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Book Review: ‘Through Gates of Splendour’ by Elisabeth Elliot

March 27, 2011

Where, or who, we are putting our faith in is clearly shown in our actions; ‘Through Gates of Splendour‘ by Elisabeth Elliot is the inspiring true story of five men who had put their faith in God and this was shown by the fact that they were willing to make big sacrifices as they strived to reach a tribe of Auca Indians in Ecuador with the good news about Jesus. It’s easy to say that we believe in God, even that we trust Jesus’ death to save us, but do our actions show that? When following God calls us to make sacrifices, what do we do? I know I can certainly be tempted to take the easy option, rather than making sacrifices, even when it’s hard…

BUT this brilliant book really challenged that desire. It’s the story of how these five men go about gradually trying to win the tribe’s trust, which was especially hard as the tribe had been exploited by white men in the past and the Auca had been known to have killed previous missionaries. The men knew that their mission was dangerous; as they all had wives, and many had young families, I’m sure that they could have come up with numerous reasons why it wasn’t a good time/wasn’t for them, but they didn’t because of their faith and conviction.

It was striking just how important it was to them to make sure that as many people as possible heard about God and the opportunity they have to know Him through Jesus. Their sheer willingness to make sacrifices and risk their lives so that others might come to know God was just amazing and very challenging. During the mission they paid the ultimate sacrifice – all five of them were killed (I’m not giving the story away, as the tag line for the book is ‘the five missionary MARTYRS of Ecuador’!) The book is written by one of the men’s widows, who provides the narrative and has compiled extracts from the five men’s diaries to build up a powerful and realistic view of the mission.

The faith and trust that the men, and their families, had in God struck me most in two places; once when Elisabeth Elliot was summing up WHY the men were undertaking the mission:

Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No. Their letters and journals make it abundantly clear  that…their compulsion was from a different source. Each had made a personal transaction with God, recognising that he belonged to God, first of all by creation, and secondly by redemption through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This double claim on his life settled once and for all the question of allegiance. To conform to the perfect life of Jesus was impossible for a human being. To these men, Jesus Christ was God, and had actually taken upon Himself human form, in order that He might die, and, by His death, provide not only escape from the punishment which their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, both in length and quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed, and more than that, He would provide the power to obey. The point of decision had been reached. God’s command ‘Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature’ was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safely was wholly irrelevant.

And secondly, when the wives found out that their husbands had been killed by the tribe. Barbara Youderian, the widow of Roj, wrote:

Tonight the Captain told us of his finding four bodies in the river. One had tee-shirt and blue-jeans. Roj was the only one who wore them…God gave me this verse two days ago, psalm 48:14, ‘For this God is our God for ever and ever. He will be our guide, even unto death’. As I came face to face with the news of Roj’s death, my heart was filled with praise. He was worthy of his home-going. Help me. Lord, to be both mummy and daddy. ‘To know wisdom and instruction’…I wrote a letter to the mission family, trying to explain the peace I have. I want to be free of self-pity. It is a tool of Satan, to rot away a life. I am sure that this is the perfect will of God. Many will say, ‘Why did Roj get mixed up in that…?’ Because Roj came to do the will of Him that sent him. The Lord closed our hearts to grief and hysteria, and filled it with His perfect peace.

Wow, I just found such faith amazing – to be able to face that and still be filled with praise for God and to trust that God’s plan is perfect. I totally agree that God is completely worthy of our praise and that His will is perfect, but I know if my husband was killed my faith would really be tested and I only pray that I, like the widows, will have a heart filled with praise for God, a trust in His perfect will and a desire to do His will, whatever the cost, whatever may come my way.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2011 3:18 pm

    Sounds like a book to read! Thanks so much for the review. I will certainly look for it:)

    • Natalie permalink
      April 29, 2011 5:43 pm

      Thanks! It’s definitely worth looking out for. Elisabeth Elliot has also written another book ‘The Savage My Kinsman’, which my friend recommended. It’s about how Elisabeth returned to live among the tribe who killed her husband, to try and continue the work the martyrs had started. Sounds very moving and I hope to read it soon…so may be worth keeping your eyes peeled for that one too! :-)

  2. March 29, 2011 12:46 pm

    Wow…sounds like a very powerful story, and an inspiring one at that. Thanks for sharing. I love reading about how others have chosen to live out their lives for God and how they have given their all. It’s a good reminder for all of us to step past our comfort zones and go where God guides us, regardless of the discomfort or even danger.
    Great review.

    • Natalie permalink
      April 29, 2011 5:40 pm

      Thank you…I completely agree. I think we naturally want to go for the ‘comfortable’ or ‘easy’ option, but we can so easily forget that we’re following Jesus, who definitely didn’t have a ‘comfortable’ or ‘easy’ life, who ended up dying on a cross and calls His followers to ‘pick up their cross and follow’!

  3. March 30, 2011 6:50 am

    Mike – Somehow this book brought to mind the movie ‘The Mission’ also set in South America. Have you seen that?

    • April 3, 2011 5:47 am

      Corinne – Yes I have seen that film and very much enjoyed it. Some great performances and a message which makes you really think. What did you think?

  4. April 7, 2011 4:20 pm

    Mike – I tried to ‘find’ you on Blogplicity but was rather unsuccessful. I thought the movie was great. I also wanted to share with you a link that I found interesting – with regard to our discussion on Lent. http://ignatianspirituality.com/5269/try-bothering-for-lent/
    Would love to hear what you think.

  5. May 19, 2011 5:50 pm

    Lu 9:62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

    I haven’t read that book, but it looks like one that I should!

    It’s not easy when we’re called upon to sacrifice of ourselves, whatever the form takes, but God blesses obedience and He doesn’t ask us to do anything He Himself hasn’t already experienced.

    • Natalie permalink
      June 4, 2011 9:36 am

      Thanks for this Laura – that is so true. That verse is such a good reminder of what is worth working towards, thank you :-)

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