31 Days of Missionary Stories: John Paton, Missionary to Cannibals

John Paton is the source of one of my all-time favorite missionary quotes. After a struggle, “dreadfully afraid of mistaking my own emotions for the will of God,” he offered himself and was accepted as a missionary to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). Most, including his pastor, were dead set against his “throwing his life away among the cannibals.” In a classic exchange, one “dear old Christian gentleman repeatedly exhorted me, ‘The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!’ At last I replied, ‘Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is to soon be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms. And in the great day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.’”

John and his wife, Mary Ann , arrived on the island of Tanna in 1858. The Tannese were curious about them and the Patons had to learn to communicate by gesture and trial and error until they learned the language. They found the people scantily clad, friendly but deceptive, thieving, glorying “in bloodshed, war, and cannibalism,” superstitious, and worshiping nearly everything. When the Patons began to teach them that God wanted them to ”throw away their idols and stop their wrongdoing,” persecution began.

Mrs. Paton and their baby boy died in the same month in 1859. “But for Jesus, and the fellowship He gave me there, I would certainly have gone mad and died beside that lonely grave.”

After a time some men came, like Nicodemus, at night to talk to John. A few believed, but persecution was the norm. John was in danger of his life many times. Sometimes he was led to hide somewhere, but other times, while men were facing him with spears, he kept on about his work as if he didn’t notice them, and God restrained their hands. Once he even directly challenged them to go through their rituals by which they curse people by making incantations over a piece of food from which that person has eaten, to prove that his God was greater than theirs, and God prevailed. He did have to leave the island eventually, escaping for his life. He went to Australia and Scotland to report to churches there. He came back with a wife and many new missionaries. The islanders were amazed that missionaries would return after the way they had been treated, and said, “If your God makes you do that, we may yet worship Him too.”

John and his new wife settled on the island of Aniwa. Though they faced some of the same problems as in Tanna, the Lord did bless them with a fruitful harvest there. Amazingly “the sinking of a well broke the back of dark religion on Aniwa.” The island did not receive much rain and much of the drinking water was not good. John decided to try to sink a well; the islanders thought he was mad. “Rain comes only from above. How could you expect our island to send us showers of rain from below?” The chief was afraid that Paton’s “wild talk” would cause the people to never listen to his word or believe him again. They were also concerned that he would die in the hole he was digging, and then the next English ship that came by would hold them accountable. He was able to persuade them to help him by offering fishing hooks for labor. They gladly labored, though they still thought he was going mad, until one side of the well caved in; then they were afraid and worried and would help no longer.

John was able to shore up the side of the well and take precautions against another cave-in. He had prayed about the location of the well and struggled with the fear that they might find salty water rather than fresh.

Finally the day came that he broke through and found good, fresh water. He filled a jug, climbed out of the well, and called the people over to taste it. They were amazed at the water he found and grateful that he would share the well with them. They offered to help him finish it in earnest. Later the islanders tried to sink several wells in various villages, but they either came to coral rock they could not penetrate or to salt water.

Chief Namakei asked if he could “preach” one Sunday. The book records one of the most beautiful sermons I have ever read. The essence of it was that, though they laughed and disbelieved when “Missi” (teacher) said he would find “rain coming up through the earth,” yet Jehovah God answered his prayers. “No God of Aniwa has ever answered prayers as the Missi’s God has done….The gods of Aniwa cannot hear, cannot help us like the God of Missi.” He felt that since what the Missi had said about the invisible water under the earth was true, then what he said about the invisible God was true, too, and he would worship Him. “He (Jehovah) will give us all we need for He sent His Son Jesus to die for us and bring us to heaven. This is what the Missi has been telling us every day since he landed on Aniwa. We laughed at him, but now we believe him.”

There followed a great burning of idols of many of the islanders and many were converted. They began to come to the church services and were baptized. John wrote, after a communion service, “At the moment when I put the bread and wine into those hands, once stained with the blood of cannibalism, now stretched out to Jesus, I had a foretaste of the joy of heaven that almost burst my heart in pieces. I will never taste a deeper bliss till I gaze on the glorified face of Jesus Himself.”

PatonJohn wrote his autobiography in three parts at three different times in his life. Benjamin Unseth used about one-fifth of the material in the three parts written by Mr. Paton to form a shorter biography simply titled John Paton, part of the Men of Faith Series published by Bethany House.

(You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

31 Days of Missionary Stories: Adoniram Judson, America’s First Missionary

I reviewed To The Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson about the life of Adoniram Judson a few years ago, but I can’t not include it in a month of missionary stories. It’s a missionary classic and compelling reading. So I hope those of you who have seen it before don’t mind the repost.


Imagine feeling so convicted and burdened by God’s command to go and share the gospel with every creature and so moved by the state of the lost in other countries that have never heard the gospel that you feel you must go yourself and tell them.

Now imagine doing so when you live in a country where no one has ever done so before.

To the Golden ShoreTo The Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson is a classic missionary biography of Adoniram Judson, America’s first missionary. I had read it years ago but felt an urge to revisit it.

Every missionary has to have dedication and has to be willing to make sacrifices, even in our day. But the amount of dedication and sacrifice and willingness to step into the unknown displayed by Adoniram and his wife and the small group who stepped out with them just amazes me. His wife, Ann Hassletine (also called Nancy) is one of the bravest women I have ever read of, going into the great unknown as she did and facing all that she did in later years. The letter Adoniram wrote to ask her father for her hand in marriage is an atypical proposal, but frank:

I have not to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls, for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?

