Through Gates of Splendor

Through gates of splendor is a book that chronicles the five missionaries served on Ecuador: Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Nate Saint and Roger Youderian. It was written by Elisabeth Elliot – Jim’s wife, she wrote the book based on her recollection of the events as well as notes from the five men journals.

Ecuador consists of different tribes on Indian, here are some of them: the Jivaro indians (famous for their practice of head shrinking tradition), the Quichua, and the Athsuaras.

The five missionaries, initially served separately in different parts of Ecuador for few years. Jim and Ed were serving the Quichuas indians, Roger served with the Jivaro indians. Nate, the missionary pilot and his wife, manned the main post which is the hub that connects the missionaries. Indeed Nate’s job is transporting the missionaries, food and goods from the main station to the missionaries’ stations.

As time unfolds – they were led to reach to group of Indian called the Aucas. Jim and Ed had the vision of reaching them prior coming to Ecuador – and somehow God puts the same concern on the other 3 missionaries. And so they finally decided to leave their own ministries and join forces for the Aucas.

There are reasons why this tribe has not been reached with the gospel – this is a very hostile and violent group of people – murder and killing happens often.
Secondly they don’t settle on the one place for a long time – one of their customs is to abandon their home after a killing for fearing retribution. And a marred past with white people/foreigners who came and exploited them before didn’t help the case either.

Because no one knows where their exact location is – the first thing that they had to do is to actually find where they are. And so they set up a station near the territory that is known as the Auca territory for a couple months. During this time they minister to the indians around the area.

During this time they also periodically surveyed the territory for Auca settlements with Nate’s plane. And one day they finally found one settlement which was a great joy for them.

Again due to the nature the violence nature of the group – the missionaries can’t just walk up to them and say hello. They have to earn their trust first. And here’s how they do it – by doing gift droppings from the plane. Gift dropping is basically a practice where the missionaries fly over the Auca settlement with a basket tied under the plane – the basket is filled with various gifts that they think will be useful for the Aucas. One item of interest is the machetes – indeed machetes is the multi purpose tool that is very useful in the jungle.

So the git droppings continues to take place for few months. One day there were three Aucas came and visited them – this was the initial contact – and it was a great joy for the missionaries. Sadly though, just days after the initial contact, there was another visit by the Aucas – unfortunately this wasn’t a friendly visit like the first – the five missionaries were killed by the group of people that they were trying to reach.

That’s just short story on what happened but I’d like to encourage you to read the book yourselves – as it is very encouraging book to read. Because some of the parts is taken directly from the journals you’ll get a picture of what’s going on through the missionaries head, how they came to be called to serve in Ecuador, how they leave the good life behind, how they struggle, how they make decision etc.

Here is one of many deep insights from Jim’s letter to his parents as he finishes Junior college

There is no such thing as attainment in this life; as soon as one arrives at a long-coveted position he only jacks up his desire another notch or so and looks for higher achievement – a process which is ultimately suspended by the intervention of death. Life is truly likened to a rising vapour, coiling, evanescent, shifting.

How true is that.

There are some points that I took from the book:

  • Although the book was centred around the 5 missionaries – but I found it also highlights the character, godliness and conviction of their wives. You got the strong impression that the wives surely loved Jesus more than their husbands – otherwise how can they follow their husbands (some of them coming with their children), leaving the comfort life to reach people who are hostile to them and even allowing their dearest husbands knowing the ultimate price that they had to pay and indeed did they pay.
  • Missionary work is hard and a long process (needless to say). You don’t just land on a foreign land and start preaching the next day – no, there’s endless of preparation and logistic and when you are there you need to have a lot of patience to see the fruit of your labour – and sometimes it seems that there is little or no fruit – see Roger’s journal excerpt below.

This is taken from of Roger Youredian’s journal when he was struggling with the reality of missionary work:

A missionary plods through the first year or two thinking that things will be different when he speaks the language. He is baffled to find,frequently that they are not.
He is stripped of all that may be called ‘romance’. Day in unbroken succession; there are no crises, no mass conversions, sometimes not even one or two to whom he can point and say ‘There is a transformed life. If I had not come, he would never have known Christ’
There will be those among the Indians who say that they accept Christ, but what of the forsaking of the heathen custom and turning from sin to a life of holiness? The ministry watches, and longs and his heart sickens.