You're here: » Articles Home » Jim Elliot » Jim Elliot, Missionary to Ecuador

Jim Elliot, Missionary to Ecuador

      "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" this quote was from a journal entry Jim Elliot wrote in college.

      Jim Elliot was born in Portland, Oregon on October 8 1927. He was the third child of four. He had two older brothers, Herbert and Robert, and he had a younger sister named Jane. His father, Fred, was an evangelist. His father couldn't finish school because he had to work. His mother, Clara, finished her studies and opened a chiropractic practice in their home to support the family.

      At home missionaries from all over the world would come and stay with them. He liked to hear their stories of far away lands and peoples. He had a happy childhood.   As a boy he enjoyed sledding on the mountainside for excitement. His parents encouraged them to grow fruits and vegetables. They also taught their children to get along with animals. They encouraged their children to have hobbies as well. Jim liked to collect stamps, read, and make models. Although Jim's father was an evangelist he wasn't strict or overbearing with his children. He would read the bible to them every day and pray for them. When Jim was 6 he told his mother that he was saved after a meeting. He spoke of his relationship with God very naturally to his family and friends.

      At the age of 14 he switched high schools and attended Benson Polytechnic High School. He decided to take architectural drawing as his main subject. He had an artistic flair and enjoyed different shapes and colors. At school he was very active in extra circular activities. He wrote editorials for the school newspaper. He participated in the School Theater by taking many lead roles in dramatic productions. His drama teacher was so impressed by his acting ability that she subjected he should go into the theater for his career. He also belonged to the public speaking club.

      In high school he would carry a small bible with his other schoolbooks. At lunch he always said grace before eating in the school cafeteria. He began to preach at this time. When the war broke out he thought about it carefully and decided that he would be a conscience objector. It was not an easy decision because patriotism was very high in the country at that time. When the school dance came around he decided not to buy a ticket to it reasoning " I am in the world, but not of it."   Although he made some unpopular decisions he was nonetheless elected vice president of his senior class.

      In order to make money Jim and his brother Bert would work odd jobs after school. Sometimes instead of going home from school he and his friends would take supplies and go camping in the Oregon countryside. His father didn't mind him camping with his friends, but just insisted that he didn't miss church on Sunday. Jim loved the outdoors. He took long hikes, canoeing, and often went camping with his friends.

      In 1945 Jim graduated from high school and decided to attend Wheaton College in Illinois. He would live about 2000 miles from home and money would be tight. He had to support himself through odd jobs, his friends help and scholarship money. When he wanted to visit home for the holidays it wasn't easy getting home. He couldn't fly because flying was a luxury and way too expensive. Sometimes he didn't even have enough money to take the train home so he would have to hitch hike.

      In 1948 he started keeping a journal of his daily thoughts and meditations. One of his most famous quotes is "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot keep" At college he dedicated himself to his Christian commitments. He majored in Greek because he thought this would be helpful on the mission field when he would have to translate the bible into another language. Although his parents wanted him to stay in America and preach he decided to go overseas because he felt that was the greatest need. In order to keep his body strong for the demands of the mission field he joined the wrestling team at school.

      In the summer of 1947 he and a friend hitchhiked down to Mexico, to stay with his friends parents who were missionaries there. He spent six weeks there, and begun to study Spanish. He wrote a letter to his parents saying in it "Mexico has stolen my heart" and "Missionaries are very human folks, simply a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt somebody." Pg 29

      He liked college but sometimes he thought he was wasting time there when he could be out on the mission field. But despite this feeling he did his best at college. He had a routine of studying prayer life, bible study, physical exercise that left very little leisure time. It was at this time that he met his future wife, Elizabeth. They liked each other but they decided not to get serious or think of marriage until God gave them the sign to marry. For now Jim and Elizabeth decided that they would put God's priorities first before they're own relationship. It would be another 5 years before they would get married on the mission field in Ecuador.

      Jim enjoyed going home for the holidays and participating in all the festivities. But Christmas 1948 he wrote his parents and told them that he wouldn't be coming home for Christmas because he would attend the Student Missionary Convention at Illinois University. It was here that he felt called to be a missionary to South American jungles to work with the tribal community there. He wrote Elizabeth saying " I am quite at ease about saying that tribal work in the South American jungle is the general direction of my missionary purpose." Pg41

      Toward the end of his college career he wrote in his journal that he had felt a "renaissance" He said he created a false barrier between the more spiritual students like those part of the Foreign missions group and the less spiritual like those who were more interested in sports. This allowed him to take part in more activities then he usually would have. For instance he dressed in a Victorian costume and sang funny songs at the wrestling banquet. He went on outings and other activities with many students. He mentioned this in his journal saying "The Lord has freed me from many things-good consecrated attitudes, priggish little laws whereby I used to govern my conduct...I experience new fellowship, new freedom, new enjoyment," he also acknowledged "I love to be with a gang. Fellowship with the gang is enticing fun." pg 42

      In the spring of 1949 Jim graduated with honors from Wheaton College. His parents drove out to see his graduation. His older brother Herbert had already gone out into the mission field with his wife in the high Andes Mountains of Peru. Jim didn't have a practical, long-term plan for his life at this point except that he wanted to serve overseas as a missionary in South America. He wrote in his journal "I feel that three month's building would prepare me more for the mission field than another three months in the books." pg. 45 He was going to help his brother Robert build a house for him and his wife.

