Missionary to Ecuador
“There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.”
An early church father named Tertullian once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This was in reference to the persecution of Christians, how God uses the obedience of faithful believers, even unto death, to bring others to life in Christ.
In 1956, a church planting team from the Northwest made up of five couples had landed in Ecuador. Their mission: bring the gospel to an unreached people group deep in the heart of the jungle.
Nate Saint, over a mission radio station said:
“During WWII, we were taught to recognize that, in order to obtain our objective, we had to be willing to be expendable.… This very afternoon thousands of soldiers are known by their serial numbers as men who are expendable…Yet, when the Lord Jesus asks us to pay the price for world evangelization, we often answer without a word. We cannot go. We say it costs too much. God Himself laid down the law when He built the universe. He knew when He made it what the price was going to be. God didn’t hold back His only Son, but gave Him up to pay the price for our failure and sin.”
The Waorani were a tribe of people who had violently resisted every advance made by the white man. The first and only missionary to their area had been murdered in 1667. Over two hundred years passed until rubber hunters discovered a bountiful supply in this jungle, and began to plunder and pillage the Waorani. For fifty years, these hunters burned homes, and raped, tortured, and enslaved the people. Needless to say, when this missionary team arrived, they knew that Waorani would be hostile.
After much deliberation and prayer, Jim Elliot led the five-man team to make first contact with the tribe by using a small jungle plane. Their wives waited at base in anticipation and were supposed to hear from the men later that day but no communication came. They began to worry. Another two days passed as the women waited in agony to know the fate of their husbands. Much to their dismay, on the third day the US Navy flew over with a helicopter where the men had been, and spotted their bodies in the river, speared and hacked by machetes.
The news was devastating. The women returned home with heavy hearts, both at the loss of their husbands and at the failed attempt to reach the Waorani.
What made matters worse was that many church leaders around them responded to the massacre by saying the men had “wasted their lives”. However, in the following months, mission boards were flooded with offers to take the place of the martyrs. Nearly six hundred global missionaries afterward credited Jim Elliot’s story as the influence to go overseas.
Elliot’s wife, Elisabeth, would write, “Each of us knew when we married our husbands that there would never be any question about who came first--God and his work held first place in each life. It was the condition of true discipleship; it became devastatingly meaningful...The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.”
The work with the Waoranis was only beginning. In two years, Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, were back in Ecuador continuing the work their husbands had started. They were able to meet a woman who was an escapee from Waorani territory who became the bridge to reaching the entire people. This woman eventually received Christ, and worked up the courage to go back to the Waorani to tell them that the missionaries’ wives had returned and came peaceably. She told them, “Just as you killed the foreigners on the beach, Jesus was killed for you.”
In January 1958, Elisabeth Elliot wrote in her journal:
“Nearly three years have passed since that afternoon. Today I sit in a tiny leaf-thatched hut on the river, not many miles from that fateful beach. In another hut, just about ten feet away, sit two of the seven men who killed my husband. Gikita, one of the men, has just helped my daughter Valerie, who is now three and one-half, roast a plantain. How did this come to be? Only God who made iron swim, who caused the sun to stand still, in whose hand is the breath of every living thing--only this God, who is our God forever and ever, could have done it.”
Elisabeth wrote that the Waorani who had killed the five men did so out of fear. They confessed it was a mistake, and were so overwhelmed at the idea that she would return to them in peace, received her and the message of the gospel to be true. Nearly all of the tribe of the Waorani similarly received Christ, and began to make advances toward a different tribe down the river with the gospel.
Upon returning to the States after several years, Elisabeth hosted a national radio program called “Gateway to Joy”, and continually shared about the cost of the Christian life:
“To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss. The great symbol of Christianity means sacrifice and no one who calls himself a Christian can evade this stark fact.”
According to The Voice of the Martyrs, the Twentieth Century had more Christian martyrs than all other centuries combined.