I can’t wait to get to heaven; Elisabeth Elliot and I will have lots to talk about. I don’t anticipate having a personal conversation with her this side of eternity. But I recently finished another one of her gems of books, and that’s a pretty good substitute for now. I’ve decided based on her writings that Elliot is a kindred spirit of mine.
Elliot and her writings have weaved their way throughout my life and my journey to foreign missions. The first book of hers that I read was The Savage My Kinsman.
It’s the account of Elliot’s return, along with her daughter, to the very people group that had killed her husband and four other missionaries three years before. Can one ask for a more compelling, real-life story? As a high school freshman already sure I wanted to be a missionary, I ate up Elliot’s description of jungle life, language-learning, and linguistic analysis.
During my first year of college, I read the copy of Keep a Quiet Heart that my mom had given me. The depth of insight and spiritual maturity in her devotional writing was formative in my walk with the Lord.
And last month, a dear new friend who is praying me to West Africa lent me her copy of These Strange Ashes. The read was a timely one.
Elliot recounts her first year as a foreign missionary in Ecuador, before she and Jim Elliot married. As I prepare to begin my own first year, I relished her transparency and the profound application of Scriptural truth to her experience. At the end of a year spent doing work she felt completely called by God to do, she had absolutely nothing to show for her effort. Instead of a year of success, she describes it as a year of stripping. In her own words:
…I had promised to obey God, and I had known that that promise might lead to ‘tribulation.’ I had prayed also for holiness, but this—this kind of ‘answer’—was startling and repugnant to me. I had desired God Himself and He had not only not given me what I asked for, He had snatched away what I had. I came to nothing, to emptiness. … It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself.
…It is hard for a young person with high ideals to learn that people cannot be hustled. They cannot be hustled into the kingdom of God, and it is well to remember Christ’s own descriptions of that kingdom: leaven and seed, things which work slowly and out of sight. We long for visible evidence of our effectiveness, and when it is not forthcoming, we are tempted to conclude that our efforts never had anything to do with the kingdom. I was inclined to think such thoughts. Why, when someone has given himself to missionary work, are results so meager? Was it worth our while to go on?
…Everything I had done in 9 months in San Miguel de los Colorados was undone at a stroke. … All the questions as to the validity of my calling, or, much more fundamental, God’s interest in any missionary work—Bible translation or any other kind—all these questions came again to the fore. … It was only gradually during the months that followed that I saw that to God nothing is finally lost. All the Scriptural metaphors about the death of the seed which falls into the ground, about losing one’s life, about becoming the least in the kingdom, about the world’s passing away—all these go on to something unspeakably better and more glorious. Loss and death are only the preludes to gain and life. It was a temptation to foreshorten the promises, to look for some prompt fulfillment of the loss-gain principle—maybe, for example, the suitcase would turn up and everybody would rejoice because prayer had been answered, because we had come through another lesson with flying colors, because we would have proof that God won’t let His work be set back, that He does always and everywhere put a wall around His servants and their service for Him…. The suitcase did not turn up. And so it often is. Faith, prayer, and obedience are our requirements. We are not offered in exchange immunity and exemption from the world’s woes. What we are offered has to do with another world altogether.
It’s a sobering but needed reminder that God doesn’t promise immunity and ease, even when we’re doing exactly what He’s called us to do. What He promises is far greater than that.
Oh, and if you want to know what was in the suitcase, you’ll just have to read the book for yourself!