Wheaton College Officially Updates Memorial Plaque Honoring Martyred Graduate Jim Elliot

by Seth Udinski
Wheaton College Officially Updates Memorial Plaque Honoring Martyred Graduate Jim Elliot

Seth Udinski, FISM News


Several months ago, FISM news reported that Wheaton College, the evangelical Christian institution in Illinios and alma mater of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, announced it would change the language of the campus’ plaque memorializing the late missionary and his courageous defense of the gospel, even unto death.

The plaque was originally dedicated in 1957, one year after Elliot was killed by Waorani tribesman in Ecuador.  The language originally referred to the Waorani as “savages,” an accurate representation, but one which upset the current leadership at Wheaton.  They felt the term was dehumanizing, even though Elliot and his friends were, in fact, savagely murdered for sharing the gospel.

This past week, Wheaton released the new wording and rededication of the plaque.  To the college’s credit, the language still appears to capture the bravery and love for Christ that these heroes of the gospel showed in the face of great suffering.  Still, it is a shame that Wheaton felt the need to change the plaque’s language in the first place, since the original language accurately captured the events of Elliot’s murder.  In an effort to show respect to the Waorani tribe, the institution ran the risk of disrespecting the legacy of one of their own.

The plaque now reads, in full, as follows:

Go Ye and Preach the Gospel

Dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of Ed McCully, President of the Class of 1949, and Jim Elliot ’49, also a campus leader. Motivated by God’s love and the Great Commission, together with Nate Saint ’50, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming, they went to the mission field willing for “anything—anywhere regardless of the cost.”

God called them to the rainforest of Ecuador and the Waorani, a people who had never heard the gospel message. Known for their violence to encroaching outsiders and for internal cycles of vengeance killing, they were among the most feared indigenous peoples in South America at the time.

After much preparation and prayer, and weeks of friendly gift exchanges by airplane, the missionaries made peaceful ground contact with the Waorani. On January 8, 1956, as the missionaries anticipated a second friendly encounter, the Waorani attacked. All five men were speared to death—martyrs for the love of Christ.

Their sacrifice was a turning point for the Waorani and an inspiration for evangelical missions globally. Inviting members of the men’s families to live with them, the Waorani responded to the gospel and put down their spears. God’s redemptive story continues as the gospel is still shared among the Waorani to this day.

Based on the plaque given to Wheaton College by the Class of 1949 and to be rededicated in 2021.