A God We Don’t Understand

When Adoniram Judson first went to Burma, six long years passed before anyone fully received his message and was converted. A few years later he was arrested and accused of being a spy when his country was at war with Burma. His feet were tied to poles that were then raised so that only his shoulders rested on the ground. Prisoners were executed daily, and no one knew when their time would be next. They were taken on a death march to another prison. Finally he was released after two years. But his brave and faithful wife died from a fever, with their child soon following after – their third child to have died. For a while Adoniram built what he called a hermitage in the woods where he would go off to be alone. He dug an empty grave and spent time looking at it and contemplating death. On the third anniversary of his wife’s death, he wrote, “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in Him, but I find Him not.”

After C. S Lewis’s wife died, in his grief he wrote, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.'”

The book of Job is filled with his laments and questionings of God. Jeremiah accused God of deceiving him.

Our 52 year old pastor died of pancreatic cancer right in the middle of a fruitful ministry. A young mom in our church died suddenly and totally unexpectedly due to a reaction to a drug, leaving behind a grieving  husband and two children. The 3 year old grandson of friends has been diagnosed with leukemia; the 25 year old daughter of friends is fighting breast cancer, the 6 year old relative of a brother-in-law was shot in cold blood at his school. When I started writing this, a hurricane was barreling toward the east coast after having already passing over several islands.

In some ways man’s inhumanity to others is understandable in that God gives people free will, and many choose to exercise it away from Him rather than toward Him. It doesn’t explain why a teenager would shoot a child except that it’s an extreme example of exercising self-will to sin against another.

We can even come to terms with death in the big picture view of the result of living in a fallen world.

But a child getting leukemia, adults dying in their prime, death and destruction from storms — that’s a little harder to come to grips with.

He doesn’t always explain why He allows what He does. Sometimes He just wants us to trust Him. But sometimes I think He doesn’t explain because we just wouldn’t understand.

I always told myself that I would never be one of those parents who said something must be done “Because I said so!” But I learned early on that you can’t always explain something to a child. They don’t have the understanding, the context, or the experience to comprehend why certain things are required of them and why others things are denied them. At times they think that the parents who are trying to do what’s best for for the children they dearly love are horribly unfair. Sometimes they just want what they want when they want it and they don’t care about any reasons why they can’t have it.

It helps to remind ourselves there are Scriptural reasons for suffering. It helps even more to go back to what we know of the character of God. He is kind. He is good. He is love. He loves us. Nothing that happens to us negates any of those truths.

Amy Carmichael, when pondering some of the same questions, wrote:

Yet listen now,
Oh, listen with the wondering olive trees,
And the white moon that looked between the leaves,
And gentle earth that shuddered as she felt
Great drops of blood. All torturing questions find
Answer beneath those old grey olive trees.
There, only there, we can take heart to hope
For all lost lambs – Aye, even for ravening wolves.
Oh, there are things done in the world today
Would root up faith, but for Gethsemane,

For Calvary interprets human life;
No path of pain but there we meet our Lord;
And all the strain, the terror and the strife
Die down like waves before his peaceful word,
And nowhere but beside the awful Cross,
And where the olives grow along the hill,
Can we accept the unexplained, the loss,
The crushing agony – and hold us still.

Children who love their Father know that when He says, “All things work together for good to them that love God,” He must mean the best good, though how that can be they do not know….

What does a child do whose mother or father allows something to be done which it cannot understand? There is only one way of peace. It is the child’s way. The loving child trusts.

I believe that we who know our God, and have proved Him good past telling, will find rest there. The faith of the child rests on the character it knows. So may ours, so shall ours. Our Father does not explain, nor does He assure us as we long to be assured… But we know our Father. We know His character. Somehow, somewhere, the wrong must be put right; how we do not know, only we know that, because He is what He is, anything else is inconceivable. For the word sent to the man whose soul was among lions and who was soon to be done to death, unsuccored, though the Lord of Daniel was so near, is fathomless: “And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

There is only one place we can receive, not an answer to our questions, but peace — that place is Calvary. An hour at the foot of the Cross steadies the soul as nothing else can. “O Christ beloved, Thy Calvary stills all our questions.” Love that loves like that can be trusted about this.

And when Job, Adoniram Judson, and so many others mentioned come out on the other side of the trial, though they may not have answers to their “whys,” they often testify that they know God better, felt His goodness and grace like never before, found Him good and faithful and trustworthy, found themselves upheld in ways they could not have imagined. Adoniram Judson wrote in a letter, “The love of Christ! The breadth and length and depth and height of the love of Christ! If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.”