He was not being melodramatic: he was being realistic. It says a lot about Nancy that she accepted such a proposal.

There are several short biographies of Adoniram online, so I don’t want to retell his life story, but I just want to touch on a few highlights that stood out to me from the book.

I wrote before of his remarkable conversion. His innate intelligence, keen mind, and his own struggles coming to faith uniquely fitted him for the philosophical discussions with the Burmese that were preliminary to their understanding the gospel, and that same mind and the facility he developed with the language uniquely fitted him to translate the Bible into Burmese and to create a Burmese-English dictionary and grammar that were the standard for decades.

He had a stalwart, determined character. That could come across as stubborness in some instances, but when convinced as to the will of God, he was firm. During Adoniram’s studies over the long sea voyage, he became convinced that the Baptist mode of baptism, by immersion after a profession of salvation, was the Biblical way. That put him in a difficult position as a Congregationalist missionary. The subject was discussed and debated amongst the missionary candidates on board, but once Adoniram was convinced of the Scriptural position, he felt he had no choice but to resign as a Congregationalist missionary and seek support from the Baptists. Thankfully, in the providence of God, the situation was handled with grace, and God brought him into contact with Baptist men who took on his support. You may or may not agree about modes of baptism, but what stands out to me here was the character it took to act on what he believed even though it was going to cause difficulties.

The Burmese were open to discussion, but it was six long years before the first one believed. Progress was very slow: there was, of course, not the openness to a variety of religions as we take for granted today. Adoniram was careful not to impinge on their culture — he wasn’t trying to create an American church, but a Christian one. But slowly the gospel took root and grew. Oddly, at the time of greatest oppression by the imperialist Burmese king, when the Judsons feared they would have to leave, they had several inquirers. Some of the Burmese converts came forth as gold in the trials they faced where professing Christ cost something.

When war broke out between Burma and England in 1824, the Judsons thought that they would be safe as Americans. However, the Burmese did not understand the Western system of banking: because the Judsons’ checks were cashed through a British merchant, they were thought to be in league with the British, and Adoniram was imprisoned for twenty-one of the most grueling months of his life. A fastidious man, he dealt with filthy quarters and having his feet in fetters raised up toward the ceiling every night while his weight rested on his shoulders on the floor. Nancy daily sought help and favor for him everywhere she could: she even followed him and the rest of the prisoners on a tortuous march to another prison. As authorities searched their home, she hid what she could, especially the manuscript of the Burmese translation of the Bible over which Adoniram had been working so diligently. She hid it in a pillow and took it to Adoniram in prison. The jailer took a liking to the pillow and confiscated it for himself: Nancy made a nicer one, and Adoniram successfully offered it to the jailer in exchange.

As the war began to grind to an end, Adoniram was called on as a translator between the Burmese and British. Lack of nutrition, ill health, and extenuating circumstances all took their toll on Nancy, and she died, followed soon by their baby. None of their other children had lived.

Adoniram entered into the darkest period of his life. He threw himself into translation and missionary work, but wrestled with losses and grief: not only Nancy and all his children, but several missionary colleagues had died as well as his father back in America. Oddly, he felt guilty over his grief. He withdrew into a kind of asceticism for a while. He dug an open grave and spent long periods of time just staring into it. He requested at this time that his letters to others be destroyed, so we don’t know for sure what all he was thinking during this period. Several shorter biographies bypass this section of his life, but I think it is important to note that in his humanness, the losses he had sustained and the time in prison all had their effect on him, understandably, and it took him about three years to recover.

He eventually married Sarah Boardman, the widow of one of his colleagues, and had several more children. They had a happy eleven-year long marriage before she passed away on his only return trip to America, taken originally to try to help improve her health. God granted him another happy marriage to writer Emily Chubbuck for a few years before his own health failed in 1850 at the age of 61.

His legacies are the souls won to Christ in Burma and the churches started there, the Burmese Bible he translated, the Burmese-English dictionary and grammar, and the stirring testimony and influence of a life of character used by God.

(You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

31 Days of Missionary Stories: Adoniram Judson’s Conversion

The salvation story of a five year old who is saved from a lifetime of heartache and bad memories is every bit a work of grace as the salvation of the most debauched sinner (though we have to remember, too, that what we think of as the “bad sins” are no worse than our pride, envy, and lack of love). A person doesn’t have to have a dramatic salvation story to have true faith and depth.

That said, one of the most dramatic salvation stories ever is that of Adoniram Judson. He is not quite as well-known a missionary as Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael, but he was among the first missionaries sent by America to another country.  I’ll say more about his life and ministry tomorrow, but for today I want to tell how he was saved. All quotes are from To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson.

The way the Lord brought this young man to Himself has me on the edge of my seat even though I know the story well. Plus, I have known people in much the same situation as Adoniram, and the obvious hand of God in his life gives hope and encouragement that He is at work drawing them as well, bringing them to the influences and people through whom He can work in their lives.

Adoniram had been raised in a strict Congregationalist pastor’s home in the late 1700s. There was never any indication that he didn’t believe: everything outwardly indicated his lifestyle was in line with what he had been taught all his life. When it was time for him to go to college, his father chose one where he was sure his son wouldn’t be led away from sound doctrine.

Adoniram had a brilliant mind which evidenced itself early in life and which God later used in translation work. He did excellently at college. He fell in with some friends who were Deists, who “rejected all revealed religion…. All the Deist admitted was the existence of a personal God.” They believed the Bible as well as other religions’ texts were only the work of men and that Jesus “was not the Son of God except in the sense that all men are” (pp. 33. 38). One of his best friends who had much influence on him was free-thinking Jacob Eames.

