When I was a young teenager and had recently begun attending the little neighborhood church around the corner, the pastor’s wife loaned me a book to read. It was called “Through Gates of Splendor” and told the story of five young men who had felt called of God to take his word to somewhere it had never been heard before. It was an amazing story–filled with journal entries and anecdotes of each of the young men as they were growing up and setting their hearts to follow God’s call–no matter where it led. The book was published in 1957, one year after the massacre of all five of those young men by the very people they had come to reach, the Auca tribe of Ecuador.
The book was written by Elisabeth Elliott, the wife of the leader of that group, Jim Elliott. The men were killed almost 60 years ago, and I read Elisabeth’s book 45 years ago. Along with many others, my life was profoundly changed by reading that book and its sequel “Shadow of the Almighty.” And it all comes back to me now as I’ve just heard that Elisabeth Elliott, at age 88, heard and answered her call Home this morning.
I feel joy for her–she ran a good race and finished her course–a much longer, if less dramatic ‘course’ than her young husband of 60 years ago, but I have no doubt she heard the same words he did: “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the glory of your Lord.”
But I feel sorrow for us, those of us left behind. Our world has changed so much in the 60 years since Jim, Pete, Ed, Nate, and Roger, were speared to death in that jungle in Ecuador. When they died and the word got out, the story made the front cover of Life magazine. People were shocked and saddened. Many questioned what would cause five young men in their prime to leave home and family to go live in the jungle and ultimately, to lose their lives trying to bring the message of the Cross to those who had never heard. Elisabeth’s books answered those questions.
But now, and perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think most people today would give such a thing a second thought. We are surrounded by just too much destruction, and thankfully (or so it seems) most of it is happening ‘way over there.’ 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by Isis in living color on the internet. Hundreds of Christian students killed in Kenya and Nigeria. Genocide in Iraq and Syria. A South African family murdered in Kabul solely because they were Christian. The list goes on and on and on…
And I don’t want to think about it either–it’s just too awful. But people like the Elliotts and our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering throughout this world demand more of us. We need to pray. We need to give. We need to speak up. And we need to live each day as if it were our last.
Jim Elliott wrote in his journal, and Elisabeth put it in her book for the rest of us to read: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” In these dark days in which we live, I hope I can keep this thought at the forefront of my mind and follow on humbly, as Elisabeth did.