An unusual package came to our island home on Eigg in the Western Isles sometime in the early sixties. It was a package of books. How they arrived there, who brought them or where they came from I do not know. It may have been a gift from someone or it may have been brought by Robert Crawford, a colporteur for the Bible Society who travelled around the islands of Scotland on a heavy Raleigh bicycle, carrying with him a selection of bibles and Christian literature. He often lodged with us while passing our way. There were four hardback titles with missionary themes. Two, “When iron gates yield” and “God holds the key” were written by Geoffrey Bull, a Christian missionary to China who had spent several years close to the Tibetan border before it was joined to the republic. During that time he was arrested, believed to be a spy and spent years in prison where he endured persistent brain washing techniques. The other two were devoted to the life of an American missionary, Jim Elliott who, along with four others was killed by the Huaorani in the Amazonian jungle of Ecuador in 1956.
This was brought to mind when I heard, earlier this week, of the death of Elizabeth Elliott, who was Jim Elliott’s widow, and the author of “Through Gates of Splendour” now recognised as an international best seller. It was Jim Elliott’s story that captivated my young mind and I remember pouring over the pictures, photographs of the men and their families blissfully happy, the jungle from the air, the light aircraft, the landing strip, the days making their temporary home on the river bank and the graphic shots of bodies floating facedown in the water after the massacre. I was haunted by the look on the wives faces as they were trying to comprehend the tragic news
Later, I became enthralled by the story of these young men with their young wives and families and there calling to go to a remote and almost inaccessible part of the Amazonian jungle to tell the good news to the people there, a people untouched by any other civilisation and reported to be extremely hostile and murderous. I followed the preparation, the language study, the careful finding of a suitable landing site, the first forays, the landing, the first promising contact, the radio reporting back to their wives, and then the thrill of meeting a large number of the people who were making their way to where the missionaries had set up camp on the sandy bank of the river. There were great expectations of that meeting…and then.. silence.
It was soon discovered that all five had been murdered. While the party who came up the river to retrieve the bodies were armed and warning shots were fired into the jungle, the missionaries themselves took with them no means of protection against a possible attack. They had come to bring the good news of Jesus Christ and the thought of being armed would have been anathema to them. They died at the hands of those they had come to reach with the Gospel. They were true martyrs. I was fascinated by their story and later, as I read it for myself, by the person and character of Jim Elliott as told by his wife in “The shadow of the Almighty”.
There was something about the man that tugged at my heart. His unbounded joy and delight in life in all its fullness and his love for his Lord. He was a true hero and someone that I, though still some years off being a teenager, wanted to emulate. I can still recall incidents from his life, as Elizabeth Elliott recorded them. Incidents that showed this joy and excitement even in simple things when he threw himself into some activity, following the wisdom of Solomon:
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”,
when he saw with the hymn writer George Robinson:
“Heav’n above is softer blue/ Earth around is sweeter green/Something lives in every hue”
and in his most famous quote based, I am sure on Paul’s “for me to live is Christ to die is gain” :
“He is no fool / Who gives what he cannot keep/To gain/What he cannot lose”
There was something about the driving logic of this truth that was inescapable and impossible to deny. It in itself provided, for me, a guiding light , a clearing, as I found my way through the jungle of teenage and adult life with its many traps, pitfalls and near disasters. It was a constant reminder that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
The books like almost all of our parent’s possessions were lost, given away or simply thrown out. I’d have loved to have them still and to pour over them once again. But it doesn’t matter, I have them in my memory and am so grateful to Elizabeth Elliott for recording them for us.