Pilipinto’s Happiness by Valerie Elliot Shepard

*This post is revisited from the archives in honor of Elisabeth Elliot’s passing into glory.

Pilipinto’s Happiness: The Jungle Childhood of Valerie Elliot, by Valerie Shepard, illustrated by Jim Howard. Vision Forum, 2012. 57 pages.

Pilipinto's Happiness: The Jungle Childhood of Valerie ElliotReading a book about growing up among the wild animals of the Amazon jungle put my recent concerns about a few black widow spiders in Virginia in perspective. The same God who watched over Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot in Ecuador, who protected them from venomous snakes and dangerous predators is watching over my family.

Pilipinto’s Happiness is Valerie’s story of life with the Auca Indians after the death of her father, Jim Elliot, and the other four missionaries in 1956. She spent some of the early years of her life living with her mother among the people who had killed her father, witnessing the power of the gospel to change hearts and lives. Her memories are full of vivid sensory details that demonstrate the loving, faithful care of the God and Father of widows and orphans.

This is her story. While Elisabeth Elliot painstakingly learning the language in order to share the gospel with the Aucas, little Valerie learned it in a matter of weeks and spent her days playing, exploring and observing. Full of rich details and testimony of life in the jungle, Pilipinto’s Happiness is a good addition to the missionary bookshelf. Although there are places that could have benefited from tighter editing, the work is valuable and beautifully illustrated by Valerie’s uncle, Jim Howard.

One of the most fascinating themes throughout is what Valerie and her mother ate. Some provisions were dropped by parachute from a missionary plane, but otherwise they ate what the Aucas did. Here is one description:

“After schoolwork had been done each day, Pilipinto [meaning butterfly, the name given to Valerie by the Aucas] went with the Indian women to work in their manioc or plantain gardens. She remembers swatting mosquitoes or other biting insects and feeling hot and sweaty. The manioc root is a starchy vegetable like a potato that the Indians peeled and then boiled in a pot. After it was cooked, they could eat the boiled chunks or make “chicha” out of it. Chicha is made in a very strange way. The women had to chew the manioc up, spit it out into a wooded tray, wrap it up as a package in a banana leaf, leave it alone for a couple of days, and then unwrap it and put it in a gourd mixed with water. It was sour and stringy, but Pilipinto loved it. That is sometimes all the men and women had before walking on a full day’s journey.”

I am thankful to have met Valerie on two occasions, and she kindly answered a few questions about the book and her early life in Ecuador.

What motivated you to write your story?
My mother encouraged me to write down as many memories as I could.  I did it back in 1990, approximately.  She said children and families need to hear the story from my perspective instead of hers.  She inspired me, but I knew with homeschooling and many children that it would be hard for me to spend much focused time on it, but I did. It sat on a shelf for many years. Even though I did have a publisher want to give me a contract, my mother’s husband [Mrs. Elliot remarried and was widowed twice] wanted it to be better, and… it never got published until I sent it to Vision Forum.

Did your mother help you reconstruct the details?
A little…and she wanted me to write more vividly!

I appreciate the way you encouraged readers to trust in God’s care no matter where they live. Did you ever consider further work in foreign missions?
Yes, my husband and I really wanted to go to the foreign field, applied twice, and was rejected the first time, and then the next one, we decided it was going to be too hard to itinerate, and then to take a whole year to learn Spanish before we got there!  The next mission field was California!  And we were there for 10 years. Then, in 2005 we left for France, for language training, and then to Congo for 3 years. We came back in 2008.

How well did your uncle, Jim Howard, depict your childhood memories in the illustrations?
I think he did very well. He used some of the photos that my mother had taken to help.  I love his artistry…I’ve usually seen his pen and ink drawings of nature scenes, but I think he did very well with watercolor, because it’s so vivid, and clearly like the jungle!

Do you have any thoughts to share with children in missionary families?
Listen to your parents, learn as much from the culture of the people they are missionaries to. Just show them the love of Christ! I learned to love the simple and lovely gifts of God’s creation, learned to laugh at myself, not to complain, and not need anything technical!

How can children in typical American families experience making sacrifices for the Lord?
They can learn not to hoard their own possessions, but to give them away if they’re given too much for Christmas or Birthdays.  We had two of our children give up their blankets when they didn’t need them any more (giving up their thumb sucking).  Give up extra clothes for children that don’t have more than 1 or 2 outfits. Make a jar for giving pennies, nickels, or quarters to missions, and especially for children that missionaries try to help.

I must tell you that we bought a plantain at the grocery store and roasted plantain chips in the oven–we liked it! How did you eat plantains? (Chewing up manioc to make chicha doesn’t really appeal to me!)
They were boiled or fried.  Chicha was made from manioc, and it had to be boiled.  The plantains were sweeter as they were ripe, or if they were fried when they were greener, then they simply added salt.   You can get some at Trader Joe’s.

Thank you, Valerie! Readers: What is your favorite missionary story?

*Please note: There are only a few copies of this book on Amazon. If you have difficulty tracking one down, please email me (megan at redeemedreader.com) and I will contact Valerie to see if she still has any available.


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Megan Saben

Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader, and she loves nothing more than discovering Truth and Story in literature. She is the author of Something Better Coming, and is quite particular about which pottery mug is best suited to her favorite hot drinks throughout the day. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia.

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  1. Forrest on May 29, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Shadow of the Almighty!

