Thursday, December 29, 2011

INTERVIEW: Bob Russell: Acquaintance of Jim Elliot - PART ONE

Robert Lloyd Russell is an award-winning Christian author.  But there’s also something very unique about him.

When Bob was only eight years old, he met Jim Elliot.  Having come from a down-and-out, dysfunctional home, Bob and his family moved to Portland, OR, having only one phone number and address as a contact.  They showed up at this contact’s doorstep without a place to stay.  Little did they know at the time, they didn’t just appear at any house.  It was the home of none other than Jim Elliot and his parents.

The time spent with the Elliots formed much of whom Bob is today, including being a child of God. 

In this first of a two-part series in which I personally interviewed Bob, I am confident you’ll enjoy learning about this special brother in Christ and the family who made international news when tragedy struck in Ecuador.

How did you come to know Christ and how old were you when it happened?

I was fortunate to have a Godly mother and Godly grandparents.  My mother and maternal grandmother were by far the most influential in my early life.  My dad was killed in an industrial accident two days after my first birthday.  Mom was left with three children—five, three, and one years of age—with no money or insurance.  When I was nearly eight she married a man fresh out of the Navy.  Looking back I really believe she was largely trying to provide a normal family environment for us.

It was a dysfunctional home.  My adoptive dad was abusive emotionally and physically.  As the youngest I learned how to survive by watching my older siblings’ reactions.  The positive thing that throughout this entire period mom insisted we always go to church.  I remember vividly Mom and Dad arguing on the way to church every Sunday—but this was one thing Mom never gave up on.

During my freshman year away at college the Holy Spirit started working in my life in many interesting and varied ways.  Eventually, toward the end of my freshman year I was totally exhausted—physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I had been carrying 19 credit hours per quarter while working 40-hour weeks to put myself through school.  One night I went outside and knelt down, gazed into heaven, and asked Jesus Christ to come into my life—and He did.  I was nearing my 19th birthday at that time.

You were eight when you first met the Elliot family.  Describe how you met them and what your first impression was of them?

Within less than a year, after my mom’s second marriage, we moved from the support of our extended family to Portland, Oregon.  My new dad was jobless, and the only name and address we had in Portland was Fred Elliot (Jim Elliot’s dad).  We showed up on their doorstep.  They took us in for a number of weeks.  Jim was living at home of that time.  Later, we lived with another church family in Eugene, Oregon.  Still later, in Salem, Oregon.  And then again with the Elliot family in Portland.

Did all the experiences living with the Elliot lead you to becoming born again?

Absolutely—but indirectly.  When I left home and was in my freshman year of college, I had pretty much mentally said good-bye to my upbringing.  But the Holy Spirit was working on me. A key issue in my mind was my memories of the Elliot family as well as other Christian families I knew as a child.  I knew they were different and possessed something real. 

How much time did you spend with Jim in those two years leading up to when he left for Ecuador?

Jim was in and out of the home during the time we lived there. Jim was often gone fulfilling opportunities to speak about His Savior (every chance he could get)—sometimes being away overnight.  He often taught our Sunday school class and youth meetings.  But he was home most of the time.

So tell me about that time with Jim from a non-Christian boy’s perspective.  What was he like?  What do you think drove him?  What were his likes and dislikes?

Everyone loved Jim—except perhaps some of those who didn’t like to see somebody on fire for God.  But he related well to everyone—for example he was student body president of his large high school.  He was an athlete, a leader, a funny guy, and just an all-around likeable guy who seemed to genuinely care about everyone he came in contact with.  He was an immensely popular guy. 

How was Jim’s family with the idea of him going to Ecuador?

Totally supportive.  The entire Elliot family was sold out for God.  The oldest sibling, Bob, was the president of a local chiropractic college, a gifted preacher, and a key leader in the local church.  In fact, Bob officiated at our wedding. 

The next brother, Bert, and his wife Colleen, were already on the mission field in Peru (they left in 1949).  In fact, they are still there today!  That must be approaching 63 years now!  They have spent their entire adult lives as missionaries to Peru and Peru is their “home.”

Then there was Jim. 

Jim’s younger sister, Jane, married Jerry Hawthorne, who for many years was a professor at Wheaton College.

The entire Elliot family exemplified the verse in John 13:35: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”   The Elliot parents almost always had boarders of some kind—many times they were students at a local Bible school who could not afford to live in the dorms. 

Although you were around ten years old when Jim and his team left for Ecuador, were you aware of their goings-on while they were there?

One of my most vivid memories was the going-away party at the church when Jim was leaving for the mission field.  At that age I did not fully understand or appreciate what it all meant.  Of course, I did not have any conception that would be the last time I would see Jim Elliot this side of heaven.  Also, at the time, Jim was just another guy—certainly not famous.  n

Don’t miss tomorrow’s post of the second part in the series in which Bob discusses the news of Jim’s team’s martyrdom and the impact it has made in our Lord’s kingdom!


  1. Your post brought me to tears...for this man described the Elliot family exactly as they were. Jim Elliot was my cousin, five years my senior. Jane, the only girl in the family and I are a week apart and have been life-long friends.

    I am going to send this post on to Jane and Bert. They will be thrilled to read this remembrance of their family. Bert is failing but remains in Peru with his precious wife, Colleen, and Bob has been with the Lord for over 30 years. Jane is widowed about 18 months ago, still lives in Wheaton in the big family home. She is an Elliot through and through!! She always has someone needing a home, living with her, and continues to have Sunday dinners weekly. She just returned from a three week trip to Peru to spend some time with dear Bert.

    The Elliot home was open to so many people over the years--"open hearts, open home".

    I treasure my memories of time spent at '7272' during my growing up years. I have a post on my blog about Jim-- (you might be interested)

    I shall look forward to part 2 of this interview.

    I have to confess that I am a lurker for over a year on your wife's blog, but have never commented.

  2. Joan, it is such an honor to have you here! Isn't God good?

    I want to encourage all my readers to go to her link. What a fantastic blog! I particularly love the post you wrote remembering fond times you had with your first cousin, Jim Elliot.

    God bless you for all that you are. And readers, Joan has fostered some 25 children in her lifetime!

  3. Joan and is so wonderful to "meet" you both here! Such an honor to read your testimonies. Thank you for being willing to share so that all of us may be blessed, encouraged and strengthened in our walk with the Father.

    Biggest hugs


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