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Elliotts had ‘a heart as big as whatever need was before them’

CARY, N.C. (BP)–Larry Elliott had a laugh so hearty it could fill the streets of Honduras or the villages of Iraq. When his wife, Jean, smiled, she could light up an entire nation. So said friends and family at a memorial service for the Elliotts in Cary, N.C.

The Elliotts were killed March 15 in a drive-by shooting in Mosul, Iraq. Their coworkers Karen Watson and David McDonnall also died. McDonnall’s wife, Carrie, survived the attack and is recovering in Texas. The five International Mission Board workers were researching locations for water purification projects in Iraq. Before working in Iraq, the Elliotts served for 26 years in Honduras.

“They loved the Gospel and the souls of lost men and women more than themselves,” said Stephen Rummage, interim senior pastor at First Baptist Church. Co-workers, former volunteers, friends and family overflowed the church’s sanctuary into the gym as they celebrated the Elliotts’ lives March 25.


The Elliotts’ oldest son, Scott, read a version of the song “Thank You” by Christian recording artist Ray Boltz, changing some of the lyrics to honor his parents. He told of a young prisoner his parents led to the Lord and of a couple in a foreign land to whom they demonstrated Christ’s love and abundant life. And then, as he touched his own chest and looked upward, he said, “Thank you for living for the Lord. I am a life that was changed.”

Cesar Pena, pastor of Communion Baptist Church in Honduras, and John Durham, a longtime friend of the Elliotts, had attended a memorial service for the couple the previous week in Honduras.

“The Hondurans arrived in waves on buses from churches and mission points all around Honduras,” Durham, pastor of First Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, reported.

“There’s a beautiful tapestry of people in Honduras that have been impacted by the lives of Larry and Jean Elliott,” he said. “People wanted to follow them — I wanted to follow them — because they followed Jesus with a wholehearted passion.”

Durham spoke of 12 Baptist churches, 92 mission points and more than 80 water wells made possible through the Elliotts’ ministry.

“There is fruit to a life that is wholly yielded to God,” the pastor said.


Larry and Jean Elliott firmly believed in the “power of prayer and possibilities of prayer,” Durham said, noting that they read God’s Word and prayed together every morning, and they modeled a lifestyle of prayer when volunteers visited.

When Durham took a busload of teens to Honduras and the bus broke down, Larry instructed them to pray; within minutes the bus was working. When Durham’s father was volunteering in Honduras, he and Larry prayed for a cement truck; soon afterward, someone called, volunteering the equipment. And when a Honduran girl needed surgery, Larry asked another group of students to pray with him. Just after they said “amen,” the phone rang and a doctor in the United States was eager to help.


Durham read from a recent e-mail Jean wrote from Iraq. “We are happy to be here in Iraq, and our calling has been confirmed,” she said. “This is a very special time for us, and God is so REAL. No matter what happens, we are in His hands, and we know that we are where we should be.”

Just days later, the Elliotts were killed. They died the same way they lived, Durham said — with the Gospel of Jesus Christ on their hearts and lips.

“We will stand on the shoulders of people like Larry and Jean Elliott until the Gospel of Jesus Christ is taken to every people group around this world.”

Durham noted the verse on the back of the program — “But the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:24, KJV).

“That’s what the Elliotts were doing. They were preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation,” he said.

Durham challenged the audience members to examine their own lives, noting, “Heaven is a very real place but reserved only for those who have made a personal, intentional commitment to Jesus Christ. Jesus changed Larry and Jean Elliott, and Jesus can change you.”


International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said the Elliotts went to Honduras and then to Iraq because they saw people living without hope.

“It was worth giving their lives to them,” he said.

“They were led to go to the place of greatest need, of greatest urgency, a place that had been held in bondage for generations,” Rankin continued. “The prospects of the Gospel being planted drove them to give their lives with no concern for their own comforts or their safety — that Jesus Christ might be glorified among the people.”

Rankin was visiting with Southern Baptist workers in the Middle East just after the Elliotts’ death. While there, he met a young Kurd who had survived a chemical weapons attack ordered by Saddam Hussein in 1988. A worker in the Middle East later introduced the young Kurd to Jesus.

The young Kurd had spent the last few weeks traveling with the Elliotts’ team, helping them coordinate their water purification project. Larry and Jean meticulously documented the names of every village they visited and ways they could help meet needs, Rankin reported, with Larry having told co-workers over and over, “I love this project; this is what I’ve lived my life for.”

“Years ago Larry and Jean died to self,” Rankin said. “They lived for the needs of others and the glory of God. Larry and Jean discovered long ago there was a cause worth living for and a cause worth dying for.”


After the service, volunteers who had served alongside the Elliotts shared stories of how their own lives had been changed.

“Larry and Jean do something to you,” said Myles Whitaker from Westview Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., where Jean grew up. “Wherever Jean went, she was really respected. They loved her.

“There was never one village too rough for them to go into. They lived two lifetimes in my one.”

Chris Keeter from First Baptist Church in Kings Mountain, N.C., said the Elliotts affected him even in the first few minutes he knew them. “They relied on God more than anyone I’d seen,” he said.

Doug Colquitt from Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Creedmoor, N.C., served year after year as a volunteer with the Elliotts — first in Honduras and recently in Iraq. He said that spending time with Larry on the field cultivated a love for missions in his own heart.

“When you meet and work with Larry, you get an infection, and there is no cure — except to go back,” he said.


Norma Martinez de Robbins quietly placed a Honduran flag in front of her as she stood at the Elliotts’ graveside at Grassy Creek Baptist Church in Bullock, N.C. The flag represented all the Hondurans mourning the Elliotts’ death, she said. She lives in North Carolina now but met Larry and Jean in her native Honduras. They led her to the Lord at a time when life’s disappointments had made her very bitter. Jesus changed her life, and the Elliotts became like parents to her.

Their death, she said, has started something like a revival in her own heart. “Now I’m more encouraged to tell and be faithful. They taught me loving is the first key to start evangelizing.”

Carl and Martha Rees serve as missionaries in residence at the International Mission Board’s home office in Richmond, Va. They were appointed as missionaries with the Elliotts and served for 19 years with them in Honduras.

“They had a heart as big as whatever need was before them,” Carl said.

Emeritus missionary Max Furr, who served with the Elliotts for 11 years in Honduras and now serves as pastor at East Davie Baptist Church in Advance, N.C., addressed the crowd at the graveside, citing Matthew 25 by saying, “Monday a week ago I am confident our Lord said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants. You’ve been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness.'”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: A COLLEAGUE REMEMBERS, LESSONS OF LOVE, SOMBER MOMENT and LAST WORD.

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  • Manda Roten