The Passing of a Missionary Giant

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Oct 03, 2015

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jim Elliot

Ever since June 15, 2015, I have had a hard time trying to write this column. Several times I tried. On a recent flight into Philadelphia, I was sitting in the middle seat (not my preference) of Row 21 and again I tried. Five times my pen began on a different yellow lined sheet and five times I tried, but each time I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. 

It is very rare that I get writer’s block. Almost every time I sit down to write I can’t write fast enough with my pen or I can’t type fast enough on my computer.

Actually, though, I wouldn’t label my problem as writer’s block. It was more like the challenge I always have when I go to pick out a birthday or anniversary card for Evie. I stand there and study the options, opening each one looking for just the right words and none of them capture exactly everything I am trying to say. I end up buying several but even then the words fall short of what is going on in my heart. 

That is exactly the reason why this column has been so very hard to craft. On June 15, 2015, Elisabeth Elliot died. She has been described as one of the most influential Christian women of the 20th century. Here is that story.

I first heard of the missionary exploits of the Elliots in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At that time, I was planning to become a dairy farmer just like my father and so many of my relatives in and around Lebanon and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I joined the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and never planned to go to college. But at age 15, when my father died, something began to loosen in my vocational roots. Becoming the best dairy farmer I could was just not so important anymore. 

But right around that time, another event had a profound effect on my life. On January 8, 1956, five missionaries were martyred along the Curaray River in the rain forest of Ecuador. There on a sand strip that they dubbed “Palm Beach,” Jim Elliot (28), Ed McCully (28), Pete Fleming (27), Roger Youderman (31) and Nate Saint (32) died at the spears of the Auca Indians. 

Even though this story initially shocked the world, it was Life magazine’s pictorial article that told the story to the masses. Then, at the request of the families of the five missionaries, Elisabeth Elliot wrote “Through Gates of Splendor,” which gave readers a window into the commitment of these five men and their families. And in 1959 “Jungle Pilot” was published, which told the story of Nate Saint, the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilot who was among those five men.

I could never describe how those two books changed my life. I even applied and was accepted in the missionary flight training program at MAF because for a season I thought I might become a pilot like Nate Saint. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I joined a whole generation of young people who received divine redirection because of those five young men who chose to give their lives even though they were armed and could have easily defended themselves.

To this day, the 55 flags in the UVF chapel — representing the places our alumni are serving around the world — continue to inspire me because through them my passion to change the world is finding expression in each graduating class. And this year we will be adding even more.

Thank you, Jim Elliot, for reminding us, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Thank you, Elizabeth Elliot, for sharing this story that changed my life. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
Responses can be mailed to 
Official page:
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at