Protestant's Safari: Observations of an Ecclesial Anthropologist II
Observation: Natives Wonder What To Do With Their Saints...
Over Christmas, the buzz around various Protestant dinner tables involved another exciting cinematic development, namely, the making of "End of the Spear," which documents the events surrounding martyred missionaries to the indigenous Auca people. The film, which I have not yet seen, is apparently inspired by the earlier treatment of the same in "Through Gates of Splendor;" and the subjects, familiar to any good Wheaton grads, are the heroic missionaries Jim Elliot and Nate Saint.
Now, like most Evangelical young people, I grew up with these names. I had placards with quotes from their biographies pasted on my closet door. When I went through missionary training for a year before a stint in Eastern Europe, their stories were invoked to inspire timid trainees with great passion, and to great effect. Once in Eastern Europe, I found the full-time missionaries (the consecrated Religious of the Protestant world) living and breathing to devotionals inspired by these men and their wives. Some would say in prayer, "Lord, in the words of Jim Elliot, please X..." Etc.
All this is as it should be. These young men lived pure lives marked by heroic virtue, which ended in martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. Their wives returned to labor among the murderers of their husbands for years. Amen! We desperately need such living, breathing models of What Christians Look Like, so that the abstractions of Christian wisdom may become properly incarnate in us as well. We need to see their photos, hear their stories, pray their prayers, rejoice at their biographical sketches on film.
My Catholic friends do this too. They have their placards, their prayers, their profound memories of service and sacrifice by their heroes in the faith, so that their own lives may better imitate Christ's. The only difference may be the heightened rigor attached to recognizing a Catholic saint, who must demonstrate their continued intercession before the throne of God in Heaven by means of miracles on earth. But I digress. Jim Elliot, pray for us.