As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you…Isaiah 66:13a

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:13-14

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Isaiah 53:4a


(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word Filled Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday. Linking does not imply 100% endorsement.)







Book Review: Ten Fingers For God

Ten Fingers For GodI first read Ten Fingers For God about Dr. Paul Brand by Dorothy Clarke Wilson some 25-30 years ago when we attended a church with a solid lending library of mostly biographies. After reading this book I read the same author’s book about Paul’s mother, Granny Brand, and I believe I also read her Take My Hands: The Remarkable Story of Dr. Mary Verghese, after seeing her story mentioned in this book. I reread Granny Brand a few years ago, and that caused me to want to reread Ten Fingers, so I found an inexpensive used copy online.

Originally my primary interest in Ten Fingers For God was stirred when I was told it mentioned Dr. John Dreisbach, who attended our church whenever he was in the country. But I was soon caught up in Paul’s story on it’s own merits.

He was the son of unconventional pioneer missionaries to India, Jesse and Evelyn Brand. He and his sister were allowed to roam pretty freely, his mother even letting him do his school work up in a tree and drop finished assignments down to her. “If [his work] was wrong, he had to climb down and get [it], reascend, and start over again” (p. 14). So it was a pretty strong shock to his system when, at the age of 9, I believe, he was taken to live with two maiden aunts in England for his schooling. Some of my favorite parts of the book are his and his sister’s antics there, like hanging upside down on the crosspiece of a streetlight in front of the aunt’s house, smiling at passers-by, or pretending the floor was lava and trying to make it around the room on the furniture without touching the floor. The aunties handled it as well as they could.

Paul’s father died when he was 15, and his mother returned to England for a time, devastated, but eventually she went back to India. It was understood that Paul would follow. Initially his main interest was in carpentry, so he apprenticed to a man his mother knew. When he applied to be a missionary, however, he was turned down. His father had had to build structures, which is one reason why Paul was interested in building, but it wasn’t accepted as a main missionary occupation. Medicine had originally been repulsive to him, with memories of his father treating gross and disgusting conditions. But once Paul decided to go that way and got into it, he marveled at the way God created the body and its systems and saw it as a wonderful way to help people.

He married and went to India and was thrust into more than full time medical ministry. Leprosy was still a mystery with a huge stigma attached. Sadly, most lepers were not actively contagious, but once the disease began they were ostracized. It was thought that their flesh wasted away, so much so that they couldn’t even be operated on, but Paul discovered that the cause for their ulcers and even lost digits was lack of pain sensation. He pioneered a surgery to transform their hands from their clawed version to workable, usable hands.

But that actually created more problems. People would not hire them because of the stigma of leprosy, but they couldn’t successfully beg any more because they no longer could garner the sympathy their clawed hands had elicited. Paul found employment for some at the hospital, but of course he could not do that for all of them. Eventually a training center was built where patients could not only learn a trade, but learn how to handle their tools in safe ways that wouldn’t damage hands that couldn’t feel, and in turn, as Paul and his crew became aware of problem areas, they could adapt tools or processes to the patients’ needs. Paul’s carpentry experience was valuable many times over in these endeavors.

Not many doctors were treating leprosy patients, so when possible, Paul traveled to other parts of the world to gain more insight (which led him to Dr. Dreisbach in Africa).

Eventually treatment expanded to include operations on feet, noses, and restoration of eyebrows. Paul’s wife, Margaret, became an expert in her own right on how leprosy affects the eyes.

I had forgotten that Paul worked in the ministry founded by Dr. Isa Scudder, someone else whose biography I enjoyed.

The last third or so of the book was not quite as interesting to me, as it got further away from Paul himself and more into how his procedures and methods gained worldwide attention, what organizations he became affiliated with, which organizations sent people or set up additional centers in Vellore, etc. There’s a nice epilogue in this edition which I don’t believe was in the one I first read, telling what happened in the lives of Paul, his wife, and each of his children.

He was so incredibly busy, I don’t know how he found time to even have a family. Yet he was known for being unflappable in just about any circumstance.

A lot of his insights into pain are in this book, but perhaps his best known book was originally titled Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants, which I’ve not read. It’s been republished and retitled The Gift of Pain with Philip Yancey, but I don’t know if the text has been altered or what Yancey’s contribution to the book was. They did collaborate on other books, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image (I’ve not read these, either.)