When Adoniram graduated and came home, he felt he could not just quietly go along with the family’s beliefs and practices any more. He broke the news to his parents that he had chosen a different way. His father tried to reason with him. “Very shortly he realized with dismay that every argument he advanced was being met by two better ones. Not for nothing had Adoniram been valedictorian of his class. Exposing the fallacies of his father’s syllogisms was child’s play. Point by point, with crushing finality, he demolished every thesis his father set out to prove…So far as logics and evidence went, Mr. Judson had to concede…He still knew he was right, but he could not prove it” (p. 38). His mother’s tears seemingly had little effect, either.

Adoniram had decided he wanted to go into the theater and perhaps become a playwright, so he left home and made his way to New York.

He happened to arrive during a very quiet time for the theater, He couldn’t find work, and then when he did find a theater troupe that hired him, the morals of the group appalled him.

He left to travel some more and ended up at an uncle’s home during the time a visiting young preacher was filling in for him. He and this young man of God “spent several hours in conversation. Adoniram was struck by the fact that, although his host was as pious as his father, there was a warmth, ‘a solemn but gentle earnestness,’ in his speech which kindled an answering warmth in the heart. To be a devoted minister it was not necessary, it seemed, to be austere and dictatorial like the Reverend Mr. Judson. Adoniram rode away in the morning deeply impressed. …The young minister…would [not] experience the pain of Adoniram’s inner conflict. He was at peace with himself” (p. 42).

Later in Adoniram’s travels, he came to a country inn, looking for a room for the night. The only available room, the innkeeper explained apologetically, was next to a young man who was dying. Adoniram assured the innkeeper that was all right, but through the night, he heard the sounds from the next room, and his thoughts were greatly disturbed considering what might happen after death.

The next morning as Adoniram checked out, he asked about the young man and learned that he had indeed passed away. For some reason he asked the young man’s name, and was startled to hear it was Jacob Eames.

Adoniram was stunned. Though shocked and saddened at the loss of a dear friend , especially one so young, even more disturbing were the thoughts that his beliefs could possibly be wrong. Was his friend even now experiencing “the unimaginable torments of the flames of hell — any chance of remedy, of going back, of correcting, lost, eternally lost?” “For already, this moment, Eames knew his error — too late for repentance” (p.44).

He wasn’t converted immediately, but he did realize that no one but God could have orchestrated all of the events since he left home, that they weren’t mere coincidence: the unexpected conversation with young preacher, the failure and disappointment of his plans in New York, and his ending up in a room in an inn next door to his dying friend. He felt he must learn more.

He went home where, soon afterward, two leading Congregationalist pastors came to visit his father to discuss a new theological seminary. They spent several hours talking with Adoniram. He “made an instant impression on [them]. His personality was ingratiating, yet without false humility. His mind was of the finest order. He already knew more theology than many theological students. He was open to conviction. He understood that he must undergo inner regeneration before he could look forward to faith and personal salvation. But clearly this was not to be accomplished in a few hours of argument. The very qualities that made the boy so worth saving made him hard to save. Yet the visitors felt almost at once that if he could find conviction he could become a minister such as had not been seen since the days of Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards” (pp. 47-48).

Eventually “they suggested that Adoniram enroll in the new seminary, where he would have the materials he needed to study to make up his own mind, and the counsel of some of the best theologians in the country” (p. 48). He was enrolled “as a special student — not as a candidate for the ministry” (p. 48). He began his studies: “under Dr. Pearson, he began to read the sacred literature in the original [languages]. At the same time he began to thrash out his theological doubts with Professor Woods, who turned out to be fully his match as a dialectician” (pp. 49-50).

He “felt no blinding flash of insight,” but by November he “began to entertain a hope of having received the regenerating influences of the Holy Spirit,” and December 2 “made a solemn dedication of himself to God” (p. 50).

31 Days of Missionary Stories: Answer to a Mother’s Prayer

I wanted to start off the 31 Days of Missionary Stories with God’s answer to an everyday, normal need. There are some dramatic missionary stories, but missionaries don’t spend all their time on the front lines fighting spiritual battles or out on the streets witnessing to everyone they meet. They have to deal with the same mundane affairs of life that we all do, and often those mundane affairs are more complicated than they are in America. That was especially true in previous centuries.

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth were missionaries to China in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Mrs. Goforth has written Goforth of China, a biography of her husband; How I Know God Answers Prayer (I was delighted to find what appears to be all or most of the text of this book here, and it is free for the Kindle for a time here.); and Climbing, which includes many anecdotes she was requested to share as well as some of her own personal struggles. The following comes from Climbing.

The Goforths had just narrowly and traumatically escaped from the Boxer Rebellion in China to Shanghai. Until a ship left that they could find passage on, they had to stay in an empty house with little furniture. In the ten days they were there, her husband and son Paul bought some ready-made clothes, and she was able to have one dress made.

But the other three children! They were in rags given by the Chinese on the journey. How could I, without materials, without a machine, get an outfit made for even one, and the ocean voyage just ahead! Alone with the baby one morning I cast myself down by the little one and cried again and again to the Lord to send someone to help me. My distress was great. Help I must have, but I knew no one to whom I could turn. Then suddenly, while I was praying, the doorbell rang. On opening the door I found two women outside. They introduced themselves and told of having seen our names among those of the refugees. They were in charge of a Chinese girls’ school, but on account of the Boxer troubles, all the girls had been sent home. They then said, “We have nothing to do and thought you may need help.” Scarcely able to speak, I told them rapidly my story; how I was on my knees pleading for help when they rang the bell. A few moments followed in which we stood clasping hands, weeping, just too full for speech. Then they went away to get materials, for there was no time to lose.

