there are a couple of descriptions of horrific medical problems.