It was at about this time on this date sixty years ago that five young Christian men–Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Flemming, and Roger Youderian–were attacked without warning and speared to death by some members of the unreached Waorani tribe in Ecuador, among whom the missionaries hoped to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Their martyrdom not only led to a reception of the Gospel by some of the Waorani–which was instrumental in sparing their tribe from self-destruction, but also spurred a renewed interest in cross-cultural evangelism at the precise moment that the curtain of history seemed to be falling on the West’s nominal Christian influence in the world. From this point to the present, missions in the reformed/evangelical world could no longer be viewed as a mere complementary arm of national imperial or economic activity: it would be increasingly seen as the literal laying down of one’s life under the direction of one’s church rather than one’s country, and would focus most on people groups with little or no contact with the Word of God, as exemplified by the then-nascent Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Most incomprehensible to the non-Christian world–and by that I include vast swaths of the United States–in the story of the Waorani, is why one would not only be willing to live among “little brown people”, but if necessary, to die at their hands in such a way that great benefit would come to them. How can they know the transforming power of the blood of Christ, which compels us to bring news of our Deliverer to those in desperate need of such deliverance? But fear, good Christian conservative, lest we forget–as Elliot’s crew and family and followers did not–that we ourselves were no more likely candidates to receive salvation than any of our non-Christian neighbors–which would include not only the Waorani, but all sorts of liberals, progressives, socialists, racists, occupiers, pro-abortionists, thugs, homosexual activists, gun-grabbers, prostitutes, rap stars, and even IRS agents. For the Gospel–alone–is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Let’s keep that in mind as things heat up around here, and prefer rather to suffer for its glorious advance than waste our lives building a kingdom of dirt that will wash away in the coming storm.
It would be tempting to invoke the current reaction of the martyrs against the foolishness rampant in both Blue and Red camps–but I strongly suspect they would prefer to remain in blissful worship at the throne of the Lamb who was slain. Rather, we have Jim Elliot’s words while he was still among us: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”