Elisabeth Elliot's faith, courage highlighted in Museum of the Bible's latest exhibit: 'She knew her purpose'

Exhibit featuring Christian missionary Elisabeth Elliot at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which runs from March 30, 2023 – January 28, 2024. | Museum of the Bible

The story of Elisabeth Elliot, a Christian missionary who devoted two years of her life to ministering to a tribe in Ecuador that killed her husband, is featured in a new exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

Elliot, a missionary and speaker, followed the calling of the Lord in January 1956 alongside her husband, Jim Elliot, to share the news of God’s saving grace with others. While traveling through the Ecuadorian jungle to connect with the people of the Auca/Waodani tribe, Elliot’s husband and four other missionaries were speared to death. 

According to the Museum of the Bible’s website, Elliot returned to the Ecuadorian rainforest two years after her husband’s death to live with the very tribe that had killed her husband. Her decision to forgive them helped the tribe begin a new path, and she advocated for their education. 

The exhibit, which explores the Christian missionary’s life and career spanning six decades before her death in 2015, is located on the Impact of the Bible floor in an area designated as "Personal Stories." This section of the Museum of the Bible highlights individuals who have used God’s Word to impact their communities and the broader world, according to Amy Van Dyke, lead curator of exhibitions.

Exhibit featuring Christian missionary Elisabeth Elliot at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which runs from March 30, 2023 – January 28, 2024. | Image provided by the Museum of the Bible

The Voice of the Martyrs, a nonprofit that supports persecuted Christians and their families around the world, sponsored the exhibit. Another group that sponsored the exhibit, The Women of Legacy, is an offshoot of the Museum of the Bible that brings women together twice a year to work on projects related to the museum and the Bible’s impact, according to Van Dyke. 

In addition, the Elisabeth Elliot Foundation, which highlights the Christian missionary’s work and teachings, served as an adviser on the project. Van Dyke, who grew up in a Christian home and remembered learning about Elliot’s story, believes it has impacted people of faith since the 20th century.  

“I remember learning about this story and this action of faith that these families had and, despite the results that happened, they knew that this was their purpose in life, and they knew that even in death, they were serving God,” Van Dyke told The Christian Post in an interview.

Elliot’s husband had been determined to reach the tribe in Ecuador, and after his death, his wife took on his goal. The missionary returning to the tribe after they killed her husband was an act of forgiveness and love that served as the catalyst for a revolution in the tribe’s culture, according to Van Dyke. 

The lead curator and historian explained that the tribe killed Elliot’s husband and the other missionaries they went to minister to due to a misunderstanding. The tribesmen had been afraid and uncertain about the group of outsiders but later came to feel remorse for their actions. According to Van Dyke, the tribesmen embraced Christianity quickly once the religion was introduced to them.

Van Dyke has been researching Elliot’s life and has become acquainted with the missionary’s family since 2019. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the lead curator visited the home of Elliot’s third husband, Lars Gren. As Van Dyke went through Elliot’s things, she was surprised to learn just how organized the missionary had been. 

The widow kept files of letters and gifts people had sent her, and drawings that she had received from children. On the front of every book that Elliot owned, she wrote the name of who owned it and when it was gifted to her. But the second thing that surprised Van Dyke was Elliot’s toughness. 

“She was obviously full of compassion because a lot of what she spoke about was helping people through suffering and through trials in life because she's been through it herself,” the lead curator said. 

“She knew her purpose in life,” Van Dyke said about Elliot. “She knew what she was supposed to do, what God had told her to do.”

“This was her mission in life to not only do what she did with the tribe but then, from then on, to teach other people about how to live a life that is worthy to God and how to get through the tough parts of life,” she continued. “And she did it with a lot of grace.” 

The Museum of the Bible exhibit about Elliot's work opened on March 30, and it will run through Jan. 28, 2024.  

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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