“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
As I prepare for Holy Week, I like many have been struck with the strange convergence of April Fools’ Day and Easter Sunday this year. I’m sure there will be many jokes made, but following Christ is not for fools. Often, it is not easy and calls for great sacrifice. And so during my pondering, I thought of the above quote by an Christian missionary and martyr, Jim Elliott. He had left a financially secure and respected life to become a missionary to the Huaorani people of Ecuador.
The Native people had been repeatedly harassed (sometimes violently) by Shell Oil Company employees, and some Shell employees were killed by the tribe in response. Jim Elliott and his friends hoped to resolve the standoff peacefully and help the tribe survive. Despite the tribe’s reputation for violence, they wanted to offer them the peace of Christ. Due to misunderstandings about the missionaries’ intentions, Native warriors from this remote, isolated tribe murdered Jim Elliott and his four fellow missionaries in their camp on January 8, 1956.
Jim Elliott, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint were said to have been called fools by many as they prepared to serve as missionaries, but they were motivated by Luke 9:24: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Several years after their death, family members, friends, and others inspired by their witness followed their lead, and peaceful contact with the tribe was eventually made. Prayer was offered, forgiveness shared, friendships formed, and many in the tribe became Christian – including those involved in the murders. One of these even came to serve as a spiritual leader for the tribe.
Did the missionaries die for nothing? Were their families also fools for loving those who had murdered the one’s they loved and lost? I think the fruit which came of their spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation proves otherwise. This same Spirit desires to inspire us as we face our political hot button issues, misunderstandings, news of school shootings and other horrors of our world.
Jesus, too, reached out to people in love and wasn’t understood. He was called a fool. Many since have been called fools as they sought to follow after Jesus. Some have been imprisoned or murdered. Others lost family and friends or faced ridicule. Yet they never gave up, and we now share in the faith which they helped preserve at great cost. Their holy witness has been entrusted to each of us to pass on.
At a time when many in our culture don’t have time for one another – never mind going to church or being church together – such faith-filled fools are needed. The offering of your time, treasure and talent in service to the Kingdom of God matters more than we will ever know in this world, and it will bear fruit no matter how small the offering. We may not all be called to become martyrs, but we all are called to share in the cross of Jesus in some way. No matter what happens around us or any obstacles facing us, we are here in this time and place to proclaim the Good News of Jesus with word and deed. Beyond that, we are already sharing in Christ’s victory by grace through faith. This is what his resurrection means for us. It is the bold church we are invited to become. No fooling!
I wish you all a blessed Lent and meaningful, faith affirming Holy Week.
In the below video, hear more of this story begun over 60 years ago; part of a larger eternal story still unfolding…
Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (March 2018 edition).
© 2018 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.