November 12, 2017
A moment in the rain forest of Ecuador
My peaceful life is often disturbed by the news of Christians across the world being executed simply because they will not renounce their faith in Christ. And this is not a new occurrence. During the past century nearly one million Christians were martyred for their faith.
The Twentieth Century was unique, however, because more Christians died for their faith during that century than the previous 19 centuries combined. In fact, during that one-hundred-year period more Christians died for their faith than soldiers for their countries.
Like many other Christians I have been influenced greatly by stories of Christians who were persecuted or killed for their faith. I was barely out of college when I read the news that five American missionaries had been martyred by savage Indians in Ecuador. The inspiring book, Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot, had a profound impact upon my life. Her husband Jim Elliot was one of the five missionaries.
Back then I never dreamed that one day I would actually meet one of the men who killed those missionaries. That privilege was given me by my friend Sandy Toomer, then a missionary pilot serving in Shell, Ecuador with Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Sandy flew me, my sister Margie and a good friend over the beach where Indians murdered the five missionaries.
We landed nearby, slipping and sliding on a grass runway, just outside the Rain Forest. What happened then was an incredible moment for me.
Dozens of Indians, familiar with the small plane, rushed out to meet their friend Sandy. They loved him for he had flown more than one of them for medical treatment of snakebite or injury. Sandy was God’s man.
Sandy introduced me to Dewey, the “killer” who had become a Christian and was now pastor of a village church nestled there in the Rain Forest. The only word I spoke that Dewey understood was the name of our Lord. When I said, “Jesus,” the old man pointed to the sky, smiled and embraced me. It was his way of saying, “We are brothers.”
This murderer of missionaries became a believer because the wives of the martyred missionaries refused to give up the mission of their husbands. They relentlessly reached out to the Auca Indians, offering them the gospel and loving them into the Kingdom. In the years that followed some of those former savages became college graduates and embraced the Christian faith.
Such stories God uses mightily to strengthen the faith of Christians. This has been happening since the first century. John and James were both beheaded because of their faith in Christ. The biblical stories of their martyrdom has inspired believers since the days of Jesus. Tertullian, one of the early church fathers, once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The growth of the Church in Ecuador is a testimony to the truth of Tertullian’s words.
Last Sunday I paused for a few minutes and offered a prayer for Christians who are being persecuted around the world. Will God help persecuted Christians because of my prayer? I am not sure, but I know it helps me to pray for my brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith. I would be ashamed not to pray for them. And whenever I do, it takes me back to that golden moment in the day when I embraced my brother Dewey in the Rain Forest of Ecuador.
Evil is real. People suffer. Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith. But the smiling face of Dewey reminds me that God is able to use the suffering of his children to make the world aware of his love for all people.
When all is said and done, when the closing bell is rung for the last time, I believe I know the final outcome. Hate and violence will lose. Love and perseverance will win. And God’s people will be singing with the martyrs, “Hallelujah! The Lord God Almighty Reigns!” + + +