Overall this was a fascinating look into a unique and remarkable man, perfectly fitted to what God called him to. I’m glad I read it again.

Genre: Biography
My rating: 10 out of 10
Objectionable elements: None
Recommendation: Yes, I highly recommend it.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)





Book Review: Don’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees

LoquatI saw Don’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees: The Adventures of an American Surgeon in Nepal by Thomas Hale mentioned at Lou Ann‘s, put it on my TBR list, and just finished it recently.

Thomas open his story with the realization of his need for Christ, even though he would have said he was a Christian before that. After truly believing on Jesus for salvation, he spent much time in the Bible as it opened up to him. He “asked God what He would have me do. I was disturbed by Jesus’ statement to His disciples: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ I didn’t seem to be able to tone down that passage. It meant to me that if I was going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, I had to go all the way, to hold nothing back, to give my entire life to God. That was a tall order, as I’ve found every day since.”

God eventually led him to prepare to go to Nepal as a surgeon, and along the way, led him to his wife, Cynthia, who was training to become a a medical missionary as a pediatrician.

Just two months before heading to Asia, their mission informed them that they were being sent not to the large hospital in Kathmandu that they had been expecting, but rather to a “small fifteen-bed hospital located out in the hills, a day’s journey from Kathmandu…still under construction…” without “even a road to it.” The change in situation would mean a completely different atmosphere: rather than a large, well-equipped hospital with culture and entertaining nearby, they’d be going to a “tiny, ill-equipped rural outpost” and a “crude, mud-walled house, where our neighbors would be illiterate and unkempt hill people.” “Cynthia made her biggest adjustment to life in Nepal right then and there.”

We might have been tempted to think how lucky Nepal was that we had come. After all, there couldn’t have been many fully trained surgeons and pediatricians in that little kingdom of twelve million people. That attitude, however, would have been the worst we could have harbored. Indeed, we had been warned of the harmfulness of such an attitude, warned that even a trace of superiority would create a barrier that would repel the friendliness and goodwill of any Nepali we met. At the same time we found that rooting out our deep and often hidden feelings of superiority–feelings of importance, of being advantaged on background and education, of having so much to offer–was no easy task.

One problem this entailed before they even left was the supply of surgical equipment that would normally be supplied by a hospital, but of course would be impossible for the small hospital they were going to. Hale details the miraculous way God provided for a multitude of equipment.

It’s fascinating reading of their trials in just getting to their hospital and home, landing on an “airstrip” that was not much more than a field, the difficulty of getting carriers for all of their things (including a piano, which the natives were not impressed by), accidentally killing a cow, which was considered the same as killing a man “and drew the same penalty–eighteen years in prison–if the crowd didn’t get you first,” adjusting to insects (“if you think you can kill ants faster than they can be hatched…don’t count on it”), learning to love the people, dealing with mistrust of the “foreign doctors” at first to eventually have the opposite problem of being overrun with people and needs. He shares many case studies and lively stories along the way. He shares, as well, many things he learned about himself and about living for God:

It took a mild-mannered and uncritical animal to make me see in myself those negative attributes that I had always attributed to other American surgeons. Facing two hundred angry men proved to be effective therapy for removing most traces of condescension with which I previously might have regarded them. It also improved my relations with missionary colleagues and with Nepali brothers and sisters in the church. I guess God had no gentler way of removing some of my imperfections; I only wish I could say, for His trouble, that He finished the job. But it was a start.

Much time and energy can be wasted on matters that are, at best, trivial.

The key to successful ministry will lie in their ability to assimilate that culture and to free themselves from the attitudes and prejudices of their own. They have been warned about the inevitable feeling of superiority, paternalism, disdain, impatience, and frustration that they are sure to experience and to which they previously may have considered themselves immune. Finally they have been told that the course of their entire missionary career will ultimately depend on one thing: their day-by-day, step-by-step walk with God.

Many times a worker arrives in a foreign land only to discover he doesn’t love the people quite as much as he thought. They are different; their ways are different. And the new missionary quickly learns that survival depends on his ability to adjust to the new people among whom he plans to live; he adjusts to them, not vice versa.

To give unwisely demeans and creates dependence; to give wisely takes time, which is scarce, and wisdom, which is scarcer.

When medicine is given free, patients often sell it instead of taking it themselves; they’d rather have the cash.