In a very short time, they returned with a pile of materials of from three- to five- yard lengths. I cut out and gave directions for a number of garments. The women took all away and, with the help of some friends, made practically everything needed except for the baby, who, in the rush of getting others provided for, was forgotten! The day we sailed, I gathered a quantity of material together, planning to make the most necessary things for him on board ship. Then came the most beautiful proof of God’s overshadowing care.

We had been passing through the Inland Sea and were nearing Yokohama. I had been trying my utmost to get some necessary things ready for baby W., but my hands trembled so I could scarcely hold the needle. I struggled on, realizing my strength was going, but kept sewing til I could no longer see the needle. Rising, I folded the work, and, going down to the cabin, put it quietly, numbly into the trunk, saying, “Lord, I have done all I can. I can do no more. As you provided for the others, do so now for baby.” I then went on deck and lay down on a long chair exhausted. How long I lay there I do not know, but suddenly someone touched me and said, “There’s a large bundle come off the lighter for you: it is in your cabin.” Dazed at first, I could not take it in. Then it flashed into my mind, “It’s the answer.”

In the cabin, I found a letter attached to the bundle from Mrs. O. E., of the China Inland Mission, whose husband was at that time risking his life in China, seeking to bring out to safety women of the mission who were in peril. The letter stated that her little son, the same age as my baby, had died some months before and she felt it laid upon her to send me, for my child, his outfit. I opened the bundle to find not only a most beautiful, complete outfit for my little one, but also many things I needed for myself and the other children. It was indeed one of the Lord’s exceedingly abundant answers. Is it any wonder that those words written so long ago by the psalmist have always had a deep thrill of response in my heart?

I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. – Psalm 116:1-2.

God cares about the souls of people and the affairs of nations. But He also cares about the needs of mother’s hearts and children’s bodies.

31 Days of Missionary Stories

I’ve seen that several bloggers are participating in a 31 Days series hosted by Nesting Place. The basic idea is to choose a topic that you write about each day of October. I thought, “Hmm, that sounds interesting…but what in the world would I write about?” Then it hit me this morning: I love to read missionary biographies or stories: when I first started my blog I did a series for a few weeks on different missionary stories or anecdotes, and I have been doing the same in a church ladies’ newsletter for years. What a great opportunity to share some of those here! Some times it will be an overview of a person’s life: some times it will be just one incident or anecdote.

Why missionary stories? Because it increases my faith to see men and women “of like passions as we are” who learn, grow, overcome, and are used by God. I wrote more about reading missionary biographies before, and an excerpt from that is:

We learn history for a number of reasons, among them: to better understand our current times, to appreciate our heritage, to avoid repeating mistakes. There are heroes in our national history who inspire us to a love of country and duty and courage. There are heroes of our spiritual heritage who inspire us in love and dedication to God and to greater faith in remembering that the God they served and loved and Who provided for and used them is the very same God we love and serve today and Who will provide for us and use us. Though times and culture change, human nature at its core doesn’t change much, and God never changes.

This poem, which I first saw in Rosalind Goforth’s book, Climbing, embodies my own thoughts and feelings as well.

Call Back!

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when forest’s roots were torn;
That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill.
He bore you up and held where the very air was still.

O friend, call back, and tell me for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky-
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

I hope you’ll join me as we look to those who have gone on before us and learn from them.

I’ll be using this post as a directory to list the posts in the series.

Day 1: This post
Day 2: Rosalind Goforth; Answer to a Mother’s Prayer.
Day 3: Adoniram Judson’s Conversion.
Day 4: Adoniram Judson’s biography: To the Golden Shore.
Day 5: John Paton, Missionary to Cannibals.
Day 6: Darlene Deibler Rose: Missionary POW.
Day 7: Gracia Burnham and God’s Grace in Captivity.
Day 8: Isobel Kuhn Learns to Put God First.
Day 9: Isobel Kuhn’s Marriage: Whom God Hath Joined.
Day 10: Don Richardson: How to minister to a culture that values treachery?
Day 11: Amy Carmichael: With All Our Feebleness: Victory Through Pain and Illness.
Day 12: Amy Carmichael Learns to Die to Self.
Day 13: Amy Carmichael and Singleness.
Day 14: Gladys Aylward: The Small Woman With Big Faith.
Day 15: Mary Slessor and the Power of a Woman’s God.
Day 16: Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman’s Story
Day 17: Eric Liddell: Olympian and Missionary.
Day 18: Dr. John Dreisbach: Modern Missionary Statesman and Surgeon.
Day 19: The “Cambridge Seven
Day 20: William Carey: “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.
Day 21: Rosalind Goforth, A Woman “Of Like Passions” As We Are.
Day 22: J. O. Fraser: Pianist and Engineer Turned Missionary.
Day 23: Dallas and Kay Washer, Candles in the Darkness.
Day 24: Margaret Stringer: Missionary to Cannibals With a Merry Heart and a Faithful Spirit.
Day 25: Clint and Rita Vernoy: On Ethnocide and Raising Children in the Jungle.
Day 26: Verda Peet: Sometimes I Prefer to Fuss.
Day 27: Jim Elliot’s Journals.
Day 28: Hudson Taylor, Pioneer Missionary.
Day 29: Not Only Preachers Are Called To Be Missionaries.
Day 30: Different ways to support and encourage missionaries.
Day 31: Thoughts on pedestals and missionary biographies with a list of my favorites.

