Jim Elliot was born on October 8, 1927 in Portland, Oregon. His father, Fred, was an ordained minister and his mother Clara was a chiropractor. He had two two brothers name Robert and Herbert and a sister named Jane. From an early age Jim had a love for God and even at age six he once told his mother “Now mama, the Lord Jesus can come whenever He wants. He could take our whole family because I’m saved now.” As a young child there were many missionaries that visited and stayed in his home. He became intrigued by their stories and he listened carefully as they described what their mission work was like. At a young age through these missionaries God began to cultivate in Jim’s heart a desire for mission work. It was very bothersome to him when he heard that of so many people in other countries that died without hearing of the gospel of Christ. In 1941 Jim attended Benson Polytechnic High School where he would often carry a small Bible with him and was often found speaking with others about Christ.
In 1945 Jim felt called to attend Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois, and was the same college that Billy Graham attended and graduated from a few years earlier. At Wheaton he was known for his great devotion and passion for the Lord starting each day with prayer and devotion. He once wrote in his journal of his studies “None of it gets to be ‘old stuff’ for if it is Christ in print, the Living Word. We shouldn’t think of rising in the morning without a face wash, but we often neglect the purgative cleansing of the Word of the Lord. It wakes us up to our responsibility.” While at Wheaton Jim desired to share the gospel wherever he could and he would often ride a train in to Chicago to talk to people at the train station about Christ. Jim’s desire to see unreached groups overseas grew at Wheaton and he took a trip in 1947 to Mexico.
It was during his third semester at Wheaton he met Elisabeth Howard and asked her for a date, which at first she agreed, but then later cancelled. Their friendship grew but due to their devotion to the Lord they decided to take it slow, unsure as to whether or not God called them to be single. Jim graduate from Wheaton in 1949 with a degree in Greek, and upon graduation there was no clear direction from the Lord. He moved back home to Portland where he continued to study the scriptures and pray and wait for God’s direction He continued to correspond and with Elizabeth, whom he called Betty, and their friendship grew. In June of 1950 Jim went to Oklahoma to attend the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and he learned there how to study unwritten languages. While at the Institute, Jim met a missionary to the Quecha’s Indians from the Ecuador jungles. He began to pray about going to Ecuador to work among these Indians and soon felt the call of God to go.
On February 2, 1952, Jim boarded a ship in San Pedro California to head to Quito, Ecuador. As he said goodbye to his parents it would his final good bye, for little did he know it would be the last time that he would ever see them this side of eternity. Accompanying Jim was his friend Pete Fleming and arriving in Quito on February 21, 1952. They spent the first year in Quito learning Spanish for the purpose of evangelizing the Quecha Indians. In May of 1952 Elisabeth Howard moved to Quito as well and began working with Colorado Indians near Santa Domingo. On January 29, 1953, Jim Elliot proposed to Elisabeth Howard on her 21st birthday, and they were married on October 8 in a civil ceremony in Quito on Jim’s 26th birthday. It would be on February 27, 1955 they would have their only child together named Valerie. Elisabeth joined Jim in his work in Shandia along with Pete Fleming working about the Quecha Indians. Although much fruit was bore among the Quecha Indians, Jim had heard about a group of Indians deep in the jungle known as the Waodoni tribe. The Quecha called this tribe the Auca which means “savage” and known to be a very violent group.
Jim came to know this tribe while working about the Quecha. There was a woman living among the Quecha that deserted the Waodoni tribe, when they tried to kill her years before. From her Jim learned the language of the Waodoni and learned much of who they were and what they did. They were a totally unreached people group with the gospel, but to reach them would be dangerous. The Waodoni were known as a very violent tribe, and they had killed all outsiders that were ever killed in their area, and they killed many of the Quecha Indians that Jim had worked with. They had even killed several workers of an oil drilling company site near their territory and the oil company had to close due to the danger of being killed. They had many cruel customs. If they saw anyone in the jungle who was not of their tribe, they would sneak up and kill them with their spears. They also speared each other, killing their own friends and relatives during the slightest quarrel. When a man killed another man, the family of the dead man would hunt for the killer and spear him too. Often parents killed their own children, just because they were tired of taking care of them.
Despite the risk and the danger of reaching these people, Jim’s desire was to see these people reached for the gospel of Christ. In 1955 Jim and Pete Flemming along with other missionaries: Nate Saint, Ed McCulley, and Roger Youderian began to search for the Waodoni’s. Nate Saint was a pilot and so they began to search for the tribe by using Nate’s airplane. They finally spotted where they live and Nate Saint had the idea that perhaps a way to connect with them was to give them gifts. Nate Saint was able to maneuver his plane in tight circles while lowering a bucket from a rope containing gifts like buttons and rock salt, with several more gifts delivered over the next several weeks. They even brought a loud speaker upon which they would begin to speak phrases to the people in their native language with friendly phrases. In time the Indians began to put things back into the bucket to send back up to the missionaries. They began to feel that they were starting to develop some trust among the Indians and time to start to meet with them face to face if possible.