We find it comfortable to sit back, fold our arms, and mutter to one another, “All they have to do is repent.” But is that what Christ did when He rose from where He was and, with unfolded arms, came into the world to minister to us? Taking Christ’s example, we need to minister to the world in every way we can. Each Christian, before God, must find out where his or her duty lies.

Love is the one quality the world can discern that sets Christians apart and makes Christianity distinct from every other religion. If we fail to act on this truth, we will lose our right to be heard and will enter the post-Christian era for good.

The only way we know to help our Nepali friends in a lasting way is to put them in touch with the God who is the source of love and who sent His son Jesus into the world to demonstrate it.

Those early disciples had only two fish and a few loaves, but they gave Him all they had. Is this not His word to us today—to give Him all our loaves and fishes, to give Him everything we have? Then, who can say what He would be able to accomplish in our time through us?

Some of the hardest parts to read are those where the hospital had to cut corners because of the overwhelming demand on their time and resources. I don’t know if I could have made some of the decisions they did, but then, I’ve never been in that situation. They did rescind some of them after a time.

Though I wouldn’t agree with just every little point in the book, overall I found it quite an interesting and eye-opening account and really enjoyed it.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)




31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Book List and Memorial Video

Elisabeth Elliot2

Someone commented early on in this series that I should list some of Elisabeth’s books, particularly those that are autobiographical. I think all of her books are autobiographical to a degree, though there is not any one that tells her whole life story. I hope that someone will put all the pieces together in a biography of her someday soon. I’ve also had a few comments from people who had never heard of her or didn’t know much about her, so I thought a book list would be a good idea. I am using the original publication dates where I can find them: many of them have been reprinted multiple times, some with an update from Elisabeth in them, so on Amazon or other places the more recent date they show is that of the reprint.

Books by Elisabeth Elliot

Through Gates of Splendor (1957) was her first, in which she told the story of her husband and the four other missionaries who were killed by the Auca (now known as Waorani) Indians in the 1950s. I reviewed it here. This book started me on the path of reading missionary biographies and reading Elisabeth Elliot.

The Journals of Jim Elliot (1978) are, as the title says, the journals of her first husband, Jim, with some notes by Elisabeth here and there. I wrote about them here.

The Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (1958) is her biography of Jim. This and his journals were prime reading material among many students when I was in college.

The Savage My Kinsman (1961) tells of Elisabeth’s years working with the Aucas/Waorani after Jim’s death.

These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge? is an account of her first year as a missionary, before her marriage to Jim, and if I remember correctly, contains the account of the murder of the man who was helping her translate the Colorado language and her wrestlings with why God allowed it to happen.

Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control (1984) shares her love story with Jim, which was not a smooth one, as they both originally thought God wanted them to be single missionaries. They were willing for that, if that was what God wanted, though they did love each other. This book mainly talks about the need to put God first in one’s love life and to trust Him for the outcome.

Quest For Love: True Stories of Passion and Purity contains Elisabeth’s answers to questions people sent her after reading Passion and Purity.

Furnace of the Lord: Reflections on the Redemption of the Holy City (1969) contains some of her thoughts as she visited Israel (out of print).

Let Me Be a Woman (1977) was written not long before her daughter was married and discusses what the Bible has to say about Biblical womanhood.

Discipline: The Glad Surrender.

The Mark of a Man:Following Christ’s Example of Masculinity, originally written for a nephew.

Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and Our Pain. Excellent – one of my top three favorite books on suffering.

The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way Through the Wilderness to God.

The Music of His Promises: Listening to God with Love, Trust, and Obedience.

The Shaping of a Christian Family. “Drawing from 40 years of observation and her own family experience, Elliot illustrates how we can create a fulfilling Christian home based on Scriptural principles and values.” (Out of print).

God’s Guidance: A Slow and Certain Light (Out of print)

Taking Flight: Wisdom for Your Journey, for graduates (out of print).

 A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (1987), her only full biography other than Jim’s (out of print).

No Graven Image, 1966, is her only foray into fiction, but it is based somewhat on her first years as a missionary, also out of print.

All of the following are collections of her thoughts on a wide variety of topics, arising from her study of God’s Word: marriage, motherhood, singleness, abortion, as well as a gamut of aspects on the Christian life:

Twelve Baskets of Crumbs (1977) (out of print).

All That Was Ever Ours (1988)(out of print).

A Lamp Unto My Feet: The Bible’s Light For Your Daily Walk (1985).

