Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gates of Splendor

On Monday I finished reading Elisabeth Elliot's 1956 book "Through Gates of Splendor" about the the lives, work, and deaths of the men of Operation Auca in the Ecuadorian rain forest in the early half of the 1950s. I had so been looking forward to, having missionary zeal myself, reading the exciting account of these men and their work for the Lord. It was a quite good book, no doubt, and did not disappoint me in my thirst to learn from a first-hand source about what was going on with them in their mission service (the book is mostly comprised of excerpts from the diaries and letters of the men and their wives during their time in Ecuador). Part of me expected to feel even more guilty calling myself a missionary when I am in no danger of my life and feel that I don't share Christ often enough with enough people (I'm sure that I conveyed my misery and desperation at being a "bad missionary" in one of my former posts... not sure which one).

I learned not a few things about these martyrs, but also about myself. I was actually a little surprised to see "decision theology" crop up in the book at a few places. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by that, but the fact that I've been steeping myself ever more in the Word and in Lutheran doctrine has made this kind of "making a decision for Christ" stuff ever more foreign and unattractive in my eyes. As a Lutheran, I don't believe there is any such thing as a person being able to choose Christ, to condescend to agree with the Creator of the Universe to accept salvation, as though before one had turned up his nose at it. No. A person is given faith in Christ in the same way that the corpse of Lazarus was given life again by his Savior and Friend, Jesus: "Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!'" (John 11:43). Did Lazarus reflect on this and say, "Well, I guess I'll do what He says."? NO. Just as He did at Creation, God spoke and IT WAS as He said. Enough about that.

One of the most gripping and fascinating parts for me was the thoughts and concerns of one of the men, Roger Youderian, who may almost have missed His calling to martyrdom: at the time he was invited by the other men to join Operation Auca, he was contemplating failure as a missionary and a return home to the States. He wrote in his diary: "About ready to call it quits. The reason: Failure to measure up as a missionary and get next to the people. The cause of Christ in the Jivaria will not suffer for our having been there, but I must be honest and confess that it has not been helped." (p. 152) He felt like an utter failure as a missionary, like he was wasting the Lord's time and his supporters' money through his failings. If he could only have known.

As Operation Auca was getting underway, and the men began making plans for transitioning from simply making daily drops of gifts from their airplane to setting up a location on the ground where they hoped to meet with the fierce Auca, the wives talked about the fact that these plans could mean loss of life for their husbands. Elliot writes:

"It was a time for soul-searching, a time for counting the possible cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No. Their letters and journal make it abundantly clear that these men did not go out as some men go out to shoot a lion or climb a mountain. their compulsion was from a different source. To these men, Jesus Christ was God, and had actually taken upom Himself human form, in order that He might die, and, by His death, provide not only escape from the punishment which their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, eternal both in length and in quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed... 'Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature' was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant." (p. 175)

Another precious gem in the book is from Jim Elliot's diary (this man was an incredible writer and thinker... they all were): "Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him. Mayhap in mercy He shall give me a host of children that I may lead them through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies whose finger ends set them to burning. But if not, if only I may see Him, touch His garments, and smile into His eyes-- ah then, not stars nor children shall matter, only Himself. O Jesus, Master and Center and End of all, how long before that Glory is thing which has so long waited Thee? Now there is not hgouth of Thee among men; then there shall be thougth for nothing else. Now other men are praised; then none shall care for any other's merits. Hasten, hasten, Glory of Heaven, take Thy crown, subdue Thy Kingdom, enthrall Thy creatures." (255-6)

About the reaction of the world to the death of these men: "In a civilization where, in order to be sure of their manhood, men must box, lift weights, play football, jog, rappel or hang-glide, it was startling to realize that there was such a thing as spiritual commitment as robust, as total, and perhaps more demanding than the most fanatical commitment to physical fitness. It was a shock to learn that anybody cared that much about anything, especially if it was invisible." (268)

And finally, brilliant words from the pen of the fabulous Mrs. Elliot: "It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God's and the call is God's and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, the whole scene, the whole mess, the whole package-- our bravery and our cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses. The God who could take a murderer like Moses and an adulterer like David and a traitor like Peter and make of them strong servants of His is a God who can also redeem savage Indians, using as the instruments of His peace a conglomeration of sinners who sometimes look like heros and sometimes like villains." (273)

So, for those of you who have stuck it through this long reading a blog post that is admittedly WAY too long for most people, and way longer than the recommended length for a blog post (I even get frustrated when blogs are too long), I hope that you have at least been given something to think about through the quotations that I've included. It was a marvelous book that refreshed in me a desire for the ends of the earth to know the Name of the Lord Jesus.

But don't just take MY word for it... read it yourself.

Pray that God would engender a passion in your heart and in mine that we might seek to spread His Truth with as much abandon as these men, with no concern for our personal comfort (to say nothing of concern for our earthly safety and lives, as these men sacrificed). Pray that He would give us daily and many opportunities to speak the Good News of salvation through Christ Jesus to our neighbors, and that He would make us faithful to take the opportunities He gives.


Kurt Onken said...

Glad you enjoyed it. It is a good read and an inspiring story. The hardships and sacrifices that missionary families make for the love of Christ and people who do not know him are unappreciated by many.

What prompted me to read it was seeing the movie "End of the Spear." I had heard of the story before, but had never read the book. We had an old edition of it in our church library.

As a side note, in the movie, the actor who played both Nate Saint and son Steve as an adult - Chad Allen - is a former student of mine when I taught high school in Southern California.

Also, do you know "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say? Check it out at the link below...

Anonymous said...

Hi Ashley! I was so excited to see that you've read Through the Gates of Splendor. I have it listed as one of my favorite books. I completely agree with you about the amazing depth, vision, and commitment that Jim Elliot's journals and letters share. They are ever-convicting and I'm thankful that God used Him as such an instrument and that such a record was left behind by him that can be encouragement to others. I am always challenged by Elisabeth Elliot's writings and am always so happy to hear that others have enjoyed her books as well. The story is awesome and truly points to how God works through human weakness and orchestrates things that are beyond our control to complete His ultimate plan :)