Last week I was studying for one of my classes for my grad program with Wheaton. The class, Theology of Development, gave me a lot to think about regarding the mission of God. The last day, our professor began a stimulating dialogue on reconciling our understanding of a compassionate and merciful God with a heart for all nations to know him with some of the stories like wiping out the Canaanites. We read a great article by Christopher Wright called, ‘What about the Canaanites’ that helped give us some understanding for God’s judgment and specific punishment verses his desire for all to know him and be loved by him. At the conclusion, our professor shared this amazing story.
In 1914, a man named Fred, from Vancouver Canada, got married on August 28, just around the time of the beginning of WWI. He wanted to be a preacher and evangelist like his mentor Harry Ironside. On his one year anniversary his wife went into labor with their first child, but due to complications she could not survive the delivery. Both mother and child were lost.
He hit a point of crisis of faith. How could a good and gracious God allow something of such seeming cruelty and injustice happen to him, a man devoting his life to the service of God? Would Fred throw in the towel and walk away from all he invested into the kingdom of God, or would he stay in the game? Fred never wrote any books or explained how he dealt with his personal tragedy. However, he stayed in the game.
A few years later, on November 11, 1918, Fred was married again to a woman named Clara. They continued to pursue a life of ministry before God and eventually had four children. The second was named Herbert, the third James and the fourth Jane.
Herbert (Bert) and his wife went off to Peru in 1949 to work with natives along the river. They still live in Peru after serving for 60 years in the mission of God. They were never able to have children. This freed them up to have a mobile life and ministry. Bert and his wife had a launch, and they would take their boat up and down the river preaching the gospel to villages along the river. There is not an exact count of the churches started through their life and devotion to the mission of God, but more than 120 churches can credit their beginning to these missional servants of God.
You may know their younger brother better by Jim Elliot. He went three years later with his wife Elizabeth to Ecuador. However, the life of Jim Elliot was cut short when he was killed by the Auca Indians in 1956, a story that came to life through the movie, ‘End of the Spear’ and in books.
We know Jim and his wife Elizabeth have done much to give people a heart to serve in overseas mission. Jim’s younger sister Jane had some children also, one of which was my professor, Steve Hawthorne, M.D. (a missionary to Bolivia for the past 20 years).
Jim Elliot, who graduated top of his class in ancient languages from Wheaton College and his brother, who never felt as gifted as his younger brother, provide a picture with many questions. Why did God allow one brother to be taken so early and another to live a long productive life? If it were up to any of us, we would have seen the greater potential of Jim Elliot rather than Bert Elliot.
These are the hard questions to ask, and I am sure they have been asked ever since the prophets, who Hebrews 11 says were the world was unfit for, have asked. Maybe even the relatives of James and John asked such questions. They asked Jesus if they could follow him, and he said only if you are willing to drink from the cup I will drink of. They said yes. One brother, James, was taken shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven as one of the early martyrs. John lived most of the 1st century helping shape the early church with his letters and love.
How can we wrestle through the hard things in life?