An older gentleman with white hair and a round belly approached our round table at the funeral dinner after the burial of Leah, Harrison, and Sophia on Tuesday.
"There is a gentleman over there," said the man, "who wanted to find out who played the piano and the violin so beautifully yesterday at the calling hours."
During part of the time that 1,500-2000 went through to give their condolences to Uncle Brian, Uncle Kenneth and Aunt Erma (Leah's and my Uncle John's parents), and to Brian's parents, Amanda, Beth, and I had played the piano and violin a little. I don't remember all that the others played, but I played "Give Me Jesus" and "No Night There". We gave our names to the man who had come up to us, and he had us write them and our address down on a piece of paper. "Gil was very impressed," he told us.
He then began to tell us about Gil G.-- Aunt Erma's oldest brother, Aunt Leah's uncle. "Have you ever seen the movie 'End of the Spear'?" he asked us.
"We've heard of it," I answered.
"Yeah, well, he knew one of those five men who were martyred-- Jim Elliot."
*drops mouth open* !!! After the man left talking to us, Mommy told us, "You need to go talk to him!" (meaning Mr. G.)
I waited for the seats around Mr. G to empty, and then Bethany and I approached him.
"We heard you were asking after the girls who played the music yesterday," I said. "I am one of them. My name is Melanie, and this is my sister Bethany, who played the violin."
Mr. G was grateful for us coming over and began to tell us how the music had been a blessing to him and such. When there was a break in the conversation, I said, "We heard that you knew Jim Elliot personally. Is that correct?"
He answered to the affirmative.
"How did you know him? Did you know him really well?" I asked.
"Well, it's kind of a long story," Mr. G said, and then he went on to tell us. It was loud in the room, and he's an old man who's voice is a little shaky, so some of what he said was hard to catch. But I will tell you what I am certain of.
Mr. G worked in some kind of service... civil service?... with Jim's older brother, and Jim would come and see them at their work. Then that service transferred Mr. G up to Oregon where the Elliots lived, and Mr. G would worship with them at their congregation on Sundays!
"I remember the day he died," Mr. G said with a faraway look. "I was sitting in my living room and looked at the headlines.... and saw that he and four other missionaries had been speared by the Auca Indians.
"It's made a major impact on the world," he said. "And I believe that this tragedy will make a major impact on the Flora community, and will finger out into other places as well."
What perspective this gave me. I thought about it for the rest of the afternoon.
Jim Elliot was young, handsome, and passionate in his walk with Christ. He was not yet thirty years old when he, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint were martyred by hostile Auca Indians in the jungle of Ecuador, each leaving behind a widow and several leaving behind young children. Tragedy? Yes, I suppose it could be called so. But did God know what He was doing? Was God still in control when those naked Indians burst out of the trees with spears? Was God still on the throne when people pulled Jim's mutilated body out of the water? Were all of Jim's, and the other men's, efforts-- flying over, dropping gifts, praying for the salvation of the Aucas-- wasted?
We all know God was still in control, still on the throne, still at work. We all know that afterwards several of the men who were actually involved in the murder were saved and baptised and are now leaders in the church in that area. Various writings about Jim, Nate, and the others have brought people to salvation in Christ, been instrumental in the call of many to the mission field, and simply been a huge encouragement and blessing in countless people's lives-- including my own. Those five missionaries have become famous worldwide and we continue to be impacted by their lives-- and deaths-- even today. I am, as I keep a copy of the Journals of Jim Elliot on my nightstand.
Now for another story.
Brian W. and Leah F. were close friends growing up, and eventually became husband and wife. They had two beautiful children-- Harrison and Sophia. The children were active, energetic, and-- despite their young ages-- passionate for the Lord and for others. Harrison said that he wanted to be a preacher. Sophia comforted others during hard times in their lives-- even at four years old. Leah loved to minister to her husband, children, and friends, leaving huge impact on many lives-- and one of her favorite hobbies was running, being extremely athletic.
Then, one night (Friday, May 15, 2009) a thunderstorm rolled over their little town of Flora, Indiana. Fire broke out all throughout the house. Brian escaped. Leah, Harrison, and Sophia did not.
Did God know what He was doing? Was He still good when firefighters found the remains of that beloved wife and mother in the burnt kitchen of the house? Was He still wise when He took a man's wife and only two children? Was He still on His throne as the champagne-coloured casket, containing the bodies of the three, was lowered into the sod on Tuesday?
Oh, my friends, I tell you, He was good, He was wise, and HE WAS ON THE THRONE! In the past week, I have seen tragedy and grief-- I have felt grief at the loss of these beautiful children who I had been so blessed to call my "cousins"-- even though they were my cousin's cousins. But in the past week I have seen Christ lifted up, the Holy Spirit at work, and God glorified. Brian, Kenneth and Erma, and Brian's parents are looking to the Lord and are confident that He is in control and that He is with them. They know the Aunt Leah, Harrison, and Sophia are in a better place-- worshipping and singing in the presence of God and living in glorious exaltation of their Saviour-- and couldn't wish to come back. From what I heard last, two children, friends of Harrison's, have accepted Christ as their Saviour, and one girl has chosen to make a public profession of faith by baptism. And I believe that people will continue to come to Christ through this. And those who already know Christ will see even more than before the need to set their eyes on Christ and cling to Him and trust Him-- as I have been learning this week. I am excited to see what further impact this will have not only on the community of Flora, but also all over the state of Indiana-- and, via family members and friends, throughout all of America.
"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth:
Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours;
and their works do follow them."
"And Jesus answered them, saying,
'The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
Verily, verily, I say unto you,
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,
it abideth alone:
but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."