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Jim Elliot

Philip James Elliot was an evangelical Christian missionary to Ecuador who, along with four others, was killed while attempting to evangelize the Waodani people through efforts known as Operation Auca.

Early life

Jim Elliot was born in Oregon to parents Fred and Clara Elliot. Fred was of Scottish heritage; his grandparents were the first of his family to settle in North America. Clara's parents moved near the turn of the 20th century from Switzerland to eastern Washington, where they operated a large ranch. They met in Portland, where Clara was studying to be a chiropractor and Fred, having devoted himself to Christian ministry, was working as a traveling preacher in a small Baptist church. After two years of correspondence, they were married in 1918. Robert, their first child, was born in 1921 while they were living in Seattle, and he was followed by Herbert, Jim, and Jane, all three of whom were born after the family moved to Portland. Jim Elliot's parents subscribed to Christian beliefs, and they raised their children accordingly, taking them to church and reading the Bible regularly. Elliot professed faith in Jesus at the age of eight and grew up in a home where obedience and honesty were enforced. The Elliot parents encouraged their children to be adventurous, and encouraged them to live for Christ

In 1941, Elliot entered Benson Polytechnic High School, studying architectural drawing. There he participated in numerous activities, including the school newspaper, the football team, school plays, and the public-speaking club. His acting ability led some of the teachers in the school to suggest that he pursue acting as a career, and his oratorical skills were similarly lauded—after preparing and delivering a speech in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt hours after his death, a faculty member praised it.

Elliot used his speaking ability regularly. A classmate recounts how Elliot quoted the Bible to the president of the student body as explanation for his refusal to attend a school dance. Another time, Elliot risked expulsion from the public-speaking club by refusing to give a political speech, believing that Christians were not to involve themselves in politics. A pacifist, he rejected the idea of using force to eliminate slavery in Africa, and he was prepared to stand as a conscientious objector had he been drafted to serve in World War II.

Post-secondary education

In the fall of 1945, Elliot entered Wheaton College, a private Christian college in Illinois. Believing in the value of physical conditioning, he joined the wrestling team during his first year. The following year, he refused a staff position within the college that would have given him a free year of tuition but also a significant time commitment and what he considered foolish responsibilities. He was not even fully convinced of the value of his studies, considering subjects like philosophy, politics, and culture to be distractions to one attempting to follow God. After a semester of relatively low grades, he wrote to his parents that he was unapologetic, deeming study of the Bible more important.

Elliot's interest in missions solidified during years at Wheaton. He soon followed the pattern of other "faith missions" by not seeking to be sponsored by a denomination. A member of the campus organization Student Foreign Missions Fellowship with his roommate David Howard, Elliot spoke to an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship group on the role of the Holy Spirit in missions. During the summer of 1947, after his second year of college, he and his friend Ron Harris did missions work in Mexico. He stayed there for six weeks, working with and learning from a local missionary family. At the end of the following year, he attended the International Student Missionary Convention, sponsored by InterVarsity. There he met a missionary to Brazil, and this encounter led him to more firmly believe that his missionary calling was to tribal work in South America.

At the beginning of Elliot's third year at Wheaton, he decided to pursue a major in Greek, believing that it would both help him in his personal study of the Bible and make it easier to translate the Scriptures into the language of a people group unreached by missionaries. One of his classmates was Elisabeth Howard, and despite his belief that romantic relationships often distracted people from pursuing God's will, his interest in her grew. He took advantage of opportunities to get to know her and her family better. They agreed that they were attracted to each other, but not being convinced of God's leading, they did not immediately pursue a serious relationship.

Leaving for Ecuador

While at Camp Wycliffe, Elliot practiced the skills necessary for writing down a language for the first time by working with a former missionary to the Quichua people. The missionary told him of the Auca people, an indigenous people group in Ecuador that had never had friendly contact with the outside world. Elliot remained unsure about whether to go to Ecuador or India until July. His parents and friends wondered if he might instead be more effective in youth ministry in the United States, but considering the home church "well-fed", he felt that international missions should take precedence.

