I recently read the authorized biography of Elisabeth Elliot, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, by Ellen Vaughn. Elisabeth was the widow of Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries slaughtered by the Auca (or Waodani) Indians in Ecuador back in the 1950s. These young men weren’t the first Christian martyrs, of course. But their tragic story aroused great interest and it had a profound effect around the globe.
I was a teenager when the news shocked the Christian community. To many it seemed a tragic waste of talented young men in their prime. An overzealous attempt at accomplishing the impossible. And when Elisabeth returned to the tribe who had killed her husband, people were astounded!
But good things resulted from the so-called tragedy. The tribe was reached with the gospel. Many became Christians. The New Testament was translated. Young people dedicated their lives to missions. Elisabeth told her story in twenty-five books that have had a profound impact. (The Savage My Kinsman, Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty, to name a few.) So do we call the slaying of five missionaries a tragedy or a triumph? Can’t it be both?
In 1960, a couple of months before I was married, my fiance’s seventeen year old brother was killed in a tragic hunting accident. He was a highly respected student in his high school. So the whole student body was dismissed to attend the funeral, where the gospel was clearly presented. Many became believers. Many Christians made a new commitment to Christ. Tragedy or triumph? Again, couldn’t it be both?
One week after our wedding my seventeen year old sister died of complications from diabetes. About two months later our best man died of leukemia. Three young people snatched from us in a short time. Three of our dearest transferred to glory.
Times like this can make us bitter or better. Thank God, He gave us the faith to believe that He was “working all things together for good” (Romans 8:28). My husband and I learned to value each day. We have no guarantee of another one, so we make the most of today. Whether here on earth or in heaven, we live to serve our Savior.
What tragedies have served to propel you in a positive way on your journey? Is there some bitterness that you need to let go of? Even though it’s impossible to understand things from God’s perspective, can we learn to face life with faith and courage? Is not Christ’s triumph over death our incentive to keep on trusting, through tragedy and triumph? “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (II Cor. 2:14).