Missionary from the Past, Lesson for Today

jim elliot

For the past three years, my life has been deeply impacted through homeschooling my children. One of the reasons for this is that our curriculum has included studying missionaries. Never in my life have I given much thought to missionaries. ..although I am really ashamed to say that. But over the past three years, we’ve had the pleasure to read and RE-read stories of great missionaries like George Muller, Gladys Aylward, and my most recent favorite, Jim Elliot. For several weeks, every day we would read a little bit of the Jim Elliot biography, and every day, my kids would beg me not to stop reading. Truthfully, I didn’t want to stop reading either. I mean, I knew what was going to happen, I knew that Jim Elliot and his missionary friends died (sorry for the spoiler). And I even prepared my kids for it so they wouldn’t be shocked and surprised. But I think that what kept us reading was just wondering how on Earth God could actually cause good to come from that terrible, awful situation. After reading the book, the kids and I all agreed that it was the best missionary story we had read yet (and we’ve read some really great stories). Then, we watched the Torchlighters movie of Jim Elliot and the documentaries which followed, which I highly recommend. And oh my…Jim Elliot and his work for the Lord has been on my mind ever since.

Let me give you a brief synopsis of the story, made popular through the movie “End of the Spear”, although I can promise you I won’t do it justice, so I strongly urge you to read one of his many biographies.   Jim Elliot, along with 4 other friends and their families, moved to the jungles of South America to minister to unreached native groups. At first they worked with the Quichua (KIT-choo-uh) Indians, but all the while, they had in their hearts to reach the Aucas (Ow-kahs). The Auca Indians were the most feared Indian group around. Every tribe was scared of the Aucas. No one knew where they lived, and they killed anyone who came close for any reason. There was never peace between the Aucas and surrounding natives. Therefore, no missionary had ever been into the heart of Auca territory to carry the Gospel to these people. So, Elliot and his team began to pray and devise a plan to reach these people. They began by dropping gifts in a bucket from a helicopter and shouting friendly Auca phrases from a loudspeaker on the helicopter. Then, they finally felt it was time to make contact, so they set up camp in Auca territory. At first, they had three Auca visitors. That visit went incredibly well. Then, a few days later, out of nowhere, Auca warriors came and speared each one of the men. The amazing thing is that each of the missionaries carried a gun….and although there was plenty of time, not one of them took it out to use it. They willingly gave their lives because they knew that retaliation would only strengthen the fear of the Aucas to the outside world along with destroying any chance of them hearing the gospel.

Though the story itself is amazing, what’s even more astounding is what happened after the death of this missionary team.  After the horrifying incident, rather than coming back home, the missionary wives continued their work with the Quichua Indians. However, by an incredible string of events, the Aucas found out that the missionaries had guns yet chose not to use them.  Because of this fact, they asked Jim Elliot’s wife and the sister of another man who was killed (Nate Saint) to go and live among the  Aucas , and they were able to bring the gospel to them. Their willing sacrifice did not come back void. In fact it drove the Aucas toward this message that these men so willingly gave their lives in order to share. As time went on, Nate Saint’s son, Steve, also went to join his aunt and live among the Aucas. They became like family to him, and one of the men who had speared Saint’s father actually “adopted” him as his own son. The Auca tribe is vastly different today because of these five missionary families. They no longer hold the derogatory name Auca which means “savage” but now go by their true name, the Waorani. The Saint family has taught them to provide medical treatment for their own people, and now they are beginning to share the gospel and teach other tribes around them this technology. Wow. What a story for the Father’s glory.


This got me to thinking….I told you that Jim Elliot and the Aucas have been on my mind the past several weeks, didn’t I? There is no other group on the planet that is willing to give their life to spread a message. There are many religions that would honorably die in defense of their religion or even kill others through their own suicide in the name of their religion, but who else would willingly die just to offer someone a chance to hear the gospel? Wow, what a sacrifice! These men didn’t know exactly what was going to happen but from day one, they were willing to face death if it were part of the Lord’s will.

There are many belief systems in this world but only one that has such a pure sweet message that would invoke such a response when met with hostility. 2 Corinthians 4:7  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us not knowing any kind of truth.”

This made me think about us today with the Muslim community, particularly the radical Muslims. The Aucas feared a people who offered grace just as many Muslims do today. Muslims do not understand grace and fear people who believe in a God who offered grace. They fear people who do not live scared of their god. We Christians fear our God but we are not scared of him because we have experienced his grace. As a person who has dealt with my fair share of fear in my life, I understand what fear can drive people to do. It causes us to shut others out, to dislike (even hate) others in order to protect ourselves, to constantly live on “go”, never in the perfect rest that only comes from God.

I just wonder….what if more people were like Jim Elliot and his friends? What if more of us decided to truly “lay down our life” to take the gospel to the ends of the earth? What if rather than saying that these people deserve to go to hell, our hearts ache for them to know Jesus? Because we deserve to go to hell too. I deserve nothing more than hell myself. It’s simply by grace that my eternity is sealed with God the Father. I’ve heard so many say that it’s impossible to take the gospel to these “radical”, “savage” people. Guess what? They said the same about the Aucas. And I believe that the same was probably said about Saul, who became our beloved Paul. Oh, if only we better understood the love of Jesus and walked in it daily. How different our world might look. I am so thankful for the examples of Elliot, Saint, Youderian, Fleming, McCulley and their families, who so selflessly gave that even today, fruit is springing up from their ministry for the Lord.

Oh Father, forgive me when I have found people to be “unlovable”. Forgive me when I have failed to see them as a soul and simply viewed them as a barbarian deserving of nothing more than hell. Help me to remember that I am deserving of nothing more than hell too. Thank you for your grace through Jesus Christ. God, help us to do what you have called each of us to do…to walk and to love like Jesus did. May this always be in our hearts as we go through our days, and may we always, at the very least, be praying for the people groups who have yet to know you, and for those who can do more, please give a willing heart.

Check out these resources for families to learn more about Jim Elliot.  I promise it will change you and your family.  You can’t read a story like his and be the same person.

Jim Elliot Biography for Children & Families

jim elliot bio

Jim Elliot Torchlighters DVD

jim elliot torchlighters

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