A New Set of Spotlights on Elisabeth Elliot

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What we learn about her life and work from two releases of previously unpublished writings.

Years ago, I needed to write a brief biography of Elisabeth Elliot as part of a larger project. I searched for book-length biographies that I could draw on for information about her life and came to the startling realization that, despite Elliot’s status as one of the most widely-known American Christians of the 20th century, there were none available. To complete my project, I had to turn to primary sources.

Elliot loved to read biographies, and she wrote three of them herself. She once said, “We read biographies to get out of ourselves and into another’s skin, to understand the convulsive drama that shapes, motivates, and issues from that other life.” I suspect this is also why we write biographies. I found that after the brief biographical sketch was written, I went on thinking about Elliot, pondering the things that had “shaped, motivated, and issued from” her life. Somewhere in the process of poring over bad photocopies of old magazine articles obtained through interlibrary loan, I had been hooked, captured by the process of trying “to understand … that other life.”

A Fuller Picture

It’s tricky to write about a life. No one has the complete picture—not even the person whose life it is. My parents, who have known me longer than I’ve known myself, see me in a way I never can. Only my siblings know what it was like to grow up with me. Each of my friends knows me a little differently, as I respond to their different personalities. By definition, only I can even hope to know the person I am when I’m alone. Each of these “selves” is a facet of the whole person.

One of the biographer’s tasks is to angle the stage lights, so to speak, …

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