Wheaton’s New Jim Elliot Plaque Does More Than Remove ‘Savage’

The revised memorial takes a longer view at the well-known story of the missionaries killed by the Waorani.

A new plaque honoring Wheaton College alumni Jim Elliot and Ed McCully and their fellow slain missionaries will no longer refer to the Waorani as “savage indians” and, at double the word count of the original 1957 inscription, offer a more detailed account of their engagement with the people who killed them.

Wheaton released the updated wording on Monday. The new inscription describes how the missionaries sensed God calling them to reach 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.”

The task force who reviewed and revised the plaque wording aimed to move the story—now one of the highest-profile accounts of missionary martyrdom in the 20th century—beyond the events of January 8, 1956.

“Their actions took place at a certain point in time, but we don’t want to leave them there,” said Kathryn Long, professor of history emerita at Wheaton.

The evangelical college pulled the original plaque from Erdman Chapel in March, citing concerns from students and community members over its characterization of the Ecuador tribe.

A task force was appointed to review and revise the language for the plaque, which honors the two alumni along with Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming.

The plaque wording task force included Long—author of God in the Rainforest, an account of the five missionaries, their deaths, and the subsequent history of the Waorani—as well as an undergraduate student who spent much of her life living among the Waoroni, an anthropologist, a missiologist, several missionaries, …

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