March 1, 2012
Last May, Elizabeth and I had the enormous privilege of visiting Ecuador, and spending time with Lloyd & Linda Rogers, who have faithfully served the Lord there for close to fifty years. A special highlight was flying into the jungle where, in 1956, five young men gave their lives seeking to reach a notorious tribe known as the Aucas (now the Waorani) with the gospel of Christ. Feared for their violent ways, the Waorani ambushed and killed the men who were camping on a sandbar on the Curaray River. But others followed, notably the sister of Nate Saint and the wife of Jim Elliot, who lived among them, loved them, shared the gospel in their language, and were used by God to see a church emerge. We had the privilege of meeting Dayuma, the Waorani woman who has been so important to that breakthrough, as well as other Waorani brothers and sisters in Christ, who escorted us to the place where the death of those men had taken place.
That story, captured in print primarily by Elizabeth Elliot, had a huge influence on a generation of young Christians, Elizabeth and me among them. The life story of Jim Elliot galvanized the attention of many and had a powerful influence on my life. That was a major reason why this was such a memorable journey.
Jim Elliot had an older brother named Bert, who had gone as a missionary to Peru in 1949. I remember as a boy hearing people pray for “Bert & Colleen Elliot in Peru.” Jim had served for a few years, died tragically and became widely known. Bert served in significant obscurity, but with dogged determination and great faithfulness. As Bert once said, “Jim and I both served Christ, but differently. Jim was a great meteor, streaking through the sky.”
For more than sixty years, Bert & Colleen served in Peru, planting churches, building up believers and reaching out to addicts. Here’s what Elizabeth Elliot had to say about them: “No one has ever heard of Bert Elliot. … He and his wife were never given any children, which was a great sorrow to them. Because of that they have been able to be free in the summertime in the Eastern Jungles where it’s very, very hot and then the other extreme is in the high Andes where it’s extremely cold. They are the happiest couple you have ever seen.”
Even though the Lord never gave them any children, they have hundreds of spiritual children; and when I hear the thousands of people that know about Jim Elliott, I always want to say, “I wish you could hear about Bert Elliot.”
On February 17, Bert Elliot passed “through gates of splendor” from a sickbed in Peru into the presence of his Lord. There were no headlines on earth, as when Jim died. But there was, I am sure, a fanfare in heaven for a faithful follower who had lived faithfully and happily right to the end. In a celebrity-obsessed culture like ours, we need to choose our heroes carefully. Bert Elliot’s is a life worth pondering.