[Editor’s note]: Sarah Elizabeth Labriel is a WorldVenture appointee headed to Ecuador to serve as a church planter with her husband, Carlos. Sarah lost her first husband from a brain aneurysm, but she was determined to stay on the mission field. She returned just one month later with two young children. Sarah wrote about these experiences in her memoir, “My Once Upon a Time.”
Elisabeth Elliot and Sarah share many commonalities, including the deaths of their first husbands and their shared passion for Ecuador. In light of Elisabeth’s recent death, Sarah reflects on how the great missionary influenced her through her life and writing:
I’m certain God added the late Elisabeth Elliot (Gren) to the list of heroes in Hebrews 11. I imagine Elisabeth’s phrase will be scripted something like, “By faith Elisabeth returned to the jungles of Ecuador with her small child, after the Huaorani warriors in those same jungles had killed her husband and four other missionary men.”
Elisabeth was the woman of God that many women aspire to be, including missionaries like me. Like Elisabeth, I was called to be a missionary as a young teen, when I first began to view her as a role model. In high school, two of her 20 books greatly impacted my life: “Passion and Purity” and “Quest for Love.” I prayed passionately to have a relationship with the Lord like Elisabeth, and fruit on the mission field as she did. Although her books cultivated better spiritual disciplines in my life, little did I know my life would mirror hers in more ways than I expected.
After one year in full-time missions, my first husband unexpectedly died of a brain aneurysm. I was left with a two-year-old and a two-month-old. On the car ride home from the hospital, I called the director of my mission organization and told him determinately, “I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I will go back to the mission field. God called me to be a missionary whether I have a husband or not.”
The Lord allowed me to return to the field one month later. Close missionary families helped me grieve, process, and also follow the Lord’s leading to use this event in my life to impact women in prostitution. It was a wonderfully hard two years of ministry, but graciously fruitful.
I’m convinced that knowing Elisabeth’s story throughout my life—and contemplating how in the face of trials she always chose Jesus—was another influence in encouraging me to not give up on missions, Christ, and life. Because of her great example and the parallels in both our lives, I finally decided to write to Elisabeth. Her website said a handwritten letter must be sent to her husband at the time, Lars. Elisabeth’s health was poor, and she was not able to keep up with all the correspondence sent to her, so Lars had stepped in. I wrote, and Lars soon wrote back to me:
Thank you very much for your kind letter…“You have the unusual character of “stick-to-it-iveness” (if that’s a word) in able to return one month after your husband’s passing. It reminds me very much of Elisabeth, who lost Jim when Valerie was less than a year old. People expected her to take the baby and return to the States. Her reply was something to the effect of, “I was a missionary as a single woman and also with Him, and, until the Lord gives me further guidance, I will remain so…”
Lars and Elisabeth “Gren”
I find yet another strong connection with Elisabeth through our shared mission field, Ecuador. Situated on the equator, it’s only about the size of Nevada. In that area, it boasts four drastic topographical differences: coastal plains, the Andes Mountains, the Amazon jungle, and the jewels of the Galapagos Islands. Elisabeth’s heart was knit to this beautifully unique country, and as the Lord would have it, so is mine. I, along with the husband God gave to me two years ago, feel called to plant churches with WorldVenture in Ecuador.
Elisabeth lived a life full of godly works: missionary, wife, mother, author, conference speaker, professor, and advisor on missions, among other things. God’s grace took her faithful service and grew them into things she never imagined. I am just one example of someone she inspired, and I hope to continue the work she started so many years ago in Ecuador.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).”
WorldVenture has covered a missionary couple fighting sex trafficking in Ecuador.