In the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle, Elisabeth Elliot held her 10-month-old daughter and said goodbye to her 28-year-old husband. Jim Elliot and four other men were leaving on a small plane to share the gospel with the Huaorani, a remote jungle tribe. It was January of 1956, and this was the last time Elisabeth saw her husband.
For months, the men had been laying the groundwork to meet the Huaronai, who were known for their violence towards outsiders. The missionaries presented gifts by lowering them from a plane and yelled phrases in their language. Finally, they set up camp near the tribe, and talked with a few for the first time. As the men were waiting eagerly for more conversations to come, tribal members attacked and killed them.
Jim’s death could have stopped Elisabeth’s work to share the gospel in Ecuador. A widow after less than three years of marriage, she could have packed her bags and brought herself and her daughter Valerie to the safety and comfort of home in the United States. Instead, she held onto Christ, abiding in him and trusting that through him, his work would be established.
Suffering is Inevitable
Elisabeth was no stranger to grief. After Jim’s death, she grappled with being a single mother in a faraway land. Many of her friends were murdered while on the mission field. She moved back to the U.S. and remarried in 1969, but her second husband, Addison Leitch, died of cancer four years later.
God can redeem trials to sanctify us, redirecting us from our sin back to himself.
Elisabeth knew that in a fallen world, suffering is inevitable. The Bible tells believers to expect suffering and trials throughout their lives (John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12). But God can redeem trials to sanctify us, redirecting us from our sin back to himself. The Christian life deals head on with questions of suffering, and the answers are revealed through Christ.
Christ is Sufficient
Elisabeth once said that suffering is a way for God to get our attention. It asks us to trust him to deliver us and let our faith step in during the doubts. Trials are a way that God draws us near to him and refines us—they are not for nothing. In Scripture, James calls us to be joyful as we meet trials because “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness and let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4). Suffering leads to endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3–5).
During our suffering, we can hold dearly onto the hope of the gospel (Romans 8:18–19). Elisabeth said that we learn through our pain that God is with us every inch of the road. We can abide confidently in the truths of who God is (Psalm 91:1). Christ is our sustainer, comforter, and redeemer, and he alone is enough.
Suffering Shouldn’t Stop Our Mission
Elisabeth was not perfect or a hero. She had her strengths and gifts, but she also had sins and flaws. Despite her weaknesses and grief, Elisabeth accepted God’s plan and trusted him to transform her pain and carry her through her suffering (Deuteronomy 1:31). In her book Suffering is Never for Nothing, Elisabeth wrote,
I’ve come to see that it’s through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lessons. And if we’ll trust Him for it, we can come through to the unshakable assurance that He’s in charge. He has a loving purpose. And He can transform something terrible into something wonderful. Suffering is never for nothing.
We can do the work God has called us to do because Christ has already finished the work, and he is continuing to work everything for good.
The life that unraveled after the death of those five men in Ecuador was not the life Elisabeth was expecting. But because of her trust in God, she continued to spread the gospel among the people she already lived with in Ecuador. Two years later, Elisabeth went to the Huaronai, where she lived with them and shared the gospel with them. Many of the Huaronai accepted Christ, and generations later, the Hauronia are continuing to accept and share Christ.
When Elisabeth moved back to the U.S. she continued to allow God to work through her suffering as a speaker and an author. She continued to serve publicly until her health failed and she began to suffer from dementia in 2004. But even then, Elisabeth knew that if we faithfully suffer, we will endure (1 Peter 4:19). She knew we can do the work God has called us to do because Christ has already finished the work, and he is continuing to work everything for good.