After the completion of his linguistic studies, Elliot applied for a passport and began to make plans with his friend Bill Cathers to leave for Ecuador. However, two months later Bill informed him that he planned to marry, making it impossible for him to accompany Elliot as they had planned. Instead, Elliot spent the winter and spring of 1951 working with his friend Ed McCully in Chester, Illinois, running a radio program, preaching in prisons, holding evangelistic rallies, and teaching Sunday School.

Ed McCully married later that summer, forcing Elliot to look elsewhere for an unmarried man with whom he could begin working in Ecuador. That man turned out to be Pete Fleming, a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in philosophy. He corresponded frequently with Elliot, and by September he was convinced of his calling to Ecuador. In the meantime, Elliot visited friends on the east coast, including Elisabeth. In his journal he expressed hope that they would be able to be married, but at the same time felt that he was called to go to Ecuador without her. Elliot returned to Portland in November and began to prepare to leave the country.


Elliot and Fleming arrived in Ecuador on February 21, 1952, with the purpose of evangelizing Ecuador's Aucas Indians. They first stayed in Quito studying Spanish, and then moved to the jungle. They took up permanent residence at the Shandia mission station. On October 8, 1953, he married fellow Wheaton alumna and missionary Elisabeth Howard. The wedding was a simple civil ceremony held in Quito. Ed and Marilou McCully were the witnesses. The couple then took a brief honeymoon to Panama and Costa Rica, then returned to Ecuador. Their only child, Valerie, was born February 27, 1955. While working with the Quichua Indians, Elliot began preparing to reach the violent Huaorani Indian tribe which were known at the time as the Aucas.

He and four other missionaries, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint, made contact from their airplane with the Huaorani Indians using a loudspeaker and a basket to pass down gifts. After several months, the men decided to build a base a short distance from the Indian village, along the Curaray River. There they were approached one time by a small group of Huaorani Indians and even gave an airplane ride to one curious Huaorani whom they called "George" (his real name was Naenkiwi). Encouraged by these friendly encounters, they began plans to visit the Huaorani, without knowing that George had lied to the others about the missionaries' intentions. Their plans were preempted by the arrival of a larger group of 10 Huaorani warriors, who killed Elliot and his four companions on January 8, 1956. Elliot's body was found downstream, along with those of the other men, except that of Ed McCully.

His journal entry for October 28, 1949, expresses his belief that missions work was more important than his life. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." This is the quote that is most often attributed to Elliot, but apparently it is very close to the English nonconformist preacher Philip Henry (1631-1696) who said "He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose".


Life Magazine published a ten-page article on Elliot's and his friends' mission and deaths. After her husband's death, Elisabeth Elliot and other missionaries began working among the Auca Indians, where they continued evangelical work. She later published two books, [[Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot]] and Through Gates of Splendor, which describe the life and death of her husband. In 1991, the Jim Elliot Christian School was created in Denver, Colorado. In 1997 the [*]Jim Elliot Christian High School was founded in Lodi, CA

In 2002, a documentary based on the story was released entitled Beyond the Gates of Splendor. In 2003, a musical based on the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, entitled Love Above All, was staged at the Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore by Mount Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church. This musical was staged a second time in 2007 at the NUS University Cultural Centre. In 2006, a theatrical movie was released End of the Spear, based on the story of the pilot, Nate Saint, and the return trip of Saint's son attempting to reach the natives of Ecuador.


Beyond Gates of Splendor (2004 Feature Film)

Torchighters: The Jim Elliot Story (2005 Animation)

End of the Spear (2006 Feature Film)

Steve Saint: The Jungle Missionary (2007 Documentary)

External links

Biography at In Touch Ministries

Resources from the Plymouth Brethren

"He is no fool" quote at the Billy Graham Center

Love Above All - The Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot


Feeding of the Five Thousand (33 minutes)

Resurrection (41 minutes)

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Jim Elliot

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