“Passion & Purity” + “Through Gates of Splendor” Book Reviews

I have two new History Friends who’ve blessed my life recently. Probably most of you know them already–I can’t believe it took me nearly 21 years to read their story in detail–and to be honest, I always “knew about” them. What homeschool kid growing up in a Christian home doesn’t know about Jim and Elisabeth Elliot?

Problem was, I didn’t “know” them. There’s a difference. (See my Anne Boleyn page for an example of the very real difference between “knowing of” a historical figure and actually “knowing” her.) Now I feel like I “know” the Elliots–or at least, I’m getting to know them, thanks to two books I recently read.

This post is going to be two book reviews in one, plus some sharing of what I’ve learned from the Elliots’ amazing story.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot in Ecuador

A couple weeks ago I picked up a book called Passion and Purity. My mom first read the same copy when she was my age. It’s literally falling apart; I had to handle the pages carefully lest they all tumble out in my lap. (I think we ought to get ourselves a new copy, hint-hint 😉 )

I’ll be honest: like the young Elisabeth Elliot at the beginning of the story, I was feeling some anxieties about my own future and needed some prodding in the right direction. In the merciful Providence of God, I picked up the right book. Within a little less than two hundred pages, Elisabeth tells the story of her romance with a young missionary and shares some timeless principles for courtship and “guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”

Here’s one quote I copied into my prayer journal:

Until the will and the affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone accept, His lordship. The Cross, as it enters the love life, will reveal the heart’s truth. My heart, I knew, would be forever a lonely hunter unless settled “where true joys are found.”

And another quote:

I do know that waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon our thoughts […….] God spoke peace into my emotional turmoil because I was asking for it and looking for it and being silent enough to hear it.

Needless to say I quickly came to like this young girl named Elisabeth who worked through plenty of familiar struggles and fears before she met (*DRAMATIC GASP*) The One. In other words, she was relatable. I liked the older, wiser Elisabeth even better: she was forthright but uplifting, encouraging me to press on and leave all my worries at the Lord’s feet.

And what about (*cue dramatic gasp*) The One? Well, I found out I liked him a whole lot, too. Jim Elliot (who was later killed by Auca Indians in 1956) is probably most famous for these passionate statements:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.

Elisabeth quoted from several of his letters to her throughout the book. I was astonished by the wisdom and  encouragement he gave her during their courtship, even while they were facing numerous obstacles:

Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living . . . Obedience involves for us, not physical suffering, perhaps, nor social ostracism as it has for some, but this warring with worries and regrets, this bringing into captivity our thoughts. We have planted (in our integrity) the banner of our trust in God. The consequences are His responsibility.

The Elliots on their wedding day (October 8, 1952)

Jim and Elisabeth were finally married after a five-year courtship. They became missionaries in Ecuador together and had a baby daughter whom they named Valerie. Though I knew what ended up happening to them, my curiosity was naturally piqued, so I picked up Elisabeth’s first book, Through Gates of Splendor.

Long before I finished it yesterday afternoon I was telling my parents, “I cannot believe I haven’t read this before now!!” Through Gates of Splendor, written by Elisabeth in 1957, tells how the Lord led Jim Elliot and four other men–Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian–to reach out to the Auca Indians deep within the Amazon. It’s a well-written, detailed account of each man’s history, motivations, and adventures.

Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Jim Elliot

Very few had dared to penetrate Auca territory, thanks to the tribe’s savagery–but the five missionaries felt God was calling them to share the Gospel of Christ with these people.   Months of prayer and preparation went into “Operation Auca” before the missionaries finally decided to land in the Indians’ territory. They were even able to have a friendly meeting with three Aucas–probably the first peaceful encounter the Aucas had ever had with white men.

A picture of the missionaries’ first meeting with the Aucas. Nate Saint’s plane, which they used to land on the beach, is in the background.

Then on January 8, 1956, only a few days after their landing, these five men–husbands, fathers, and servants of the Kingdom–were all speared to death by those they’d come to befriend and evangelize.

Now to some that would seem like the story of five wasted lives–but that’s not how it turned out. God used a modern-day martyrdom to eventually reach the Auca Indians. Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint (Nate Saint’s sister), together with a converted Auca woman named Dayumae, made a tremendous impact in the Auca community.