You can see what other people are writing about for this 31 day challenge here: there are nine different categories.

(Photo courtesy of MorgueFile)

Through Gates of Splendor

Five missionaries working in different outposts in Ecuador in the early to mid-1950s became burdened for a tribe of killers known then as the Aucas. Early encounters with the white man had not gone well when the rubber hunters came to harvest while also “plundering and burning the Indian homes, raping, torturing, and enslaving the people” (p. 14). But the Aucas killed not only white men, but any outsiders and even their own people. “Could Christian love wipe out the memories of past treachery and brutality?” (p. 14). The missionaries hoped so and longed to be a part of reaching this tribe with the love and gospel of Christ. Upheld by the truth that “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9b), they began to plan and strategize as to how best to reach these hostile people.

Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot is the story of how these five men came to the Lord, came to be called to the mission field, their marriages, and how each was led to become part of “Operation Auca.” It’s no spoiler to say the operation ended in the death of the five, because that fact was known long before the book came to be and was probably a great impetus in it’s writing. But then it is not right, either, to say that is how Operation Auca ended, because God used it in the lives of the Aucas themselves as well as of people all over the world in the decades since. But knowing how the story “ends” lends a poignancy to the men’s lives and words.

The five men were:

Nate Saint, a brilliant pilot whose dreams of flying the big planes was cut short by an illness, but who went on to become a pilot for Missionary Aviation Fellowship, bringing much-needed supplies, human contact, and medical help to missionaries in outpost stations. He had an ingenious engineer’s mind which he used to great effect solving problems and improving life, and a healthy balance between doing everything in his power to ensure success and safety yet trusting God for the outcome.

Jim Elliot, from Portland, OR, intense and passionate, had a burning desire to share Christ with those who had never heard of Him, yet also had a humorous side and felt with George MacDonald that “It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence” (p. 17).

Pete Fleming, from Seattle, WA, quiet, studious, would probably have been a college professor if he had not felt called to the mission field.

Roger Youderian, of Louistown, MT, severely affected by polio as a child, was called to the missionary field while serving in the military.

Ed McCully, from Milwaukee, WI,  was planning to go to law school when a Bible study led him to abandon all to follow Christ wherever he might lead.

Even before Operation Auca was even remotely thought about, most of the men were willing to give themselves even unto death. Jim wrote in his journal:

“‘He makes His ministers a flame of fire.’ Am I ignitible? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this my soul – short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him. ‘Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.'” (p. 17).

Nate Saint, likewise, considered himself “expendable,” saying, “Every time I take off, I am ready to deliver up the life I owe to God” (p. 58), and Pete later wrote:

“I am longing now to reach the Aucas if God gives me the honor of proclaiming the Name among them…I would gladly give my life for that tribe if only to see an assembly of those proud, clever, smart people gathering around the table to honor the Son – gladly, gladly, gladly! What more could be given to a life?” (p. 26).

All of the wives, as well, were willing to live in “primitive” conditions and to be used in God’s service in whatever way He saw fit.

But they were not careless. Every step of Operation Auca was steeped in thought, discussion, sometimes disagreement, and prayer for the best outcome for all involved. And every step looked like it was going well.

What then led the Aucas then to kill the five men? When God opened the tribe to visits later, at first they said it was because they thought the men might be cannibals. In a later book I believe someone was told that the photographs the missionaries had scared them: they thought somehow it involved the soul of the person in the photograph. In Steve Saint’s more recent book, End of the Spear, he was told that an argument had broken out among the Auca men involving a woman, and one man wanted to prevent the bloodshed amongst the tribe and turned their anger towards the white men. It is possible that all of these factors played a part, or that as the Aucas (now known by their own name of Waodani [going by Steve’s spelling of it since he has worked with them for years, but I have also seen it as Huaorani or Waorani]) got to know white people and their language better, they may have felt more of a freedom of expression in later years that they did at first.

I first read this book in college, and the lives of these men and their wives and their dedication and love for the Lord touched me greatly. I have read it many times since, and it never fails to speak to me. The version I read this time is the same one I read in college, a brown around the edges 1977 fifth printing: the first printing was in 1956. It was interesting to see what I had underlined in previous readings and what stood out to me this time. It also touched off a lifetime of reading missionary biographies, reading just about everything Elisabeth Elliot has written and reading several other books about Operation Auca and the lives of those involved.

If you’d like to read more about any of these, I recommend the following:

  • The Dayuma Story by Rachel Saint, sister of pilot Nate Saint. Dayuma was the Auca girl who had escaped the tribe years earlier, taught the men Auca phrases, and later went back to share the gospel with her tribe.

I’m sure there are other books and biographies out there (I have one of Nate Saint on my bookshelf that I’ve not read yet). but these are the ones I have read. In addition, Elisabeth Elliot touches on the experiences of her time in the Ecuadorian jungle in several of her other books. One of my favorites is in The Savage My Kinsman when she quotes William Cullen Bryant’s poem, “To a Waterfowl,” and applies it to herself, especially the last line: “He, who, from zone to zone, Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, In the long way that I must tread alone, Will lead my steps aright.”

