Title: Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador (Note: This book is also listed under the title These Strange Ashes and was originally published in 1979)
Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Genre: Nonfiction/ Memoir/ Christian
Length: 176 pages
Publisher: Fleming H. Revell Company
When Revell Reads sent me a free advanced reader copy of this book, they presented it to me as a new release. After reading the text and finding it to be deeply problematic, I did some research and discovered that the author, Elisabeth Elliot, is a renowned and respected missionary in the protestant faith. I also discovered that this book was originally released in 1979. I understand that this book has historic and literary merit.
The problematic elements in the text could be best handled by the publisher providing a forward or other notes to the text. This information would help the reader to consider the book in context. Otherwise, if this book is packaged and presented as a new release, it is my fear that it will continue to perpetuate stereotypes and outdated modes of thinking that are no longer acceptable.
Agree to Disagree?
Parts of this book were fascinating; however, other parts of this book were problematic and outright offensive.
When I received a free advanced reader copy from Revell Reads, I was excited to take part in this project. Now, after this article, I’m worried that they will never ask me for another review.
I enjoy Christian books and memoirs are one of my favorite genres. I have also always dreamed of going to another country as a missionary; however, I did not have to read far into the text to realize that I was not the target audience.
The author states that she believes that women should keep silent in worship, cover their heads, and be subservient to men.
As an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church with over five years of experience in ministry, I heartily disagree.
I tried to set aside my differences in theological opinion and consider the book on it’s own literary merits. I believe that we can agree to disagree; however, the text itself was inherently problematic.
In her preface, the author states the events of this book took place over 40 years ago. The book was originally published in 1979, which would place the events of this book circa 1939. This doesn’t surprise me, because this book feels as if was written before the civil rights movement.
A Xenophobic Worldview
Eliot describes the native people as “sinister” and “godless.” She writes from a clearly ethnocentric Western viewpoint. She repeatedly refers to things of the Western world as “civilized,” which makes clear her implication that the native people are not civilized.
As someone who has been called an “Asiatic savage,” I cannot help but take offense. I cannot understand why the publisher did not make some simple yet significant emendations to the language for this new edition. I can only assume that either the publisher does not employ sensitivity readers, or that they wanted to release this book as a historical text.
Made for the Journey suffers from a severe case of the “white savior complex.” At one point, she laments that a young boy’s life seems to be wasted amongst his native people because his family does not possess all the trappings of Western society.
In a moment of rare clarity and introspection, the author even notes that it might be unwise to impose Western standards on native peoples:
“How were we to live among them and not change a thing except their attitude toward God? We did not see what was happening… he was only a little boy, and instead of his providing us with the Colorado viewpoint, we, willy-nilly, quickly gave him ours. “
I gave this book three stars on Goodreads because I believe the author was genuinely trying to do God’s work. I admire her willingness to serve and I do not believe that she meant any harm. It was a different time and I understand that books must be considered within their cultural context. Furthermore, I respect the author for being a linguist and I very much enjoyed reading about her efforts to help to develop a written language for the Coloardo people of Ecuador.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that books must be considered in context, some things are simply wrong, no matter the time period in which a piece was written.
Problematic Anti-Catholic Rhetoric
I was deeply troubled to read Elliot’s intense anti-Catholic rhetoric. I do not understand the long standing animosity between Protestants and Catholics. The man I love is Catholic. It troubles me that the publisher released another edition of this book into the world without so much as a footnote or other explanation.
Religious prejudice is still alive and well in today’s world. Christians should do well to remember that the KKK developed in response to anti-Catholic sentiment as well as xenophobia. Many of the members of the KKK were protestant church leaders, Sunday School teachers, and missionaries. In fact, KKK members were required to hold membership in a protestant church.
Made for the Journey is a perfect example of why we as Christians must think critically about what we read. It is possible to enjoy a work of art (I did thoroughly enjoy parts of this text) but to also engage with it critically.
As Christians, we are not called to leave our brains on the church door when we enter the sanctuary. We must be exceedingly careful not to perpetuate racism, stereotypes, or prejudice.
If pressed, I would recommend this book as an example of the development of protestant missionary efforts. We do indeed have a long journey ahead of us.
Note: I received a digital advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. I’m not sorry if I have been too honest. These are important issues.
If you would like to see an example of a missionary memoir that I DID enjoy, please check out my review of The Midwife of Borneo.