Jim’s upbringing suggested that he would be a Christian. After all, his mother and father were both very committed to their faith and his father was a Baptist preacher. In their home, they taught their faith to their children. They regularly read and interpreted the scriptures with their children and worked diligently to steep them in the culture and power of the Faith that had gripped them and begun the process of redemption in their own lives. Jim, however, showed an incredible focus in his faith life. When he went away to Wheaton College, he went with the intention of becoming a missionary in another country. He excelled in the subjects that he described as useful for mission work but lagged in classes that he felt were unimportant in the development of his spiritual maturity.
He declined to be in clubs and organizations that did not offer any discernible benefit to a missionary and so he missed out on at least one year of free tuition because he felt the expectations of the group would have distracted him. He majored in Greek so that he would be fit and ready to translate the New Testament into whatever language he needed to. He began to associate himself with non-denominational groups–he had shed a denominational identity so that he could be more focused on missions and less on politics and polity. He insisted that he would be a conscientious objector if drafted and also refused to become engaged in political conversations and debates as he cast aside whatever weighed him down in his pursuit of missions. He was focused and knew that he was being called to be a missionary–he just didn’t know where.
When he graduated, he had no immediate direction or goals. He felt a call to mission work but felt no specific guidance. Consequently, he was unwilling to go anywhere or do anything without God’s movement and leading. He returned home and worked various jobs in churches and schools. Eventually he was offered a full-time teaching position but he turned it down to continue his own study and preparation for missions. He continued to correspond with his missionary mentors and study languages in preparation for a specific call he felt was just around the corner. When a missionary to Ecuador began telling Jim about the Quichua people. He studied their language and the process of converting a spoken language to a written language before finding another unmarried man to go with him to Ecuador as a missionary to the indigenous peoples.
While serving as a missionary in Ecuador, Jim could not shake the feeling that there was an increased depth to his calling. After getting married and serving as a missionary alongside his wife, he began to feel called further into the wilds of Ecuador. The people he knew as the Auca–that are now known as the Huaorani–had little contact with outsiders. Jim’s heart broke for a people disconnected from the Faith that moved and sustained him. So, along with his friends and colleagues (Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint), he began reaching out to the people by bringing gifts and offering hospitality to a people who had no reason to know or trust him.They established a camp and started to build relationships with the very guarded Auca people. They even took one of the men–whom they called “George”–in their plane to see the jungles and terrain from above. Yet, the language barrier became a danger when George went back and maligned the men. Unexpectedly, and for no comprehensible reason to the missionaries, a party of ten men with spears approached their camp one night and murdered the missionaries brutally. When his family retrieved Jim’s possessions, they read in his journals: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
The martyrdom of Jim Elliot was not the end of the outreach to the Auca people and, in fact, was only the beginning of the mission work there. Years later, even the men who murdered Jim and his friends would be converted and repent for their past sins. Jim’s focused approach to mission work has been deservedly lauded by many as an atypically wonderful approach to the missionary commitment.