Abraham is given a severe test. God commands Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. Years before, he and Sarai took matters into their own hands. Instead of waiting on God to provide, the barren Sarai suggested Abraham take Hagar as his second wife and Ishmael was born (Genesis 16). Having failed the first test, now, the couple is tested again. God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the very child he waited so long to come.
None of us are called to the severe test Abraham faced. Yet, God does send tests in our lives that often confuse us. Elisabeth Elliot, the prominent Christian writer, was visiting some friends in Northern Wales who owned a sheep farm. It was here that she reflected on the day she saw the shepherd pick up the sheep and take it to a vat of antiseptic, where the sheep would be submerged in order to protect it from all sorts of parasites. The shepherd put the sheep into the vat, only to have the sheep fight him, resisting with all its might. The shepherd pushed down the sheep’s head, but the sheep kept coming up, only to have the shepherd push it down again.
Elliot paints the scene for us:
One by one John seized the animals. They would struggle to climb out the side and Mack the sheep dog would snarl and snap at their faces to force them back under. When they tried to climb up the ramp in a panicky way at the far end, John the farmer would catch them, spin them around, force them under again, holding them ears, eyes and nose submerged for a few seconds.
And as their lord and master was pushing their head under, drowning them at least as far as they could tell, their panicky little eyes would look up over the edge of the vat, and it was easy to see what they were thinking. What is god doing?
Reflecting on that experience, Elliot continued:
I’ve had some experiences in my life which have made me feel very sympathetic to those poor sheep. There are times I couldn’t figure out any reason for the treatment I was getting from my great shepherd whom I trusted. And like these sheep I didn’t have a hint of an explanation.
I hope life has slowed down for you through the holidays. One of the best things about this time of year is a slower schedule and more time for reading. This is the fourth post focusing on Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor and it is devoted to chapters 12-15. As I have been talking to several of you at church, many of you have been commenting on your progress in the book and I’m grateful that the reading is impacting you. Today, we come to the next to last post in our Reading Together series. Hopefully, you are making faster progress than I.
You sense the book is beginning to focus its attention on the Auca people and you readily experience a sense of heightened expectation as the books builds. When we last left our missionary friends in chapter 11, they had finally made contact with the greatly feared Auca tribe of Ecuador. Though the contact consisted of simply dropping items from a line many feet below their small plane, they had indeed established long-awaited contact with this isolated tribe. And while this story is taken from the 1950s (not too long ago), it’s hard for modern Americans to imagine a tribe so isolated and so remote in this day of internet 3G smartphones.
As I read, I underlined the words, “For the fourth flight, Nate rigged up the plane with a battery-powered loudspeaker. As they approached the clearings, Jim called out the Auca words, ‘I like you! I am your friend! I like you!'” Steps were taken in order to communicate in their language (For more info on how they learned the language see the story of Atshuaras here) These young missionaries cautiously approached the Aucas in progressive steps in order to win their confidence. As each step progressed, “no sign of malice or anger” was witnessed. More than anything, the dreaded lances the tribe used in killing people were hidden. Each visit left the Americans more encouraged.
A slow methodical pace was set in place to ensure both the missionaries’ safety as well as the natives’. As communication through the drop line advanced, soon the Aucas began tying things on the dropped line to send back to their friends in the sky above. The first gift was a headband of woven feathers while later gifts included a live parrot and bananas. On further trips over Auca territory, the missionaries flew so low that they could see the fear in the eyes of the Aucas. Though the men stood their ground in hopes of receiving more gifts, their eyes told of their bravery as they stood fast while a motorized bird flew above. In time, a date was set to encounter the Aucas on the ground: January 3, 1956.
Despondency Sets In
While everyone was endeavoring to reach the Aucas, Roger Youderian was privately discouraged. Even though the work was progressing, Roger felt a deep sense of failure. I wish I could not say that I cannot identify with Roger’s feelings, but anyone who is involved in ministry for any length of time knows the familiar feelings of discouragement as they wash ashore in the minds of missionary and minister alike. Elliot’s words are worth quoting at length:
A missionary plods through the first year or two, thinking that things will be different when he speaks the language. He is baffled to find, frequently, that they are not. He is stripped of all that may be called “romance.” Life has fallen more or less into a pattern. Day follows day in unbroken succession; there are no crises, no mass conversions, sometime not even one or two to whom he can point and say: “There is a transformed like. If I had not come, he would never have known Christ.” There will be those among the Indians who say that they accept Christ, but what of forsaking of heathen custom and turning from sin to a life of holiness? The missionary watches, and longs, and his heart sickens.
Roger looks around at the progress he is making and concludes, “I wouldn’t support a missionary such as I know myself to be, and I’m not going to ask anyone else to.” He was struggling to know the will of God for his family’s life. He struggled to feel any sense of God’s pleasure upon his work. One regret of Eliot’s writing emerges at this point. While she does an excellent job of painting Roger’s despondency, I wish she would have included a little more detail on what exactly turned Roger’s spirit around. A few more specifics would have been helpful for my spiritual growth. What spurred him forward to risk everything to reach this isolated tribe? What changed his mind on giving up and going home?
Nevertheless, without more specifics we discover that there are no “tricks” for emerging through such periods. More Bible reading and more prayer are needed and helpful but one’s spirit doesn’t return overnight just because you pray, read, and meditate. Instead, I have found you must endure and persevere in prayer, wrestling with God until you discover His will. Lastly, we are reminded of Paul’s words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Guns, Safety, and Marriage
Like sounds of drumbeat, these pages read with the noise of possible martyrdom lying softly and silently in the background, only to hear the sound of the drum emerge into a crescendo in later parts of the book. Each of these five young men and their wives knew exactly what they were facing when they initiated contact with this feared tribe. Interspersed through these four chapters is the recurrent talk of whether the men will arm themselves when they finally face the Aucas face to face. Elizabeth notes, “The wives were particularly concerned to know exactly what provisions were to be made for safety.” The men decided that they would carry along firearms but only to serve as a warning if they faced a possible lancer. Unlike their predecessors with the Shell Oil Company, these missionary families were wandering the jungles of Ecuador for commercial reason. Instead, they endeavored to keep the tribesmen alive. Such courage was inspired by a theology that took Jesus’ words on hell seriously. In Nate Saint’s own words as reflected on their task as they celebrated Christmas in South America:
As we have a high old time this Christmas, may we who know Christ hear the cry of the damned as they hurtle headlong into the Christless night without ever having a chance. May we be moved with compassion as our Lord was. May we shed tears of repentance for these we have failed to bring out of darkness. Beyond the smiling scenes of Bethlehem may we see the crushing agony of Golgotha. May God give us a new vision of His will concerning the lost and our responsibility
Today, the work of bringing the Gospel to unreached peoples is still not complete. Below is a ten minute video where you’ll see The Kimyal Tribe of West Papua, Indonesia receiving the Bible in their own language for the first time.
Leave comments below and let me know of your progress.