They Think We’re Cannibals

They Think We’re Cannibals

When Elisabeth Elliott returned to the jungle in 1958, after subsequent missionaries had made successful contact with the Huaorani, the tribe told her they’d speared the five men because they thought they were cannibals. Reading back through the men’s journals after this revelation is like going back to the beginning of the movie and noticing all the signs you can’t believe you missed. 

Sixty-eight years ago this month, missionary Jim Elliot and four others were speared to death by Huaorani Indians in the Ecuadorian jungle.

However we understand this story now 70 years on—(was this a martyr’s epic adventure or an object lesson in cultural ignorance?)—I think it’s important to say that should anyone claim to know that God did not, in fact, call those men to that work and to their death, they are lying. Elliot and the others loved Jesus and were doing what they thought He wanted, at great personal cost. Let no cynicism invalidate that.

In my recent reading of Through Gates of Splendor, the book in which Elisabeth Elliot retells the story through the men’s journal entries, what struck me most was not the cultural awkwardness or even the great drama. It was the missionaries’ total confidence in their own intelligence gathering. For weeks leading up to their ground approach of the Huaorani, the men flew their prop plane over the tribe’s settlement, dropping gifts and yelling phrases they believed translated to “friend.”

They then painstakingly analyzed every tiny movement the tribe made in response. Jim wrote one day that he “saw a thing that thrilled me—

Read More

Scroll to top