I don’t remember when I first heard the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Their work as missionaries is legendary. Elisabeth’s books have offered hope and inspiration to many Christians over the past decades. So in a list of books releasing last year, Made for the Journey by Elisabeth Elliot caught my eye.
Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador is a re-release of one of her favourite books. It’s the story of a seemingly futile year in Elisabeth’s life. I read it at a time when I was struggling with some of the questions Elisabeth faces.
Who hasn’t wondered why God allows bad things to happen, instead of helping us in our work for Him? Elliot’s words thus speak a timeless message to a new generation.
I received this book for review courtesy of the publisher; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Made for the Journey Overview
Made for the Journey is about Elisabeth’s first year as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador. Fresh from her linguistics studies in the United States, she climbs onto the tailgate of a pickup for the long, bumpy ride to the Colorados. With two other young women, she seeks to learn the language of the Colorados so they can translate the Bible.
It tells the story of my earliest lessons in the sovereignty of God—three stunning ones, assigned to me in the first year as a jungle missionary. One of these lessons was solely an act of God. The other two were acts of lawbreakers. In all three, however, God let me hear His clear word: trust Me.
Elisabeth’s writing is engaging, humorous, and descriptive. She writes honestly, yet without self-pity, about the hardships she and her fellow missionaries faced—the weather, the bugs, the dirt, the poor food, the language and cultural barriers, the lack of communication with the outside world. Made for the Journey makes her entire year an adventure, a time to laugh at:
We also had a pressure cooker. It seemed a godsend at first, but you had to have a stove that fit with it. Our stove did not. Our sanctification was rigorously tried as we sought to tenderize our meat or beans in this civilized pot. It worked for a while, but one day, the stove being too hot for it, it blew its safety valve right through the thatched roof. It was lost forever, so the Lord delivered us from that temptation.
Made for the Journey happens in 1952-53. She has met Jim Elliot, and they are both attracted to each other, but they each have their own callings. While she’s living among the Colorados, trying to learn their language, he’s working on the other side of Ecuador, trying to evangelize another group of people.
They exchange letters, “irregularly because of the great irregularity of mail service,” during this year. While she yearns to be married, Elisabeth and her fellow missionaries “were striving with everything in our power to find a place for ourselves in the community, in the work we had to do, in our relationships, and in the will of God.” This is the part of Elisabeth’s story I knew from reading Passion and Purity as a young adult.
Elisabeth Elliot’s Lessons in Faith
At the end of the year, Elisabeth has finished her alphabet. Jim has established a mission. They are ready to start their new life together. Then comes the losses—the great lessons God has to teach them. Elisabeth writes in the last chapters of Made for the Journey,
To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss. The great symbol of Christianity means sacrifice and no one who calls himself a Christian can evade this stark fate. It is not by any means an easy thing to recognize, within a given instance of personal loss, the opportunity it affords for participation in Christ’s own loss. What, we ask ourselves, can this possibly have to do with that?
We are not by nature inclined to think spiritually. We are ready to assign almost any other explanation to the thing that happen to us. There is a certain reticence to infer that our little troubles may actually be the vehicle that brings us to God. Most of us simply grin and tear them, knowing they are the lot of all human beings, and our memories being marvellously selective, we simply cancel them out, none the better for the lessons we might have learned.
I read those words during a time of loss—loss not of my work or a loved one, as Elisabeth faced, but loss of a dream. And as I floundered, angry at God, Elisabeth’s words spoke into my rebellious “why.” I’d travelled with her through that year in Ecuador, through the rain and the bugs and the loneliness, to come to the end and see the emptiness she was left with. And while Elisabeth turned to God and saw all that had happened that year as a lesson, as “strange ashes,” I threw an adult-sized temper tantrum.
Elisabeth concludes, “God makes no mistakes. He does not fall asleep. He does not forget his loved children. He asks us, every day, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, to trust and obey. He has so arranged things that we may not often fathom His sovereign purposes, but now and then He vouchsafes to us a glimpse of what He is up to.”
More about Elisabeth Elliot
Elisabeth and Jim Elliot were married in 1953. When their daughter was only ten months old, Jim was killed by the Aucas he was seeking to evangelize. Elisabeth continued working in Ecuador and later met two Auca women, who gave her the opportunity to live with the tribe who’d killed her husband. In 1963, Elisabeth and Elliot moved back to the United States. She remarried twice and died in 2015.
Elisabeth is the author of more than twenty books. Made for the Journey was originally published in 1998 as These Strange Ashes. For more about Elisabeth and her other books, CDs, radio broadcasts, and other publications, visit her website.