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Collection 684 Papers of Bert and Colleen Elliot

Identifier: CN 684

Scope and Contents

Correspondence and photographs of Bert and Colleen Elliot, Plymouth Brethren missionaries to Peru from 1949 to 2012. Correspondence is by and large written by Colleen Elliot to her parents and sister. Topics covered include reflections on cultural and spiritual differences between the United States and Peru, the challenges of missionary life and language divides, interactions with missionaries from different denominations, medical work in rural areas, evangelism, and the spiritual development of Peruvian converts. The collection also contains material covering the 1956 "Auca Incident" involving the death of Bert's brother, Jim Elliot, as well as material relating to Elisabeth Elliot's ministry in Ecuador and later as a writer. The correspondence covers the time period 1943-1994.


  • Created: 1943-1994

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Full Name: Herbert (Bert) Ironside Elliot

Birth: November 3, 1924 in Portland, OR


Parents: Fred and Clara Elliot

Siblings: Robert (Bob), Philip James (Jim), and Jane Elliot Hawthorne

Conversion: At age 11 after suffering a fall which made him consider his eternal security.

Death: February 17, 2012 in Trujillo, Peru


1943 - Benson Polytechnic High School

Multnomah Bible College, attended one year

Full Name: Colleen Norma Collison Elliot

Birth: July 5, 1928


Parents: George and Catherine Collison

Siblings: Joan Collison Benz

Death: March 30, 2012 in Portland, OR


1948 - BIOLA, School of Missionary Medicine

Joint Biography of Bert and Colleen Elliot

Marital Status: Married January 1949

1949-1956 - Sailed for Peru on May 16, 1949. Initially stayed in the Linguistic Home in Lima run by Wycliffe Bible Translators to begin learning Spanish. Afterward based in Lagunas. Their ministry focus was on evangelizing unreached Peruvians and later church planting and discipleship for the indigenous church. Bert often sold Bibles very inexpensively in urban streets as a way to strike up spiritual conversations with curious onlookers.

1956 - Furlough in the United States after the death of Bert's brother Jim Elliot and four other missionaries at the hands of Waorani in Ecuador. Bert and Colleen returned to the United States in 1956, following the death of Jim Elliot. On their return journey to Peru in May 1956, they visited Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot in Ecuador. After returning from furlough, the Elliots relocated to Yurimagas to continue mission work.

1962-1963 - Furlough in the United States, beginning in August. The Elliots were accompanied back to the US by Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot and visited them in Ecuador on their return to Peru.

1966 - Visit to the United States from March to October.

1968-1969 - Furlough in the United States in November to attend Fred and Clara Elliot's golden anniversary. Returned to Peru in March after visiting Wheaton, IL to see Jerry and Jane Hawthorne and Elisabeth Elliot and new husband, Addison Leitch.

1978 - Returned to the United States after the death of Colleen Elliot's parents.

1981 - Returned to the States after Clara Elliot's death.

1986 - Tour of Europe and Great Britain from April to May.

1988 - Relocated from their missions base in Yurimagas to Trujillo where the Elliots started a school, Colegio Christiano Elliot, named after Jim Elliot.


2.15 Cubic Feet (5 Boxes, Photographs)

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

[Note: In the Scope & Content section, the notation “folder 2-5" means “Box 2, Folder 5"]

Arrangement: Material is arranged chronologically by the Archivist.

Date Range: 1943-1994

Volume: 2.15 cubic ft. 5 Boxes

Geographic Coverage: Portland, OR, Wheaton, IL, Lima, Lagunas, Yurimaguas, Chiclayo, Cajamarca, Trujillo, Peru

Type of Documents: Correspondence, photographs Correspondents: George and Catherine Collison, Raymond and Joan Collison Benz, Fred and Clara Elliot, Bob and Ruby Elliot, Jane Elliot Hawthorne, Elisabeth Elliot.

Notes: This collection consists of hand and type-written letters written mainly from Colleen Collison Elliot to her parents and other family members, and occasionally the Elliot's church community in Portland, Oregon. Much of the correspondence was intended by the Elliots to be circulated among family members and often consists of type-written letters with personal hand-written messages to individual family members.

After 1953, Colleen Elliot typed many of her letters on carbon paper, sending one copy to her parents and one to her sister. The materials are overwhelmingly in English with a few documents in Spanish. The materials in this collection were donated to the Archives by Gilbert Gleason, the Elliot's nephew, and contain handwritten notations and page markers, presumably made by Gleason, on several of the letters. These items have been retained in their original state at the time of donation. For letters mentioning specific topics, please see the Exceptional Items section listed below.