Love Has a Price Tag

On Asking God Why: Reflections On Trusting God (1997)

Keep a Quiet Heart 

Be Still My Soul

Secure in the Everlasting Arms

I’ve read the majority of these, though it was some years ago for most of them. Most her books can be ordered on Amazon and other sites as well as her website, along with some CDs and DVDs. There are also a few videos of her speaking on YouTube. Many of her out of print books can still be found used on Amazon and other places.

In addition to her books, her newsletters, which were published every other month from 1982 to 2003, can be found here. Some of the material made its way into her books and vice versa. She also had a radio program called Gateway to Joy for almost 13 years, ending in 2001. Back to the Bible used to have transcripts of it on their site, but, sadly, they don’t any more. However, the Bible Broadcasting Network has started replaying them at 11:15 a.m. on BBN stations, or they can be listened to at that time through live streaming here or on their mobile app, or they can be listened to on demand here.

After Elisabeth Elliot passed away, I was glad to learn that her memorial service would be available online. It was rather long (2+ hours), so it took me a while to have the time to watch it, but I am glad I did. You can find the whole service here.

It looked like they cut out all but one of the grandchildren’s testimonies. I was sorry to see that. I am not sure whether it was because of the time factor or whether theirs would have been a bit too personal. But there were testimonies from a number of personal friends and family members.

It was wonderful both to be reminded of aspects of her life I was familiar with and to learn a few new things. Her daughter, Valerie Shephard, reads some excerpts from her mother’s journal. Elisabeth never tried to portray herself as perfect and was always honest about her shortcomings, but readings from her journal were raw, recounting grief over her impatience with the Indians (which touched me, having battled my own impatience lately – again), times she felt like a failure, her missing her husband in the days after his death, her frustration in dealing with some issues that he usually dealt with. Part of me hopes that some day they might publish her journals, but I would understand if they didn’t: she shared much of her life publicly already, and I would not be surprised if they might want to keep some things private. But that short glimpse helped me see her anew as a woman “of like passions as we are,” who had to deal with grief and frustrations and wrong attitudes and then adjust them in light of Scriptural teaching and what she knew about her Father’s character and workings.

Valerie’s segment as well as that of Joni Eareckson Tada were my favorite parts, though I enjoyed all the testimonies.

A few other observations: I enjoyed the majestic old hymns, something I knew Elisabeth appreciated and used in her devotional times. Evidently she taught them to her children and grandchildren as well. I love many new hymns, but some of these old ones I had not heard in a long time. At first I was going to try to skip through some of the singing to get to the speeches, but I am glad I didn’t.

I loved hearing about her humor. She doesn’t strike you as a funny person at first, but she enjoyed a good laugh.

I also enjoyed seeing photos I had not seen before, including some of places and people and even pets.

But the thing that struck me most was Elisabeth’s interest in and ministry to people. She wasn’t just off at a desk writing all the time. Honestly, that would be my own preference. I often don’t know what to say “in the moment.” That’s one reason I like writing and blogging – I can turn things over in my mind, write a bit, let it sit for a while and come back to it, and finally after days or months give you a fairly thorough answer or opinion on something. But that can’t substitute for an interest in and ministry to people in everyday moments, and one thing those testimonies did was to awaken and encourage that in me.

I thought it would be fitting, at then end of our time with Elisabeth Elliot this month, to close with this video that was shown at the memorial service. This video is a little longish – I don’t often click on videos on people’s blogs that are longer that a minute or two, and this one is over 16. But I think if you have time and you read and loved her at all, this is a worthwhile listen. I’ll forewarn you that there is a bit of what a former pastor used to call “National Geographic-style nudity,” but it is only in the few minutes describing her time working with the tribe that she ministered to, who wore nothing but a string around their hips.  I hope you have a chance to watch this, and I hope it is a blessing to you.

Though Elisabeth would never want to be out on a pedestal, as she once said of others in the faith whom we admire, so I think we can say this of her:

Pedestals are for statues. Usually statues commemorate people who have done something admirable. Is the deed worth imitating? Does it draw me out of myself, set my sights higher? Let me remember the Source of all strength (“The Lord is the strength of my life,” says Ps 27:1 AV) and, cheered by the image of a human being in whom that strength was shown, follow his example.

I have enjoyed this time over the past month reminding myself of things Elisabeth said. I hope you have as well. Thank you for your kind comments!

To see all the posts in this series, see the bottom of this post.

