January 8, 1956. I was not yet born. But on that day, 5 young men, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Peter Fleming, Americans, were speared on a sand bar in the Ecuadorian jungle. Life magazine sent a reporter and the January 30, 1956 issue published a 10-page photo essay on the discovery of the bodies. It was a story that influenced my life. Elisabeth Elliot, widow of Jim Elliot who died that day trying to make contact with this isolated tribe, wrote several books about the incident. There are many online links about the event.
Fast forward to 1994. I, along with my husband and our three children, lived in Shell Mera, on the edge of the Ecuadorian jungle. Elisabeth Elliot returned to the town of Shell with her 3rd husband, Lars Gren, with plans to visit Shandia, the village where she had lived until that event in 1956. Tim and I volunteered to drive them there. I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to spend time with Elisabeth. Her books had challenged me.
Our family of 5, plus Elisabeth and Lars, and Elisabeth's former house helper, Antonia, (who, in 1994, worked in the hospital Tim administered), piled into our bright yellow van and jounced our way along pot-hole-filled roads, in the pouring rain, for several hours.
Once at the village, we visited in several homes, drinking chicha (don't ask), waiting for the rain to stop. It didn't. Elisabeth finally said, "let's just get going." She took off her shoes, saying that she had always walked the jungle trails barefoot and saw no reason not to do so again. I kept mine on. Then up the slippery, muddy trail we went, rain pouring down, not in rivulets, but actual rivers, soaking us to the skin in spite of our umbrellas.
The first photo shows Elisabeth and Lars in front of the house that Jim built. A local family lives there now, but graciously allowed us all to traipse through it. Elisabeth spoke of little memories in each room - "Jim loved to play with Valerie in front of this fireplace," "I had my desk in this corner and I gazed at this view while writing my first book," "here's where the radio was and where I was standing when I heard the news."
The second photo shows a young boy, Elisabeth and Lars, Antonia, Tim, and Ashley standing on a bank overlooking the Napo River.
It was a story I'd read and heard of so many times, but I gained a new perspective that day - the perspective of a strong woman of faith who deeply grieved the loss of a beloved husband, and who wondered what the future held for her tiny orphaned daughter.
Have you ever heard of this story from 1956? It made world wide news with the Life magazine coverage.