  2. Kimberly on May 29, 2013 at 7:49 am

    I’m always humbled reading any story of Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot. Their trust in the Lord and faithfulness to His calling remind me that He is a God worthy of serving, trusting, loving, and worshiping, no matter life circumstances.

    Thanks for the review! We’ll be adding Valerie’s book to our reading list!

  3. Vanessa van der Meer on May 29, 2013 at 8:00 am

    As a brand new believer, 16 years old, I picked up an old worn library copy of Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot. Having reread it recently, now with a more mature understanding of the scriptures, I do see some glaring faults with Jim Elliot and his theology — but I still see what grabbed me in the first place: a man who was willing to spend every moment he had on spreading the Gospel of Christ and bringing Glory to God. And it encouraged and blessed me the same way it did then.

  4. Marijo on May 29, 2013 at 8:18 am

    My 8yo dd has been devouring stories of Gladys Aylward recently.

  5. Kim on May 29, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Elisabeth Elliot has been one of the heroes of the faith for quit some time, and then she introduced me to Amy Carmichael. There are so many great ones, it is hard to choose a favorite.

  6. Don G on May 29, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Adoniram Judson’s story has gripped me the most.

  7. Melissa Deming on May 29, 2013 at 9:27 am

    I love the story of this family and the importance of loving the nations over creature comforts. Thanks for giving us a sneak peek into the author’s heart. Her story is amazing.

  8. Jennica-Ayelet on May 29, 2013 at 10:25 am

    My favorite missionaries are Isobel Kuhn (missionary to the Lisu people in China; By Searching, Nothing Daunted, etc.) and Lillias Trotter (missionary to Muslims in Algeria; A Passion for the Impossible).
    I liked Isobel Kuhn because her story is unusual; she was raised in a Christian home but went off the deep end in college and contemplated suicide before being saved. God used her greatly in Canada and China. Nothing Daunted by Gloria Repp is the kids’ version of her biography. 🙂

  9. Julie on May 29, 2013 at 11:31 am

    My kids love the Little Lights series by Catherine Mackenzie. We have 5 and so far my favorite is Helen Roseveare

  10. Christina on May 29, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I particularly liked Joni Eareckson Tada’s autobiography when I was young. I love how she has advocated for the differently-abled in countries all over the world & brought the gospel to the least-evangelized group in the world. Many people with physical deformities or mental illness are institutionalized, thrown out on the streets, or never allowed to leave their house & her ministry is bringing the gospel to them.

  11. Abigail Snyder on May 29, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I grew up reading missionary biographies, my favorite of which were always the Trailblazer books. I think if I had to pick just one, it would be Hudson Taylor. I have always loved his undying commitment and passion. The never-say-done, the unwavering persistence, the unshakable faith that God would provide. Some of the lessons I learned through his story have carried me through my own story of waiting on God to show me His way in His timing with His provision.

  12. Allison on May 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    I have always enjoyed Bruchko by Bruce Olson.

  13. Cathy on May 29, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I love to read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. The love and courage she and her family showed in circumstances of great danger and distress has always been so amazing to me. I need to remember more often how many of the events or circumstances she sees as bad at first turn out to be blessings. The way Corrie showed people Jesus’ love and taught them the Scriptures is so encouraging.

    I also like God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew. Perhaps that is a more traditional missionary story.

    I also like the story of George Mueller because he cared for the children, because he was so bold and confident in prayer, and because he listened to God when God was directing him to stay in England, even when going abroad sounded much more adventurous and exciting.

  14. Anna S. on May 31, 2013 at 10:27 am

    George Mueller’s confidence in prayer has always amazed me.
    I also really like God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew.

  15. emily on June 2, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Great interview, Megan! Thanks so much for sharing this story with us and for giving us more insight into the author’s perspective. And maybe I’ll try some plantains this week!

  16. Megan Saben on June 3, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Congratulations to Melissa Deming, winner of a copy of Pilipinto’s Happiness! Thanks for joining us, Melissa!

  17. Suzanne on June 6, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    To only name ONE missionary biography?!?!? hmmm…of course Shadow of the Almighty, Lottie Moon, George Mueller, and Amy Carmichael. Thank you for posting about this book! The lives of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot have impacted me greatly! I’m excited to read this book from Valerie. 🙂

  18. Sosen on June 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    I have been inspired by the account of Mary Slessor, missionary from Dundee, Scotland to Calabar, Africa. Her story was read to the local AWANA group in my hometown via a large picture book and each week, those grade school children stared at one or two pictures from that book, glued to the story being read to them, and always wanting to hear more. We were all sad when the telling was done. I had no idea that kids today could be so captivated with a story, and am looking forward to discovering more missionary stories that we can share. Thank you for this book review.

  19. Valerie E. Shepard on March 25, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Because Vision Forum closed down, they sent me all my Pilipinto’s Happiness books free. I would now like to sell them to a distributor or several distributors. I will sell them for $6 each plus postage, and that means that whoever buys them from me, can sell them at a higher price for their profit. If you know of a bookstore or a company or a bunch of people who would like “many” of my books, I’d love to sell them. I have boxes of 16 books each and the price of shipping them media mail is $14, so it would cost $110 for each box. Please let me know if you know of anyone, or can direct me to some distributors.

    Thank you for giving me a good review of my book!
    Valerie Shepard

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