Speared: Reaching the Unreachable

Probably the most telling evidence against the strategy of the ten murdered missionaries is that shortly after their deaths, both the tribes they were targeting (the Auca and the Ayore) had been successfully contacted by missionaries disseminating the Gospel. After a couple tough-to-write entries, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to a new hero of mine – one whose name has never attained the distinction of Elliot or Saint. Let me tell you a condensed version of his unsung story, then try to glean some of the wisdom he offers us…

Bolivia, 1943. Five New Tribes missionaries are killed by the savage Ayores. Shortly after, one man takes up the responsibility of taking the Gospel to the Ayore: Joe Moreno. A single man with three children when he joined the mission (his wife had abandoned the family), Joe is a middle-aged farm laborer with only an elementary school education. He doesn’t consider himself a real missionary, only a ‘flunky for Cecil Dye’ (one of the five killed).

Joe begins by tracking the Ayores’ movement and trails in the jungle. From Jean Dye (one of the five’s wives who began to study the Ayore language after the murder of her husband), he learns about their language and their customs. He begins leaving gifts for the Ayore, which eventually results in their leaving things for him. This good-natured exchange seems to convince the Ayore that the outsiders are not trying to kill them, and on August 12, 1947, a group of Ayore comes to their camp wanting to be friends with Joe! Jean writes, ‘For once in his life, Joe was speechless.’ This friendly meeting is the first of many, and within a year there are peaceful relations and Gospel inroads to the Ayore culture!

What was Moreno’s strategy? Though probably not well-formed in his mind, and driven more by common sense than anything else, I would describe its primary characteristic as a ‘pushing patience.’ In other words, he would wait as long as necessary to preach the Gospel to the Ayore… and not a second longer. ‘Patience’ for many just means ‘waiting.’ This is all too true in creative access nations. Because of the difficulty of these fields, time loses all importance, and missionaries find themselves in a virtual holding pattern, waiting on some mystical alignment of data to begin Gospel ministry. But Moreno-like pushing requires asking everyday, ‘Are we any closer to preaching the Gospel today than we were yesterday?’ and ‘Have we done everything that we possibly can to prepare ourselves for ministry here?’

Here’s where some thinking is required. What if the Ayores hadn’t walked out of the jungle in August? What if years and years went by uneventfully? I think Moreno would push harder. More importantly, I think Christ and his apostles would push harder. They would do riskier things. Or they would go somewhere else. Our wisdom cannot preclude us from risk. A refusal to risk is a denial of the worth of Christ. A refusal to be patient is a denial of God’s provision.

We need some Joe Moreno’s in China. Willing to risk, but wise enough to look for the best way. Striving, but strategic. Pushing, yet patient. There are many anti-Elliot’s in modern missions. Meaning they shoot wide of the target on the other side. Elliot pushed and wasn’t patient. Many modern missionaries are patient and rarely push. Whereas Elliot seemed to discount the risk, most organizations in China have blown the risks out of all realistic proportion. There is a tendency in Chinese missions towards the holding pattern mentioned earlier. Elliot may have sent the plane into a nosedive. Moreno was willing to risk crashing, but he was going to do all he could to land the plane.

Lastly, let me say once more lest there be any misunderstanding: if there is no way to preach the Gospel to a certain people without the loss of life, I believe lives must be lost. But let me emphasize with equal clarity: if there is a way to preach to that people without the loss of life, I believe lost lives to be foolish and wasteful. If there was a flight to China that crashed 50% of the time, but left a day before the safe flight, is it any great glory to Christ to take the earlier? Now I hope some of the things that I’ve written in the past have established my own stance on the necessity for boldness in missions. But Scripture shows that both the apostle Paul and our Lord Himself both saw ‘living to preach another day’ as acceptably bold strategies when encountering violence.

I’ve asked God many times to make me an Elliot. Now I’m asking that he’d make me a Moreno, too!

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