January 8. Sixty-one years ago on this day, deep in the Ecuador jungle, five missionaries, all about my age, gave their lives for Jesus, for the Gospel, and for the salvation of the Waorani people. It seems a fitting time to share something written in my journal back in August of 2013, with some editing. These personal reflections will introduce you to one of my all-time heroes and give you a glimpse into my heart and the reason I do what I do.
In reading of Jim Elliot’s life, one is brought face to face with qualities of courage, passion for Jesus Christ, sacrifice, and risk. This year, during Vacation Bible School, I had the exciting chance to tell the story of this man who has been one of my heroes since childhood. Hopefully God used his story to challenge and stir the children’s hearts during those four weeks.
Jim Elliot was willing to risk everything for the call of God on his life, willing to pay any cost to reach the lost with the message of the cross, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With all his heart, Jim believed that nothing but the Gospel could transform lives, and that it could transform any heart, no matter how darkened and wicked.
For this reason, he, four other young men, and their wives, carefully constructed a secret plan, Operation Auca. In the midst of their varied ministries in Ecuador, they sought a way to connect with an unreached tribe, the Aucas (who call themselves the Waorani), known as dangerous killers. Despite caution, prayer, preparatory gifts, and one successful face-to-face encounter with three Waorani people, the five missionaries were speared to death only a few days after this first contact.
It was hard not to cry as I shared this part of Jim’s story with the children, watching the shock and sadness come over their faces. Despite my description of the Waorani tribe and the real danger these missionaries exposed themselves to, it seemed the children were expecting God to save the day with a happy ending. But as I told them, although this seems like an awful conclusion to the story, it actually wasn’t the end at all, because our God is so great that He is able to bring good, beautiful things out of what is horrible and sad. God’s plan and purpose for redeeming people to Himself from every nation, tribe, and language group is much bigger and more complicated than we can understand.
Through Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully giving their lives, God opened a door into this violent tribe and eventually made it possible for missionaries (including Jim’s wife and Nate’s sister) to live safely among the Waorani and share the Gospel with them. Today there is a church there, and many Waorani people, including some of those who killed Jim and the other missionaries, are now “walking God’s trail,” as they explain it. The story is one of miracles, redemption, and the sovereignty of God.
In addition, upon hearing of the sacrifice these five men and their families had made for the sake of the Gospel, many young men and women from the United States and all over the world were inspired to follow in their missionary footsteps. They left the comforts and safety of home, carrying the torch of the Gospel to places where people had never heard the name of Jesus.
One challenge to me personally through telling this story was that I need to be less dependent on comfort, less concerned about safety, less preoccupied about health, less attached to possessions. It is too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on these things and forgetting the big picture of God’s heart for the nations, forgetting those in my backyard and around the world who do not know Jesus, forgetting that I am called to go and tell them. I must willingly and joyfully let go of such earthly, temporary treasures for the sake of the Gospel and for the love of my Saviour Jesus, out of obedience to His call. I must give whatever it takes to gain what can never be lost – the salvation of souls. By God’s grace, may I be willing to make any sacrifice He asks. What an honor and privilege it would be if Jesus would use my life (or even my death if it better serves His purposes) to bring Neno people to a saving knowledge and relationship with Himself. That treasure would last forever, far surpassing any advantages or profit or pleasures of this world.
Please take 8 minutes to watch this video until the end. The song tells the stories of Jim Elliot and Eric Liddell, another great man of faith. I cannot tell you how many times I have cried through this song, ever since first hearing it as a child. One of my highest ambitions is to be the kind of “”fool” who abandons his life to walk in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.” At the end of the day and the start of eternity, losing one’s life for Jesus and for the gospel is not foolish at all, but the very wisest and most profitable investment possible.
And when he [Jesus] had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Mark 8:34-37