Elisabeth Elliot in heaven

Elisabeth Elliot

Just this morning, Elisabeth Elliot passed through the “gates of splendor” into glory. She has been one of my heroes of the faith for almost 40 years. I first read her first book, Through Gates of Splendor, in college. It tells how her husband and five other men with their families came as missionaries to Ecuador and were burdened to reach a tribe of killers known then as the Aucas, now as the Waorani. The men devised ways to reach out to them, and then to meet them, and although the reception seemed friendly, later all five men were speared to death. Later Elisabeth, her young daughter Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister to one of the slain men, were invited to go live with the Aucas, and many of them became believers in Christ as Savior and laid down their spears.

That book started me on a lifetime of reading missionary books and reading Elisabeth Elliot. Her commitment to simply reading the Bible, obeying it, and trusting God no matter what the circumstances were an inspiration.You know, it shouldn’t be: that should be normal Christian life for all believers. But sometimes having someone go before us and call back that though sometimes He calls us to go through deep waters and dark valleys, it’s ok, because He is with us, someone who knows those dark valleys by experience…well, there’s just nothing like it.

Besides her commitment to God and His Word, her views of what it means to be a Christian woman shaped my own thinking. Let Me Be a Woman was pivotal for me. The Shaping of a Christian Family influenced my own, Keep a Quiet Heart kept my focus where it needed to be. A Path Through Suffering was one of the books that helped me wrestle through questions on that subject. On Asking God Why was another favorite. The first chapter of The Savage My Kinsman, in which she talks about going on as a widow and quotes William Cullen Bryant’s poem “To a Waterfowl” has endeared that poem to me forever, especially the line: “He, who, from zone to zone, Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, In the long way that I must tread alone, Will lead my steps aright.” Back to the Bible used to send out daily e-mail devotionals taken from her books: I think I have kept a copy of most of them.

Just a few of my favorites of her quotes:

Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.

The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.

Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.

This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.

Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.

The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.

To me, a lady is not frilly, flouncy, flippant, frivolous and fluff-brained, but she is gentle, she is gracious, she is godly and she is giving. You and I have the gift of femininity… the more womanly we are, the more manly men will be and the more God is glorified. Be women, be only women, be real women in obedience to God.

How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.

Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.

This video shows a few clips from the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor (which I encourage you to see if you ever have a chance):

World Magazine reported in an article just last year that she “handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her husbands. ‘She accepted those things, [knowing] they were no surprise to God,’ Gren said. ‘It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.'”

I was sorry to hear she passed away this morning. We’ve lost one of the greatest lights of the Christian world here, but I’m happy that now she is beyond the reach of dementia and old age. I pray for comfort for her family and the many who will miss her influence. May we each shine His light faithfully in the sphere of influence He gives us.

I am sure many articles and blog posts will be popping up about her over the next few days, but two I’ve read so far are:

From The Gospel Coalition: Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015)

From Christianity Today: Missionary Pioneer Elisabeth Elliot Passes Through Gates of Splendor

From John Piper (love how he captures some of her personality): Peaches in Paradise.

From Nancy Leigh DeMoss: She Trusted and She Obeyed.

“Not a long life, but a full one”

Recently I was reading a few paragraphs about the brief life of William Borden. Instead of going into the family business and leading the privileged life of a millionaire, he wanted to be a missionary. Not waiting until he got to the field to begin to minister, he was known for his walk with God and his efforts to reach people all through his college and graduate years. Then he died of spinal meningitis at the age of 25.

That brought to mind others whose walk with God and service for Him in their youth have been exemplary, yet they died relatively young: Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Henry Martyn, Robert Murray McCheyne, David Brainerd, and others. The question comes unavoidably to mind: since they were so godly, so useful, so effective, why did God take them Home so young when they could have had decades of service in which to accomplish much for Him here?

I don’t know that we’ll ever have the answer to that: it’s wrapped in the mystery of God’s will and sovereignty. Somehow when someone like that dies, especially before their time, humanly speaking, somehow it does inspire others to try to become more like them, so that may be one purpose.

But I saw a new way to look at it this time. What if, instead of taking them home “early,” God had planned before they were even born that they would only live 25-30 years, and they just made the most of it?

Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, before he ever went to the mission field or heard of the people for whom he would give his life:

Seems impossible that I am so near my senior year at this place, and truthfully, it hasn’t the glow about it that I rather expected. There is no such thing as attainment in this life; as soon as one arrives at a long-coveted position he only jacks up his desire another notch or so and looks for higher achievement – a process which is ultimately suspended by the intervention of death. Life is truly likened to a rising vapor, coiling, evanescent, shifting. May the Lord teach us what it means to live in terms of the end.