There are also several films and film clips of interest:

  • Through Gates of Splendor (it seems to be also on YouTube here), narrated by Elisabeth Elliot, using footage that she, Nate Saint, and Life Magazine had taken.
  • A “This Is Your Life” feature of Rachel Saint, part 1 and 2.
  • End of the Spear” (linked to my thoughts), a feature film.
  • Beyond the Gates of Splendor, a documentary made 50 years after the events. This is one I would recommend above all the others if you only have time for one. It is in four parts on Vimeo (Part 1, 2, 3, and 4), but I found the audio a bit hard to hear.

There are also several videos of Steve Saint speaking with Mincaye, one of the killers who eventually became a surrogate grandfather to Steve’s children. Talk about grace!

I wanted to say just a word, too, to those who criticize missionary efforts and who believe that primitive tribes should be left as they are. By the Waodani’s own admission, the tribe probably would have become extinct now if someone had not come to tell them of a better way of life. Why would anyone want to deny them that? In Spirit of the Rainforest (different people and field, but also a primitive tribe) this rather lengthy quote explains some of their feelings (I started just to link to it, but I feel it is so important that I copied it here):

“The naba wants to know why you want to change the way you live out here in the jungle,” Keleewa said to Hairy after Doesn’t-Miss talked.

Hairy was surprised at the question. “Because we’re miserable out here. We are miserable all the time. The people from Honey [predominantly Christian village] came here and made peace with us many seasons ago and their village keeps getting better. We want that for us. If it means throwing spirits away and getting new ones, we will do it. [This is not something said lightly. Many were under the impression that they would be killed if they tried to get rid of their spirits.] But we need someone to teach us these new ways.”

Hairy didn’t have spirits because he was not a shaman. But he followed everything the spirits told his shaman. I knew my spirits would be very irritated if Hairy quit following the spirits. No one who has killed as often and as long s Hairy could ever stop it…

Doesn’t Miss talked with Keleewa for a while. Keleewa paused and thought how to say what the naba said. Then he told Hairy, “He says there are many people in his land that don’t think that he, or any of us, should be here helping you at all. They say that you’re happy here and that we should leave you alone. He wants to know what an experienced killer like you would say to them.”

Hairy grew even more serious. “I say to you, please don’t listen to the people who say that. We need help so bad. We are so miserable here and out misery never stops. Night and day it goes on. Do those people think we don’t suffer when bugs bite us? If they think this is such a happy place out here in the jungle, why aren’t they moving here to enjoy this beautiful life with us?”

Doesn’t-Miss was quiet. Then he got out of his hammock and walked down the trail…When he was too far away to hear, Hairy said to Keleewa, “Is he stupid? Doesn’t he have eyes? Can’t he see these lean-tos we call houses? Can’t he see us roam the jungle every day, searching for food that isn’t here, so we can starve slower? Can’t he see that our village is almost gone, that this move we are making now is our last hope to stay alive?”

Keleewa was slow to answer. He knew Hairy wouldn’t understand what he was about to say. “Most nabas think just like him,” Keleewa told Hairy, and shook his head because he knew he couldn’t explain why.

“Nobody’s that stupid,” Hairy snapped. “They must hate us. They think we’re animals” (pp. 180-183).

I said in an earlier post:

Why would even any non-Christian want to see a whole people group extinguished due to infighting or disease? Especially these days when we clamor to save the spotted owl and other endangered species? Shouldn’t endangered people be at least equally as important as endangered animals?

Would anyone in their right minds really want such practices as burying a widow along with her husband or killing twins or deformed babies to continue? So many primitive tribes practice these kinds of things.

Why deny these people the choice of hearing that there are other ways? Why not allow them to hear the gospel and let them make their own choice? So many who bask in the multitudes of freedoms we have here in the US would rather keep people like this in darkness in the name of preserving their culture. Most missionaries I know of these days consciously and conscientiously try not to “Americanize” the native churches but rather try to respect their culture and form churches within that culture while introducing healthier ways of living and civil practices. Who could possibly have a problem with that?

Thank you, Carrie, for allowing me to choose this book for  the Reading to Know Book Club in a year of featuring classics. It truly is a Christian and a missionary classic, and I am glad folks are revisiting it or discovering it for the first time.

Reading to Know - Book Club

I’ll leave you with the song the men sang the night before they launched “Operation Auca,” and from which the title of the book is taken (words and thoughts are here.)

Update: I just saw that several “Heroes of the Faith” books are on sale in e-book version for the Kindle for 99 cents for a limited time, and Jim Elliot is one title. I have not read that one in particular, but it might be worth a try for 99 cents. You don’t have to have a Kindle to download Kindle books: you can download a Kindle app and read them on your computer, phone, or tablet.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

And Carol‘s Books You Loved.

Books you loved 4

Join Us Reading Through Gates of Splendor in June

Reading to Know - Book Club

Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club has been featuring classics this year, trading off between adult and children’s classics. Carrie asked several blog friends to choose a book for each month. I was honored to be asked, but had a hard time deciding on which of multitudes of favorite books to choose. Finally I decided I wanted to include a missionary classic, which is one of my favorite genres, and Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot seemed recent enough and its story well-known enough that I felt it would be accessible to anyone who wanted to read it.

Through Gates of Splendor was, I believe, the first missionary book I ever read, sparking a lifetime of exploring other missionary books and Elisabeth Elliot’s writing. I’ve read it multiple times since. I listed it among the 98 Books That Have Enriched My Life and Books to Read Before You Die. It’s the story of how five men and their families came to minister together together among Indians in Ecuador, how they became interested in what was then known as the Auca tribe, fierce warriors who killed any outsiders (as well as their own tribesmen), how they determined to try to reach them, how they went about it, how they were killed, and how a wife of one man and sister of another were eventually given the opportunity to live with this tribe.

