On January 8, 1956, five young missionaries were murdered on the shores of the Curaray River in eastern Ecuador by a group of particularly aggressive natives, known as the Huaorani. Ironically, the missionaries were trying to introduce those natives to the good news of Christ’s love. The story of their sacrifice became legendary within Christian circles and inspired an entire generation of believers.
What made their story particularly fascinating was the fact that one of the widows of the murdered missionaries returned to the very tribe that had killed her husband, lived amongst them with her young daughter, and eventually led them to Christ!
One cannot hear the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and their friends, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian, and not be moved. It is the story of ultimate sacrifice on the part of the five young men, who died serving Christ. It is also the story of ultimate love and forgiveness on the part of Elisabeth, who reached out to the very ones who had murdered her husband.
The story has been told and retold in numerous books and films and can be summed up in the famous words of Jim Elliot,
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
There are, however, a few things that are often overlooked in the story’s telling—things have to do with timing and preparation and aren’t quite as memorable as the major events.
For instance, Jim had been bold and outspoken about his faith from the time he was in high school, so going into mission work was a natural extension of something he had been doing all along. In college he served as a short term missionary to Mexico and then returned to school to study Greek as a tool for translating the gospel. He didn’t go straight out of college into the mission field, though he wanted to; it took several years doing local ministry before he was able to arrange it.
He had actually been in Ecuador for nearly four years working as a missionary and learning languages when he was killed. He had been communicating with the natives who took his life for several months and had been staying on the river for six days prior to his tragic death. In other words, he neither rushed to his death nor went about his work unprepared.
- Sometimes in stories and in life, we want to “skip to the end” and get to the “good part.” Is it possible that the “boring” preparation part is essential to making us ready for the “exciting stuff?”
- Do you play a musical instrument? Have you ever acted in a play? Which takes longer, the performance or the preparation? What happens if you don’t practice your instrument or rehearse your lines? Does the performance go very well?
- The famous coach Bear Bryant said, “It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Do you think that is true in sports? School? Art? Life?
“It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
In John 7:1-24, Jesus’ family tries to get him to go to a feast and to make His ministry public. Jesus, however, declines for two reasons. First, “the Jews were seeking to kill Him.” (John 7:1) That seems like a reasonable reason to lay low! Ultimately, the Jews would succeed in killing Jesus—that was the primary reason He came to Earth in the first place—but it was not the right time for that yet.
Which brings up the second reason He declined: “My time is not yet here.” (John 7:6)
- “Timing is everything,” is a common saying. How old was Jesus when he began His ministry? (Luke 3:23) Could He have started sooner? Later? Why did He pick that particular age? Why that time and place in history?
- Did you know that most doctors start working at age thirty? They spend four years in college studying basic science, four in medical school studying diseases and their treatments, and then four or more in a residency learning a specific application of that knowledge, such as pediatrics, obstetrics, or surgery. Would you want your doctor to cut corners in his or her education? Is the sequence of events and volume of experience important?
- In the case of Christ, He has existed from all eternity, so He really didn’t need to prepare the way a doctor does. Who then was being prepared during the thirty years prior to His ministry? During the three years of His ministry? His family? The disciples? The Jewish leaders? The Roman government? The people? All of the above?
- Do you sometimes feel stuck in endless preparation, anxious to be “doing something” interesting for Christ? Could God be preparing you for the task ahead? Could he be preparing those around you? Do you trust Him to do things in the right time and the right way?
Do you trust Him to do things in the right time and the right way?
Not many of us will be called upon to die for Christ, although the recent school shootings in Oregon are a reminder that we very easily might.
- If Jesus came to die at the hands of the Jews, why would He avoid being killed? Paul does a similar thing in Acts 9 early in his ministry. He escapes Damascus in a large basket, even though he was clearly willing to die for Christ. Was there a message that needed to be communicated before either could die? Miracles to perform? Work to be done?
- Is it reasonable to avoid death if possible? What if we are asked to deny Christ to save our skin? (Matthew 10:33)
- Jim Elliot actually had a pistol in his pocket the day he died. He had determined beforehand that he would not shoot an unsaved native to save his own life, which he knew was already hid with Christ. To what extent should believers exercise self-defense?
- Many Christians over the years have been “conscientious objectors,” refusing to participate in military conflicts, including Jim Elliot and, initially, the famous WWI soldier and hero, Sergeant York. Is it appropriate for Christians to defend their country? Will their “rules of engagement” sometimes differ from those of the country they serve (like Germany in WWII)? How should they address the situation when they do differ?
God put each of us on this planet for a specific purpose at a specific time and in a specific place. It sometimes gets frustrating when we feel that our life is not as impactful or exciting as we would like it to be, yet every aspect of our lives are ordained by Him.
God often uses those boring parts to prepare us and those around us for the interesting things that lie ahead.
NOTE: This post is adapted from my Life’s Big Questions Series, which encourages readers to examine all of life’s questions in the light of Scripture.
Whether used for personal devotions, as family discussion guides, or in a study group, this series provides an invaluable resource for enhancing your spiritual walk.