Sixty years ago in the Amazon basin of Ecuador, five North American missionaries landed on a sandbar of a remote tributary. They would never leave. A few days after arriving, they were killed by a tribe that had not been contacted previously. Their failure to report, the search and subsequent discovery of their bodies went out to the world via shortwave radio – the Internet of that day. The article in “Life” magazine profiled five young widows, their orphaned children and the sacrifice of those brave young men.
The history of the church is replete with stories of sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. What made this incident stand out – and it does stand out – is that the death of the five missionaries is not then end. Shortly after the men died, some of their family members returned to live among the people. These included Rachel Saint, sister of the team pilot, and Elizabeth Elliot, the widow of the team’s leader, and their 10-month-old daughter. Over months and years, people of the tribe became committed followers of Jesus, including some of those who were in the raiding party that killed the missionary men.
Elizabeth Elliot eventually returned to the United States with her daughter. She became a writer, teacher and a champion of missions. A brilliant scholar, she was a literary contributor to the New International Version of the Bible. I heard Elizabeth Elliot speak several times in the United States, but then had the opportunity to visit with her when she visited her brother and sister-in-law who were missionaries in the same city I served in Peru.
The story of these amazing people has been a touchstone for me since I was 12 years old, and has been the catalyst for thousands of missionaries who were moved to follow Christ as these men and women had done. In a world that seems to be increasingly more dangerous than the jungles of Ecuador, the need is still great for those who would be willing to pursue a profession of faithful ministry by putting themselves in God’s hands and trusting Him.
The College of Theology at Grand Canyon University has a mission to engage the world outside the walls of the church as salt and light, just as Jesus commanded. To learn more about GCU’s Christian identity and heritage, visit our website.