When I told my parents I´d been accepted for an INMED internship in the jungle town of Shell, Ecuador an expression of recognition immediately crossed their faces. They knew exactly where it was even though I still couldn´t find it on the map. ¨That´s where the five American missionaries were killed by the Aucas.¨ Great. Wait…what? I vaguely remembered watching a documentary about Jim and Elisabeth Elliot´s story but I couldn´t recall the details. Now that I was going to be living where their story took place my interest was heightened.
So, how did five young missionaries with their wives and families end up in the Ecuadorian jungle? More than sixty years later how did I end up in the same place? Perhaps my story begins more than a year ago when I began considering a public health internship in Ecuador, for I believe that God sets in motion events in our lives long before we have an awareness of His plans for us. Nevertheless, last fall my restless spirit had kicked into high gear and I began thinking of the direction I wanted my life to go. I had settled into my career and had found a comfortable rhythm which is usually when I begin to feel antsy. I thought about joining the Peace Corps, or going back to school for a Masters in Public Health degree. I even initiated my application for the Peace Corps and started studying for the GRE, but I didn´t feel at peace about either of these choices. I had taken the week long public health course INMED offered and was also interested in the international rotation they had as the practical component of this course. I had never been to South America and this could be a chance for me to reacquire some of my Spanish vocabulary. Plus, I was enthralled with the idea of practicing medicine in ¨the jungle.¨
Jim Elliot was also excited to serve in this area. In 1952 he writes, ¨Now I am actually at sea-as a passenger, of course, but at sea nevertheless-and bound for Ecuador. Strange-or is it- that childish hopes should be answered in the will of God for this now?¨ As the ministry of these families unfolded none of them could have known or anticipated the way God would use their lives to impact the communities of people in the jungle and around the world. One thing that impressed me while reading Through Gates of Splendor (which details the story of Operation Auca and their attempts to spread the gospel), was their incredible faith. Jim writes, ¨There is no such thing as attainment in this life, as soon as one arrives at a long-coveted position he only jacks up his desire for another notch or so and looks for higher achievement-a process which is ultimately suspended by the intervention of death. Life is truly likened to a rising vapor, coiling, evanescent, shifting. May the Lord teach us what it means to live in terms of the end like Paul who said, ´Neither count I my life dear unto myself, that I might finish my course with joy…´¨¨
I´m still not sure the direction God is calling me or what is in store next, but I am honored to walk in the footsteps of those who followed God´s calling and gave of their lives to serve others. This last week I had the opportunity to take a short flight into the deeper jungle to see a community of the Waorani tribe (formally the Aucas).
As they welcomed us to their village with song and dance, I noticed an older man who still had the traditional wide holes in his ears, the marking of a previous generation of Waorani. I´m told this is Dewey. He is the only one still alive of the group of men responsible for killing the missionaries. He doesn´t speak Spanish, but his smile and his enthusiasm were contagious. They say every time he sees or hears a plane overhead he prays for the safety of the pilot and passengers.
Today, all but one clan of the Waorani have given their lives to Christ and have revoked their heritage of brutally killing each other and others who might wander into their territory. Now Shell is the base for the Missionary Aviation Fellowship in Ecuador (Alas de Socorro) and Hospital Vozandes which serve the outlying communities. The culture of missionaries in this area has changed and shifted and the threat of imminent danger has subsided. My fears do not include being attacked by a savage tribe or losing my life in the jungle. Instead I fear things like uncertainty and making decisions about my future. Yet I am encouraged by the legacy these missionaries have left, a legacy of self sacrifice and trust in an Omnipotent God. So, I choose to walk by faith and not by fear. In a letter Jim wrote of encouragement to Pete Fleming (another of the martyrs) he said, ¨Of this I am sure. He will lead you too, and not let you miss your signs. The sound of ´gentle stillness´ after the thunder and wind have passed will be the ultimate word from God. Tarry long for it.¨