I have a story to tell you. It happened a long time ago. Sixty-two years ago, to be exact. But before I begin, I have to give you a little back story. I was a pastor's child long before I became a pastor's wife. I grew up in a parsonage, back in the day when visiting missionaries stayed at our house instead of hotels. Gathered around my mother's sumptuous dinner table, they would tell their stories, and I would listen. Their stories were always most frightening to me. My brother and sister may have seen these tales as adventurous, but not scardy-cat me. Eating goat's heads, escaping snake bites and swords, washing my clothes in the river, these were not adventures for me. However, as a good little Believer, I knew that there was a possibility God just might CALL me to some remote foreign country. I remember one service as a missionary turned on her projector to show us the scenes of horror, I actually slid down in my pew, guessing if I was far enough out of sight, God wouldn't bother to put the CALL on my life.
Proof of the perils of missionary life came to light in the form of gory headlines on the evening news and on the cover of Life magazine sixty-two years ago this month. Five missionaries were speared to death on the banks of the Curarary River in Ecuador. This event in the history of the modern day church would forever leave its mark on my life.
One of the martyred missionaries was twenty-nine year old Jim Elliot. He left behind his wife, Elisabeth, and their ten month old daughter, Valerie. Their story has been told countless times, and Elisabeth has memorialized it in many of the books she wrote in the years to follow. This widow of the martyred missionary went on to become a much sought after public speaker. This is where my own story starts.
My husband and I were privileged to get to know Elisabeth through a large conference in Boston in which she was a keynote speaker. We were her hosts. We took her and her husband to lunch and dinner. We sat on the sidelines as she was interviewed by countless media representatives. We became friends. She wasn't a famous missionary to me, she was a woman whose words spoke to my heart, and among my treasures are letters and post cards from this sweet new friend. Our friendship was sealed the day a young groupie approached her and said breathlessly, "You're the reason I want to be a missionary!"
We walked away, and I decided it was time I came clean. I said, rather sheepishly, "I need to tell you something. You're the reason I never wanted to be a missionary." I think the matter-of-fact woman she was completely understood and even appreciated my honesty.
Years would fly off the pages of life's calendar, and one day, at a writers' retreat, I met Valerie. To make a long story short, we became fast friends. Our husbands are pastors, and we pray for them. We are mothers, and we pray for our children. We talk on the phone. We encourage each other, and we've even managed a few visits in spite of the hundreds of miles that separate us. I treasure this friendship. I believe it is the answer to a prayer our daughter prayed because she knew I needed a friend.
So this week, as we look back to the horrible events of that terrific spearing, I am thinking of the plans God has for our lives for my life. The numbers of people who became believers and the hundreds of people who became missionaries, these are a direct result of God's plan to turn evil into good. That's a given. All the while, in the midst of deepest pain and sorrow, God was watching. He wrapped his arms around those left behind. He had mapped out His plan, and it's circuitous course would eventually intersect with my own life.
Who knew that years down the road the Mapmaker would bring me to a crossroad that intersected once more with this story? This week, I looked back on the map of these connected roads. And the plans God had for us. If Jim Elliot had not died, his widow might never have moved to New Hampshire. Elisabeth would never have married a seminary professor whose position took her and Valerie to Massachusetts. If they had never made that move, Valerie might never have met her husband, who was a student at the seminary. Attending that school was our mutual friend who, years down the road would invite Valerie to that writers' retreat. It both humbles and amazes me that all of these events came together as part of God's plan to bless me with an amazing friendship.
The wonder of my story will not stop here. God is still mapping out events that will affect our children for generations to come. He has assured us, " I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11). The Mapmaker already has your route marked out. He will turn evil into good. He promised. And from where I sit, I can tell you,
God's plan is always good.
Valerie Elliot Shepherd and Darlene Gibson.