      At home from college he had a lot of free time which was totally different then the busy days he spent at college.   He couldn't work on his brother's house because of local zoning issues that came up.   He didn't have a way to actualize his vision of being a missionary in South America yet.   At home he filled his time with reading biographies of other missionaries, secular books, bible study. He especially liked to read Amy Carmical's biography. He empathized with her.   He did odd jobs, and he was a substitute teacher at a Christian school. In January of '50 he was accepted at Camp Wycliffe for the summer to study Linguistics, in order to help break down native language into written symbols. The course lasted 10 weeks. There he met a man who worked with the Quichuas of Ecuador, and he told him about the Auca Indians who lived there also. He told him there was an abandoned mission station there and was available for use.   Jim was fascinated and prayed earnestly for 10 days to see if this was God's mission for him. He wrote in his journal " I dare not stay home while Quichuas perish."

      Jim prepared to make arrangement to go to Ecuador. In 1951 he traveled through the East Coast talking to fellowships of his church about the unreached tribes on South America. He applied for a visa, and he sought another co-worker's to go with him. time he met 10 days with Dr. Tidmarsh whose family was serving the Quichia Indians. The Quichia Indians are the largest population group. He confirmed his mission to Ecuador through this meeting. In October of '52 he met with Elizabeth and she would be going to Ecuador for mission

      Ecuador is a beautiful land. The high Andes Mountains cut through the county. Also the mighty Amazon river flows through the mountains. There are thick tropical jungles, and green grassy plains. It is hot as it borders the equator.

      In January of '53 he recieved money from 5 different sources in 24 hours. This money was enough to cover his trip to Ecuador. The money came from people he met months earlier. This was God's provision for him.

      On February 4, 1953 he and a coworker, Pete Fleming, set sail for Ecuador on the Santa Juana. They shared a cabin together. Finally after a long two years of waiting and preparing Jim's vision of serving the unreached tribes of South America was being realized. He was full of excitement and praise to God for his faithfulness. On the ship they practiced their Spanish with the other passengers. They were amazed at all the new sights they saw. They stopped off in Mexico, and San Salvador where they rented a car and went to look at the new sights. They were also invited on a fishing trip with the captain. It took about 17 days to reach Ecuador. From the dock they flew to Quito. There they met Mrs. Tidmarsh and her son Rob. At that point he realized that he had a language problem, and quickly started studying Spanish. After 5 months he gave his first message in Spanish. Although it wasn't perfect he grew in confidence. They stayed in their homes a few days. From there they went to stay with the Shorts, another missionary couple, in San Domingo. San Domingo was more primitive then the city of Quito. The only way to get there was a long and hard trip in a pickup truck. There Jim helped out in little ways like taking care of the kids, washing dishes, or driving.

      In April 1952 Elizabeth came to Quito, Ecuador to study language, tropical diseases, and medical work. Jim so this as God's providence in his life. They toured the city, went to a bullfight with friends, and talked about their mission life together. In mid August they had to separate again. Jim and his friend would move deeper into the jungle.

      They took a crowded bus up a steep mountain to Shell Mara. This was an abandoned oil-prospecting town. There were just a few remaining old, abandoned buildings around. They met Dr. Tidmarsh at the Aviation Fellowship base. From there they had to reach Shandia, the outlaying station, where the Quichua Indians were. There were no airstrips there so they were dropped off as close as possible. From that point they had to trek three hours through thick, lush rain forest to reach the Shandia. When they arrived with Dr. Tidmarsh men and women of the Quichua met them. They were physically tired, but exhilarated on reaching them.

      Now a new problem arose. They had to learn a new language of the Quichua Indians. In his journal entry he asked God to help him learn it quickly. Life was simple. They lived in a bamboo house that was on stilts. They had a simple curtain to divide the sleeping and living quarters. Each day an Indian would sweep out the bugs and mud. They couldn't study well because the Indians had an easy going attitude and would always disturb them when they were studying. The would sell them food, ask for directions on clearing the airstrip, or ask for pay at any time they felt like it. Jim tried to teach them volleyball, but team sports were foreign to them. Jim participated in their sports and they liked him for it. Their diet consisted of a lot of fruit, occasional meat when the Indians went hunting. Sometimes they would eat fish if the Indians went fishing by the riverbank. Occasionally they even ate roasted ants. Sometimes they went on healing missions. Usually this consisted in helping in childbirth. It wasn't unusual for new born's to die in such conditions. Often death was looming near through childbirth, snake bites, tropical disease. Life was fragile among them. There were few comforts for them. Jim and his associates longed to share the hope of the gospel with them.

