Last month a friend left a pile of Elisabeth Elliot books in my possession. (It was with sadness that she had to leave them behind when she moved back to the States, but it was with gladness that I accepted them.) My next question was, which one do I read first?
I had never heard of These Strange Ashes, but after reading the back cover, I was intrigued. Would Elisabeth Elliot’s first year as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador have any resemblance to our first few years in the jungle of southern Mexico?
“What we ate, what we called clean, what standards we maintained, would have offended our neighbors here as well as our relatives back home—too good for one group, too poor for the other. We were between two worlds, we were here by the grace of God, and we expected Him to give us light.” (p. 88)
I have had friends mention their fears for us and fears about coming down to visit or work with us. One dear friend stated outright that she had no intention of ever visiting me in Mexico. It was too dangerous. Too difficult. Too dirty. And she’s right. It is dangerous, and difficult, and dirty. Unless we allow God to give us light. We truly do live between two worlds. Too poor by American standards. (All four children share one tiny bedroom!) Too rich by ZK standards. (Each child has his own bed?!? One family we know has only two beds in their one-room house. And there are at least 14 people living there.)
Elisabeth Elliot writes of her struggles with this dichotomy. She felt an unstated rule that as a missionary, her life should be one of complete sacrifice. I can relate to this unstated expectation because I have felt the guilt over small material indulgences. (I don’t really need a new skirt, but having one makes me feel a little more normal.)
Elisabeth worded it well. “It was only gradually that I came to understand that some things are meant to be cherished, and not sacrificed. God was responsible for my parentage, my nationality, and my upbringing. He had called me, and He had called me by name, and He would not bypass what I was or the things which had made me what I was.” (p. 88)
There is great comfort in accepting that God created me uniquely for this work among the ZK.
“The singing of our little group of believers…as they dragged their way through Spanish hymns, was satisfying to me only because it showed that there was faith in this far-off place. But it took the memory of strong, clear singing in English of great old hymns to fortify my soul.” (p. 89)
Yes, some things are meant to be cherished, like the memory of clear singing in English!
I leave you with one last thought. (I had many while reading this book!) Elisabeth served in a remote jungle long before the thought of Wi-Fi, when even the thought of a letter was cherished. She said, “To be able to send letters was a pleasure, and the idea of receiving them was greater.” (p. 99)
Our closest post office is an hour away and I’m not convinced of the reliability of the service. (I was being charged 14 pesos to send letters when the price is only 11.50 pesos because the post office only has 7 peso stamps. And the postman was not forthright with this information, even when questioned if the price had gone up.) Sending a letter is a delight for me. I admit to being a bit old-fashioned, and a letter is so precious. But even to receive an email or Facebook message is a great delight.