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Interview with Elisabeth Elliot

by Donna Morley

†††††††††For those of you not yet acquainted with Elisabeth Elliot, let me briefly introduce her to you. She was first known in January 1956 when newspaper headlines broke across the world reporting that Jim Elliot (Elisabethís husband), Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming were martyred by Auca tribesmen. Elisabeth's story about this tragedy, and her life as a missionary, in Quito, Ecuador can be found in her book Through Gates of Splendor.

†††††††††Since Through Gates of Splendor was first published, Elisabeth has gone on to become one of Christendom's most respected women. Many of us who know Elisabeth, through her writings, can vouch for the fact that she has taught us so much on what it means to live the selfless life.

†††††††††When I first interviewed Elisabeth Elliot she was writing the book, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. For those of you unfamiliar with Amy Carmichael, she was a young woman in the late 1800's who grew up in Ireland and became a missionary in India. Amy's life and ministry was quite fascinating and a conviction to all who desire to follow the Crucified.

†††††††††After Elisabeth finished the book about Amy Carmichael, I read it with great interest, and when finished reading, I wanted to more than ever make the most of my life as Amy Carmichael did. This book is truly one of my favorite biographies..

†††††††††And now, enjoy hearing from Elisabeth on subjects ranging from missions, singleness and marriage.

Donna: ††††††Because you were first known to the world as a missionary,

can you describe for us the role of a missionary?

Elisabeth: To make the truth of God visible. I think that's what witnessing is about. Primarily, that is what the missionary is to do. Then, of course, he also makes it audible by giving the people the gospel which may involve reducing a language to writing and translating the Bible.

Donna:††††††††What type of person do you feel would best fit that role?

Elisabeth:††††Anybody God has called. One of the first qualifications is flexibility. The second qualification is that he must have a servants heart, ready to do anything that needs to be done without worrying about what his job description is suppose to be.

Donna:††††††††Since you were a missionary both as a single woman and as a married woman, what would you say are the benefits of both?

Elisabeth:††††The benefits of being single would be the same that Paul outlined in 1 Corinthians 7. Your more free to minister to other people than you would be if you had a family of your own. Your mind and heart can be directed more towards pleasing the Lord than pleasing your spouse. But, of course, it has its disadvantages in many countries where singleness is not understood at all. You're likely to be suspected of being immoral. The married missionary has the advantage of companionship because missionary work usually involves a great deal of loneliness. Marriage doesn't solve that problem but it does alleviate it. There's nothing more powerful than living as a Christian family before the people you are trying to reach. A missionary family can have a great influence for the gospel.

Donna:††††††††There are some women who feel restless and uncertain about going to the mission field when they are single. Do you feel it's valid for a woman to say, "I'll only go to the mission field if I am married?

Elisabeth:††††No. I think that's laying down conditions to one's obedience. We are not in a position to do that if we are disciples. We are not to be the one defining the terms. We must be at the disposal of our Commanding Officer, as Paul tells us in Second Timothy 2:4.

Donna:††††††††In your book, These Strange Ashes you mentioned many inconveniences you had to cope with as a missionary abroad. Compare those with what we have here in the United States.

Elisabeth:††††There are always going to be difficulties and hindrances. The enemy is going to see to that. After all, we do live in a fractured world. We can't ever expect to find ideal working conditions.

I would say that the simplicity of the schedule in the jungle was a great advantage. There are ways in which life was more complicated. For example, there was no prepared food, no refrigeration or washing machines.

Overall, I would say that life is infinitely more complicated in this country. Expectations are outrageously unreasonable. That could be a great hindrance to any real concentrated work.

Donna:††††††††You've experienced such things as watching a suffering person die, experiencing the deepest loss of two husbands, as well as experiencing great joy and blessing in ministry. Paul said, "I've learned to be abased and I've learned to abound." Both of these have unique temptations. What do you feel is the key in going through both?

Elisabeth:††††A deep and settled conviction of the sovereignty of God. He's in control all the time. He's never taken by surprise. Nothing can touch me without the permission of His love, His loving kindness. That is the most steadying, fortifying truth of my life.

I see all of life as a gift, even in the worst kind of situations. He's giving us not only Himself, which is the greatest thing in that situation, but He's also giving us the opportunity to learn to know and to trust Him. It doesn't make any difference what the circumstances may be.

If I can recognize that being abased is a gift and being able to abound is also a gift then I'm not going to become permanently attached to either one because He can withdraw a gift at any point.

Donna:††††††††Going back to your book, These Strange Ashes, you described what it means to be a follower of the Crucified. Could you expound on that thought?

Elisabeth:††††When Jesus spoke of discipleship, He said, `If you want to be my disciple, you must give up your right to yourself, take up your cross and follow me.' Giving up your right to yourself is by far the most rigorous of Jesus' commands. That you turn over all the rights with none left.

Picking up the cross is a matter of saying yes to God no matter what happens. It's accepting the events and conditions of every day. Pick up your cross daily and say yes to Him, and then following is a matter of obedience. One step at a time.

When I speak of being a follower of the Crucified, it is the way He is taking us--the way of the cross. We need not be surprised when we're asked to die. Paul said, `I die daily, death worketh in me, but life in you.' He said that this death is `at work in me in order that the life of Jesus may be manifest in my mortal flesh.

The whole pathway of the Crucified means learning to die to oneself. To be `Crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live, yet no I, but Christ lives in me.' Here is the paradox of life coming out of death, gain coming out of loss, joy coming out of sorrow and light coming out of darkness. Endnote

Donna:††††††††What are ways of motivating women to serve our Lord to the fullest?

