Missionary success and failure: Elizabeth Elliot’s encounter with Latin America

Author: Dr Jonathan Ingleby, Head of Mission Studies, Redcliffe College


Elizabeth Elliot (who is still alive and exercising a ministry in the United States today) worked as a missionary for more than ten years in Latin America. Her missionary experience there, and that of her husband Jim who died a missionary ‘martyr’ as a relatively young man, produced a series of books in the 1950s and 60s which were widely read in their day. The most famous, I should guess, is the account of the ‘Auca martyrs’, Through Gates of Splendour (1956). The biography or memoir of her husband, Shadow of the Almighty (1958) probably comes a close second. I have to say that both of these are a little inclined to the ‘heroic’ style. They are still worth reading today, especially the latter, but even taking into account that they were written almost fifty years ago, there is a strong and rather off-putting feeling that there is too much hero worshipping going on. The Savage my Kinsman (1961) is a different matter. It is an account of the time Elizabeth spent actually living for almost a year with the Aucas or Huaoranis and of the changes that took place in her thinking as a result. No doubt we have thought more carefully since the 1960s about the encounter of ‘modern’ with ‘pre-modern’ peoples, but The Savage my Kinsman still bears eloquent testimony to important truths.

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