Legacies of Light - Jim and Elisabeth Elliott
He was the model of sacrifice and she was the model of forgiveness. Together, they reminded the Church that while the cost of discipleship is great . . . the reward is far greater.
Jim and Elizabeth Elliott were 20th century Protestant Christian missionaries who are known for their work among the Huaorani people of Ecuador. Jim was born in Oregon in 1927 and Elizabeth was born in China in 1934, and they both grew up in devout Christian households. After their conversion experiences, they felt called to serve as missionaries and spent much of their lives working to spread the Gospel in Ecuador.
Jim and Elizabeth were married in 1953 and together they served as missionaries in Ecuador for several years. They faced numerous challenges and setbacks during their time in Ecuador, but remained dedicated to their work and deeply loved by those they served. They established a mission called Operation Auca, which focused on sharing the Gospel with the Huaorani people, who were known for their violent and hostile attitudes towards outsiders.
Despite facing resistance and persecution, Jim and Elizabeth remained committed to their mission and worked tirelessly to share the love of Jesus with the Huaorani people. They were instrumental in establishing a school and a medical clinic in the region, and they spent much of their time caring for the poor and sick.
Tragically, Jim Elliott was martyred in 1956 while attempting to share the Gospel with the Huaorani people. Despite this loss, Elizabeth continued her missionary work and remained committed to sharing the love of Jesus with the Huaorani people. She eventually married another missionary, Lars Gren, and together they continued the work of Operation Auca.
Throughout their lives, Jim and Elizabeth Elliott remained deeply committed to their faith and their calling to serve others. Their legacy lives on through the many lives they touched and the ongoing work of missionaries in Ecuador and around the world. They are remembered as courageous and selfless missionaries who dedicated their lives to spreading the Gospel and serving others.
Jim & Elisabeth Elliot
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Wilmer McLean had retired from the Virginia Militia and had become a successful wholesale grocer living in his home state of Virginia.
He did everything he could to stay out of harm’s way – especially the developing conflict known as the American Civil War.
But harm’s way found him. In fact, the initial battle which opened the War took place on July 1861 – it was called the First Battle of Bull Run – and it took placed on McLean's Plantation in Manassas, Virginia.
Union artillery fired at McLean's house because it was being used by a Confederate General as his headquarters. In fact, a cannonball dropped through the kitchen fireplace.
McLean never really wanted to take sides. And since he was retired from military service himself and wanted nothing to do with this outbreak of war, he sold his plantation and moved his family 120 miles south to get out of harm’s way and he bought another plantation in Appomattox, Virginia.
But even further still, When General Robert E. Lee knew that he was going to surrender, he sent one of his aides to Appomattox to find a place where the meeting could take place. And that aide knocked on the door of Wilmer McLean’s plantation home.
Later, McLean is supposed to have said “The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor”.
On April 9, 1865, the meeting took place in McLean’s parlor. It lasted 2 ½ hours and when it was over and the Generals had departed, soldiers from both sides, officers and citizens wanted mementos of this once in a life time occasion.
Once the ceremony was over, members of the Army began taking the tables, chairs, and various other furnishings in the house—essentially, anything that was not tied down—as souvenirs.
They simply handed McLean money as he stood there protesting. One General gave him $40 for the table General Lee had used to sign the surrender document. General Sheridan paid McLean 20 dollars in gold coins for the table General Ulysses S. Grant had used to draft the terms of surrender – he had his assistant take the writing desk outside and tie it to his saddle.
Soldiers and citizens alike went through McLean’s home like a flea market, taking pictures from the walls, silverware settings, furniture and even the drapes.
When it was over and the people were gone, nearly everything from Wilmer McLean’s home was gone as well.
Here was a man who had simply wanted to steer clear of the conflict . . . but it really had started in his backyard and ended in his front parlor. / Adapted from www.wikipedia.com/wilmer mclean
And it cost him nearly everything.
One of the misconceptions of the Christian life is that we should be surrounded by peacetime conditions – that somehow we can avoid the war of the ages – the conflict that battles around us for human lives and eternal souls.
According to God’s design, every Christian has been drafted into service. In fact, we’ve all been commissioned to occupy a singular role – with thousands of applications or assignments, depending on the will of God for our lives – as we take the gospel to a world at war with God. We have all been commissioned into this service for our victorious General.
The Apostle Paul informs the Corinthians in his second letter of our special commissioning. Turn to 2 Corinthians 5 and look at verse 18. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
This is the ministry of reconciliation.
In other words, our lives are to serve as front parlors where we demonstrate and bring the gospel of Christ to those engaged in civil war against their Creator.
Paul goes on to reference the message of reconciliation – notice verse 19. Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committee to us the word – the logos – the message – of reconciliation.
Mankind is reconciled to God by means of Christ death, burial and resurrection; Christ, the Son of God who paid for our trespasses against His holy character.
They are no longer in the way of making peace with God – of signing the peace treaty for ourselves.
Reconciliation involves accepting the terms of surrender offered by God through the peace treaty drafted by Christ on the cross.
We surrender that He alone is God. That Christ alone can save us; that we are sinners and in need of a Savior.
