As I climbed into the astonishing life of Elaine Townsend, I found myself captivated by the picture of a woman whose insatiable craving for God, delight in people, and vivacity of life challenged all modern notions of stodgy missionary women. Elaine herself would have been glad of this.
How was it possible that an accomplished teacher and social star of a Chicagoan could relocate to South America, braving the jungle wilds and making a home complete with chocolate fudge? Her story is one of lively grace overflowing a cup that spilled down the sides, drenched a life, a home, and seeped its way into hundreds of lives along the way. To enter her story is to be drawn into the drama of events that transpire when a Christ–follower trusts her faithful God.
The tale of Elaine’s life is not without its twists and turns, yet in every area of surrender and loss, God brought increase. The day she understood unconditional grace, her world was rocked, and this encounter reoriented her life, beginning the process of redesign. Her fears proved unfounded as she spent a lifetime discovering the rich love of a God who had captured her affections. Elaine Townsend was a remarkably gifted woman, but the more I came to know her, the more I realized that the point was not as much the talents she brought to the table, but the fact that God instilled in her the gifts to accomplish His purposes for her life. As Oswald Chambers so ably put it, ‘The idea is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us.’
Far from lessening motivation, this opened up a more earnest desire in Elaine to give, to do, and to pour out for the glory of the One whom she loved.
The opportunity to capture the memory of all this living was quite unexpected, and it held its own share of adventuring in Peruvian jungle, wading through thousands of airmail letters, interviewing former friends and missionaries across the States and internationally, and forming relationships with her remaining family. ‘I can almost hear her say, “Go ahead, capture my life in words—I dare you!”’ someone said to me during an interview, ‘—and then comes that wonderful laugh.’
Many, many stories will remain untold for lack of space, and this book represents but one life among many of those who learned to buy groceries in a diﬀerent language, make a home of nothing, and counted all as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. In searching out men and women of the faith, we ourselves become liable to captivation by the same devotion, the same single–hearted pursuit of God, and the same willingness to follow where He leads, regardless of risk or mundanity. One prominent international apologist for the Christian faith wrote this of his early life:
As I read about these inspiring lives, the old adage became true for me:
‘Fire begets ﬁre.’ The standards these Christians set by their examples raised the bar for me. Though I later learned, as I grew in my faith, that these saintly lives weren’t as perfect as their biographers made them out to be, the basic truths were undoubtedly in place, and their examples stoked my consciousness as to what the Christian life could be.
It has been my object to bring alive the days and years of Elaine Townsend for a new generation of women, some of whom may live overseas, many of whom will be married or preparing as young women for the rest of their lives, but all of whom serve the same King and run the same race.
I pray that you, as a reader, will feel Elaine’s eagerness for the Word, her earnestness of mission, her excitement in the everyday things of life, and that you will be encouraged toward faithfulness and joy in the rhythm of your own calling.
This extract is from Better Than We Dreamed: The Story of Elaine Townsend by Simona Gorton.