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TOGETHER: Elisabeth and Lars.
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TOGETHER: Elisabeth and Lars.

Walking through fire

Lifestyle | Despite dementia, Elisabeth Elliot Gren holds fast to Scripture

Lars Gren led me down a dim hallway to a simple room lit magnificently by floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the Atlantic Ocean. A slim, elderly woman dressed in black pants and a floral shirt—her hair swirled in a bun—sat near the fireplace. “We have company today,” Gren said, bending down to touch her hand. His wife, Elisabeth Elliot, nodded but did not reply. 

Since the onset of dementia about a decade ago, the best-selling and widely known Christian author communicates mostly through slight hand gestures and facial expressions. For everything else, there’s Lars Gren, her husband of 34 years. He and two caregivers attend to her daily needs. He answers letters, manages ministry orders, and updates “Ramblings from the Cove,” a blog about their doings.

Gren and Elliot married in 1977, nearly 20 years after Auca Indians speared to death Elliot’s first husband, Jim Elliot, and four other missionaries (for clarity this story refers to Mrs. Gren as Elliot). The event ignited worldwide interest in missions and thrust Elliot into a public role. Over the next 54 years, she wrote 28 books, including the missionaries’ memoir, Through Gates of Splendor, and Passion and Purity, an influential reflection on dating based on her and Jim’s five-year, long-distance courtship. 

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Elliot remained in Ecuador for seven years after Jim’s death, working with the Auca and Quichua Indians. She returned to the United States in 1963, and in 1969 married her second husband, seminary professor Addison Leitch. He died four years later from cancer. 

Gren first saw Elliot at Lietch’s funeral. He later boarded at her home while studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Gren says that eventually he “stopped seeing her as my landlady” and told her. She politely invited him to move out, but he kept returning to clear her driveway of snow, help around the house, and drive her on errands.

Eventually, they married. Elliot continued to give speeches about missions, marriage, and biblical gender roles. Gren managed book tables, arranged radio slots, and burned CDs. Gren says Elliot’s sane estimate of her own importance and capabilities allowed her to deal with the attention: “She looked at herself as an ordinary woman thrown into the limelight. … She never pushed herself forward.” He illustrates his point with a story: An overly excited young woman asked Elliot, “Who’s the real Elisabeth Elliot?” She replied, “I don’t know, and may God keep me from ever finding out.” 

Elliot’s daughter Valerie said her mother wasn’t interested in spreading opinions. She told her fans, “What does the Bible say? Do what the Bible says.”

Elliot stopped giving speeches in 2004 as her health worsened. When she realized she was losing her memory, she put into practice what she had long preached: “From acceptance comes peace.” Her husband said she turned to the Bible for comfort, especially Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” 

Gren says Elliot has handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her husbands. “She accepted those things, [knowing] they were no surprise to God,” Gren said. “It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.” 

Hearing these words, Elliot looked up and nodded, her eyes clear and strong. Then she spoke for the first time during the two-hour interview, nodding vigorously: “Yes.”

Web reads

Courtesy of Benjamin Scot

Since October I’ve been compiling on WORLD’s website, wng.org, interesting items from little-known internet sites. The Web Reads feature appears weekly on Thursdays. Here are five of my favorites from the past three months.

1. A dad filmed his extremely premature baby’s first year of life. The short, amazing video, which starts when his son is born 3½ months early and weighs only 1.5 pounds, shows the miracle of life and the wonders of modern medicine. 

2. This comprehensive list of 100 websites for writers offers writers encouragement, instruction, and tools for almost every aspect of their work, including freelancing, marketing, agents, copy editing, and craft. 

3. Music history: Studs Terkel interviewed Bob Dylan in 1963 when the singer was only 21 and not yet famous. You can listen to a recording of the interview at kottke.org

4. The Roaring 20s was a noisy decade, especially in New York City, so here’s a website that brings history to life by organizing noise complaints—type of sound, year of complaint, location—and plots them on an interactive map and timeline. With newsreel videos of blasting, drilling, Salvation Army preaching, and even a Kung Fu demonstration accompanied by drums, it helps users experience the decade aurally. 

5. And, thinking about drumming, do you know the difference between rock and jazz drumming? This short video shows it. —Susan Olasky

Tiffany Owens
Tiffany Owens

Tiffany is a correspondent for WORLD News Group.

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