The bulk of material in this collection spans the date range 1949-1994, which covers the Elliot's ministry as Plymouth Brethren missionaries to Peru. The letters dated prior to 1949 are primarily from Bert Elliot to his parents and describe his life and ministry before he and Colleen married and began mission work in Peru. Beginning in 1949, the majority of the letters is written by Colleen to her family and describe the Elliot's new life and ministry in Peru.

Topics in Colleen's early letters from the mission field include: reflections on learning Spanish and the difficulty of working with language divides between Spanish and Quechua (1-3, 2-3, 2-6); South American lifestyles and the poverty in Peru (1-3); descriptions of indigenous people groups, including the Cashibo tribe (1-3, 2-3); observations on class distinctions in Peru between indigenous peoples and those of Spanish descent (1-4); reflections on the influence of Roman Catholicism in Peruvian culture and descriptions of Catholic festivals (1-3), such as Carnival (1-4) and Holy Week in Yurimaguas (1-6); teaching Sunday School classes in Spanish and English classes to children (1-4); descriptions of Peruvian celebrations, including weddings and funerals (1-3); and the challenges of adapting to South American culture and climate (1-3). A significant portion of Colleen Elliot's letters describes her remedial medical work in rural villages. Due to her medical missionary training at BIOLA, Colleen was often called upon to perform emergency medical work and frequently treated snake bites, severe eye conditions, and assisted with child birth. Bert Elliot also gained a reputation for removing infected teeth. Descriptions of the Elliot's medical work are consistently mentioned throughout the correspondence.

In addition to medical work, Colleen described encountering opposition from local witch doctors, describing their spiritual and medical influence in rural Peruvian culture and various healing practices. While Colleen Elliot's letters are chiefly focused on the daily practical challenges of missionary work, the correspondence does contain more specific descriptions of their evangelism efforts and theology. More specific information on these topics is often included in Bert Elliot's letters to his parents. The correspondence references the Elliot's evangelism, including hostile reaction to street preaching and a denuncio issued by the Roman Catholic Bishop in Moyobamba against Bert for proselytizing. The Elliots also record their interactions with Western missionaries of different faith traditions, including Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholics and the challenges of explaining the theological differences between the faith traditions to Peruvians. The correspondence also describes the difficulties of training new converts, and particularly mentions several instances of disciplining converts for serial adultery. The letters also contain descriptions of the Elliot's interactions with the "Little Flock" movement (now commonly known as the "Local Church"), a Christian group originally founded in China by Watchman Nee which had close connections to the Plymouth Brethren. Bert describes growing controversy between different evangelical factions in Peruvian churches over practicing closed communion, which is the practice of restricting access to the Lord's Supper solely to individuals who are members of a particular church or sect. In a letter to his father, Bert outlines his theological reasons for disagreeing with the Little Flock movement and describes the differences between the Little Flock, Continental Healed and Open Brethren factions in Peru and reaffirms his intention to remain neutral in their theological disagreements for the sake of the gospel. Colleen also writes to her parents discussing the division of the Peruvian churches over closed communion.

The collection contain several letters from missionaries William Missen and Gerard Couenhoven discussing differing opinions of independent congregations and open communion. The correspondence also includes letters from Bert Elliot to his father describing his unwillingness to be listed in Plymouth Brethren literature as one of their missionaries and his desire to remain unaffiliated with a particular group.

In the later years of their ministry, the Elliots describe growing political instability in Peru due to the rise of Communist groups. The letters mention specific attacks made by Communist terrorists. Colleen Elliot also identifies the harmful effects of cocaine production on among Peruvian Christians in rural villages. The correspondence ends abruptly in 1994 when the Elliots began to conduct their correspondence via e-mail.

Exceptional Items: Letters that contain especially memorable or significant material are recorded in the following index of Exceptional Items. In particular, the letters in this collection contain multiple references to Jim Elliot's death, the "Auca Incident," and Elisabeth Elliot's later ministry in Shandia, Ecuador and the books she published about Jim Elliot and foreign missions.

Folder 1-3: Includes letters from Colleen on the topics of learning Spanish; poverty, climate, and culture in Peru; descriptions of the Cashibo tribe and Roman Catholic festivals and Peruvian weddings and funerals; and descriptions of Bert and Colleen's early medical work on the mission field.

