The evangelical Wheaton College, the alma mater of Billy Graham, has removed a plaque honoring two alumni who were among the five missionaries murdered in 1956 by an indigenous tribe in Ecuador.
The problem is the plaque – a gift to the college in 1957 from classmates of Jim Elliot and Ed McCully – describes the tribe as “savage Indians,” reported The Spectator.
The college said it will appoint a task force to “review” the language and ultimately replace the plaque.
The college’s president, Philip Ryken, explained in an email on Wednesday that students, faculty and staff “have expressed concern about language on the plaque that is now recognized as offensive.”
“Specifically, the word ‘savage’ is regarded as pejorative and has been used historically to dehumanize and mistreat indigenous peoples around the world,” he said.
The plaque states: “For generations all strangers were killed by these savage Indians. After many days of patient preparation and devout prayer, the missionaries made the first friendly contact known to history with the Aucas.”
The isolated Huaorani tribe was widely known as the Aucas, which means “savage” in the Quechua language, because of its reputation for violence against its people as well as outsiders. But Elliot, as early as 1950, believed that God had called him to Ecuador to bring the Gospel to the Huaorani.
Wheaton College’s email on Wednesday said any “descriptions on our campus of people or people groups should reflect the full dignity of human beings made in the image of God.”
“With this in mind, the Senior Administrative Cabinet will appoint a task force to review the wording of the plaque and to make a specific recommendation by May 1 for its careful rewording and replacement.”
‘The worst people on earth’
Time magazine, at the time of the missionaries’ deaths, called the Aucas “the worst people on earth.” They were a “pure Stone Age people, they hate all strangers, live only to hunt, fight and kill. Their most notable products are needle-sharp, 9-foot, hardwood spears for use against human foes.”
The magazine said even “their neighbors, the Jivaros, famous for shrinking human heads, live in constant fear of the fierce Aucas.”
But the missionaries began reaching out in September 1955 by making regular flights over Huaorani settlements in the rain forest of eastern Ecuador, dropping gifts that were reciprocated. They finally decided to visit them face-to-face, landing Jan. 3, 1956, on a sandbar along the Curaray River near the Huaorani settlements.
Five days later, Elliot and McCully, along with Nate Saint, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian, were speared to death by Huaorani warriors. Their deaths, which made global news, including a Life magazine photo essay, inspired a generation of missionaries.
Later, Jim Elliot’s widow, Elizabeth; his young daughter, Valerie; and Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel; went to live among the Huaorani. Many members of the tribe became followers of Jesus Christ, including some who were involved in the killing of the missionaries.
Elizabeth Elliot became a renowned speaker and the author of more than 20 books, including “Through Gates of Splendor,” which tells the story of the five missionary martyrs.
The story also is told in the 2005 feature film “End of the Spear.”
A 2006 book, “Strangers On The Earth,” by John Cowart, summarized the rest of the story:
[After killing the missionaries] they crept back into the jungle to await the massive retaliation which their culture taught them to expect
It never came.
Instead of bombs, Mission Aviation Fellowship pilots continued to drop trade items on the Auca villages, just as though the attack had never happened.
The widows of the five missionaries asked the outraged Ecuadorian government not to send the army against the Indians. These women continued to study the language of the Aucas and to pray for access to the tribe.
Within three years Mrs. Jim Elliot, her daughter, Valerie, and Rachel Saint, sister of the pilot, were living in an Auca village teaching the Indians about a forgiving Christ
Soon a Christian church was established among the Aucas. Nathaniel Saint’s son was baptized on the sandbar in the Curaray by an Auca pastor who had once been in the raiding party which martyred his father.
A Mission Aviation Fellowship spokesman said, “About a third of the tribe are baptized believers, and meet weekly in six different settlements for Bible study and prayer.
“In the years since Saint and his fellows were killed, quite a few Christians—I would estimate several thousand in the overall missionary community—have dedicated their own lives to Christ because of the example of these men. MAF constantly gets applications from people who have been inspired by the story. This is still going on right now.”
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