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Martyred Missionary’s Daughter Says Pursue Service to God as Carefully as Pursuing Vocation

February 25, 2015

Category: Events


Mrs. Valerie Shepard, the daughter of an American missionary who was killed by a primitive tribe in the Amazon jungle, encouraged those gathered for Catawba College’s 11th annual Lilly Center Colloquium to consider and pursue their service to God as carefully as they consider and pursue their vocation or calling.

Shepard paid tribute to her parents, whom she said were like many college students today who “want to do something that matters.”

Shepard was the only daughter of Elisabeth and Jim Elliot, missionaries to the Quichara Indians of the Amazon jungle. In January, 1956, while attempting to reach the Waodani Indians (a primitive tribe) Shepard’s father and four others were speared to death. Shepard and her mother continued to live with the Quichuas until they were invited to live with the Waodani tribe that had killed Shepard’s father. Mother and daughter lived with that tribe for two years as Shepard’s mother and another missionary learned to speak the tribal language and translated the story of Christ to them. This led to most of the Waodani tribe accepting Christianity and making a commitment not to continue killing.

Shepard's parents, Elisabeth and Jim Elliot

“Father and mother went to college wanting to be missionaries,” she said. “Not wasting their lives is what my mom and dad wanted. My dad [wrote in his journal] that he wanted to spread the Gospel. They knew the mandate was to go, especially to where they did not know God.”

Using one of her father’s favorite quotations taken from Matthew 16:25, Shepard shared: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

“I believe my dad went out to God’s glory. He wanted badly to tell these Indians the Gospel.”

Speaking of her own vocational calling, Shepard recalled sharing her aspirations as a five-year-old while her mother was being interviewed on the radio. “I was asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, and I said, ‘I just want to be a mommy.’ God gave me that,” she smiled, noting she and her pastor husband are the parents of eight children, including the seventh child, Theo Shepard, who will graduate from Catawba in May 2015.

In high school, Shepard said her calling expanded and she desired to be a pastor’s wife. That too was a desire fulfilled in her life. But her vocation as a mother and a pastor’s wife were not without questions, which led Shepard to understand that her ideals had somehow become her idols. She had tried to live out an image of what she thought the perfect mother and pastor’s wife should be and on those days when that image did not ring true, she felt that she had failed.

She said she realized, “It’s not about me, it’s about God.”

Shepard with her son Theo,
a Catawba student

Shepard asked her audience: “Do we really want to be that person talking about me, me, me?

“Your calling and vocation really can and does come from God, but you have to get to know Him first. What is most important is to get your AUG degree – the Approved unto God degree. That’s what my father wanted to get. Doing the will of God is far more important than what the world calls you to do.

“Be a servant, be submissive to God,” Shepard concluded. “The only right way to approach God is to give it up for him.”

Shepard has spoken to numerous women’s groups, served as a retreat leader and shared some of the radio ministry “Gateway to Joy” with her mother. The Shepards’ desire ever since they were first married was to go to the mission field and Africa always was a part of that dream. They were called to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2005 and spent three years there before returning to the United States in 2008. Since then Shepard has worked alongside her husband pursuing the mission of planting a church in Southport, N.C., and has continued to teach and speak, sharing her experiences and her faith.

A 1958 documentary narrated by Shepard’s mother, “Through Gates of Splendor,” tells the story of her father and his fellow missionaries.