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The love of God makes reconciliation possible between a murderer and his victim's family.

It thrilled my heart. I was looking at one of the most powerful illustrations of reconciliation I had ever seen. Looking at me from the front page of Christian Week were two people. One was an aged Ecuadorian native, the other, an American teenager. The old man had his hand on the young man's shoulders. Both look relaxed, both are smiling, both enjoying the moment thoroughly.

… the natives looked on the killings as routine.

But one of them shouldn't be smiling, because some 42 years ago, this old man was responsible for killing this teenager's grandfather!

I well remember that murderous incident. It was widely reported. A search party of soldiers and others found four men dead on the banks of an Ecuadorian jungle river and the fifth body was later found down stream. They were the bodies of five missionaries. The murderers were Auca tribespeople.

Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Peter Fleming and Ed McCully had attempted to befriend the Aucas in their desire to share the gospel of Christ with them. Initial contact seemed friendly enough, but deep suspicion and fear took over, and the friendly contact turned instead into murder. Living in a world of suspicion and retribution, the natives looked on the killings as routine. For the missionaries, it was a risk that they had been willing to take as part of their commitment to Christ.

Undaunted by the tragedy, the wives and Rachel Saint, sister of Nate Saint took over the work of these men. Two in particular, Betty, the wife of Jim Elliot, and Rachel Saint, played a prominent role. After continued unsuccessful attempts at friendly contact, the break came about a year later. Two Auca women named Mankamu and Mintaka, goaded by curiosity, left their tribe to visit with these two women. Then began a ten-month attempt to learn the language from "M&M" as they were called. Finally, M&M extended an invitation to return with them to their village.

After continued unsuccessful attempts at friendly contact, the break came about a year later.

What was it that awaited them? Would it be friendship, or was it a trap? They went, trusting God. With the aid of Quichua Indian porters, the party trekked three days into the jungle, Rachel, Betty and her 3 1/2-year-old daughter Valerie.

In 1958 I saved the Christmas Edition of Life Magazine that had a photo spread on this amazing story. I never expected such a remarkable current update. The Life Magazine spread shows, among other things, little Valerie on the back of one of the porters, asleep, as she is being carried to her home in the jungle. And then it shows her playing with the Auca children and sitting near Kimu, one of the killers.

In time the love and patience of these missionary women paid off. Converts were made. In fact, Nate Saint's son Steven, when he was 14, was baptized by two of the men who killed his father. And now here on the cover of Christian Week, Nate's grandson Jaime is pictured with Guiquita, who led the raid on the five missionaries. They flash their broad smiles, recording for us the wonder of the reconciling and forgiving love of Jesus making them brothers in Christ.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Rev. Ralph Garbe is senior minister to Central United Church in Unionville, Ontario. He is also chair of the Board of Directors of Fellowship Magazine.

Originally published in Fellowship Magazine, December 1998




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