Thursday, December 17, 2020

"Lesson One" in the Graduate School of Faith

New missionary Betty Howard set about her first assignment at the mission station on the edge of the jungle of Ecuador. She had already learned Spanish and now sought to learn the indigenous Quichua language in order to translate the New Testament for the people she longed to reach with the gospel of Christ.

In answer to prayer, God provided her with the one human who knew both Quichua and Spanish. Hallelujah! This man became Betty's informant in her linguistic journey.

Then one day, as she sat at her desk with her Bible and journal, her informant was murdered within earshot. Her hopes of progress in Quichua were dashed in that wasteful destruction of life.

Betty's biographer Ellen Vaughn writes of this crisis:

"It was Betty's 'lesson one' in the graduate school of faith . . . 'my first experience of having to bow down before that which I could not possibly explain. Usually we need not bow. We can simply ignore the unexplainable because we have other things to occupy our minds. We sweep it under the rug. We evade the questions. Faith's most severe tests come not when we see nothing, but when we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain. If God were God, if He were omnipotent, if He had cared, would this have happened? Is this that I face now the ratification of my calling, the reward of obedience? One turns in disbelief again from the circumstances and looks into the abyss. But in the abyss there is only blackness, no glimmer of light, no answering echo.'

"'It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself.'" (Ellen Vaughn and Joni Eareckson Tada, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot)

Not so very long thereafter, Betty Howard became Betty Elliot. This hard lesson was one of God's preparations for the harder lesson of her young husband Jim's violent death at the hands of the Waodani people. Of the five women widowed by that event, she was the one tasked with writing the martyrs' story for publication. It was then, on the cover of her first book, that she became known to the watching world as Elisabeth Elliot. But first she was just Betty, in the jungle, wrestling with God's painful providence that seemed to be at odds with God's calling on her life.

The lessons she learned then and recorded in her journals are still helping me decades later:
"It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself."

May the Lord bring us all to the open-handed acceptance of God's gift of Himself.

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