61 years ago in 1956, a group of missionaries journeyed out into the Ecuadorian rainforest. Among them were five men by the names of Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint and Roger Youderian.
It was today, the 8th of January that they were martyred for the cross-cultural cause of Christ in that Ecuadorian rainforest. The men were speared, beaten with clubs and hacked to death with machetes by a group of Ecuadorian Auca Indians, known as the Huaorani.
Jim Eliot learned of the Auca Indians from another missionary to Ecuador. He set his sights there, well knowing the risk. Friends tried to dissuade him. Knowing the direction of God was with him, he wouldn’t be dissuaded:
“I dare not stay at home while Quichuas perish. What if the well-filled church in the homeland needs stirring? They have the Scriptures, Moses and the Prophets and a whole lot more. Their condemnation is written on their bank books and in the dust on their bible covers”.
They were husbands and they were fathers. Their death was a tragedy; it seemed pointless, it was brutal and no doubt for the families they left back home, heartbreaking. How difficult it would be to offer forgiveness for such hurt.
They dared not stay at home, even though they had wives and children. Jim Eliot is said to have journaled these famous words: “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.
Ed McCully was a classmate and friend of Jim from Wheaton College. He wrote a letter to Jim with his rationale for giving up his pursuit of a medical career. He wrote, “I have just one desire now, to live a life of reckless abandon for Christ, and I’m putting all my strength and energy into it – Maybe the Lord will send me some place where the Name of Christ is unknown.”
He was sent to a place where the name of Christ is unknown those 3 years later. In Ecuador, days before his death, Ed pencilled a brief note into the margin of his journal:
“I’m willing to give my life for a handful of Indians”. He did; he gave his life for a handful of Indians.
Seemingly pointless, tragic deaths. The world called it a tragedy- “Five young lives wasted”. It was certainly tragic.
Elisabeth Eliot and her daughter went to the Auca Indian tribe in Ecuador following the death of Jim. Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate Saint and his son, Steve went to the Auca Indian tribe in Ecuador following the death of Nate. Rachel Saint is buried among the tribe. Steve Saint has spent his life in ministry in Ecuador, spending time with the tribe since he was 10 years old.
The name of Christ is today known amongst those peoples on account of the mobilisation of the family members of the slain missionaries; the gospel is known there. The tragedy of their death became a triumph. Some of the men who killed the missionaries accepted the name of Jesus; Steve Saint was baptised by the very man who murdered his father and these men become grandfathers to the children of these missionaries.
They were victorious. Ed McCully gave his life for a handful of Indians and succeeded. Jim Eliot refused to stay at home while the Quichas perish and now the name of Christ is known among them.
The question is: was it pointless? If these men could speak today, would they be proud of what their death at the hands of the Auca accomplished for the cause of Christ amongst the tribe?
Their death is a tragedy from a human perspective. For the Kingdom of God, their death achieved great triumph. Not only did the martyrdom of these men begin the work of Christ for salvation amongst the Auca Indians, but their martyrdom compels and challenges new generations of missionaries to never be afraid, to step out with reckless abandon and to not dare stay at home while the unreached perish.
“He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”