What makes a hero? What makes one man stand out above another?
Let me tell you a story of two brothers, Herbert and James. Raised in a godly home with two other siblings, they came to Christ at a young age. In their 20s, each young man committed himself to a life of Christian service. In fact both of them ended up following a call to the South American mission field — Bert to the central part of the continent, followed a few years later by Jim to the north.
That’s where their paths diverged, not just geographically, but in just about every way imaginable.
You see, missionary work is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart. Living among people of a different language and culture, with different customs and values, requires a lot. Add to that the hardships, long stretches away from family and friends, and the threat of illness and danger, and it’s a wonder that anyone lasts for long. The best Bible and missions training — which each man had — is often not enough to prepare you for what you will face on the field.
Despite the best of intentions and the best of preparation, Jim lasted less than a week at the place where he felt God called him to serve. Not even close to enough time to learn the language and culture, much less share the gospel and raise up a local gathering of believers.
Bert, on the other hand, went on to serve 62 years on the same foreign mission field. With his wife Colleen, they planted more than 170 churches in Peru before he passed away on that very mission field at age 87.
So which one is the hero, James or Bert? It depends on how you define hero?
Do a Google search for Herbert Elliot; you won’t find a Wikipedia page. The results you do find are generally from obscure or low-traffic websites or blogs.
Nothing like the media attention Bert’s younger brother Jim Elliot and his four co-laborers received when they were martyred by the very Auca tribesmen they came to reach for Christ. The five men were only five days on the ground near the tribal village in early January, 1956 before being killed. Before the month was out, Life magazine’s 10-page spread let the world know about the men and their sacrifice, and the wives and children left behind.
Both Jim and Bert followed God’s call to give their lives on their respective mission fields. God used them both, but in very different ways. Because of their heroism, countless people came to know the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. Jim never planted a church as he had hoped to do, but his wife Elisabeth and Rachel Saint (sister of another of the men killed) continued the work by returning to the Auca tribe to tell the people there about the grace and mercy of God, and about how Jesus laid down his life so that others might live.
When his brother died, Bert was on furlough. During that time, he did some soul searching, trying to understand why God doesn’t protect all those who commit their lives to his service. It was during that time that God gave Bert the spiritual insight that became the motivation for his remaining years of service in Peru. “It’s in dying that we’re born to eternal life. It’s not maintaining our lives, but giving our lives,” that is God’s purpose in our serving.
Bert wasn’t the only person inspired to heroism by Jim Elliot. In the years following Jim’s death, countless men and women gave their lives to Christ and committed their lives to foreign mission service because of the conviction of Bert’s younger brother. Through Jim Elliot’s sacrifice and immortal words they recognized the eternal significance of a life lived for God.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
God doesn’t call all of us to be heroes, only to be faithful. But a life fully given to Him is always a heroic thing. How He chooses to use us will vary as greatly as it did for Jim and Bert, but in the end, He will be glorified, others will be impacted, and we will be changed.
Bert had many decades to reflect on why God chose to use him the way he did, and Jim in a totally different way.
“While my brother Jim was like a comet streaking across the sky which caught the attention of those on earth, God chose [me] to serve in a different capacity as one of the many dim stars from earth’s viewpoint — stars which are countless in the vast universe. There are many who consistently shine as lights where God has put them but never achieve the recognition that has come to Jim Elliot and the other four Christian martyrs at that time. But God chooses to use both a few streaking comets and the many stars!”
Whether you shine brightly like a comet before the world like Jim did that one day in Ecuador 1956, or rise and fall like a dim star, night after night for 22,000 nights in Peru like Bert, remember that heroism isn’t just for our brief days in this life, but for life eternal.
“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” – Daniel 12:3
© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
You just finished reading the post about Jim and Bert Elliot,“What makes a hero?” on the Stepping Up men’s blog.
Listen to Jim Elliot’s widow, Elisabeth, retell the events of January 1956 when the five men became national heroes.
Jim Ryun and his sons talk about Heroes Among Us, people who lived by principles and changed history.