Administrators at Wheaton College — a Christian school in Illinois — have removed a plaque commemorating the deaths of a group of martyred missionaries because the memorial used the word “savage” to describe the indigenous tribe who violently killed them.
College officials said they will be commissioning a “task force” to review the language on the plaque, which honored James Elliot and Ed McCully, two missionaries who were part of a group working to spread the Gospel to indigenous peoples in Ecuador, according to The Spectator.
Wheaton President Philip Ryken announced in an email last Wednesday the plaque was being removed and would be replaced with a new one.
“Recently, students, faculty, and staff have expressed concern about language on the plaque that is now recognized as offensive,” he wrote. “Specifically, the word ‘savage’ is regarded as pejorative and has been used historically to dehumanize and mistreat indigenous peoples around the world.”
The group of missionaries spent months building a relationship with the Waodani (then Acua) tribe in the rainforests of Ecuador. They exchanged several gifts before ultimately meeting in-person, which they considered a success. But then, on Jan. 8, 1956, the tribe speared to death five missionaries — including McCully and Elliot — and threw their bodies into a nearby river.
To honor the lives of the slain missionaries, the class of 1949 gifted the plaque to Wheaton in 1957, just one year after Elliot and McCully died. The other murdered missionaries were Nate Saint, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian.
“For generations, all strangers were killed by these savage Indians,” the plaque reads in part. “After many days of patient preparation and devout prayer, the missionaries made the first friendly contact known to history with the Aucas.”
Elliot’s granddaughter, Valerie, told The Daily Wire she is “saddened” by the decision to take down the plaque — even temporarily — but said she hopes the media attention will spark renewed interest in the martyred missionaries’ harrowing story.
“While we are saddened that the plaque honoring the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming has been removed from the Edman Chapel at Wheaton College,” she said, “we pray that the attention that this action is generating will bring renewed interest in the amazing work of God that was done in and through their sacrifice. To God be the glory.”