When I heard the news of missionary and writer Elisabeth Elliot’s death yesterday, it hit me like a sad report on a once-close friend. Elliot’s example of Christian obedience, including her 1984 classic Passion and Purity, helped shape my own memoir of reluctant chastity, Sexless in the City.
Like most readers, I first learned of Elliot through her sacrificial work on the mission field. During my childhood, my family read aloud together daily—everything from veterinarian James Herriot to weird Christian sci-fi. We also read missionary biographies; I grew up on stories like Don Richardson’s Peace Child, Bruce Olson’s Bruchko, and biographies of women like Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward.
These books formed my early impressions of the Christian life and what it meant to follow God. Among our family reading, Elisabeth Elliot stood out. No other missionary story impressed itself as firmly on my young mind as how Elliot chose to love the Huoarani people, continuing to work among this tribe in Ecuador though they were the very people who’d killed her husband. This is the life of a Christian, Elliot’s story told me. You love people no matter what they do, even if they kill those you love most.
As a young adult, I discovered a side of her that meant even more to me. In Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under God's Control, I met Elliot anew as a woman obedient amid the longings and uncertainties of singleness and a five-year courtship. Part memoir, part advice, Elliot used the story of her relationship with Jim Elliot to exhort Christian singles to the sexual obedience of chastity before marriage, charity after marriage.
In college, I learned to love God ...1
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