Matt Wells, Assistant for Media
This begins a new blog series focused on little-known missionaries from all eras and backgrounds. Join us as we see how God used a variety of people with a variety of skills for His glory and Gospel-advance.
Missionaries can’t get depressed, can they? People whose job is to share the Gospel should be living a happiness-filled life, right?
Such was not the case for missionary Roger Youderian. You’ve probably heard the name somewhere, but likely only as part of a list of other missionaries who are more well-known – Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, and Pete Fleming. These five men drew international attention when they were brutally murdered by the Huaorani (Auca) Indians in Ecuador in 1956.
You know the story. Maybe you’ve even read Through Gates of Splendor by Jim’s wife Elizabeth. The Lord has used that story to spark missions passion in the lives of many young people, including myself.
But if we’re not careful, even this incredible story can become warped into a tale of “perfect martyrs” who were always incredibly bold and never had faults.
Here’s a fact that may startle you – missionaries are normal people. Sometimes boringly normal. And as normal Christians do, missionaries often experience times of great discouragement.
It was no different for these five men. And a particular section in Through Gates of Splendor highlights the journey through discouragement that one of them – one of the least known of them – went through.
Roger Youderian was born to a Christian ranching family in Montana. He contracted polio when he was young and walked with difficulty from then on. He fought in the Army during World War II and returned to the States where he met his wife in college. They were married and felt God calling them to missions, specifically to a mission station in Macuma, Ecuador, to help some missionaries with work among the Jivaro people.
The Jivaro were known for their savagery, particularly in avenging the death of a relative. The cycle of vengeance went from village to village, house to house, and most of the Jivaro (particularly their mistreated women) lived in constant fear. But Roger loved these people and labored hard to share the Gospel with them.
Nate Saint said of him, “Roj is one of the few missionaries I know who display a real sense of urgency in the task of winning souls.”
Roger had passion, and that passion drove him to take the Gospel throughout the villages of the Jivaro and beyond, eventually leading him to the Jivaro’s enemy – the Atshuaras. In a particularly gripping account, Elizabeth Elliot recounts how Roger ventured far into Atshuara territory by himself and had to construct a runway for a plane to come and rescue him. He labored alone in that tribe among deathly sick Indians for almost two weeks. Finally, Nate Saint found him and landed his plane. But when he arrived, Roger’s only concern was to get the sick the penicillin.
It’s an amazing story – complete with Roger chopping off the head of a snake poised to bite! These sorts of tales make us think that these missionaries are larger than life. I can’t imagine spending weeks in a lonely jungle with savage tribesmen all around, many of whom were on their deathbed. Then to just keep fearlessly plunging into the unknown to reach tribe after tribe – including the infamous and barbaric Aucas – wow! Missionaries sure are adventurous.
Surely they never get tired. Surely they never feel tempted to quit.
A couple chapters later, Elizabeth paints a very different picture of Roger. It is so striking that I felt I must have misread the name – surely the man who just spent two weeks in the jungle alone, who cut off the head of a snake, who fought in World War II…surely this wasn’t the guy who wrote, “About ready to call it quits.”
Missionaries are normal Christians. And normal Christians get discouraged.
Roger was depressed. He had learned the Jivaro language, but what fruit did he have to show for it among that tribe? He and his wife had a deeply-personal struggle with discouragement. Should they even continue? Should they just go back?
Roger wrote in his diary, “We might pass Christmas here, finish the hospital in Shell, and head home. The reason: Failure to measure up as a missionary…”
He continues, “Since March, when we left Wambimi, there has been no message from the Lord for us. I just picked up my Bible to share with the same Lord who made me a new creature in England eleven years ago. There was no word of encouragement from Him. He had kept us safe wonderfully, and met our needs, but the issue is far greater than that. There is no ministry for me among the Jivaros or the Spanish, and I’m not going to try to fool myself. I wouldn’t support a missionary such as I know myself to be, and I’m not going to ask anyone else to.”
Wow. This can’t be the soon-to-be-martyr. This can’t be the bold and daring pioneer missionary. It sounds a lot more like normal, easily-discouraged Christian me.
Roger groaned to think how he didn’t “measure up” to the task. “The failure is mine…” he writes, “What is the answer? I do not know. And I’m discouraged about finding any satisfactory solution.”
He calls this his personal “Waterloo” as a missionary. He wouldn’t even go to the church service and found no comfort in a hymnbook. He finally comes to the conclusion that he must “read the Bible to know God’s will.”
“At every point I will obey and do.”
He started to repeat to himself, day after day – “Thy will be done.”
This same time, his friend Nate approached him about being the “fourth man” in Operation Auca. He wrestled with this opportunity – if he went, would God go with him? Or had God given up on him as a missionary?
Finally, he came out of the deep depression and decided to go. He wrote, “I will die to self. I will begin to ask God to put me in a service of constant circumstances where to live Christ I must die to self.”
Just before he left to join the other guys in this daring adventure to take the Gospel to this remote tribe, he tried to write a poem to express what God had done for him.
“There is a seeking of honest love
Drawn from a soul storm-tossed,
A seeking for the gain of Christ,
To bless the blinded, the beaten, the lost.
“Those who sought found Heavenly Love
And were filled with joy divine,
They walk today with Christ above…”
But he couldn’t think of the final line. And so he left, assuring his wife that he would finish it when he got home.
Of course, he never came home. He died on that riverside in Auca territory, speared to death as he tried to radio for help.
But I suppose he really did go home. His real home, with the presence of his Savior. And perhaps there, walking with “Christ above,” he found the last line to his poem. Or perhaps he didn’t need one.
Are you discouraged? Are you feeling the weight of life and your own failures? Look to guys like Roger Youderian. Better yet, do what Roger did and look to Christ.
Christ is with you in the “dark night of the soul.” And He can take your sorrows and turn it into surrender. He can take your discouragement and turn it into a desire for the lost.
He can turn your storm-tossed soul into a song.
 Much of the information for this post, including all quotations, are taken from this book, particularly chapters six and twelve. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already!
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.