September 1, 2010
Few events outside my direct family experience impacted my life more than the news in January, 1956, that five missionaries had been brutally killed, trying to reach an unevangelized and notoriously violent group of Ecuadorian Indians known to outsiders as the Aucas. It wasn’t a remote event – my parents knew two of the men and one of their wives, and these were young, gifted men in their twenties, with lives full of promise and evident giftedness. Jim Elliot, the best known of the group, was a cousin of family friends. There were lots of reasons for this event to have an impact, and I can remember the anxiety with which we followed the story, read the newspapers and a special edition of Life magazine, and remembered the families in prayer, especially five young widows, all but one raising young children now alone.
In later years the story took another turn. Elizabeth Elliot wrote a biography of her husband that I first read as a high school student, and continued to read at least once a year for at least ten years. Jim Elliot became a hero and a model, keeping me on track in my desire to live as a Christ-follower. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” – that was Jim Elliot’s motto, and I tried to make it mine.
All this time, we as a family (and local church) continued to pray for another member of the Elliot family – Jim’s older brother, Bert and his wife Colleen, who were missionaries in Peru. They had gone there in 1949 and remarkably are still there! Bert isn’t as flamboyantly gifted as his younger brother Jim, and is virtually unknown to the larger Christian community. Yet for sixty years they have faithfully served the Lord and there are now more than 120 local churches around the country of Peru that can trace their existence directly to the ministry of Bert & Colleen Elliott.
Bert once said, “Jim and I both served Christ, but differently. Jim was a great meteor, streaking through the sky.” He was too humble to describe himself. He is Old Faithful, serving unnoticed and often unacclaimed, but doing the will of God to the glory of Christ. He once described the pattern of his and his wife’s ministry: “It is like looking back from a moving boat. You see the beautiful patterns in the wake. We found God’s will, and now look back with wonder and adoration to see what God has done.”
Almost none of us get to be “great meteors streaking through the sky.” But who can doubt, that when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, that Bert Elliott, little noticed on earth, will be greatly acclaimed in heaven. That is a hero and model worth taking notice of.