Barbara Elliot

Barbara Elliot

May 12, 2014

Human beings are "built to give love and to receive love," says an American author who has worked with European refugees and the inner city poor.

"This is a broken world and we are sent to be ambassadors of love to each other," says Barbara Elliot, the keynote speaker to the Women of Dignity Conference at Edmonton Hotel and Conference Centre May 3.

Elliott, a Catholic who teaches at Baptist University in Houston, said it's countercultural to be Catholic in today's society. Yet, Christ is the head of it all and he empowers us to be his agents.

"We are all called to be disciples and apostles – disciples who learn to walk with Christ to become more like him," she said.

"Everybody who is baptized has a job description. The whole message of the Mass is to get up and go to transform the world."

Elliot began her public life as director of the Center for Constructive Alternatives at Hillsdale College, where she edited its journal, Imprimis. She then served President Ronald Reagan in the office of public liaison.

Later, as an international television correspondent for PBS in Europe, in 1989, Elliott launched a private initiative on behalf of refugees fleeing communist countries.

She documented over 150 interviews with Christians from the Eastern bloc who resisted communism because of their faith, publicizing their story through her book, Behind the Wall: Heroes of the Peaceful Revolution that Shattered Communism.

Having returned to the United States she founded, in 1997, the Center for Renewal in Houston, Texas, a resource centre for faith-based organizations working to renew the inner cities of America, a work she publicized in the book, Street Saints: Renewing America's Cities.

In one of her four talks, Elliot said we are born with intelligence, capabilities and natural talents "not so we can just live a cool life but to give it away to others." In the process we must transform the institutions where we are with Christ's transforming power.

"I don't care what institution you are in. If the institution is your home and you are raising kids, you are on the front lines. That's the most important work that there is because you are shaping the culture."


Whether you are a waitress, a teacher, a nurse or a pilot, "you can be an instrument of God's work right where you stand," she said. "He's equipped you with everything you need to do it not just okay, but to do it with excellence."

Elliott said if you have been baptized, you have charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit "and they are not just the weird ones," she laughed, naming charisms like encouragement, hospitality and the gift of organization.

"God has given you a coded message right there in your heart. The charisms are given to us to accomplish what he intends to do and the best thing you can do is to figure out what your charisms are."

Elliott said she didn't know she had the charism of compassion until she served refugees coming out of the communist countries of Eastern Europe.

"I didn't know I had the charism of writing until God told me to write a book and I said 'I don't know how to do this' and he said 'you are good.' And he wrote through me. I would get up and pray and the words would come."

Those who work in the business environment are well positioned to be God's front line secret agents "because those are the people who are most likely to encounter folks who don't know anything about God," Elliott said.

"People will see God through you by the manner in which you conduct your business and the love that you show."


Pope Benedict, among others, said we have to announce the Gospel always, everywhere, Elliott said, noting that the abandonment of faith in our time is becoming more apparent in societies and cultures that for centuries were impregnated with the Gospel.

This is happening because people are becoming materialists who do not see the need for God in their lives. "That's why we have to go out and speak."

Mother Teresa once said there are no great deeds – only small deeds done with great love. "We are all capable of that," Elliot told her audience. That's something every one of us can do – small deeds done with great love. They transform lives."

As lay apostles, we are called to apply the faith to the world. "We are supposed to heal and transform the cultures and the structures.

"Think about that. You work in a business and maybe there are some shady practices going on; maybe they are trying to cutback everybody and put them on part-time so they don't have to pay out benefits. We are supposed to be the ones who say 'No, wait. This is wrong.'"


We are supposed to transform the structures, whether it is businesses or schools, Elliot insisted. "We are lay apostles working in the world, but we are not of the world."

All we can do in the end is to show up and let the Holy Spirit work though us and keep the right attitude of love, recommended Elliott. "The greatest prayer that we can pray is 'Here I am Lord, save me.' That's the kind of heart we have to have."