Sunday, October 8, 2017

Massacre in Ecuador

The American missionary Jim Elliot, massacred along with four colleagues by members of a remote tribe in the Ecuadorian jumble, was born 90 years ago today. He was only 28, had recently married and had one daughter, yet his religious fervour lived on in his wife, who eventually befriended and went to live with the same indigenous tribe. Many years later, she published her husband’s diary, which contained entries right up until ten days before his death.

Elliot was born in Portland, Oregon, on 8 October 1927 to a Plymouth Brethren preacher and his wife. While at high school, he developed a skill at public speaking, alongside other interests, such as in the school newspaper, acting and wrestling. In 1945, he entered Wheaton College, Illinois, a Christian residential arts college, where he nurtured an ambition to become a missionary. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in Greek, and returned to Portland. The following year, he moved to Oklahoma to attend the Summer Institute of Linguistics where he learned how to study unwritten languages. There he met a former missionary to the Quechua people, who told him about a group of Ecuadorian indigenous people - the Huaorani - who were considered violent and dangerous to outsiders.

In early 1952, Elliot travelled with a missionary colleague, Peter Fleming, to Quito, with the aim of evangelising to the Quechua Indians. While at Wheaton, he had begun a friendship with a fellow student, Elisabeth Howard. She followed him out to Quito, where they married in 1953, and lived in Shandia, in the rainforest of eastern Ecuador. They had one daughter in 1955. While working with the Quechua, Elliot was also preparing to reach the Huaorani - a project he and four other missionaries called Operation Auca (Auca being another, somewhat pejorative, name for the indigenous tribe).

In the second half of 1955, the missionaries began making contact by dropping gifts from their plane. In early January 1956, they landed on a sandbar in the Curaray River and established a camp. A few days later, the five missionaries were speared to death. Elisabeth continued missionary work with the Quechua, and then, in fact, went to live among the Huaorani (with her three year old daughter). Later, she published two books about her husband, and returned to the US in 1968, where she went on to write many other Christian books. Further information on Jim Elliot can be found at Wikipedia and Inspirational Christians. A detailed account of Operation Auca can also be found at Wikipedia.

In 1978, Elisabeth - by then married for a third time - edited and published The Journals of Jim Elliot (published by Fleming H. Revell in the US). They have stayed in print ever since. According to the publisher: ‘Jim Elliot was an intelligent thinker and strong writer in these personal, yet universal, musings about faith, work, and love. The Journals of Jim Elliot is a wonderful account of the life of a man who yearns to know God's plan for his life, details his fascinating missions work, and loves Elisabeth first as a single man, then as a happily married one. The Journals of Jim Elliot will intrigue fans of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, readers interested in missions, and young people struggling to find God’s plan for their lives.’ The journals begin when Elliot is still at Wheaton College and continue until just a few days before his death. Here are several extracts (form the UK edition published by Pickering & Inglish), including Elliot’s very last entry (all brackets, square and round, are as found in the book).

6 July 1950
‘Spent the evening with Dave Cooper who described the Quichua uplands as the neediest, roughest place in Ecuador. He has worked with Tidmarsh on the Shandia station, is burdened for the yet unreached Ecuadorians, Aucas, Cofanes, Sionas. Gave us sketch map of the area describing need.’

7 August 1950
‘Received word today from brothers Gill and Doane [leading brethren of the Portland assembly] that I should feel the assembly is behind me 100 percent in my going to Ecuador. God has set His seal.’

7 May 1952
‘Near full moon found us above Arias’s [an Ecuadorian family with whom I lodged], under a sparse stand of eucalyptus, after heavy rain. Sky was broken with clouds, and flashed stars, but the horizon was sufficiently clear to see Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi by moonlight. No night like it so far here in Ecuador. Someone tried to scare us off with gunfire, not knowing what we were doing there - finally came out in a troop with rifles, led by a senora who queried angrily, “Que pasa?” [What's happening]. Explaining that we were “amadores, no mas,” [only lovers] we obtained our “desculpe” [pardon]. Laughable, really.

It was one of those “asked for” times with her, depending on weather conditions which God openly controlled for us. He seems so much “for us” (two) these days. I have not lost one nameable thing by putting her and our whole affair in the simplest way possible into His hands. There has been no careful analyzing, no planning, no worrying over details in the matter. I have simply recognized love in me, declared it to her and to Him and as frankly as I could, told Him I wanted His way in it. There has been no leading thus far to engagement, but the symptoms of a beautiful courtship prevail - not perhaps a routine, or “normal” one, but a good one nonetheless, and withal, a deep sense that it is God directed.’

14 February 1953
‘Just came in from Otavalo. Gwen was tired so left us with supper and dishes alone. I am waiting for Rob to come home (he has gone to some school affair) having just kissed Betty good night at the door of her room. She was sleepy tonight - went dozing off while I was reading in this diary and then in my arms and later in my lap. She surprises me sometimes as a lover - a gay ardency, a girlishness I see in her few other times. And oh, how glad I am she knows just how much of herself to give. I could still ask that she be more aggressive with my body, but from what I already know, she will in time do very acceptably. The other night, Tuesday, I believe, we had a lunch together at the bodega and afterward a long discussion about limits to engagement relations -  everything from touching her breasts to intercourse. And when I came home so I spoke, “A garden shut up is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (Song of Sol. 4:12). She is that until marriage, by her present attitudes. The following night at the bodega she told me that we would not lie down again, choosing a variant restriction I had suggested. We came home, and at the gate she cried - for not having had enough of me that day. We walked up to the fountain and wall above Guápalo and sat on the steps. Thursday we went to Tingo with McCullys and Emma, and in the evening she and I bought wine together. I know I cannot live without her now.

Pondering downtown Romans 1:1: “Set apart unto the gospel of his Son.” Paul was separated from a family (wife and “play loving”), a business, the church fellowship in Antioch, and who knows what else, for the progress of the Gospel. How far am I “separated unto the Gospel”?

31 December 1955
‘A month of temptation. Satan and the flesh have been on me hard. How God holds my soul in His life and permits one with such wretchedness to continue in His service I cannot tell. Oh, it has been hard . . . I have been very low inside me struggling and casting myself hourly on Christ for help. Marriage is divorce from the privacy a man loves, but there is some privacy nothing can share. It is the knowledge of a sinful heart.

These are the days of the New Year’s believers’ conference on the Sermon on the Mount. Yesterday I preached and was helped on “whoever looks on a woman . . .”!

“Let spirit conquer though the flesh conspire.” ’

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