One day as Nate was flying his plane he found a sandbar on the Curaray River about 4 miles from the Waodoni village. It would be from this landing strip they called “Palm Beach” they would attempt to come into contact with the Waodoni. The men decided to build a tree house that they could live in as they waited to make contact with the Indians. On January 3, 1956 while flying over the village they used the loudspeaker to invite the people to come and meet them on the beach. While on the landing strip they would continue with their loudspeaker calling into the jungle to the Waodoni in their language inviting them to come join them on the beach. One day on January 3, 1956 a Waodoni man arrived on the beach where they were at. Three days later on January 6, 1956 at 11:15am a man and two women arrived on the beach opposite the river bank and joined them. The younger of the two women came against her families wishes and a man named Nankiwi who liked her followed her as well. The older woman who approached the men was about 30 years old. The men gave them gifts including a model plane and the natives seemed to be relaxed and talking with the missionaries. The man Nankiwi was nicknamed “George” by the missionaries became interested in airplane and so Nate Saint put him in the plane and took him for a ride.
Nankiwi was amazed and upon seeing his people below as they flew over him waved frantically out to them shouting in their language. After seeing Nankiwi in the plance several of the men from the tribe decided to go to the beach to meet the missionaries. So the men left on January 7 to go visit with the missionaries where they met with Nankiwi and the young girl as they were returning to the village, being unescorted by their older woman who had been with them. The young girls brother named Nampa was very upset with this, and Nankiwi in order to save himself lied about the missionaries and said the missionaries had attacked them on the beach, and they had to flee. A man in the group of men named Gikita was a senior member of the group and from his experiences with outsiders he learned he could not trust them, and they were to be killed.
The decision was made to kill the missionaries and along the way they met with the older woman whom was returning from meeting with the missionaries. She told the men that they missionaries were friendly and tried to dissuade them from following through with their plan to kill them, but it would be to late they had their mind made up. The group of men arrived at the beach on January 8th, 1956 around 3:00pm and in order to separate the men to make the attack easier they sent three women to the other side of the river, in order to make a surprise attack. When two of the women showed themselves Jim Elliot and Pete Flemming waded into the water to meet with them. Yet as they made their way to the woman they were attacked from behind by the men and they were speared to death. Upon the attack Jim had a pistol in his pocket that could have saved these men from death, but they had all vowed that if they were attacked they would not shoot or kill any of the Indians. They knew if they died they would go to heaven but if the Indians died they would go to Hell, and they would rather die trying to save these Indians from Hell.
The other three missionaries on the beach lead by a man named Gikita were all killed. One of the missionaries Roger Youderain ran to his plane to use the radio to alert others what was happening but he was speared as he picked up the radio to call.
Jim Elliot had talked with his wife Elisabeth Elliot earlier on Sunday, January 8th by two-way radio that as Nate Saint was flying through the air he saw some natives coming to the beach. The last contact made was Jim calling his wife and saying to her “Well call you back in three hours.” The wives of the missionaries began to pray for their husbands and waited to hear back, but several hours had past and they heard nothing, and they feared the worst. Eventually planes from the Ecuadorian Air Force, the US Army, Air Force and Navy swarmed along the Curaray River looking for any sight or sign of the missionaries. They found the bodies of Jim Elliot and three other missionaries upstream speared to death and hacked by machetes. The plane also was tore to pieces with spears and machetes with the material torn out of it, as if they were trying to kill the plane as well. When Nate Saint’s body was found his watch was stopped at 3:12pm assuming that was the time when he attack took place. The Waodoni’s returned to their village after killing the men and expecting retribution burned their village and fled into the jungle.
All these missionaries died giving the gospel to the Waodoni Indians. Jim Elliot wrote in journal on October 28, 1949 one of the most inspiring statements ever quoted by man, and would turn out to be prophetic of his own life. Jim wrote in his journal on that day “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Although a fool to the world’s eyes for giving his life away at the age of 29, he was a man who gained heaven for all eternity. Jim left behind his wife Elisabeth and their 10 month old daughter Valerie. After Jim’s death his wife Elisabeth along with their daughter and Rachel Saint the sister of Nate Saint, went back to the Waodoni’s work with them. After about 2 years they were granted peace and they began to mnister to the natives. As result of the efforts of the missionaries along with the continued work of Elisabeth Elliot, many of the Waodoni’s became Christians, including many the of the men who killed the missionaries. One of those men gave his testimony at a meeting in which he counted with his fingers and said , “I have killed twelve people with my spear! But I did that when my heart was black. Now Jesus’ blood has washed my heart clean, so I don’t live like that anymore.”
Steve Saint, whose father was the pilate that was killed (Nate Saint) would often go spend the summers in the jungles with his Aunt and Elisabeth. Then at age 13 he was baptized in the Curray River the same river that his father and the other’s missionary’s bodies were found in. Yet he was baptized by two men named Kimo and Dyuwi, who happened to be two of the men that killed his father. Many of the Auca Indians have become Christians, and Steve Saint and his family lived among Indians for several years and working with them even unto today.
The death of Jim Elliot and the others with him have been a source of encouragement and inspiration that have sent hundreds into the mission field, and still inspires today. Elisabeth Elliot went on to write a bestselling and very popular book called “In The Shadow Of The Almighty” and “Through The Gates Of Splendor” which was about Jim Elliot and the events that took place that day they Jim was killed. A movie was made in 2005 about the events that happened in Ecuador called “The End Of The Spear.”