(…continued) Two messages from this amazing story. First of all, this is an extraordinary story of forgiveness. Every day the news is dominated by accounts of death and destruction in the Middle East, where centuries old disputes go on and on and on with revenge upon revenge. Without forgiveness, the cycle of violence never ends. The Waorani themselves were disappearing as a people, destroying themselves because they knew nothing of forgiveness. The story of the forgiveness given by these grieving missionary families, and the impact that had on the tribe that inflicted the pain, is an illustration to the whole world of the power of forgiveness. These missionary family members did not seek revenge, but instead still desired to serve the Waorani. In doing so, they gave them tangible proof of the truth and power of the message of the Gospel which they proclaimed. This transformed the entire tribe; changing their beliefs and their whole way of life.
The second message in this story has to do with how those five men died, for it was how the missionaries responded to the attack that eventually prepared their killers to be receptive to the Gospel. You see, those five missionaries had guns along that day that they were killed. The jungle is filled with dangerous animals, and you don’t want to be there without a gun. But not one shot was fired at the attacking Waorani. Five men with guns could have certainly put up a fight against any number of tribesmen armed only with spears. They all could have probably even survived the attack and escaped with their lives and returned to their families. But they did not use their guns on the Waorani, because all five had decided ahead of time that they would not. Why? Because, as they had explained to their families, they, the missionaries, knew Jesus and were ready for death. The Waorani, however, did not yet know Jesus, and were not ready to die. So they did not use their guns. They did not defend themselves and faced the spears of the attackers, perhaps even praying as Jesus himself prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This had an impact on those vicious warriors. Not only that, but the attackers learned later that they were lied to by their own tribesman, and that the missionaries had not done anything to provoke the attack. At this point, the Waorani were not yet Christians, and so they promptly killed that member of their tribe that lied to them. But something about how those missionaries died made them receptive, and not violent, when the other missionaries came to stay. They had enough contact with the outside world to know what guns were for and what they could do. They were fearless, and carried on the attack despite the presence of guns. But it startled them that the guns were not used, and they wondered about what kind of men these were that they killed.
On one level, there is something crazy about not defending yourself. One might even say it was unloving and uncaring to leave those five wives as widows and those many children fatherless. But in all I’ve read about this story and these families, I’ve never seen any hint of regret. Sadness, of course, but no regrets or second thoughts. As married couples, those missionaries had gone to Ecuador with some eternal goals in mind. Their goal was not just an interesting and exciting and long life here, but they had in mind doing something that would make an eternal difference in the lives of those to whom they would bring the message of Jesus. They could have fired their guns that day, and they could have saved their own lives. And they could have no doubt ended the lives of Mincaye and the others with him. But then those Waroani would have been dead and lost, and it would have been a long time before any other outsider could have gotten close. But by willingly giving up their lives, those men opened up that entire tribe to the message of Jesus; and in the last 60 years, their sacrifice has led to the salvation of thousands of the Waorani. In addition to that, tens of thousands of people around the world have been influenced and inspired by this story. The story is well known among missionaries, and it is said to have inspired a whole generation of new missionaries in the 1960’s and 70’s, and yet today. Only in heaven will the effects of that sacrifice be fully known.
Jim Elliot, one of the five men who were killed, prayed for six years for the salvation of the Waorani, and all that while, it was impossible for him to even get close to them. And then, he was killed the very first time he did make contact. But it was then, even though he was dead, that his prayers began to be answered!
Elliot knew the risks involved in his work, and he knew he could be killed by these dangerous people. But he wanted the Waorani to learn about Jesus. Acknowledging the possibility that he could lose his life, he once wrote: “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This life cannot be kept anyway. Our eternal salvation cannot be lost by dying here. Jim Elliot needed to obey the call of God on his life.
We may not have the same calling as Jim Elliot and those he died with, but we have that same promise, and can have that same eternal perspective on life and that same hope.
Elisabeth Elliot was the wife of Jim Elliot. She was one of the women who went back to live with and serve the Waoroni. She is the one who took her five year old daughter along into the jungle. After leaving the Waorani, she was the one that told this story to the world in two books; Beyond the Gates of Splendor, and The Savage, My Kinsman. Elisabeth Elliot died June 15th at the age of 88.
The Bible teaches the faith and inspires faith in many ways– sometimes by proclaiming promises, sometimes by teaching theological truths, and sometimes by telling us how we ought to live. But the main way the Bible teaches and inspires faith is simply by telling stories of the lives of faithful people– Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Noah, Daniel, David, Mary, Joseph, John, Peter, Paul, and so many more. And we can teach the faith and inspire faith by telling more stories of faithful people– people like Nathan Saint and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot and even Mincaye, the former murderer.
The 2006 movie.
“We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings (the Bible). Then, seeing His carvings and following His good trail, now we live happily and in peace.”
“What the Waorani meant for evil, God used for good. Given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”
Mincaye and Steven Saint
Genesis 50:19-20 — Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
John 15:12-13 — (Jesus said), “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Luke 23:34a — Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Loving Lord and Heavenly Father I offer up today all that I am, all that I have, all that I do, and all that I suffer, to be Yours today and Yours forever. Give me grace, Lord, to do all that I know of Your holy will. Purify my heart, sanctify my thinking, correct my desires. Teach me, in all of today’s work and trouble and joy, to respond with honest praise, simple trust, and instant obedience, that my life may be in truth a living sacrifice, by the power of Your Holy Spirit and in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, my Master and my all. Amen.