Auca Martyrs

On January 11th 1956, five days after her husband had been killed, a widow wrote home to her parents, ‘I want you to know that your prayers are being answered moment by moment as regards me – I am ever so conscious of the everlasting arms. As yet we know only that two bodies have been sighted from the air but not yet identified. Jim was confident, as was I, of God’s leading. There are no regrets. Nothing was more burning in his heart than that Christ should be named among the Aucas. By life or death, oh may God get glory to Himself’. This letter showed how a young woman was experiencing what she had written in a poem many years before;

“Perhaps some future day, Lord Thy strong hand Will lead me to the place where I must stand Utterly alone.”

This seeming tragedy was the outcome of an attempt made by Jim Elliott, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and Nate Saint to win the confidence and friendship of the Auca Indians in Ecuador. The Auca’s were a stone-age tribe who had had no friendly contact with the world outside their jungle. The five young men, with their wives, had longed for the day when they could tell the tribe of the love of God shown in the death of Christ upon the cross. The story of how the five young men were murdered by the Auca Indians on their first visit to them caught the imagination of the world and was headline news everywhere. No doubt many wondered whether they had been right to trust the small party of Indians with whom they had made initial contact. Many also wondered why God had allowed His servants to be butchered in this way.

Their story has been written from the Christian perspective by Elisabeth Elliott. Her first two books, initially, were Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendour. Shadow of the Almighty tells the story of her husband, Jim, who died aged 29, and contains extracts from his letters and journals. Through Gates of Splendour tells in dramatic detail the experience of all five young men, and then goes on to tell of how their widows handled the tragedy with great dignity and courage. Both of these books are recommended reading to all young believers, and should probably be required reading for all who are serious about discipleship. Would you be prepared to give up everything for Christ? Would you be able to break bread with your husband’s killers? A recent website asked the question, ‘Was Elisabeth Elliott right to forgive the Aucas?’ She did, and she and her daughter went back to Jim’s murderers, lived with them, learned their language and preached to them, eventually standing by while some of them were baptized.This part of the story is told in the book The Savage My Kinsman. All this is dramatic stuff beyond the experience of the average believer. Yet Jim Elliott struggled, as we all do, with the problems of the everyday, ordinary issues of the Christian life. Holiness, guidance, courtship, discipline; we all face these issues. Elisabeth Elliott again, and with sometimes brutal honesty, brought Jim’s thoughts and struggles in these matters to the fore when she edited The Journals of Jim Elliott.

Every age, every person, has their heroes. For many it is a sportsman or woman, a politician, a military genius, a popstar. Is it right for Christians to have heroes? Whether you think we should or not, Jim Elliott, Pete Fleming and the others should, at any rate, be examples to us all, remembering the truth of what Jim once famously wrote, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose’. His early, and seemingly tragic death, has probably resulted in a far greater influence than his long life would have. Just type in ‘Auca Indians’ or ‘Jim Elliott’ into the Google search engine, and you will be amazed to see how many Christians, the world over, have been challenged and changed through reading about him and his fellow martyrs.

Towards the end of that awful week of waiting, the bodies of the five young men had been found and buried under a tree-house in a violent tropical storm. Late on that same evening, the five widows, their young children and a number of older missionaries gathered together in a small living room in Ecuador to read and pray. Some of the older men read various passages about heaven. ‘Military officers (involved in the search for the young men) and others in the house sat listening. The women were thankful that their men had been faithful to the Lord. Marilou went to the piano and began to play the last hymn the men had sung the morning they left for Palm Beach. Then Betty’s clear soprano took up the words, “We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender, We go not forth alone against the foe; Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender, We rest on Thee and in Thy name we go. We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling, And needing more each day Thy grace to know; Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing, We rest on Thee and in Thy name we go.” As Betty and Marilou finished, one military man shook his head and muttered with a choke in his voice, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this!’ (from Jungle Pilot, by R. Hitt).

Do you want a challenge? Then pick up one of these books, and try to be the same again after you have read it. I doubt if you will.