Jim Elliot

            Jim Elliot grew up in Portland Oregon. His dad read to him and his siblings each morning from the Bible, focusing on how the Bible was to be lived. Because of this, Jim received the Lord as Savior as a child. In high school, he was always carrying a Bible and followed Paul’s example of never being ashamed of the Gospel.

            After graduating from high school, he attended Wheaton College with the brother of Elizabeth Elliot, David. He recognized that people get sidetracked from what God wants by a social life, a famous name, an important position, scholastic achievement, or other things — so he avoided most of those things. But even so, he joined the wrestling team so he could improve his body to make it a more useful sacrifice to God. During his sophomore year at Wheaton, he felt called by God to a Latin American country, preaching the Gospel to people who had never heard it before. He immediately began studying Spanish. This immediately spoke to me, as I am called to 1st generation Hispanic immigrants, and received this call while attending a Christian College.

            Jim’s focus was on God and His service. He had a hunger for righteousness and piety from God. He recognized that the enemy would try to delude him and distract him from God had for him. Indeed, in November 1947, he wrote home telling his parents exactly that. Almost immediately afterwards, he met Elizabeth, the woman he would marry. He met her at Christmas 1947, during his junior year and was attracted to her personality drive. It made me wonder if she was intended by the enemy to be a distraction.

            As he finished his junior year, he wrote, “There is no such thing as attainment in this life; as soon as one arrives at a long-coveted position he only jacks up his desire another notch or so and looks for higher achievement – a process which is ultimately suspended by the intervention of death.” Jim saw the world for what it was. There was no question he was not attracted to what the world offered. Indeed, he wanted to live in terms of the end. This speaks to me – I want to live in terms of the end, but my responsibility to my family make me half sold out, rather than fully sold out.

            During the summer between his junior and senior years, Jim had the opportunity to preach to a group of Indians on a reservation – and was glad for it. But he wanted the same thing Paul wanted: he wanted the opportunity to preach to those who had never heard the name of Jesus. He saw nothing else in life as being worthwhile.

            While he desired God and His righteousness, Jim also recognized that sometimes we are not on fire as we should be. He questioned whether God could ignite him. He prayed that God would saturate him “with the oil of the Spirit”. This desire to be used of God and to be on fire for Him is evident throughout his life, whether he knew what God wanted from him or not.

            But whether he knew what God wanted for or from him, he certainly knew God would guide him. Jim attended a conference for people interested in foreign missions. In doing so, he “asked God show him what He wanted him to do.” And this is exactly what God did. God gave him peace about going into pioneer Indian work in South America while single.

            By the summer of 1950, he felt God wanted to him to go to Ecuador. When he shared this with his parents, they wondered if he might be more effective in the United States. And they weren’t the only ones who wondered this. People who knew him wanted him to stay in the USA and teach the people who knew little of the Bible. But he knew the folks in the USA had the Scriptures and would still rather use their bank books more than their Bibles. He simply HAD to go to where people were dying without having the Scriptures. He wrote, “My going to Ecuador is God’s counsel, as is my leaving Betty, and my refusal to be counseled by all who insist I should stay and stir up the believers in the US. And how do I know it is His counsel? ‘Yea, my heart instructeth me in the night seasons.’ Oh how good! For I have known my heart is speaking to me for God!… No visions, no voices, but the counsel of a heart which desires God.”  Jim’s call was quietly made through circumstance and impressions made on his heart by God and experience.  

            Along with his prayers for guidance and assurance of what God wanted for/from him, Jim also prayed for a partner with whom he could go to the mission field. God answered by giving him Pete Fleming, with whom he went to Quito, Ecuador. Once there, they spent six months learning Spanish. Then they left to go to their missionary station, where they learned Quichua. In 1953, they were joined by Ed McCully and his wife. Nate Saint and his wife, Marj, were already in Ecuador when Jim and Pete arrived. Eventually Roger Youderian and his family would also join the team. Jim married Elizabeth Howard in late 1953. In June 1954, Pete married Olive Ainlee.

            Slowly the team began making contacts with the Auca Indians in South America.  This was a tribe with a dangerous reputation. They had been known to kill for what appeared to be no reason. They were not to be trusted. Yet it was to this tribe that Jim Elliot and the rest of the men were called to evangelize.

            God solidified the plans of five missionary families in late 1955 to evangelize the Aucas. In the process, they learned some of the Aucas’ language. The men would fly over where the Indians’ houses and slowly drop gifts to the Aucas. These gifts included clothing, pots, machetes, aluminum cooking pots, trinkets, and beads. Some gifts were received in return. This eventually led the team to build a tree house near the Aucas to provide an opportunity to meet some Aucas and build relationships.

            January 6, 1956 found some Aucas coming to meet the men. One of the Auca men rode in the plane. A woman stayed in the misionaries’ camp far into the night. On January 7, the missionaries expected the Aucas to show up and invited them to their homes. It did not happen. So Nate and Pete flew over the Aucas’ homes, but where they expected friendship, they found fear. Pete and Nate flew the next day and saw a group of men going toward their treehouse. They were to contact their families at 4:30. That call was never made.

            Jim Elliot died Sunday, January 8, 1956 in Auca territory in Ecuador. He died with four other missionary men. They died trying to bring the Gospel to this dangerous tribe.

            But that was not the end of the story. The death of these men prompted a movement of people entering missionary service. The wives of these men lived their faith – to the point where the men who killed their husbands came to Christ. Both of these things were God’s will. This is my dream – to die evangelizing and discipling. Shouldn’t it be the dream for all of us – to die in God’s service?


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