This is our ministry and this is our message.
And in case any of the Corinthians believers get the idea – or any of us – that this ministry and message is for the clergy; Paul emphasizes who we all are.
Notice verse 20. Therefore, we are ambassadors of Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
We are ambassadors of Christ – begging the world to come to the parlor – so to speak – and sign the peace treaty God has established through the bloody cross-work and death of Christ.
Part of our problem in understanding our commission, is in misunderstanding this idea of an ambassador.
We think in modern times, where Ambassadors spend time in lavish hotels, attending banquets, wearing out tuxedos or dinner gowns, nodding and smiling at foreign dignitaries who really don’t mean what they say, and that’s okay because we’re going to try and put the best face we can on our unsettled peace.
When Paul wrote this letter, Roman provinces were divided into two types. Provinces which were peaceful and had no need for stationed troops were called senatorial provinces.
Provinces which were turbulent – typically following their loss in battle to the Roman Empire – they would have troops stationed in them and were called imperial provinces.
Ambassadors assigned to these provinces – and there were always more than one – were there to effectively deliver the terms of peace.
They determined the boundaries of the new province they drew up a constitution for its new administration; they were literally responsible, one historian called it, for bringing these people into the family of the Roman Empire. / William Barclay, Letters to the Corinthians, (Westminster, 1975), p. 210.
Listen to these characteristics of Ambassadors:
- They were to spend their lives among people who often spoke a different language with different traditions and a different way of life.
- Ambassadors were to deliver a definite message, to carry out a definite policy; but were encouraged to be alert for opportunities –to study individuals – to cast about for methods – so that they might place before their hearers in the most attractive form possible [the message of their Emperor].
- Listen to this – one author wrote, it was the great responsibility of the Ambassador to commend his country to the people amongst whom he is set. / Ibid
You can imagine how first Century Ambassadors would not have been appreciated or welcomed or accepted and certainly never viewed as one of the tribe.
An ambassador’s goal was never to be fully assimilated into that country, but to consistently represent a different country – to speak highly of the kingdom before whom this vanquished people must surrender.
Here are the terms of surrender.
You can only imagine how, throughout the history of the Roman empire, Ambassadors often lost their lives.
Certainly, throughout the history of the Christian church, those who have gone to provinces far and wide on behalf of the Kingdom of Christ have often lost their lives.
Martyrs for the gospel are not diminishing, they are being added exponentially. Conservatives estimates by missions agencies place the number of Christian martyrs right at 176,000 per year – that’s 482 a day . . . that’s one every three minutes.
While I preach this message, at least 10 people somewhere in the world, will die for their public role as ambassadors for Christ.
Most of them will never make it into the news . . . their deaths will be kept out of the spotlight . . . but make no mistake, they will be received into heaven’s glory and to a special crown (Revelation 2:11).
For some reason, the deaths’ of five New Tribes missionaries never made it into headlines. They had attempted to reach a savage tribe in Bolivia in 1943 and all 5 missionaries had been killed.
Thirteen years later, five missionary martyr’s would not send ripples through the Christian community, Life Magazine would publish a 10-page article – and God would choose to use their deaths to literally incentivize the church to send thousands of missionaries into service since.
Their names were Roger Youderian, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint and Jim Elliot, the most well-known martyr among them.
Well know, primarily because his story would be retold through his wife, Elisabeth who would write two books and eventually host an international radio program called Gateway to Joy.
Elisabeth, along with the older sister of Nate Saint actually made contact with – and actually went to live among the Auca’s – this same vicious tribe who had cut their beloved family down by spearing them on a sandy river bank, deep in the jungles of Ecuador on January 8, 1956.
Let me back up for a few minutes and tell you how Jim and Elisabeth accepted their foreign commission as Ambassadors for Christ.
They met at Wheaton College where they were both majoring in Greek, preparing for some type of linguistic ministry to an unreached people group.
Elisabeth wrote, “There was a student on campus whom I had been noticing more and more. My brother Dave had been encouraging me to get acquainted with him. He and Dave were on the wrestling squad, so I went to a match – supposedly to watch my brother. I found myself laughing with the crowd at Jim Elliot – nicknamed, the “India-rubber man” because he could be tied in knots but could not be pinned to the mat.
I noticed Jim in the Foreign Missionary Fellowship on campus – earnest, committed to missionary service, outspoken. I noticed him in dining hall lines with little white cards in his hand, memorizing Greek verbs or scripture verses.
Finally, my brother Dave invited Jim to come to our home for Christmas break and we ended up having long, long talks after everyone else had gone to bed.
When we returned back to college, I began to hope that he would sit next to me in class once in a while – and he did – often, even when at times he had to trip over other people to get the seat.
Eventually, Jim shared is heart’s desire to marry her, but first believed God wanted him to settle in Ecuador and learn the language of the people.
Elizabeth also came to Ecuador to serve.
Jim and Elisabeth agreed to put off marriage until they both learned the language so that marriage and homemaking parenting duties wouldn’t interfere with their ability to speak the language – to accomplish their ultimate desire to serve as ambassadors to these people.