      The work of building the clinic and widening the airstrip was slow. He wrote in his journal " O God, Life is slow, for all the action is shows" pg.73

      In January of 1953 he was engaged to Elizabeth in Quito. Quito is a large city in Equator.   After his engagement he returned to Shandia. The rainy season was the worst it had been in 30 years according to the Indians. The rain was so intense that the river swelled and destroyed Shandia. A full year's work had been washed away. The three buildings they had repaired, the two new ones they had constructed, and part of the airstrip was gone.   They sought a new place to build but decided to rebuild Shandia, and some small out post stations to effectively reach the Indians.

      An Indian named Atanasio, who had 15 children, asked them to come to his village in Puyupungu and build a school. Jim saw this mission as one that he and Elizabeth could do together. At this moment he asked Elizabeth to marry him. They had a simple civil ceremony in the Quito Registry office. It took 10 min. They honeymooned in Panama and Costa Rica. After restocking they went back to the jungles and arrived at the village in Puyupungu together by canoe with their supplies stacked high. Atanssio, and other men from the village came out to meet them on the river in their canoes.

      There new home consisted of a thatched hut, which they had to move out of because it became infested with roaches. They moved into a tent. For the first month Jim came down with a mysterious fever and couldn't due anything. After recovering they made a nine-hour hike through the jungle to catch a plane to spend Christmas with his other co-workers.   The rain didn't seem to let up through December to April. On April 1 Jim noted this down in his journal "Pause late on a rainy afternoon. Gratefully settled in our home for a week now...God has been faithful, though Satan has fought us to discouragement through long weeks of rain" pg94

      Jim's work consisted of building, teaching, instructing young Indians to take over a church, translation of the bible, and healing missions of mercy. This was using his limited medical knowledge to help the Indians. Yet preparations were in the works to make contact with the savage Auca Indians, even though they had recently heard that the Indians had killed a mother and her two children.

      Arajuno, was a small town set up by Shell Oil to produce oil. IT had been abandoned, and now was overgrown by the jungle. Yet it would be a perfect base to reach the Auca Indians since it set next to the Auca territory. Shell had left when the Auca's killed some of its personnel. Jim went to build a house from the left over material there.

      In September 1955, the missionaries   spotted the first houses of the Auca Indians while flying over their territory. In order to establish friendly contact with them   they began to drop gifts down to them from the plane. One time they dropped a machete to them and they saw an Auca Indian come out and pick it up and wave it around his head. Eventually the Indians lost their fear of the plane and started to come out and wait for the gift to drop. From that point they started to fly the plane lower and shout out phrases to the Auca Indians: "We like you, We are your friends"

      In order to communicate with them Jim learned a few phrases from an Auca woman Indian who had run away from the tribe many years ago during a tribal feud.

      On January 3, 1955 there were 5 missionary families working together to bring the word of God to the unreached Auca Indians. On this day Jim and the 4 other men began to load their small plane with supplies that they would need at Palm Beach. Palm Beach was a strip of beach along the river where they would set up their base station to meet the Auca Indians face to face. They were all aware of the danger and took some practical steps to protect themselves. They loaded handguns with them, and they planned two escape routes just in case things got out of hand. Following breakfast they prayed together, sung a hymn and took off. The landing strip was narrow and dangerous to land on, but Nate, the pilot, pulled it off perfectly. In all he made 5 trips in and out to bring in all the missionaries and supplies. Palm Beach was like paradise except for all the millions of insects.

      On the beach they built a tree house for shelter and to hold their supplies. They made a make shift stove, and received food from the base station flown in by Nate on daily trips. Nate flew over the Auca houses and motioned for them to come down to the river.   A few days latter, Auca Indians, a male and two females stepped out of the jungle across the river. They didn't wear anything except a string around their waists, wrists, and legs. The missionaries smiled and exchanged gifts with them. They gave them food and repeated Auca phrases saying "we are your friends. We like you"

      The next time they   took "George" a male Auca Indian they nicknamed on an airplane ride. They flew over his village, and he waved to his friends calling out and laughing. They continued to have more contact. But they wanted to make contact with the older Auca Indian elders. They tried to show them that they wanted to build an airstrip in their village with a model plane, and sticks to represent trees.

      About a week after they first made camp they flew over the Auca village and noticed that only a few women and children were there. They felt that it would be the day they would meet the leaders of the village and be invited back with them. They radioed back to their wives in the base station of Anjuro asking for pray and told them they would again contact them at 4:30 that afternoon.

      That call never came. A search party from the US army in panama found 5 bodies of the missionaries. Apparently they were ambushed. The Acua Indians speared them to death. They buried them together on the beach shore in a common grave. This made worldwide news at the time. Their death was not in vain. God would use it to open the door to the Auca Indians through their wives. All of the widows continued the mission that they had been called to and in which Jim and his co-workers had given their lives.


      All quotes taken from Jim Elliot's journal were found in the following book.

      Kathleen White, Jim Elliot, Men of Faith Series. Bethany House Publishers 1990.

Back to Jim Elliot index.


Like This Page?

© 1999-2019, All rights reserved.