For the last few days I have had some trips down memory lane. I don't know why, but have been thinking about the events in January so many years ago, that led to the death of Jim Elliot and his four fellow missionaries in their quest to reach the stone age indians in Equador with the gospel.
What follows are some of my memories of Jim. I hope you will bear with me for its long.
Memories of a cousin
Jim Elliot was my cousin and my friend. Our mothers were first cousins and close friends, so our families spent lots of time together. I was often at the Elliot house for overnights with Jim’s sister, Jane, who is my age.
One of my earliest memories of Jim happened when our two families were vacationing at Manzanita Beach one summer. Jane and I were eight or nine, and with the cooperation of my brother, two years our junior, we played a terrible trick on our mothers. We laid brother Bernie on the rocks that were about a 12 feet drop from the walkway . We ran to the house shouting, “Come quick, Bernie fell onto the rocks.” Our mothers were hustling to the door when Jim, along with his two buddies, “Dutch” and Dick, came sailing over our mothers’ heads and ran to the walkway where brother Bernie was having a giggling fit. I remember Jim grabbing Jane and me by our curls and hauling us back to the cabin door, making us look at him as he delivered a scolding to us about what a terrible trick that was and to make sure we understood, he knocked our two heads together!! (He had a strong sense of right and wrong, even at age 14!)
I intuitively knew the Elliot kids were bright, fearless, outgoing, energetic and full of adventure, but Jim truly stood out in this area. To be around him, meant we would always have gobs of fun, but also be challenged in our walk with God
Jim had a tremendous memory and was quite theatrical. I can still feel the goose bumps that would rise when he would quote “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe.
Once on Thanksgiving, he stayed in his room all day fasting and memorizing all the verses of the hymn, “The Sands of Time...” He was very disciplined.
He had a tremendous wit, loved spontaneous get togethers with the young people, and provided loads of adventure. He taught me how to canoe on the Columbia River. He led groups for climbs up Mount Hood--they would get up very early, drive up, do their climb and be back that night--no fancy climbing gear, no walkie-talkies, just whatever they had that was appropriate for the climb. He loved adventure!!
The “Young People” from all of the chapels went on a bus to Eugene for some special meetings when I was about 15. In the back three seats there were three couples (whose names I won’t mention) who were doing a little “spooning”. We were all singing together and one song was “Smoke gets in your eyes” and when we finished, Jim shouted from the front of the bus, “There’s no smoke in this bus, but there is plenty of fire in those back seats!!” And that was Jim....a ready wit, with an answer for everything!
We could be cutting up, with Jim leading the fun, and when it was time to settle down, in an instant, he was reverent and ready to talk about the Lord. He never allowed his foolishness to carry over into the Spiritual parts of our get-togethers.
When Jim left for Wheaton College, he came back each summer full of energy for the Lord. He led our little group of high schoolers those summers and each year he came back, he had a new line of thinking he would drill into us. One year it was that we must refrain from using “Jezebel Juice” (make up) as that was not good. The next year it was no kissing until marriage and on it went. He was so passionate in what he believed, we all fell under his dynamic personality. He constantly challenged us to serve the Lord with our lives.
I was in my second year out of college doing social work at the Medical School when the five young men lost contact with the home base. I remember so clearly walking into the lobby of County Hospital each morning to read the headlines in the Oregonian newspaper stand, which kept us up to date on their situation. I remember the turmoil of my thoughts, my emotions, the enormity of this thing, and above all, how I was going to deal with this if Jim was dead.
As I grappled with all of these thoughts and emotions, I was forced to remember the appalling accidental death of my favorite 4 year old cousin when I was eighteen. It happened three weeks before I left for Westmont College and I was thinking I was pretty spiritual, until this happened. I found myself shaking my fist at God--literally crying out in anger at Him for this horrible accident.
I KNEW that no matter the outcome with the missing missionaries, I could not have this reaction again. I had long before dealt with my anger, and I knew that I could not respond in the same way this time....so all week, as we waited, I prayed continually, “Lord, use this in my life for Your glory.”
And then of course, the bodies were found, and the Christian world was shaken. There are blurred memories from the days that followed--Uncle Fred Elliot (Jim’s father) at the old Sixth and Prescott Chapel, after getting the news during prayer meeting, holding onto the big white pillar on the porch, sobbing out his broken heart.--the Memorial Service shared with an overflowing audience in the gym at Benson High School--the many articles in the secular press--the changes going on in peoples’ hearts--and last the changes which were taking place within my own heart as I absorbed the enormity of all that had happened.
In the months that followed I was being led to leave my job (which I loved) and look into some type of Christian work. Bert and Colleen Elliot were home from Peru during those months and in sharing with them what was going on in my life, they told me of The Christian Home for Children in Colorado Springs. I corresponded with the Home and learned that they were expanding their ministry to include handling adoptions and foster care and were looking for a Social Worker.
After much prayer and thought, I joined the staff at the Children’s Home where I learned so many lessons in depending on God. It was run like the George Mueller orphanages in England and it was a life changing experience for me.
Had Jim Elliot and his companions not died, would my life have taken the path it did? I don’t know, but I know that that experience was instrumental in taking my life in a direction that I had never even thought about. My work with children began that year and expanded into twenty five foster kids over the years in my own home, and being able to be the sixth single woman in Oregon allowed to adopt. I like to believe that my life’s journey was shaped greatly by the events of fifty years ago.
It is only hindsight which allows me to see what a jewel Jim Elliot was and what a privilege it was to have grown up around him! As I read through his journal many years ago, I was floored at the profound thoughts he wrote--many when he was hardly more than a boy. Some of the words he penned at age 21 were far beyond the Spiritual development and maturity for a man his age.
As you see Jim in the movie, “End of the Spear”--fit, smiling, twinkling eyes, fleet of foot and so cute, you will see him as he will forever be in my mind’s eye. I am so thankful for his life. “He being dead, yet speaketh!”
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