When I was five, my Dad, Nate, and four of his missionary friends were speared to death by a savage tribe of Indians in the Amazon jungles in South America. When radio contact was lost, news reports went out by radio, around the world, that five missionaries were missing. People all over North and South America as well as manycountries in Europe sat by their radios waiting for any little bit of news.
Life Magazine and hundreds of newspapers picked up the story and reported when my Dad’s and his friends’ bodies were found. They went on reporting when my Dad’s sister and Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of one of the other four men, went in to finally live peacefully with the violent tribe that had killed their brother and husband. I had no idea that this story, that began with my Dad and his friends being killed, had become so famous until I came to the U.S. to go to College and then settled down to live here with my wife Ginny.
People would find out that I was Nate Saint’s son and Rachel Saint’s nephew. Some were so anxious to have a personal connection with this story that I was even frequently introduced as Elisabeth Elliot’s son. Years passed. Ginny and I had four children. I started a business which I used to support my family and our church and people who were going into missions like my parents had. I was on the board of a Christian school and became an elder at church. But still, I was always introduced as the son of the famous Christian martyr Nate Saint.
I wanted to do something big for God. It seemed to make sense to me that God should not waste the fact that I was tri-lingual and tri-cultural, by keeping me in the U.S. I wanted to go to the “front lines” to do something that was bigger than just being a businessman and raising my family and being part of what our church was doing and supporting what God was doing in other parts of the world. But, the gifts God gave me were more applicable to business than to missions and God just kept indicating that Ginny and I were right where He wanted us. So, I decided that I would just be the best husband and father and businessman and school board member and Sunday School teacher and missions supporter that I could be. And people kept on introducing me as “the son of the famous Martyr who was killed by the Auca Indians”.
I don’t want to belittle what other people thought, but this whole deal got pretty bad. The worst, was when someone would introduce me as the son of the famous “Jungle Pilot” Nate Saint, who was killed by the “Auca” Indians; and the new person would say something like: “Oh, that’s nice, and are you a pilot too?” I would admit that I was and then they would go on, something like this. “And, where are you a missionary?” I would have to tell them that I was a businessman, not a missionary. Looking right at me, I would see a sad look come over their faces and this type of introduction would often end with them saying something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
Can you imagine how I felt?
A number of years ago, my Aunt Rachel died of cancer after spending the rest of her life living with the tribe that killed my Dad and his friends. I had lived with Aunt Rachel and the people whose real tribal name is not “Auca”, which means naked savages, but Waodani, which means “the People”. They knew me better than anyone else in the family so I went down to Ecuador to help my jungle family bury Aunt “Nemo” (Star), as they called her.
After the burial, the “God Followers” in the tribe told me they had decided that I would now go and live with them. They expected me to take my family too.
I won’t go into all the details, but I should tell you that I had no intention of going. I had spent years building businesses. Our children were finishing high school and starting college. I could make enough money that I could personally hire someone to go live with the tribe and be their missionary. But they insisted that I should go. Finally, I realized that if I said “NO”, I might sever my relationship with them. So, I told them that I would ask Waengongi, God, about it.
Wouldn’t you know it. God made it clear that I should turn my back on all the years of experience I had in business, and return to the jungles.
And you are probably wondering what in the world this could possibly have to do with you, so let me get to the point.
Today, I am asked to speak all over the U.S. and other countries. I am still frequently introduced as Nate Saint’s son. But now, something different happens. People who have met me will tell someone new, “I would like to introduce you to the son of that famous missionary Nate Saint, who was killed with Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and Ed McCully, by the “Auca Indians”. Then, they might pause, for a little effect before going on; “and today, Steve and his family are working with the very people who killed his father.”
At this point, both the people who are introducing me and the people to whom I am being introduced, typically get a look of awe on their faces. As often as not, at this point, they will say something like “we are so proud of you Steve”.
Here is the point. We have decided in our North American Christian culture that some acts of service are more important to God than others. Years ago, people were openly disappointed to find out that I was a Christian businessman rather than a missionary. Today, they are just as openly busting their buttons with pride because I am doing something that fits right up there at the top of their hierarchy of “Great Deeds for God” list. But, I want you to know that it is a lot easier doing what God has called me to do now, than it was being a faithful Christian businessman.
God has a plan for the world. And He has a place for you in that plan. You will never find anything as rewarding, or exciting, or fulfilling as doing what God wants you to do. But, to find that sweet spot, you have to do what He wants you to do, not what the Christian community wants you to do. Finding God’s will for your life seems to be one of the great mysteries of the Christian life. But the Bible says that “if you want to know what God wants you to do, you should ask Him and He will gladly tell you”. He does it in a number of ways. First, He gives us special gifts. The innate skills and aptitudes that God has given you are one good clue. Then, He gives us wisdom and He gives us good counselors. What do the people around you, who know you and love you think you would be good at? And, at the top of the list, when you pray and ask God to show you, what does He tell you?
In James chapter one, that I was quoting above, it goes on to say that all you need to do is ask with faith, and God will show you what He wants you to do. But, I’m going to tell you that you have to be very careful to be sure that what you accept as God’s leading isn’t in reality just the prompting of the Christian or secular culture around you.
People are amazed that I really love the very men who speared my Dad and his four friends who were like uncles to me. It really is amazing how God has written this story of reconciliation and transformation. When I was a little boy waiting for my Dad to come home one afternoon so we could make model airplanes and so he could take me swimming down behind our house, it was a terrible blow to be told that he would never come home again. But now, I know that his death was part of a plan God had to reach a small tribe of Indians that had never heard that He loved them; and it was part of God’s plan to shake up the Christian Church in North America that had grown fairly apathetic toward the plight of the thousands of people groups who had no access to “God’s Carvings” as the Waodani call God’s Word.
Today, my Dad and his friends have become heroes of the faith. But how heroic do you think they felt as they were lying there on a sandbar beside a little river out in the middle of nowhere in the Amazon Jungle? That whole incident could have taken place without more than a handful of people ever hearing about it. And, it could have been just as important in God’s plan as it has been to have books written and movies made about it. Being in God’s will and playing an important part in His plan cannot be measured in human statistics. It is measured in the pleasure that we find in doing what He calls us to, in the sense of significance that He gives us in doing it, and in what He does with our obedience through the rest of eternity.
God has called you to be His servant and a steward of his mysteries (I Co. 4:1). Don’t stoop to anything less!