Wheaton University Temporarily Removing and Rewording Plaque to Commemorate Missionaries Killed in Ecuador

A plaque commemorating the deaths of missionaries James Elliot, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian in Ecuador at the hands of a local tribe has been removed at Wheaton College after faculty, staff and students complained about the use of the word “savage.” A task force will now determine how to reword it.

In 1956, five missionaries set out to reach the Huaorani Indians (called “Auca” by outside tribes) in Ecuador as part of the Great Commission. Sadly, after some initial friendly meetings, the men were speared to death by the tribe and their bodies thrown into a local river. To honor those brave men, the class of 1949, who graduated with several of the missionaries, came together to donate a plaque to the university in remembrance of their classmates.

It reads in part, “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.”

But in 2021, the use of the word “savage” has now been deemed inappropriate.

In an email obtained by The Daily Citizen, President Philip Ryken wrote, “Recently, 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.”

“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 email continued.

After all, the name given to the tribe by other local communities meant “savage.” The attack that killed Elliot and the others was also extremely savage as the men used spears and machetes. As a Life Magazine spread shows, the men’s bodies were thrown into the river after the attack and eventually floated down and got caught in debris.

That plaque should be a reminder to the young men and women who walk the halls of Wheaton that spreading the Gospel message is not without risk, and some have paid the ultimate price in pursuit of the Great Commission.

The article in Life Magazine states, “The widows felt no bitterness toward the Aucas. They were glad when they heard that the Ecuadorian government would not take any reprisals against the tribe. … But all of them wanted to see someone continue the work among the Aucas for which their husbands had given their lives.”

And that’s what happened. Elisabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim, and their daughter Valerie, returned to live among the Auca, ministering to them and leading many to Christ. Among those converts were some of the men who had killed those five brave missionaries.

Evangelism is incredibly important, and hopefully the plaque honoring the men will be on display again soon.

Photo from Wikimedia

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