Folder 1-4: Includes letters in which Colleen comments on class distinctions in Peruvian culture between indigenous people and those of Spanish descent; includes more reports on the Elliot's medical procedures and teaching English classes and Sunday school.

Folder 1-5: Includes letters describing the difficulties of disciplining Peruvian converts for serial adultery.

Folder 1-6: In a letter of March 8, 1953, Colleen writes to Joan about Jim and Elisabeth's engagement, saying that it did not come as a surprise to her. Letter from Jim Elliot to an unidentified "Joanie" in Portland (probably Jim's cousin, Joan Thompson) dated October 22, 1952, in which he describes adjusting to life on Ecuador, teaching school on the station in Shandia, and the difficulty of spiritual alertness and prayer while on the mission field. This folder also includes letters from Colleen in which she describes the influence of local witch doctors in Peruvian culture and their antagonism to Western medical treatments. Folder 1-6 also contains descriptions of Roman Catholic observance of Carnival and Holy Week.

Folder 1-7: Second letter from Jim Elliot to "Joanie" dated Jan 28, 1953, reflecting on his five months of ministry in Shandia and God's provision and faithfulness.

Folder 1-9: This folder contains several letters describing the Elliot's evangelism efforts, negative reactions to street preaching, and the denuncio issued against Bert by the Bishop of Moyobamba.

Folder 1-10: In a letter of May 17, 1956, Bert Elliot writes to the Collison family after leaving New Orleans en route back to Peru, reflecting on the significance of Jim's death. In a letter dated May 23, 1956, Colleen recounts visiting Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot in Shandia, Ecuador, commenting on Elisabeth's attitude toward the "Auca Incident" and describes meeting Barbara Youderian and Marjorie Saint. In a letter of June 4, 1956, Colleen describes assisting Elisabeth Elliot with medical work among the Indians and how she is adjusting to life on the mission field without Jim. In letter of June 21, 1956, Colleen writes about meeting Life photographer, Cornell Capa and hearing his account of documenting the "Auca Incident" and his impressions of Elisabeth Elliot.

Folder 2-1: Colleen wrote to Joan and Ray (May 17) telling them about a letter from Elisabeth in which she sent a picture of Valerie and the five widows and described her own interactions with Capa. In a subsequent letter on November 25, 1957, Colleen describes having a conversation with Elisabeth Elliot over MAF radio frequency in which Elisabeth offered further impressions of Capa and mentions her work on Through Gates of Splendor.

Folder 2-2: This folder includes letters describing the Elliot's interactions with Western missionaries from different denominations and religious backgrounds, including Roman Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and recount the difficulty of presenting the theological distinctions to inquiring Peruvians. This topic is covered in Folders 2-2 to 2-5.

Folder 2-3: In 1959, Colleen describes (Feb 6) a visit from Elisabeth and Valerie and their conversations with Elisabeth on polygamy and wearing western clothing among Indian converts. This folder includes letters further recounting the difficulty of working with languages barriers between Spanish and Quechua.

Folder 2-7: On a later visit to Elisabeth and Valerie in Ecuador in 1963, Colleen mentions (March 11) Elisabeth's talent for languages and taking Quechua lessons from her and getting a copy of her translation notes.

Folders 3-1 to 3-4: These folders contain continuing descriptions of the Elliot's encounters with the "Little Flock" movement and ongoing division within Peruvian churches over the issue of closed communion as well as the distinctions between the Open Brethren, Continental Healed, and Little Flock congregations. Also included are letters from William Missen and Gerard Couenhoven on the subject of closed communion and church division. Folder 3-1 contains a letter from Bert to his father about his hesitation to be listed as a Plymouth Brethren missionary. Folder 3-3 also contains more information from Colleen on the influence and prevalence of witch doctors in Peruvian culture.

Folder 3-3: Letter of March 21, 1966 from Colleen to parents describes meeting Elisabeth during a trip to New York City and discusses her assessment of Elisabeth's new book, No Graven Image, which Colleen describes as being at times "unflattering" to missionaries but beautifully written.

Folder 4-15: Contains letters describing increasing political tensions and cultural concern over the rise of Communism in Peru, mentioning specific attacks made by communist guerillas. In this folder, Colleen also recounts how emerging cocaine production in rural villages is affecting the Christian converts there.

Folder 5-3: This folder contains further mention of Peruvian political instability and communist acts of terrorism.

Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by Gilbert Gleason in September 2009.

Accession 09-47, 09-48

October 5, 2015

Katherine J. Graber

Collection 684 Papers of Bert and Colleen Elliot
Katherine Graber
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US