Finally, 5 years after proposing, Jim and Elisabeth were married in Ecuador.
Not long afterward, Jim and his four missionary teammates began to make contact with the Aucas. They were a brutal, primitive tribe that took pride in how many their men had speared to death.
Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint, their pilot along with Jim Elliot spent months pouring over maps of the Ecuadorian jungle.
They were very aware of another attempt to reach a savage tribe in Bolivia 10 years earlier – where all five New Tribes missionaries were killed.
One author wrote, they knew what they were risking – their dream was not pursued on a whim; they would risk their lives because they firmly believed this was their calling – they were to be ambassadors for Christ – even if it meant losing their lives.
They began flying over the village, dropping gifts for the natives. They rigged a loud speaker to the plane and as they flew over they would shout out, “We are your friends.”
The team found a sandbar along the river nearby where they landed their plane . . . eventually contact was made with some of the women in the tribe . . . everything was progressing wonderfully and the missionary team was excited.
On January 8th, 1956, they flew back to the river after spotting nearly a dozen warriors on the trail leading to their river landing.
Within minutes of making contact, the killing began.
Even though all the missionaries were armed, they had decided not to fire on any of the warriors, even if they were being attacked.
Nate Saint had told his wife and son of their decision, “We can’t kill them – they are not ready for heaven . . . we are.”
Steve Saint, years later, would be seated at a campfire with several of these warriors – now believers and committed disciples of Christ – and for the first time ever, there at that campfire, they recounted to Steve the events of that afternoon.
They remembered being mystified as to why the missionaries didn’t fire their weapons at them – but into the air instead. Why one missionary would simply wait for one of the warriors to wade out in the river to spear him.
Why one missionary would beg the warriors in their language, “We are not going to hurt you . . . why are you killing us . . . we are not going to hurt you.”
One native said to Steve, “If he would have run away, he would have lived.”
Months later, Elisabeth Elliot, her young daughter and Rachel Saint, Steve’s sister, were able to establish a home among the Auca’s, thanks to a young native girl who had fled, come to faith in Christ and now led them back to her village.
These women would live among them for years, adapting to the hardships of such a primitive life, in order to deliver to them the gospel and translate the scriptures.
Elisabeth would personally lead to Christ two of the warriors who had martyred her husband and the other missionaries that fateful afternoon.
Elisabeth would later remember, “When I stood by my short-wave radio in the jungle of Ecuador and heard that my husband was missing, God brought to my mind the words of Isaiah the prophet, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God – my hope and my only refuge. I can say that suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth – I am the Lord. / www.reviveourhearts.com
Nine years after the martyrdom of these 5 men, the Gospel of Mark was published in the Auca language. A church had already been established and the pastor of the church was one of the earlier warriors in that killing party. His name was Kimo and he would – if you can believe it – personally baptize Steve Saint – Nate’s son – in that river.
That’s the ministry of reconciliation.
One author wrote, “God had used these martyrs, a wife and sister of the slain missionaries, to reconcile with the Aucas and bring them the ultimate reconciliation of Christ’s salvation.” / www.thetravelingteam.org
Steve Saint and his family moved to Ecuador in 1995 to build an airport and a hospital for the tribes of this region, including the Aucas.
Just 15 years ago, or so, Steve published the conversation he had with these warriors who had since become believers.
One of the now aged Auca Warriors who had taken part in the killing of Jim Elliott and Steve’s own father told a story that was confirmed by several other warriors and women who had been there on that sandy river bed that afternoon.
They talked about hearing music – strange music. As the missionaries lay on that river bed dead or dying, these Indians began to hear music and looked above the tree-line to see a multitude of “cowodi” – the same word for missionary or foreigner.
One native described this singing choir as lights, moving around and shining, a sky full of jungle beetles similar to fireflies with a light that was brighter and didn’t blink on and off.
One of the women who were there told Steve Saint that she had hidden in the bush during the attack and after it was over, saw cowodi above the trees, singing.
She said, “We didn’t know what this kind of music was until we later heard recordings played by Rachel Saint – a record player where she would play us recordings of choir music.
Steve said, “Apparently all the participants saw this bright multitude in the sky and knew they should be afraid, because they knew it was something supernatural.”
Adapted from Christianity Today, Did They Have to Die? (9/16/1996)
Without a doubt, there at that river bank, an angelic host had arrived to testify of these ambassadors were heading home – and they were being sung on their way, from their assigned post on earth, to their home country of heaven.
God rarely does something like that – perhaps just enough to give tangible evidence that Christ has overcome the world – even when His ambassadors lay dying on sandy riverbanks.
And that we – His ambassadors – have been given the honor to represent His everlasting kingdom; delivering to our world the terms of surrender and peace with God.
This is our ministry
This is our message
We are His ambassadors – we are His messengers of reconciliation.
Father, we’re about to leave the assembly on this Lord’s day and re-enter our assigned post . . . it may not seem glorious . . . more than likely, it will strike us as mundane, redundant, perhaps even unfruitful. So enable us, Spirit of God to see beyond the details – to see beyond the normal duties of life to another kingdom which we represent
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