Traveling across the province camping this summer, we stumbled upon a new hobby of bird watching. With my daughter’s trusty bird guide in our pack, we hiked, paddled and biked, discovering cormorants, pelicans, a catbird and bald eagles. I remember the excited shouts of the kids when they spotted an eagle flying high near the lake; I learned that they can fly up to altitudes of 10,000 feet!
Reading a biography is like an eagle’s view of the world, vast, expansive and with wider perspective. From those great heights, it can see so much of the world, compared to my short-sighted view from my perch on the beach.
The pages of a biography reveal God’s work in someone’s life, opening our eyes with greater clarity to see how God was using events, circumstances and people, to mold and shape them for the tasks ahead of them.
It’s so encouraging to me, because I can’t often see all those pieces fitting in my own life, but it inspires me with confidence, that God continues to be at work in me, using the here-and-now, mucky situations of life, to transform me into the person He is creating me to be.
So, here we are today, looking at Ellen Vaughn’s new book, “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot.” She introduces us to a young woman, who follows God’s call on her life to mission work, moves to South America, marries her sweetheart, then faces the grueling pain of tragically losing him, in a spearing from an indigenous tribe, the Waodani.
In the days that follow, she remains in Ecuador with their baby girl, grieving, while learning to handle all the logistics of missionary life alongside the other widows. Jim and Betty had been ready to go together to reach the Waodani and live among them. In spite of all that had happened, that call was deeply etched within her heart.
Over time, and through divinely orchestrated circumstances, some Waodani women came to the settlement and Betty began linguistical work to learn the language. Eventually, her and Rachel Saint would be invited by the tribe to live among them; a culmination of the Spirit’s work in the lives of both Betty and Rachel, the martyred men, and the lives of the Waodani.
Betty would live with the tribe, raising her daughter, continuing to learn the language, alongside Rachel. The disconnection between these two women was strikingly evident. Two women, called by God to reach the Waodani people with the gospel, having personalities that were further than poles apart. The conflict between them would reach a climax, with Betty deciding to leave the tribe, and continue work at the mission station.
Through her model of her life, I was reminded of many things.
Faith in Grief
The sudden, unexpected loss of her husband brought great suffering. Yet, "for Betty, the sad days weren't meant to be denied, suppressed, or avoided. Betty's medical training, and her theology, did not allow her to deny the existence of pain. It was a symptom. It showed God was at work. If she walked the path of obedience, He would in fact use her very pain for his good purposes." To keep moving forward in the face of pain requires much faith and deep courage, as "she made it through each arduous day, one at time, with a simple mantra: do the next thing."
Diversity in Gifting
A missionary, a gifted linguist, a mother, a writer, Elisabeth’s many God given talents she stewarded in service to God’s kingdom work. As the author describes the team in Ecuador, I saw the beautiful tapestry that God had woven together in these people, especially among the wives. Nate Saint’s wife Marjorie was amazingly hospitable, serving up delicious food for those making the perilous journey for days to come out of the jungle, and Marilou McCully’s compassionate love of the young, establishing a home for missionary children.
These women, diverse as they were in giftings and passions, had melded together in unity. It’s an encouragement for us as the church, to persevere in unity, and to think of each other highly, as we are each endowed with uniqueness to serve.
These young missionaries were brought up by parents who were intentionally raising their children to go overseas with the gospel. What a convicting thought to watch these children grow into adulthood, following the Lord with total surrender, even unto death. I consider my own parenting and wonder if I am being half as purposeful with my kids. It’s humbling to understand the impact our parenting has on our children.
The Heart of Patience
There were many times in Elisabeth’s life we see her holding with open hands, her dreams and plans for the Lord to work them out in His timing. The author notes, “few of us would have had Betty Howard’s patience. Her own trust in God’s leading, no matter what, reinforced her endurance. She hung in there for a five-year courtship that was not for the faint of heart.”
Not only did she wait for marriage, but also for fruit to be born out of her ministry, for open doors among the Waodani, for reconciliation between her and Rachel, there was a lot of waiting, and sometimes without answers, yet “she was determined not to do what was easy, but to wait for God’s leading, whatever it was.”
I’m humbled how God acted and moved in Betty’s life, to place her in the right family, moved her toward the right schools, dropped mentors into her life, who would each play an important role later on. The things she learned, the skills she gained, were God’s hand over her, each step of the way. “Her most noble accomplishment was not weathering that excoriating loss. It was practicing – through both the high dramas and the low, dull days that constitute any human life – the daily self-death required for one’s soul to flourish.” She inspires me to take each day in stride, surrendering my plans and efforts for his purposes and his glory.
“And there was less time to ponder the possible will of God in one’s journal. When His work is right in front of you, you do it”
If you are looking for a biography to challenge and inspire you, this is it. I've rated it 5 stars! The author plans for a second volume to tell about her life after Ecuador, which will be an exciting addition to reveal the rest of Elisabeth’s life, as she continued to travel, write and serve the Lord.
How have biographies shaped your life? Which are your favourites?
*Special thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC and the opportunity to post an honest review!