In 1956, the world saw what was considered a horrible tragedy. On a sandy beach along an unknown river, deep in the jungles of Ecuador a number of young American missionaries were savagely killed by members of a tribe known then as Aucas. The reports of their discovery made headlines throughout the country. LIFE magazine did a huge spread of pictures. Radio and TV commentators discussed the event. It was, for much of America, a first exposure to independent missions and to many it seemed senseless. But this event had an impact on many in my generation. I was 19 years old and a fairly new believer in Christ.
My opinion of missionaries up till that point had been that they were social misfits, isolationists, old maids – people who couldn’t make it in the “real world.” But these were real men, most of them not even ten years older than I.
It wasn’t long after this happened that I met two of their fellow missionaries, Bill Gibson and his wife Gladis. Bill and Gladis had known these men and of their plans to reach this savage tribe, but they were back in the U.S. on furlough when the event occurred. I can’t remember many of the details of what Bill said as he related their story from his perspective, but I do remember that he talked of these guys as real persons, not just pictures in a magazine.
Why would these men who had everything going for them, in the prime of their life, with families, risk all just to reach what most would think of as a handful of ignorant savages? Though their journals have been published, books written and movies produced, it perhaps can best be summed up in a few paragraphs from the journal of one of them, Jim Elliot:
“God I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life, and may I burn up for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like You, Lord Jesus” (1947 – age 20).
”He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (1949 – age 22).
As I studied the sixth letter from the risen glorified Christ in the book of Revelation, the above thoughts came to mind. This is His letter to the church in Philadelphia (not Philadelphia, PA, but a small town in the Roman province of Asia, today, Western Turkey). (Revelation 3:7-13):
7. And to the messenger of the church in Philadelphia write: These things say He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one will shut and who shuts and no one opens:
8. I know your works (Look, I have given before you a door standing open, which no one is able to shut) you have a little power and you have kept my word and you haven’t denied my name.
9. Look! I’m giving some from the synagogue of Satan, who say themselves to be Jews and are not, but are lying. Look, I’ll make them come and bow down before your feet and they will know that I have loved you.
10. Because you have keep the word of My endurance I’ll also keep you out of the hour of testing which is going to come upon the whole inhabited earth to test those who dwell on the earth.
11. I’m coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.
12. The overcomer, I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will not go out any longer and I’ll write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem which comes down out of Heaven from My God, and My new name.
13. The one who has an ear -- listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Here was a church about which Christ had no complaint. Of the 7 churches, only one other has this distinction (the church at Smyrna – 2:8-11). The church mentioned just before, Jesus called dead, and the church following, He says makes Him want to vomit. This church gets nothing but His praise.
Christ introduces Himself as the holy, true and sovereign King. He is the One who opens and closes doors, Who gives or withholds opportunities.
As with all these letters, He begins His address with an “I know,” but then immediately shifts thoughts before He returns to what He knows about them.
They have “a little power” – or it could be translated simply “little power.” They were of that group that Paul refers to in his first letter to the Corinthians “ … not many wise … not many mighty, not many noble …” They were among “ … the foolish things … the weak things … the base things …” that God has chosen (1 Corinthians 1:26-30). They didn’t have a big reputation like the previous church.
But they had been faithful. In a culture much like ours that demanded conformity, they had dared to stand out. They had kept Christ’s Word (mentioned twice, verses 8 and 10) and had not denied His name, even though it probably was demanded of them. While those of the culture around them and even some of the churches were denying Christ through paganism and emperor worship, this little, weak group held tight to Christ, no matter what the cost.
Because they were faithful, Christ promised them opportunity. The open door was, I believe, a metaphor for the opportunity for missions and evangelism. (See Acts 14:27: “He had opened a door of faith to the gentiles”; 1 Corinthians 16:9: “ … a wide door … has opened to me …”; also see: 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3, 4).
And Christ promised not only opportunity, but success. I believe this is what He means when He says in verse 9, that their adversaries would “ … come and bow down before your feet and know that I have loved you.” He’s not telling to this little church that their adversaries would bow down to them, but that they’d bow down to Christ in their presence. In other words, this church would be successful in their evangelism. Because they were faithful to Christ, He could promise them not only opportunity, but success in their efforts. And I believe that’s still true today, even though that success may not always be visible.
Today a large number of the Waodoni (Auca) people are believers in Jesus Christ. Some of the very men who murdered those missionaries are even elders in their little church. Though those original missionaries never saw results in this life, their spouses and families did return and lead many to faith in Christ. And their courageous act of martyrdom inspired many of my generation to also commit their lives to service for Christ.
It seems we don’t need to look for opportunities to serve Christ. What He wants is faithfulness. He wants our passion. When He sees this in us He’ll open the doors as He sees fit.
Or perhaps the doors of opportunity are always open. It is only those who have a passion for Christ who see them.
NOTE: For more about my friend Bill Gibson,
go to: http://gospelmissionary.blogspot.com/