*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.
Reading 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.