Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) was a missionary whose first husband, Jim Elliot, was one of five missionaries killed in 1956 while attempting to make contact with the Auca Indians of eastern Ecuador. Elisabeth later worked as a missionary to the very tribe members who had killed her husband. Here she tells of the role suffering plays in the Christian life…
When I was told that my first husband, Jim, was missing in Auca Indian country, the Lord brought to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.” I prayed silently, “Lord, let not the waters overflow me,” and he heard me and he answered me.
Two years later I went to live with the Indians who had killed Jim. Sixteen years after that, after I had come back to the United States, I married a theologian named Addison Leitch. He died of cancer three-and-a-half years later.
There have been some hard things in my life, of course, as there have been in yours, and I cannot say to you I know exactly what you’re going through. But I can say that I know the One who knows, and I’ve come to see that it’s through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lessons. And, if we’ll trust him for it, we can come to the unshakable assurance that he’s in charge, that he has a loving purpose, and that he can transform something terrible into something wonderful. Suffering is never for nothing.
Now picture a small clearing in the Amazon jungle. There are six or eight little thatched houses, none with walls. Only two people are awake: Mincaye, who is singing a repetitive little song, and the only other person (the one wearing clothes!), who is sitting in her hammock by the fire, pondering the mysteries of the ways of God. She thinks of one Scripture passage, now loaded with meaning for her: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] Hard pressed but not crushed [/swpm_protected]
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body.”
“Yes,” I thought, “I’m a clay pot, just like the pots these Auca women make. Nobody is interested in the pot. They are all alike, all made from the same clay. What is interesting is the contents. I am here to be a vessel. To share somehow this priceless treasure, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s predicament seemed to describe my own: hard pressed, perplexed, struck down, etc. How did I come to be in such a strange place?
Eleven years earlier a man named Jim Elliot spoke of missionary service as the categorical imperative for his life, and his unequivocal commitment to the will of God, let it cost what it may. In my college yearbook he signed his name and added a Scripture reference, 2 Timothy 2:4. I think can imagine how long it took me to grab my Bible and look at what I was hoping might be a cryptic message!
But this is what I found: “A soldier on active service will not become entangled in civilian affairs. He must be wholly at his commanding officer’s disposal.”
Jim knew that he was disposable. In 1956 he and four other missionaries sang a hymn together, “We Rest on Thee our Shield and our Defender,” and then they went in to what we knew was very dangerous territory from which no-one seemed to have come back alive. They were trusting God to give them an opening for the gospel. All five were slaughtered. Mincaye, the man in the little house near mine, was one of those who did the slaughtering. But Mincaye was now singing about God.
Obedience is our task. The results of that obedience are God’s, and God’s alone. I prayed what seemed a ridiculous prayer at the time of Jim’s death: “Lord, if there’s anything you want me to do about the Aucas, I’m available.” God’s leading was clear – there was something. And so I found myself sitting by that fire thinking of those loaded words: “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”
Life comes out of death. The five men did not succeed in their mission as they had hoped. But letters have come to us from all over the world telling us of the impact of their testimony. God seems to have laid out the order of things for the hidden sanctification of individual souls.
In 1948 I was one of a group of college students who went to present missions at another Christian college. Jim Elliot was the speaker. He gave a witness, the witness which is the life that speaks much louder than anything we can say.
God has given me unimagined privileges as a result of the death of those men and I want to encourage you to believe that the will of God is always far different from what we imagine – far bigger, far more difficult but unspeakably more glorious.[/swpm_protected]
This article was taken from issue #45 of the Heroes of the Faith.