No doubt many of you are familiar with the heroic story of missionary Jim Elliot who was speared to death in 1956 while trying to reach the hostile Huaorani Indians of Ecuador. What isn’t well remembered about those events is that four other missionaries died with Elliot, one of which was a pilot, Nate Saint.
Nate Saint left behind a son, Steve Saint, who followed in his father’s footsteps giving his life to Christ as a young man and committing to the mission field. Even though he possessed the same strength and faith as his father, Steve Saint wrote that the martyrdom of his father left him with many nagging, unanswered questions. Steve confessed in a Guideposts article:
“For decades, the questions lingered in my mind: Did my father have to die? All my life, people had spoken of dad with respect; he was a man willing to die for his faith. But at the time I couldn’t help but think the murders were capricious, an accident of bad timing. Dad and his colleagues landed just as a small band of Auca men were in a bad mood for reasons that had nothing to do with faith or Americans. If dad’s plane had landed one day later, the massacre might not have happened. “Couldn’t there have been another way?” I asked God over-and-over again, but with no clear answers. Dad’s death made little impact on the Aucas that I could see. To them it was just one more killing in a history of killings. Thirty years later my dad’s untimely death still had a haunting impact on me.”[i]
Steve would find answers to his unsolved mysteries nearly 30 years after his father’s death in 1986 while on the mission field in the African country of Mali. Steve’s truck had broken down on the outskirts of the city of Timbuktu, which was an unfriendly place for Westerners, especially Christians since this was a predominantly Muslim country. But, Steve’s options were limited; he was surrounded by blazing Sahara Desert for miles and his only recourse was to go into the city to find help.
After wandering through the city Steve asked a group of kids for directions to any church and instead the children led him to a tiny mud-brick house. Steve knocked on the door and man introduced himself as Noah, the pastor of Timbuktu’s only church. Steve told Noah of his plight and he agreed to help him find transportation.
As the two talked, Steve asked Noah to share how he came to faith in Christ. Noah said that he’d got caught stealing vegetables from a missionary’s garden. The missionary gave Noah an ultimatum—he wouldn’t tell if Noah agreed to memorize some verses from the Bible and even promised him more vegetables. Through the witness of this missionary Noah gave his life to Christ.
As a result of his conversion from Islam to Christ, Noah was disowned by his parents. But he remained true to Jesus despite great persecution. Steve asked, “Where do you get your courage?” Noah answered, “The missionary gave me some books about other Christians who had suffered for their faith. My favorite was about five young men who willingly risked their lives to take God’s good news to stone age Indians in the jungles of South America.”
Stunned, Steve said, “One of those men was my father, I’m Steve Saint” while pulling out a picture of his father that Steve had in his wallet. In an amazing way God, had providentially led Steve to Noah, who both shared something—the martyrdom of Nate Saint. Some 30 years later, Nate’s death had brought inspiration to a converted Muslim halfway around the world.
Steve wrote, “As Noah and I hugged each other, it seemed incredible that God loved us so much that He’d arranged for us to meet “at the ends of the earth.” Noah and I had gifts for each other that no one else could give. I gave him the assurance that the story which had given him courage was true. He gave me the assurance that God had used Dad’s death for good. Dad, by dying, had helped give Noah a faith worth dying for. And Noah, in return had helped give Dad’s faith back to me.”
That incredible story of God’s providence reminds me of what the Lord said to the prophet Habakkuk, “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). By the way, you’ll find Habakkuk 2:4 quoted three times in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38). This is the single verse that captivated the mind of Martin Luther and sparked the Protestant Reformation. Not only is this the bedrock principle of the Gospel, but it’s also the survival kit for enduring tough times. When God’s answers don’t make sense we have to trust Him as difficult as that might be. As Philip Yancey said, “Faith is believing God in advance, for what will only make sense in reverse.” -DM
[i] Steve Saint, “To the Ends of the Earth,” Guideposts, 11 January 1991. Cited by Randy Alcorn, If God is Good? (Colorado Springs, Multnomah, 2009), 400-401.