He makes His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul – short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him. ‘Make me Thy Fuel, Flame of God.’

God, I pray thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.

The ESV version of Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Some might live only a few hours, a few years, or several decades. God knows our days. We don’t know how many of them we might have. It’s vital to live them all for Him.

That doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a missionary. Not everyone is called to that. It simply means living in close fellowship with Him and being a light for Him in whatever He calls us to: being a student, raising little ones for Him, caring for loved ones, showing forth His love in the home, workplace, and neighborhood.

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Psalm 90:12

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14b

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday.

Book Review: Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear: The Autobiography of a Killer and the Oral History of the Waorani

Gentle SavageMenkaye was one of several Waorani (then known as Auca) men responsible for spearing to death Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully, five missionaries who had come to try to reach them with the gospel, in what was known as Operation Auca. Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear: The Autobiography of a Killer and the Oral History of the Waorani by Menkaye Aenkaedi with Kemo and Dyowe is Menkaye’s effort to tell his story in his own words – at least, as close to his own words as possible. He cannot write, so he shared his story verbally with someone who spoke his language as well as Spanish, and then it was translated from Spanish to English.

Menkaye begins with what could be called “the Moipa years.” Moipa was a highly skilled Waorani hunter who, out of fear of reprisals for the people he had killed, began killing almost everyone who crossed him or who might someday: men, women, children (who might grow up to take revenge), grandparents, anyone. The people lived in constant fear of him, and many attempts on his life did not succeed. When he finally did die, killing at the slightest provocation, for any real, perceived, or potential threat or wrong had become a way of life. That included any outsiders. Their encounters with non-Waorani had not gone well, and what could they want anyway except to encroach on their territory or to steal from them or hurt them? Better to kill them off before they struck first, they reasoned.

The missionaries had known that the Waorani, or Aucas, as they knew them, were violent, but they had learned some Waorani words from Dayuma, a woman who had escaped the tribe some years before, had flown Nate Saint’s plane over them a number of times, shouting out Auca/Waorani phrases, had dropped gifts to them and received some in return, so they thought the people were receptive to meeting them. They set up camp in their territory, and a man and two women  from the tribe came to visit them, the man even going up for a ride. Everything seemed to be going well. But then a group of Waorani came at them and speared them and tore the fabric off the plane.

Years later, when Elisabeth Elliot had come to know them and asked them why they had speared the men, they replied, “For no purpose.” In Olive Fleming Liefeld’s book, Unfolding Destinies, when she went back to visit and asked the same question, they told her they had not understood the photos the men had shown them. They thought the photos of Dayuma meant that she had died, supposedly at the men’s hands. Later still, Steve Saint related in End of the Spear that when he went back to live and work with the Waorani for a time, he was told there was a disagreement between them about one’s man’s wanting to marry one of the women. Some who were involved got angry, and to divert their turning on each other, someone turned their attention to the missionaries, starting a raid. Menkaye relates that all of these are true. One of the men involved in the argument they were having about marriage began to say that the photos meant that the men were cannibals, and they should spear them before the men killed and ate them.

This event that shook the world is given relatively few pages in Menkaye’s book. With all the people they had killed, these men were just a blip on their radar, another threat averted. But some time later, Dayuma came back to the tribe and told them they had made God angry and they needed to stop killing. Amazingly, they were willing to lay down their spears and hear more. Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) and Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot (Jim’s wife and young daughter) were invited to come and teach them. Though I had read in Through Gates of Splendor and other books that over time several of the Waorani had come to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, it was touching and beautiful to hear this experience described in more detail by Menkaye and to hear him, Kemo, and Dyowe tell of the joy and freedom in their hearts. Dyowe told Rachel:

I want you to know…that I was one of the men…who killed your brother Nathanael when he was on the beach with the others. I know that God wants to forgive me. But I want to tell you too to forgive me for the things that I have done. I didn’t understand anything back then, and I didn’t know who they were. But I will say that I truly know God has forgiven me today. I want to give myself to Him. It was not only your brother who died. Many, many people died besides him at the point of my spear. But today is the last of my own spear for me. I have found a new spear to pierce the hearts of many people (p. 231).

