February: the month when school children send Valentines and males in love send chocolate, seeking to impress girls how devoted they could be.
Sixty-four years ago today, five American missionaries lived out devoted love when they gave their lives for a savage, stone-age tribe in Ecuador. The event sent shock waves to Americans, and a message of love which continues to impact people around the world.
In Elisabeth Elliot’s book Through Gates of Splendor, she tells the story of her husband, Jim, who was one of five martyred men, slain in an attempt to reach the Indian tribe called by their neighbors, Aucas. (meaning savages). Since then the tribe has been called Huaorani or Waorani. (Way-o-rahn´-ee).
The Aucas were a violent people, killing anyone who invaded their territory. In fact, when the Shell Oil Company began drilling near their area, Aucas speared the “intruders.”
So, what motivated five men—all with wives and children--to sacrifice bright futures to bring the gospel to a tribe who hated outsiders? The answer is mirrored in one of the gospel's main themes: love.
Jim Elliot, one of the martyrs, loved Christ, who had set him free from sin’s bondage. And that propelled him to love all the human race. He also began learning about romance, falling in love with a girl named Elisabeth Howard, whom he dated while in college.
Jim hit a temporary snag when he began feeling that he might be more effective as a missionary if he were single.
But a little thing called romantic love kept piercing his heart… and Elisabeth’s.
They wrote letters to one another for five years, and no doubt, agonized over the decision: WOULD God allow them to marry? If not, they knew that God knew best, and while they may have wrestled with the decision, they rested in that assurance.
One of Jim’s famous quotes was, “God always gives his best to those who leave the choice with him.” And that’s what he and Elisabeth did.
Through an amazing set of circumstances, including a flood which wiped out Jim’s mission station (you can read about it in Through Gates of Splendor) and a need for more missionaries in Ecuador, God brought Jim and Elisabeth together and they married. A year and a half later, their daughter Valerie was born.
Fast forward to the scene of five martyrs in their last moments alive in the jungle: When the Aucas came upon the men, pointing spears at them, one of the men who had been in the military, had to make a quick decision. He had a gun for protection from wild animals.
and had a split second to decide.
Should he defend himself from the Aucas?
Earlier in life, his friend Jim had said, “When it comes time to die, make sure all you have to do is die.” The former military man decided NOT to use his gun in self-defense. And all five men perished at the end of spears.
“What a waste of talent!” was the response back in the States when they heard the news of five tragic deaths.
What many failed to realize at the time, however, was that the sacrifice of these five gifted men planted the seed in fertile soil, and it bore a bountiful harvest.
A few years after the incident, Elisabeth received an invitation from two women who had escaped the Auca tribe and had learned that outsiders could, after all, be trusted. Would these outsiders come to their village and tell their people about God?
And so, Elisabeth and her three-year-old daughter Valerie, along with missionary Nate Saint’s sister Rachel, went to live with the same people who had killed their loved ones.
The men who killed the missionaries became followers of Christ, as did others in their village. Young people back in the United States were challenged by the ultimate sacrifice paid by the missionaries and offered their services on the mission field as a result.
So, what is love, really?
We find the answer in another of Jim’s famous quotes, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Jim and Elisabeth’s daughter, Valerie has published a new book which includes the diaries of both her parents. Called Devotedly, the book contains unpublished journals and love letters of her mother and father, as they traveled an unusual journey.
Click on the link below to find the book on Amazon. You will be challenged in a new and fresh way, to re-think the facets of real devotion.