Elisabeth Elliot with her daughter Valerie and Indian children in Ecuador

Within a few years, the majority of the tribe had converted to Christianity. They are now known today as the Waodani, instead of Auca. The old name meant “enemy” or “savage.”

Now think about it. Here we Americans are, often supposing that the world is coming to an end and the powers of darkness are triumphing over the Light. We wring our hands and wail that there’s no hope.

Well firstly, the powers of darkness will never triumph over the Light. God rules, and His Will will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. He will reach those He came to save, even in the wild jungles of Ecuador!

Secondly, the Kingdom of Heaven is advancing. Christendom in Western Civilization may be anemic at the moment, but in other parts of the world it’s growing in leaps and bounds. The Waodani are clear evidence of that.

Thirdly, while things may look bleak, we never know what God is doing behind the scenes. The deaths of five courageous men on that Amazon beach were undoubtedly horrible. Rather like a confused jumble of threads on the back of a piece of material. But when you turn the fabric over, you find a beautiful tapestry that you’d never have noticed if you’d focused only on the tangled mass behind.

(The above video is from a Steven Curtis Chapman concert where he did a segment called “Beyond Gates of Splendor.” It’s really fantastic–hope you enjoy!)

I’m not sure this post was so much of a book review as a retelling of the story and then my own thoughts about it, but suffice it to say that these are two books I won’t soon forget. In fact, I’m reading Passion and Purity again. It was that good. I hope that, if you didn’t know anything about this story before reading this blog post, you’ve been blessed and your curiosity stirred.

Take it from me: you’ll never be the same again after reading either book.

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4 thoughts on ““Passion & Purity” + “Through Gates of Splendor” Book Reviews

  1. LouPat I love it, love it! Yes, my Dad was inspired by Jim Elliot and the other martyrs there with the Aucas in Ecuador. My Dad went to Prairie Bible Inst up in Canada where He was inspired by the words of Jim Elliot ” He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Have you seen the movie “The End of the Spear”…you should see it if you haven’t. Those men who were killed by the Aucas were the ones like Paul who planted the seeds and the awesome things that God did among the Aucas. Nate Saint (pilot) had a sister Rachel that I have always admired. She was single too. Anyhow I am printing it out so I can read this to my teenagers.

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    1. No, I have not seen “The End of the Spear”….yet 😉 😉 😉 I’ve watched some clips on YouTube, though, and it looks very good! We do have a documentary called “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” that has interviews with some of the Waodani and the wives of the five missionaries…excellent, just fantastic. Watched it by myself a couple weekends ago. I’d watched it once before, but seeing it again after I’d started reading the book made it a different experience for me.

      Aw, I’m so honored that you’re sharing the post with your teenagers…please tell them Maribeth says “hello” to every single one of them!

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  2. Through Gates of Splendor = One of my ABSOLUTE favorite books! Perhaps this seems a little odd coming from a guy, but this book has blessed me for years. I’ve read through it several times and am constantly amazed and even more constantly challenged through the faithfulness of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and the others. I can’t emphasize enough how much this book has impacted my life. This is a fabulous read!

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    1. No, I don’t think that “sounds weird coming from a guy” at all! It certainly encouraged/inspired and even challenged me, especially in that it gave me a new perspective on the mission field. Also what was wonderful was that, after the men were killed and Elisabeth and Rachel went back, they didn’t just stop at evangelism: they DISCIPLED them, too! It’s like Doug Phillips is always saying about how, once you share Christ with the savages, then you share with them the principles of the Christian life and culture: you stop killing, you put on clothes, you throw out the witch doctors, etc.

      I was reading how some anthropologists thought it was so horrid that the Waodani’s old culture has been almost completely lost. I couldn’t help but laugh a little. So it was better for them to remain as naked savages with no hope in this life or the next? These people didn’t want to admit that it was Christianity that had changed them almost literally in the blink of an eye. I highly doubt the Waodani want to go back to their old ways. They are new creations: the old has gone and the new has come!

      Long comment…you see, I get excited about this story too, as much as any I’ve read in the past!!

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