Reading Together: Through Gates of Splendor – Part Four

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.


Reading Together: Through Gates of Splendor – Part Three

It’s six days until Christmas and I am behind in our Reading Together project! Today’s post is devoted to chapters 7 through 11 in Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor. My apologies for the delay.

Elisabeth Elliot accomplishes two purposes for modern day evangelicals. First, readers are treated to a grand adventure long before the advent of Indiana Jones. As the reader encounters the Amazon jungles along with its inherit dangers, we witness these young missionary families hard at work in negotiating the hazards of the jungle. Both husbands and wives set out to domesticate the rainforest as a safe place to raise families as they seek to share Christ’s love with the indigenous people of Ecuador. Second,  Elliot’s writing reinforces the need to reach the nations with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). As the adventure advances, readers admire the courage of the Americans but also sense a compulsion to share Christ’s good news with others (Romans 1:15-16). Along the way, a desire to reach the nations wells up inside of us as well – a time and place when we sacrifice for the sake of others.

From the onset of chapter seven, we find concern from the five young American missionaries for the people who have never heard the Gospel. Eventually, we’ll see their deliberate focus on the Aucas come to fruition, but an opportunity presents itself to reach the Atshuaras tribe of Ecuador. Connecting with the Atshuaras proves difficult because of their running feud with the Jivaros (a sister tribe). But God intervenes on behalf of these enthusiastic missionaries as Roger Youderian shares medicine with the tribe’s chief (for introductions to all five missionaries go here and here). A few of the men are invited to come to the home of the Atshuaras people. Upon their arrival they share the story of the Gospel until they were literally “hoarse and exhausted.” As their voice recover, they use a wind up phonograph to play the Bible’s stories. I picture almost an old Victorian phonograph as I read Elliot’s words. Despite the limited resources, several people from the tribe showed interest in Christianity.

In the days afterward, Elisabeth relates the adventuresome story of Roger as he spends several days with the Atshuaras people in order to make a runway for the plane to land. An air landing would prove more convenient for travel to this remote place but a good deal of work must be done in order to provide a safe landing spot for the plane. The reader senses the tension of the moment when hours turn into days while Roger works along the Atshuaras people. Yet, we do not find out until later that the Atshuaras are deadly sick because of contact with the flu. After numerous delays, the plane eventually arrives in a precarious landing with two doses of penicillin – just enough medicine to stave off death for a number of the Atshuaras. And while the Atshuaras people have heard the story of Christ, the young missionaries again turn their attention to the Aucas just beyond “the distant ridges.”

Chapter eight turns its attention fully on the Aucas. While the reader has learned bits of information about this dreaded group, it is not until now that we fully comprehend the complications involved in reaching the Aucas. Previous missionary efforts to reach this tribe are hampered by the tribe’s desire for revenge against their ancestor’s murders dating back to the 1500s. A legacy of reprisal is soon passed from generation to generation where little trust is afforded to outsiders. Added to this growing distrust of the white man is the Aucas’ isolation. Numbering no more than 1,000 people, this indigenous tribe is scattered throughout twelve thousand square miles of dense jungle. One can imagine the frustration as well as the adventure in locating a tribe that did not wish to be located. After all, there were no tourists signs that pointed out their whereabouts.

Elliot shares brief snippets about the history of the Aucas and their interactions with outsiders. The facts become increasingly known to the men as they seek as much information as possible in their efforts to see the Aucas evangelized. Incidents are drawn from reports when Shell Oil Company was operating in the area as well as from Don Carlos, a tall Ecuadorian man whose years of experience with the Aucas in the early 1900s proves helpful. While only a handful of important sources are available to cull, few sources are as helpful as Dayuma. Dayuma was a young Auca teenager who had escaped years ago from a tribal killing. Among the facts Dayuma shares is the ability of the Auca people to identify a person’s individual footprint as others would identify a person’s face. When she is asked why the Aucas kill so readily, she simply replies, “Never, never trust them. They may appear friendly and then they will turn around and kill.” Her words foreshadow an ominous turn of events in the pages to come.

In October 1955, Nate Saint begins to record the developing attempts to reach the Aucas in earnest. While pouring over a map of the jungles of Ecuador, the men secretly plan to make contact with this elusive tribe. Just a month earlier, Nate and Ed McCully set out in the plane to locate the Aucas from the air. After some deliberate and methodical searching, several landings are spotted from above; they had at long last found the volatile Aucas! While not venturing too low for fear of alarming anyone on their first visit, the excitement swelled inside the small plane as the men sensed their hard work paying off. Subsequent trips locates even more houses from the air and only minutes away from established missionary outposts. As the men ponder the next step, they felt “a presentation of gifts seemed the obvious next step.”

Gifts were soon delivered by attaching a fishing line to the plane as it circled overhead. The first gift delivered was a small aluminum kettle along with twenty brightly colored buttons inside.  Though no one was seen on the ground as the first gift was delivered, there was a growing sense of anticipation as to what God was doing in the days ahead. A second trip ensued where a machete was dropped from the plane. The machete was chosen based on the brief interactions others had with the Aucas as the tribe highly valued the tool. The gift was carefully wrapped in cloth so as to not harm anyone as it was dropped. As the men circled overhead with binoculars glued to the ground below, the small plane was soon filled with exhilaration as they spotted the first Auca. One native soon turned into several as they ran around on the ground below anticipating the gift from the sky. As the gift dropped from the plane, it inadvertently dropped into a stream. No sooner had it hit the water than a second splash was heard as one man dived in to recover it. It seemed that men below were equally excited about the prospects of this new relationship. Note: readers can see pictures of the scene of the drop as well as the plane on pages 127 and following.

Look Wednesday for the fourth post as we cover chapters twelve through fifteen. Feel free to leave comments and/or questions as you read in the comments section below.