One of the most memorable sights of my childhood growing up at Prairie Bible College in Alberta was of a skit in which a student was wheeled around in a little red wagon. Her name was Elinor Young. Her body had been profoundly weakened by polio, yet you could hear her laughter from a distance. 

She’d come to prepare to be a missionary, though it seemed an impossible dream. At the age of 12, Elinor listened as a speaker gave an invitation to serve God overseas. So, using crutches and braces, Elinor walked down the aisle. 

A man told the speaker, “I’m sorry the only person who responded to serve God as a missionary was a little crippled girl who could never do it.” The wise speaker said, “Whom the Lord calls, He will use.”

Elinor Young on her Mountain Transport System
Elinor Young seated in her Mountain Transport System—two poles with a net bag and a board that acted as a seat 

The Mountain Transport System

In time, Elinor found herself of great use in one of the most rugged spots on earth, the eastern highlands of Papua, Indonesia. Her deep limp announced to the Kimyal people that she was ill-equipped for the terrain. Her assignment? Learn the language and culture and translate the Bible so they could read it.

Elinor’s easy smile and warm laugh endeared her to these mountain people. Sundays she taught the children Bible stories, weekdays she visited villages connected by steep mountain trails where one misstep could send you over the edge.

“My legs could not walk the ‘goat trails,’ ” she says, “so I rode in my Mountain Transport System—two poles with a net bag and a board that acted as a seat.” 

She was carried by up to eight men, depending on the steepness of the trail. She paid them, but noticed they weren’t doing it for the money. “They took pride in carrying all four feet, seven inches of me,” she recalls. One day a carrier told her, “You and us—we’re small on the outside, but BIG on the inside.”

Elinor Young
"Elinor's a living example of perseverance and joy in life’s challenges," says Phil Callaway

A Symbol of Love

They named her Bad Legs. But God was good to Elinor. The church grew and many came to love Jesus. One day, Elinor asked the pastor, “I know I have bad legs, but what is the real reason for my name?”

He said, “People with good legs have come here for a short time and left. We know about bad legs. Our own people with bad legs can’t get out of this valley. But God brought you, even with your weak legs, all the way here and kept you here so you could give us His Word. He did that because He loves us.”

Before she could finish her assignment, severe post-polio syndrome forced Elinor to leave the people she loved. But some left and were educated, then formed a committee to continue Elinor’s work and, with the guidance of a former missionary, finished translating the New Testament so the people would forever have the good news of God’s love in their language.

Kimyal young people leave the mountains now to live, learn and work, and they love to tell their friends about Elinor on social media. One wrote: “The people happily carried Elinor Young as she needed to go from church to church and teach the children. I must do as she did and carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to all.”

Another wrote to Elinor: “Hello, Mom. We lived in darkness in our place among the peaks of the mountains. But you brought the words of the source of light. God bless you.”

Elinor is my friend today. She’s a living example of perseverance and joy in life’s challenges. She’s a reminder that God is not limited by my limitations. As she likes to say, “God’s power shows up loudly in the disabled.”

As they’ve done for generations, the Kimyal people sit around fires in their huts, passing down their history to the next generation through stories. Those stories now include tales of Bad Legs Woman, whose weakness has become a symbol of God’s powerful love for them.

Running on Broken Legs—Elinor Young

How can a pint-sized five-year-old almost done in by polio end up sharing Christ in one of the most rugged and primitive places on Earth? This inspiring book—part travelogue, all adventure—provides the compelling answer. Read this captivating story of joy and heartache, weakness and strength, of how one woman’s unshakeable faith in God triumphed over insurmountable odds, and impacted thousands. For all who face adversity and seek joy and courage in the dark, this book is like flipping on a light.


On Thursday, October 12, 2023, Evelyn Bush said:

A wonderful inspiration.

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