I have grown up with Jim, even though I’ve never met him. Mom would recount his story over and again throughout my childhood and early teens, with the result that his life and struggle to follow God have left a very vivid impression in my mind.
Jim Elliot was born October 8, 1924, in Portland, Oregon, and spent his entire life running after God. He wasn’t rich or famous–in fact, the most fame he acquired was on January 8th, 1956, when he and four other missionaries were speared to death by Auca indians in the jungles of Ecuador. He was only 31 years old.
Jim wrote a well-known quote in one of his numerous journals:
He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.
And the power behind that quote is that he wrote it not only with his pen, but with his entire life.
On a Saturday in 1985, my parents visited Wheaton University in Wheaton, Illinois. Jim had gone to college there forty years before. With only a few minutes before the Archives closed for the day, they were brought a box of Jim’s personal effects and articles which were archived there.
Among the various items was a small, thin-ruled cash journal which appeared badly water-damaged. As my dad picked it up and opened it, they could see that this was Jim’s last personal journal—the book that had been on his person when he was speared.
Jim had filled the book with his notes and thoughts, scribbling across the columns. The ink had faded and run together from the water marks, and there were holes in the pages from the sand, making the journal mostly unreadable.
Dad recently told about how, as the pages opened, a few grains of sand fell out onto the table, and he realized that the sand was from the same beach on the Curaray River on which Jim, Ed, Pete, Nate and Roger died.
Just a few grains of sand, made sacred by the sacrifices of five men.
His wife, Elizabeth Elliot, writes in his biography The Shadow of the Almighty,
When the beach was discovered on which Nate felt sure a landing would be possible, the plans of going down the Curaray River by canoe were discarded, and also the necessity of a woman’s going. I knew that Jim would be leaving without me, and we began then to discuss the possibilities of his not returning.
“If God wants it that way, darling,” he said, “I am ready to die for the salvation of the Aucas.”
How does a young man—or any man, for that matter—face death so readily?
It comes through preparation. Jim had been learning how to die for most of his life. You can get a picture of this if you read through his biography, and even more so if you read The Journals of Jim Elliot, a compilation of his numerous journals. He spent every day practicing how to lay his life down for the Will of his Lord, struggling with his self and sin, giving up his life over and over again, until the ultimate realization of that Will on the sands of the Curaray.
So the question is, how are we learning how to die? Do we recognize the struggle between giving up or keeping our life in the myriad of small tests which are before us every day? Those small tests matter a lot. Just ask Jim. Because he proved faithful in the small tests, he aced the big one.