It’s not just fascinating for the sake of the story: it’s fascinating to read how each of these very different men and their wives came to know the Lord and then felt called to their particular field. These men didn’t know, when they went to the mission field, that they would be martyrs, though once they began to consider reaching the Aucas, they knew it was a possibility. But they each gave their lives to God to use in any way that He saw fit, and their faith and walk with Him is inspiring.

Some like to watch the films of books along with or after reading, so you might be interested to know there is a DVD called Through Gates of Splendor here (it seems to be also on YouTube here), narrated by Elisabeth Elliot, using footage that she, Nate Saint, and Life Magazine had taken. Also several years ago the film “End of the Spear” (linked to my thoughts) came out. The book is much deeper and fuller, and some have various problems with the film, as I discussed, but it’s okay if you want to see a general visualization. I would highly recommend Beyond the Gates of Splendor: it is a documentary made fifty years after the events of the book. Here is an excerpt:

At the wrap-up post at the end, I’ll have some other resources for those who might want to read more about those involved in this story which has been used by the Lord in remarkable ways.

If you’d like to join in the Carrie’s Book Club to read it, just leave a note at her place saying so, and at the end of the month she’ll have a post where all those who read it can post comments or links to their own blog post about it. That’s one of the most fun parts of this book club: discussing the book we’re reading with others.

Remembering Operation Auca 57 years later

It was the first week of January, 1956, that Operation Auca finally began to come to fruition for five missionary couples in Ecuador: Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Roger and Barbara Youderian, Nate and Marj Saint, Ed and Marilou McCully, and Pete and Olive Fleming. On January 8, one of the men radioed the wives back at their stations, “Pray, girls: today’s the day!” On this date, January 9, the scheduled radio contact did not come and a missionary friend flew over the area where the men had been camped and saw their airplane stripped of fabric but saw no one. It was two days later that the first bodies were found. The men had been speared to death on January 8.

I can only imagine what it was like for those five women to go through those days with hope but no word and then to finally learn that their husband were gone and they were alone thousands of miles from home.

Yet, as many of you know, God used this incident to greatly impact both the Aucas (now know as Waodani or Huaorani) and the rest of the world. Later Rachel Saint (sister to Nate) and Elisabeth Elliot and her daughter Valerie were invited to come and live with the Aucas, and eventually many of them were led to the Lord: one of the killers even became a surrogate grandfather to Steve Saint’s children.

And not til eternity will we know the full impact of these men and their wives. Many lives have been touched, stirred, and inspired. Sometimes we still wrestle with why things happened as they did, but there is no doubt God used them.

A good post on the impact of Jim Elliot in particular is Today Jim Elliot was Killed. If you ever have the chance, see the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor. It is in four parts on Vimeo (Part 1, 2, 3, and 4), but I found the audio a bit hard to hear even turned all the way up.

In June for Carrie’s Reading to Know Book Club I’ll be hosting the reading of Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot’s book on the five families, what led them to Ecuador, and how their families coped in the aftermath of the men’s deaths. But when I realized this was the anniversary of that time, I couldn’t let it go by without acknowledgment.

I’ll leave you with some excerpts someone put together of the wives’ testimonies from Beyond the Gates of Splendor.

When God doesn’t deliver

In the wake of the horrible tragedy that occurred recently when a gunman entered a movie theater and opened fire, some remarkable testimonies of God’s providential deliverance have emerged. So you STILL think God is a merciful God? tells how the author and her children escaped the theater unharmed. A Miracle Inside the Aurora Shooting: One Victim’s Story relates how a bullet entered one victim’s brain through a previously undiscovered birth defect, causing the bullet to miss the brain itself.

Of course, some will attribute the circumstances to happenstance or luck. But others wonder, why does God deliver some but not others?

In Rosalind Goforth’s book How I Know God Answers Prayer, one chapter details the miraculous bur harrowing account of her family’s deliverance during the horrors of the Boxer rebellion in China in the 1900s. She says:

Many times we were asked in the homeland to tell the story of our escape during the Boxer uprising, and often the question was put, “If it was really God’s power that saved you and others on that journey, then why did He not save those of His children who were so cruelly put to death?” For a time this question troubled me. Why indeed? One day when seeking for light on the matter I was directed to Acts 12. There I found the only answer that can be given. We are told in verse 2 that James was put to death by the sword; then the rest of the chapter is given to the detailed record of Peter’s wonderful deliverance in answer to prayer (vv. 5, 12).

She goes on to say that a great many people were praying for them and that undoubtedly had a lot to do with their deliverance.

But some pray and are prayed for, yet still die or suffer. What then?

Hebrews 11, that great “Hall of Faith” passage tells of many marvelous things God wrought through the faith of His people. But then verses 36-38 take a turn from all that deliverance and provision and answered prayer:

And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Why were these not delivered? The text doesn’t say, but they are commended just the same as the others: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (vv.39-40).

In the New Testament, John the Baptist was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. James was killed. Layton Talbert asserts:

But martyrdom is no less providential than deliverance, and the martyrdom of these men was as providentially superintended by God as was the martyrdom of His own Son. Such deaths are neither a failure on God’s part nor a victory on Satan’s. They are a part of the outworking of God’s all-wise and always good purposes. (Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God, page 198).

