Speared: Another Look at My Heroes

Read in ‘From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya’ today the stories of some of my heroes – missionaries Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and their three friends that were killed by Auca Indians in the 50s. Probably the most balanced account of their work I’ve heard – made me consider their efforts a little more evenhandedly. Plus I learned some stuff that I didn’t know before. Most notably, that their story is practically a retelling of another episode a decade earlier.

In the early 40s, five young missionaries in Bolivia were determined to reach a murderous jungle tribe called the Ayores. They marched into the jungle, blazing a path as they searched for the dangerous natives. In November 1943, they were killed by the Ayore.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Jim Elliot and the others, in 1956, this team of five couples set their sights on the equally-savage Auca tribe in Ecuador. Within a week of setting up camp in the jungle, the five husbands were speared to death. Almost a replaying of the missionaries in Bolivia, a story Jim Elliot & co. knew well.

These near-parallel stories have thrilling endings which have inspired and challenged many thousands in the ensuing years. Both the Ayore and the Auca tribes were soon in peaceful contact with the outside world, with missions work among them flourishing. It seems that the sacrifice of these men was not in vain. The giving of these ten lives was a testimony to their perception of the surpassing value of knowing Christ. Who would dare say that such a price is too high to pay to proclaim Christ to unbelievers?

But the question that has caused much debate in the half-century since is: Was the price necessary? Even more disturbing: Was their sacrifice really instrumental in the conversion of these savage tribes? Were these young men acting in wisdom or impatient (though admittedly zealous) foolishness?

As I said, these are some of my heroes, and mulling over these questions has not been an enjoyable experience. But as with any inspiring figure, their paths will beckon to the feet of similarly passionate young men after them. So consideration is certainly called for.

The next few posts will discuss these men, their strategy, and their legacy…

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  1. Did Jim Elliot die because of his own mistakes? | The Latin Bridge - July 25, 2011

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