There is a scene at the start of that very fine film "The Mission", that shows an early missionary stoically tied to a log by natives in the South American jungle, who is then pushed out into a raging river only to be swept to his lonely death over a vast waterfall. This was the lot of many early missionaries and is one that still happens today. History is littered with such martyrs. "Through the Gates of Splendour" tells the story of the five young missionaries who gave their lives trying to convert the notoriously violent Auca indians of the Ecuadorian jungles to Christianity. There are those that question the wisdom of such ventures, and in some cases they may have a point. In this case it should be noted that the Auca society was a particularly violent one with no concept of conflict resolution. Arbitrary murders were commonplace, and all families knew a member who had died from spearing. Such violence was also manifested in their meetings with other tribes and white men. They were both feared and hated in equal measure. The initial contact with such people is often a perilous business, but as in war someone has to lead from the front. In this case it was Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming.
The book was written by Elisabeth Elliott the widow of Jim. First published in 1956 the year of the young men died, it is an honest description of the traumatic events of the time. There are descriptions of the local indian tribes and the logistics involved in Operation Auca. Perhaps most telling is the reaction of all the young widows, which was one of immediate forgiveness for the killers. The book has become a classic story about missionary life. At the time the killings were worldwide news, and it is an incident still remembered by many. It is a pity that this reprint gives no information of the events that followed in the aftermath, which is very important. Nate Saint's sister Rachel continued the missionary efforts with the Auca and close bonds were established that exsist to this day. As a result the murder rate has dropped amongst the Auca by 90 per cent. It is hard to argue that missionary influence is just cultural imperialism in this case. Sadly the Auca are still considered the lowest class in Ecuador.
This is still an uplifting book to read despite the tragic circumstances. The documentary "Beyond the Gates of Splendour" which tells the whole story is an excellent accompaniment to the book and helps no end in the wider picture. I have already reviewed this on Amazon. The event was so famous that it was made into a feature film called "End of the Spear". I have not seen the film, but I see that both documentary and film can be brought on one DVD which might be worthwhile.
In a journal entry for October 28th 1949 Jim Elliot wrote "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Jim Elliot knew the risks he was taking, and took them willingly. The legacy of his sacrifice continues to this day.