He goes on to relate:

You have probably heard that “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” A veteran missionary to Colombia, South America, once explained how experience and personal Bible study led him to modify that saying. “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will,” he concluded. “But it is not necessarily the safest.” This is not heresy — unless we measure orthodoxy by conformity to cliche rather than to Biblical realism. (p. 198).

The quote is taken from the article “Peace, if not safety,” and the missionary, Timothy A. McKeown, goes on to make these statements, also quoted in Not By Chance:

It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God’s people often-not occasionally-being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations.

Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his-and, of course, our-enemies.

The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the “costs”-not to personal comfort and safety!

Dr. Talbert continues:

Our death is as much a matter of providence as our life. It may seem tragic or ignominious or accidental. But God’s providence rules over the tragedy, the ignominy, and yes, even accidents. Moreover, we must labor to think God’s thoughts, to maintain God’s perspective (p. 199).

He goes on to point out that the deaths of John the Baptist, Stephen, and James were not the end of them, in two senses. 1) They go on to life in heaven with God, our true and ultimate home, and 2) their influence and testimony continue on.  This is true in our times as well, as illustrated by Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries who were killed by the tribe they were trying to reach, Gracia Burnham’s husband, and any saint of God.

In On Asking God Why by Elisabeth Elliot, she included a chapter called “On Brazen Heavens” written by her brother, Thomas Howard. After describing times when God has not answered prayer, at least not as the person praying wanted, he says:

Turning again to the disclosure of God in Scripture, we seem to see that, in his economy, there is no slippage. Nothing simply disappears. No sparrow falls without his knowing (and, one might think, caring) about it. No hair on anybody’s head is without its number. Oh, you say, that’s only a metaphor; it’s not literal. A metaphor of what, then, we might ask. Is the implication there that God doesn’t keep tabs on things?

And so we begin to think about all our prayers and vigils and fastings and abstinences, and the offices and sacraments of the Church, that have gone up to the throne in behalf of the sufferer. They have vanished, as no sparrow, no hair, has ever done. Hey, what about that?

And we know that this is false. It is nonsense. All right then–we prayed, with much faith or with little; we searched ourselves; we fasted; we anointed and laid on hands; we kept vigil. And nothing happened.

Did it not? What angle of vision are we speaking from? Is it not true that again and again in the biblical picture of things, the story has to be allowed to finish?

Was it not the case with Lazarus’ household at Bethany, and with the two en route to Emmaus? And is it not the case with the Whole Story, actually–that it must be allowed to finish, and that this is precisely what the faithful have been watching for since the beginning of time? In the face of suffering and endurance and loss and waiting and death, what is it that has kept the spirits of the faithful from flagging utterly down through the millennia? Is it not the hope of Redemption? Is it not the great Finish to the Story–and to all their little stories of wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins as well as to the One Big Story of the whole creation, which is itself groaning and waiting? And is not that Finish called glorious? Does it not entail what amounts to a redoing of all that has gone wrong, and a remaking of all that is ruined, and a finding of all that has been lost in the shuffle, and an unfolding of it all in a blaze of joy and splendor?

A finding of all that is lost? All sparrows, and all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings? Yes, all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings.

“But where are they? The thing is over and done with. He is dead. They had no effect.”

Hadn’t they? How do you know what is piling up in the great treasury kept by the Divine Love to be opened in that Day? How do you know that this death and your prayers and tears and fasts will not together be suddenly and breathtakingly displayed, before all the faithful, and before angels and archangels, and before kings and widows and prophets, as gems in that display? Oh no, don’t speak of things being lost. Say rather that they are hidden–received and accepted and taken up into the secrets of the divine mysteries, to be transformed and multiplied, like everything else we offer to him–loaves and fishes, or mites, or bread and wine–and given back to you and to the one for whom you kept vigil, in the presence of the whole host of men and angels in a hilarity of glory as unimaginable to you in your vigil as golden wings are to the worm in the chrysalis.

There may be any number of reasons why someone faces death without actually dying. Many who have done so have testified it gave them a new sense of purpose. But as to the question, why does God deliver some people from death and not others, we can’t really know the answers. Even those who were delivered will have to face death another time. All we can do is trust that God has His purposes in what He allows.

But God never promises that all His people will comfortably live the American Dream for 80+years. One of the lessons in such tragedies as the one in Aurora is that truly we never know what a day may bring forth and we’re not promised another breath. We need to be ready to face our Maker. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (I John 5:11-12).

Shadow and Coolness

It’s supposed to get up into the 100s today. I am so glad for air conditioning! But the forecasted high temperatures reminded me of this poem. Amy Carmichael was a missionary in India for most of her adult life. The inspiration for this poem came as a result of the heat in India and the refreshing coolness to be found in the shadow, plus the story of the Israelites being led by the pillow of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day in the book of Exodus.

I Follow Thee

Shadow and coolness, Lord,
Art Thou to me;
Cloud of my soul, lead on,
I follow Thee.
What though the hot winds blow,
Fierce heat beats up below?
Fountains of water flow –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Clearness and glory, Lord,
Art Thou to me;
Light of my soul, lead on,
I follow Thee.
All through the moonless night,
Making its darkness bright,
Thou art my heavenly Light –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Shadow and shine art Thou,
Dear Lord, to me;
Pillar of cloud and fire,
I follow Thee.
What though the way be long,
In Thee my heart is strong,
Thou art my joy, my song –
Praise, praise to Thee.