Almost immediately they became concerned for other branches of the tribe that had broken off to live in new areas, and they tried to reach them with the gospel. Some were martyred in the attempt, and most of these other branches are still not believers, thus the second part of Menkaye’s rather bulky title about still seeking the end of the spear. In fact, one of the end notes relates that while the book was in progress, another raid had taken place against oil company employees.

The next part of Menkaye’s book tells of changes that have taken place in the Waoranis, and the last few chapters, some of the most valuable for anyone seeking to work with tribal people, are his vision for his people. He and other Waorani are not opposed to progress and to changes. They see them as inevitable. Menkaye’s own son attended aviation school in Michigan in the US. They don’t want their young people to lose their Waorani skills and heritage completely, though, and they want any future work within the tribe to be handled differently than it has been. In the past, people were sent in who pretty much took over instead of coming under the tribal leadership – even Rachel and Dayuma. Rachel wanted to set Dayuma in charge, but either Dayuma wasn’t quite cut out for it or the authority went to her head or she backslid or something – Menkaye details a number of problems with her leadership. To be generous, this was something Rachel and Dayuma had not been trained for, and mistakes were made. Menkaye and the others are not bitter and they appreciated everything done for them, especially helping them to understand the gospel, but they did want to point out some of the issues and correct them.

The ones who should be choosing the leaders are the Waorani themselves, based upon what we ourselves see in those candidates, young or old, who have demonstrated maturity from a Biblical perspective, and have carefully studied the Bible in order to know the principles in depth that will be taught and lived out. Never should it be a random choice based on a superficial view of any person., especially someone from the Outside (p. 323).

Reading this makes me appreciate even more the emphasis among missionaries our churches have supported in leading rather than driving the people and in training up leaders from within the people group they are ministering to rather than continuing to bring in leadership from the outside.

I’m sure another difficulty in working with tribal people is how to navigate changes. One doesn’t want to unduly influence their culture, but one doesn’t want to hold them back, either. That is all I can figure was going on when the people began to ask Rachel for clothes and boots, and she said they had done fine without them before and didn’t need them now, according to Menkaye. But they had always lived and worked in the jungle before, where it was shady, and Rachel had them out in the open under the hot sun clearing space for an airstrip and didn’t seem to understand they wanted protection from the sun beating on their backs. I think either she was trying not to change them in that way, or she was trying to squelch their looking for handouts, but evidently this is one area where she and Elisabeth disagreed: Elisabeth thought they should have clothes and arranged for them. (They kept wearing clothes but had mixed emotions about shoes. They found that boots protected them from “thorns, ants, and vipers,” but the weight of them felt odd to them, and “when we were climbing the steep mountain ridges, they made us slip in the mud and slide downward” [p. 227].)

I’ve mentioned before in other missionary book reviews (particularly here) that some people think of these primitive tribal communities as simple people frolicking in the sun who shouldn’t be disturbed by missionaries and businesses. Dr. Jim Yost says in the forward, “The tendency to idealize or romanticize ‘primitive’ culture falls to crushing blows here as the reality of life in the upper Amazon rainforest plays out in gruesome details often too explicit or vivid for the cushioned Western mind.” (p. v). How many of us would have wanted our culture to remain as it was hundreds of years ago just to preserve it? Progress has its problems but also its opportunities.

Menkaye and other Waorani are willing to embrace these opportunities while still maintaining the Waorani culture and autonomy. He has great ideas for them to integrate with the “World of the City,” to help his people explore endeavors in which they can make their own money, and to help their young people have the best opportunities for a changing future.

I do not intend to offend the churches of The Outside World who perceive their role as one of coming in to show us how to do things, but in reality, we can learn equally from each other. Is that not true? Do we not have many things to teach each other and to learn from each other? (p. 329).

If you bring us a new idea, we will welcome that, too. But we will always weigh and balance the influences and outcomes of every new component, and determine together what projects are useful and valuable, and which ones may be harmful in some way (p. 338).

The Waorani are storytellers, but their way of sharing stories is different from ours. There is much more detail than I would personally care to know about some issues, much less than I wanted to know about others, and the stories are laid out differently than we would be used to. There is an appendix of Waorani myths and legends at the end: some seem odd, some are gruesome. But then, they would probably think the same way about our fairly tales and Mother Goose rhymes.

I think this book is incredibly valuable to anyone interested in the heritage of the ministries of the Saints, Elliots, and others who initiated “Operation Auca,” and to anyone with an interest in missions, particularly in ministry to tribal peoples. I hope Menkaye lives a long time to carry out his vision and that others take it up as well.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)