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May 2016 : Remembering the Other Elliots

The above photograph was taken inYurimaguas, a port town in the Amazonian rainforests of northern Peru where Bert and
Colleen Elliot ministered for over thirty years. The river depicted is either the Río Huallaga or Río Paranapura.

Earlier this year, the Billy Graham Center Archives commemorated the 60-year anniversary of the death of Jim Elliot and four other American missionaries in Ecuador at the hands of Waorani tribe members in January 1956. The five missionaries—particularly Jim Elliot—were praised as examples of heroic Christian dedication to evangelism following their deaths, due in large part to the writings of Jim's widow, Elisabeth Elliot.

While Jim and Elisabeth Elliot were familiar names to twentieth-century American evangelicals, lesser known are the other missionary Elliots -- Bert and Colleen Elliot. Much like his younger brother Jim, Bert also felt called to evangelistic work in Latin America. In 1949, three years before Jim Elliot landed in Ecuador, Bert and Colleen sailed for Peru, where they would serve as missionaries for over sixty years.

The Elliots' correspondence from 1943-1994--now held by the Billy Graham Center Archives-- provides rich details about the rigors of missionary life and unexpected challenges of evangelistic work.

Right: Bert and Colleen Elliot pose with an unidentified Peruvian Christian in Pucallpa, c. 1958.

Colleen Elliot completed the Missionary Medicine program at BIOLA University in 1948, training that she put to good use in rural Peru, where access to medical care was scarce. Colleen's correspondence to her parents and sister in the United States is filled with descriptions of setting broken bones, treating rare eye diseases, snake bites, and infections, as well as the numerous babies she delivered. In her letters, Colleen also reflects on the spirtual aspects of providing medical and the opposition she faced from indigenous witch doctors who opposed both Western medical practices and the Christian gospel.

 

Left: Colleen Elliot with Peruvian woman and child, c. 1959. The inscription on the back of the photograph reads: "This is the little girl who broke her arm almost a year ago in Santa Cruz and we took her to the hospital. We stopped to see her and she gave me a chicken. Her arm is well but very crooked and useless as you can see."

During their sixty years in Peru, Bert and Colleen ministered in a variety of locations, including Lima, Lagunas, Yurimaguas, Chiclayo, Cajamarca, and Trujillo. In addition to providing rudimentary medical care in rural areas, evangelizing, and planting churches, the Elliots also founded Colegio Cristiano Elliot in 1988 to provide a Christian education for Peruvian children. Named after Jim Elliot, the Colegio still exists today and offers education based on biblical values to students from kindergarten through high school.

The photographs and documents featured on this page and many others related to the Elliots' lives and work in Peru are found in
Collection 684 The Papers of Herbert and Colleen Elliot.

To learn more about Jim Elliot and the five missionaries who lost their lives to bring the Christian gospel to the Waoroni tribe, please visit the commemorative exhibit To Carry the Light Further.

Right: Out of necessity Bert Elliot became an amateur dentist and was frequently called upon to extract teeth, c. 1959.

 

The following excerpt is taken from a letter written by Bert Elliot to his in-laws while traveling back to Peru after a visit to the United States, following the death of his brother Jim Elliot earlier that year. Dated May 17, 1956, the letter describes the pain of parting from family members after their furlough, and Bert reflects on the spiritual legacy he inherited from his parents and the comfort he finds in the gospel following Jim's death.


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