When Curt and I were first married, we served in the youth ministry at Houston’s First Baptist Church. In July of 2003, we were going to help lead a youth mission trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This was going to be the Joneses’ first trip to Honduras and our first mission trip as a married couple. (Curt has been back three more times and is actually there right now.) Our church had strong ties with Larry and Jean Elliott, a missionary couple who had been serving in that area for decades. Every summer HFBC sent a youth team to work with them and their mission churches.
A few months before the trip, the Elliotts were going to be in our city visiting family. They had raised their son and daughter in Honduras and were now grandparents of young children who lived in Houston. We set up a time to meet with them and the other couple leading the trip with us so that we could plan our week. I had never met the Elliotts, nor any other career missionaries, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. In my ignorance and stupidity, I thought the dinner would probably be really boring. I didn’t even want to go, but I knew I should.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this precious couple shattered any preconceived notion that I had about missionaries. Larry and Jean were some of the warmest, most joyful, most down to earth people I had ever met. We fell in love with them instantly. One thing that struck me was how much they laughed, and I have to say that it was a treat to hear Larry’s laugh. He had such a good one. Larry and Jean had tons of stories to tell about their experiences in Honduras. It was so interesting to listen to them. God had given this couple an incredible twenty-six-year ministry there. The first church they planted had grown exponentially and had gone on to plant more churches that in turn planted more churches. God had His hand on everything they did. They had a passion for disaster relief, which I believe was birthed out of the devastation that Hurricane Mitch brought to that country in 1998. Only God knows how many lives they were able to touch through evangelism, discipleship, and ministering to folks in the midst of crisis.
After the dinner, I had so much to say to Curt about this wonderful couple. I couldn’t wait for our trip. Before long, we arrived in Tegucigalpa with our youth and got to work. We were able to see first hand what God had done and was doing in that area through seeds the Elliotts, other missionaries like the Torbert family, and local believers had planted.
The Elliotts had our whole team over to their house for dinner one night and served us a great meal. Just being in their home made an impact on me. I remember saying something to Jean about the house and she was quick to say, “Thank you, Lottie Moon!” If you are Southern Baptist, you may know that the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering helps support our 5,193 IMB missionaries on the field.
That night Larry showed us a slideshow and some souvenirs from his recent trip to Iraq. His passion for anyone living in devastation was burning a hole in his heart for the Iraqi people. He wanted to enable hospitals and people to have purified water and, simply put, he could help! I wish I could convey his excitement as he showed us each picture in the slide show. He and Jean were seriously seeking God about ending their ministry in Honduras and beginning a new one in Iraq.
The trip came to an end and I got a big hug and “We love you!” from Jean in the airport. I nearly cried saying goodbye to her. She was just such a dear person.
I came home from Honduras changed in many ways. For one, I had learned that missionaries are regular people – regular people who love the Lord and are willing to serve Him outside their comfort zones. The Elliotts made me realize that being a missionary was not for the highest order of pious, perfect, solemn believers, which is what I had always imagined. Instead, a missionary could actually be someone like me! Or like you! A normal person who loves the Lord, who laughs, who loves their grandkids, and who loves being with friends. Don’t get me wrong. The Elliotts are spiritual giants, but the message of their life said, “You can do this, too. God can use you!”
Just two months later, having gained some confidence that God could use a normal person like me outside my comfort zone, Curt and I began looking into an opportunity to serve teenagers in England. It would only be for five months, but that seemed like a long time to us! We would leave March 9, 2004.
Before we left, Larry and Jean came back to Houston for a visit. Larry needed to borrow a car for a few days, so we got to take him our truck. Later they both came to Tuesday night Bible study. I was so excited to have them there. Jean had been in some of my mom’s Bible studies back in Honduras. I got to send some resources from the office back to the mission field with them and they gave us a bottle of yummy Honduran vanilla, among other things. It was such a blessing to cross paths with them again. Jean told me we might see them in England sometime since that would be sort of a home base for them while they were living in Iraq.
March 9 finally came and we boarded a British Airways flight to the UK. We were really excited, but I was also nervous and worried about being terribly homesick. Just five days later, on March 14, I was checking my email and received devastating news. Jean and Larry Elliott, along with missionaries David McDonnall and Karen Watson, had been killed in Mosul, Iraq. They had been checking out different locations for water purification projects in the city when their truck was targeted and attacked by gunmen. Only newlywed Carrie McDonnall had survived.
My world was spinning and my heart was absolutely broken to pieces. “No, Lord! This can’t be! And we are here – in part – because of them!” I wanted my mother, but she was an ocean away. I wanted to grieve with everyone else and talk about the impact this couple had had on my life, but we would not be able return to the States for their memorial service in Houston.
I don’t understand how anyone could harm, even murder, such precious people – people who had come to help them! And it hurts tremendously to think about the huge loss their families have experienced. But I do know that the Lord, in a way that is hard for my human mind to grasp, honored these servants by allowing them to not only live for Him, but to also die for Him.
Today, on the fourth anniversary of the homegoings of Larry and Jean Elliott, David McDonnall, and Karen Watson, let’s give profuse praise to God for selfless, courageous people who put their lives on the line every day as they work to build up God’s Kingdom. Let’s thank Him for the advancement of Light into darkness and for the souls who will worship before the throne from cultures that are hostile toward the Gospel of Christ. Let’s pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who are enduring persecution, especially in Iraq. Let’s praise God for their perseverance and for the glory they bring to Him. Let’s ask God to bless our sweet friend Carrie McDonnall as she continues to pour out her life for her Savior. Let’s praise Jesus for the victory He has already won and for the day He will do away with death forever!
We may not want to die like these precious saints, but we want to live like them – with courage, selflessness, faithfulness, and love.
“They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11)
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
*If you’d like to read more about these missionaries, check out these two resources:
Facing Terror by Carrie McDonnall and Kristen Billerbeck
Lives Given, Not Taken by Erich Bridges and Jerry Rankin