“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
When you think of the brave, and the courageous or the perfect adventure, what comes to mind? The American Navy Seals, the Spartan warriors or is it the ninjas and samurais of the Asian countries? No doubt these guys are brave and partake in an adventure of a life time, but in my opinion, the Christian missionary is the bravest and his quest the greatest of all.
Because he goes to “war” without armour and approaches the front lines without a vest, his mission is not to neutralize but to save his enemies. The missionary’s weapon is the love of the Lord Jesus Christ and his contingency plan is not vengeance but forgiveness.
Graham Staines was such a missionary. Plunged into the hostile territory of Orissa where Hindu practice is radical and violent, so violent that the churches endured as many as 60 attacks in the space of 12 years. Staines constantly faced persecution for converting Hindus to Christianity and threats of expulsion for changing the political structure of India. Graham Staines fully aware of these still chose to stay and minister and cared for the poor and became involved in the Leprosy Mission work of treating lepers in Daripada, Orissa. He had no military training and yet dared to go toe to toe with such hostility, he charged headlong into the landmines of religious irrationality. If that isn’t courage and bravery then I don’t know what is.
He served there for about 19 years and won as many as 5,000 souls to Christ each year. He did this until January 23, 1999 when he and his two sons Phillip, 10, and Timothy, 7 were burnt alive in their car where they retired for the night to sleep. Even in death they were inseparable. Charred beyond recognition and reduced to fragile frames of ashes, the three bodies lay clinging to each other in what must have been a vain attempt to protect each other and escape the mob – over a hundred sadistic men and women.
So barbaric was the act that the president called the gruesome murders, “a monumental aberration of time-tested tolerance and harmony. The killings belong to the world’s inventory of black deeds”.
Glory to God, his good work did not end with him. His wife, Glades Staines and her daughter, Esther, determined to continue the work; they chose not to be bitter. Gladys sang the song “Because He Lives” at the funeral of her husband and two sons. She announced her forgiveness of those who had murdered her family. Because of these events, Christ has been proclaimed from the front pages of the newspapers of India. In the face of persecution, many are coming to Jesus from families that have rejected the gospel for years.
The action of the radicals has increased the awareness of Christianity among the people, and more are looking to see what is there to make a man expose himself and his family to danger, and what would lead someone to publicly announce forgiveness of people who had burned her beloved family alive. In a culture where people are used to selfishness, the gospel of Jesus is shining brightly in the light of forgiveness and in the power of love. The burning shame of religious intolerance and political fascism is being overcome by the gospel of Jesus.
In a similar story, five American missionaries were brutally murdered in the Amazon rain forest by a tribe of savage Indians then known as the Aucas. At the time, it was difficult to discern what good could possibly come from these violent and apparently senseless deaths. Yet, what happened as a result was nothing short of miraculous. Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Nate Saint, Ed McCully and Roger Youdarian were American missionaries working in Ecuador. They had learned of a savage tribe of Indians that had killed several Shell Oil company employees. Violence was a way of life for the Aucas. Six of every ten adult deaths were homicides by spearing. Fearless, the missionaries initiated contact through an ingenious method of lowering a bucket of gifts from a small airplane. This continued for several months. Thinking they had gained their trust, the missionaries landed their plane on a sand bar in the Curaray River.
Over the ensuing days, they made several friendly face-to-face encounters and even gave one of the Aucas, Naenkiwi, a ride in the plane. But on January 8, 1956, all five of the missionaries were attacked and brutally murdered. It seemed to be nothing more than a tragic loss. But God would soon roll back the dark clouds of despair, allowing the world a providential glimpse into his often mysterious ways. God was about to make the wrath of man praise him. Two years later, in what could be considered one of the greatest acts of forgiveness in the 20th century, Elisabeth Elliot, Jim Elliot’s wife and Rachel Saint, Nate Saint’s sister, went to live with the tribe, now known as the Waodani. The women studied the tribe’s language and learned their culture. Their demonstration of forgiveness to the men who murdered their loved ones so moved the Waodani, they were given the opportunity to share the greatest story of forgiveness – Christ’s death on the cross. Many members of the tribe were converted to Christianity. The murder rate among the Waodani dropped 90%. Years later, Nate Saint’s son, Steve moved his family from Florida to live with the Waodani. His children now call Mincaye, a tribal elder and the man who speared Steve Saint’s father to death, “grandfather.”
On October 28, 1949—Jim Elliot wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
And a little more than six years and two months, he was called on by God to make good on those words. In so doing, he demonstrated by his death the words of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Why do I share these stories under the title, Extravagant Love? I share them because of what Jesus did on the cross for all of humanity – for you and me. If the love of ordinary followers were so great and exemplary; imagine how great the Master’s love for us is. There is no distance He wouldn’t go for you. No depth too deep that He wouldn’t reach out to you.
If Glades Staines, Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint could forgive the murderers who brutalised their loved ones to death, then there is no evil you have done that the Lord Jesus cannot forgive. Embrace Him today. What He has for you is Extravagant Love.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
(1 John 3:16)