She was a widow on this day. 63 years ago. Away from home. In a foreign country. With a preschooler. And all her girlfriends were widowed at the same time.
Elisabeth Elliot faced a strange and painful season. And yet, she chose to see it as a season of glory. Glory to God. And she wouldn’t wish her husband back. She knew he was willing to die, eager to accept whatever cup his Lord proffered. The home he’d made for them in the jungle would be barren. Her daughter would have no father. The mission work in Ecuador would miss its most passionate voice. But there was still glory.
Glory and tragedy can coexist. Christians know this. Every time we contemplate Calvary’s cross, we are reminded of it. Sometimes we are called upon to experience it. And it is only through the lens of grace that we can see the dual themes — one earthly, one eternal.
It is easy for me to proclaim this principle while I have my health, family and possessions, while my children are safe and my husband is beside me. But, that is not the way life remains. We are taunted by this delicate orb of life. And often, we lose.
All tragedy is horrible. But some hits us so hard that we remain breathless for a long time. I felt that way when my friend lost her young husband at a gas station while on their way to minister at a youth convention. I felt that way when a young husband lost his wife and two children in a freak accident. I felt that way when a missionary family lost a godly, gifted, college-bound son to mysterious causes. There are no answers. No reasons.
And I admit to feeling fear. If it could happen to them, it can happen to me. My family is not special, not exempt, not above tragedy.
Yet, we must grapple with this unearthly glory. It is there. If we are His. Blood-splattered with native spears, sitting in a Pennsylvania gas station, standing by empty car seats, hidden in a wilderness cabin and many other places where God’s children are met with the Shining Ones who lead them to celestial heights. Jim Elliot and his friends suffered. They were impaled with wooden javelins and hacked with machetes. I don’t know how or when the glory came, but it was there. In the epilogue of the book, End of the Spear, Steve Saint tells the story of how years after the martyrdom, those who participated in the killings remarked that there had been “other foreigners who were chanting” above the trees while the missionaries were dying. The Waodoni warriors described what they saw as floating lights and said the “foreigners” in the sky were wearing long robes of the same kind of cloth. Hearing orchestral music on a CD, one of the men identified it as what he heard after he’d helped spear Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Nate Saint. Seen only by primitive warriors on an insignificant sandbar in Ecuador, there was untold glory for these men who knew God and went to be with Him. Their families didn’t know about it. The press didn’t report it. The world didn’t recognize it. But it was there.
Most of the time, I can’t see the glory because the tragedy fills my vision. And I’m surely not applying for suffering. But, on this anniversary of one of the most powerful missionary witnesses in the last century, it’s good to know that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And I think if those five men could tell us anything, they’d say don’t miss that glory. At any cost.