Elisabeth:††††I truly think there isn't much anyone can do if the Holy Spirit doesn't do it because they are bombarded with plenty from the other side. To me, it's a matter of continually plodding ahead, presenting the message of the cross in every way we can, which ultimately leads to the greatest bliss and the greatest joy.

There is no such thing as sacrifice when you consider what we are being offered in exchange. Jesus said, `If you suffer with me, you will also reign with me.' He was crowned because He suffered. Many women are suffering--that is one way to appeal to them. Not the way the popular television evangelism is doing it by offering them health, wealth, and prosperity. That is a false gospel. but by showing them that Christianity is the only religion in the world that deals directly with suffering in a transforming way.

Whatever their difficulties may be, Christ is offering them peace in exchange. We sing [in the song `Something Beautiful'] `all I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife but He made something beautiful of my life.' That's easy to relate to. There isn't a woman around who doesn't know something about brokenness and strife. I'm always appealing on that basis. The message of the cross is not a message of exemption from difficulties but a message of transformation.

I know from experience that He does give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. It takes the willingness to be a corn of wheat that falls into the ground and dies. It doesn't fall into the ground and die in order to be dead. It falls into the ground and dies in order to be fulfilled, to bring forth much fruit. Jesus said, `If you lose your life for my sake, you'll find your true self.' Endnote

Most people are looking for fulfillment and something they call `self-actualization.' Scripture makes it plain that there is a way, to fulfillment, but it is the way of the cross. The world thinks the cross is foolishness.

I'm continually asking women, `What kind of difference does Jesus Christ make in your life?' It's all very well to talk about going to Heaven and being saved, but what I want to know is, what difference does Christianity make to you if you get a telephone call saying that your son has been killed or your husband has cancer? If you live in a house you don't like, does Christ promise you a better house? What difference does Jesus Christ make to you in your present situation? Right now I'm taking care of my grandchildren feeling very inadequate about it. What can I expect my Christian faith is going to do in this situation? What do you mean when you call yourself a Christian? What are you doing? What have you done which warrants calling yourself a Christian? If it doesn't make any difference here and now, why bother? Endnote

Donna:††††††††I have a question for you coming from some single women, and then a question for you from some married women. My question from the singles is, "How did you end up getting three quality men?"

Elisabeth:††††That's a question that has been asked and with that word "get." One of the main points of my book Passion and Purity is to show a woman that she doesn't "get" a husband. The Lord gives you one when He wants to. There's no better way to scare men off than to try to "get" them.

Two rules my mother gave me were: `Keep them at arm's length' and 'Don't chase them.' My mother had about five or six proposals because that was her rule. Nowadays, women have turned into barracudas by phoning men, writing them letters and declaring their feelings. It scares them off. I never "got" any of the men. The Lord brought all three of them to me in three very unusual ways.

Donna:††††††††There are married women who would like to ask, "What do you feel are some important qualities that make up a marriage that is pleasing to God?"

Elisabeth:††††Obviously, it must follow the scriptural pattern. The husband must be the head of the wife. The man who accepts his headship and seeks to love his wife as Christ loved the church is the ideal husband. That is the pattern, that is the ideal. It takes two to tango. The woman must recognize the authority of her husband and be prepared to submit and respect the office that he holds. He stands in the place of Christ. He is to love her als Christ loved the church and she is to submit to him as the church submits to Christ.

Every woman needs to recognize that she has been given a different gift from men, a different position in God's economy. This is a privilege, but it also has its limitations. We live in a world where women refuse to accept limitations, inequality, or rule and authority. Godly women must accept the fact that this was God's design for our freedom and our joy.

Donna:††††††††Lastly, how do you know whether you have the calling for missions, singleness or for a particular man?

Elisabeth:††††My book A Slow and Certain Light speaks of everything I know about how God guides us. Basically, you start with Romans 12:1. You present your body to the Lord and tell Him you'll do anything He says. There's no use praying for guidance if you haven't already told the Lord you would do what He tells you.

Secondly, read your Bible and pray. If you're going to find out what He wants, you've got to be listening to what He says. You need to be in a spirit of prayer, readiness and openness.

Third, if you want Him to show you what you don't know, you must be in daily obedience.

As for the mission field, it seems to me that everyone should be open to the call to go into all the world. Most people who have never heard the name of Jesus are outside the borders of the United States. Why should we not seriously consider going to the mission field? It's a harder job and there will never be a stampede of volunteers. Why shouldn't I be one of the few? Why should I be one of the last to volunteer? Isaiah said, "Here I am Lord, send me."

Regarding singleness, I don't think a woman should be concerned with whether hers is a permanent life-time `gift' of singleness. It's enough for a woman simply to accept the fact that she is single, and that, as of now, she has the gift of singleness. God can change that if He wants to, but right now, she has that gift.

I now have the gift of marriage but for most of my life I have been single. If a woman is single, she doesn't have to be worrying about whether or not this is a permanent gift. All she has to do is what she is supposed to do that day--we're back to that matter of obedience.

As for the certain man, this comes out of a lifetime of living with God and before God. When the man comes along, God has His way of making that clear as He has anything else. The psalmist said, `No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.'"

Note: A few of these paragraphs appear in the book, Choices That Lead to Godliness (Crossway Books, Copyright © 1999 by Donna Morley). You may download this interview for personal use only. Send requests for multiple copies to helpdesk@faithandreasonforum.com.