December 16, 2017

Roger Youderian’s Unfinished Poem

Matt Recker

Revelation 3:8: Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

Before Roger Youderian left his home to join Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully and Nate Saint in their mission to reach the Huaorani Indians in Ecuador with the Gospel, “Roj” wrote the following poem:

“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…[1]

The last line eluded him and he said to his wife, ‘Barb, I’ll finish it when I get home.’”[2] Of course, he never made it home on earth, for God called him home to heaven, a martyr for Christ. In just a moment I would like to suggest a final line to Roger Youderian’s unfinished poem, but first let’s consider some vital aspects of his incredible spiritual journey that is summarized by the precious lines that fell from his pen.

Roj’s decision to join this group of men was remarkable, for it was his soul that was “storm-tossed.” Youderian had become very discouraged in the work, and he had actually made the decision to return home sometime soon after Christmas of 1955. Roj had gone to Ecuador in 1953 with great hopes and “honest love,” longing to bring Christ’s powerful Gospel and seeing lives transformed by His grace. But after a few years, he questioned whether he was accomplishing anything of value, and he wondered why there had not been any fruit for his labors.

He wrote in his diary, “About ready to call it quits. There is no future here for us, and the wisest thing is to pull stakes. The reason: failure to measure up as a missionary and get next to the people. As far as my heart… the issue is settled. I’m not going 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. The issue is personal… and I’m discouraged about finding any satisfactory solution.”[3]

Born in Montana, Youderian suffered with polio at the age of nine. He walked and ran his whole life like an old man, but he overcame his weakness to become a paratrooper during World War II. While in the Army, he was saved and said, “The happiest day of my life was the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior for the remission of my sins, duly repented for. Searching the Scriptures is my greatest source of hope.”[4] Before he even came home from Germany, he felt God calling him to be a missionary. Roj wrote home from Berlin saying, “Ever since I have accepted Christ I‘ve felt the call to either missionary or ministerial work. I want to be a witness for Him and follow Him every second of my life.”[5]

It’s one thing to say you are a Christian, but it is another to dedicate your “every second” to Christ. Every… single… moment Roj lived he wanted it to be for the glory and praise of God.

During his first year in Ecuador, Roj worked with the Jivaro people who were steeped in witchcraft, sorcery and revenge killing. He learned their language and developed a literacy program. He bravely visited Jivaro homes trudging along jungle trails in knee deep mud. Dangerous snakes lurked ready to strike at any moment. Nate Saint said of Youderian: “He had a real urgency in the task of winning souls.”[6]. Roj spent “hours talking to the Jivaros in their houses, slowly acquiring their language, absorbing their way of life, and above all, telling them the story of Jesus.”[7]

His second year, he heard of the Atshuara tribe that had never heard the Gospel. They needed assistance in building an air strip so the missionary pilot could go in and out, so Roger essentially went by himself to finish the daunting task. Nate also said of him:

“He had a hand crank radio, but he didn’t have enough provisions. He really hadn’t contemplated such a trip at all. Well, I guess he had a machete. But the need was there, the opportunity was there, but they had hardly any provisions.”[8]

Weak and of little strength, Roger sensed an open door. He went with a willing heart, seeking the “gain of Christ, to bless the blinded, the beaten, the lost.” When he got to the Atshuaras he found that sickness had weakened the entire tribe. He set out himself to finish building the air strip nearly alone. Once a bushmaster snake was two feet from him ready to strike. With the words, “God help me” he slashed his machete at the snake’s head, killing it. That machete was about his only human resource other than a willing heart.

After a harrowing plane ride, Nate Saint found Roj buried deep in the jungle. Youderian had almost singlehandedly finished the air strip for the plane to land. Saint wrote, “I know if Roj had gotten there, something would have happened to that strip, because Roj just doesn’t have anything in hand very long before something happens to it — especially if it needs something to happen to it. And, I knew Roj needed to get out of there, because I know the way he works; he never spares himself. He’d been in there a couple of weeks almost and I knew he would be a wreck and needing badly to get clear of the place.”[9]

Nate Saint had barely landed on the handmade air strip when Youderian ran to him, haggard, emaciated, and in a dirty t-shirt ripped full of holes. Screaming at the top of his lungs Roger bellowed, “We haven’t got time.” Nate replied, “Slow down now, Roj.” But Roj was not slowing down. Indians were dying as he ripped open the penicillin and started giving shots to nearly every man in the tribe. Some were standing between life and death. Soon all the shots were given, all the medicine was gone, and many lives were saved. Roj slowed down and said, “God is certainly in this thing.”[10]

In spite of these amazing successes in such a short time on the field, Roger Youderian still felt like a failure. For his standards, he had not succeeded, and he was going home.

Then one day, Nate Saint asked Roj to join their team to reach the Huaorani Indians. A desperate inner struggle took place and Roj prayed with great agony of soul. God brought him through his discouragement and gave him confidence to join that band of men whose heart God had touched. His wife said of him, “he was cleansed through the Spirit for the task that lay ahead of him, and went with a happy, expectant mind and his heart full of joy.” He wrote on December 19, “I will die to self. I must be alive unto God. That I may learn to love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and body.” He had found “heavenly love” through Christ, and now would go with “joy divine” to share His gracious salvation.[11]

Like the Church of Philadelphia in Revelation, Roger Youderian, was of little strength, but he held fast to the Word of God and the name of Christ. He would go. Roj had surrendered to follow Christ every second of his life, and so he went through one final open door, limping like an old man, duty bound and urgent to get the Gospel to those without Christ. This man, who got things done, knew when “God was in something.” He went. He gave. He died, and God was glorified.

My suggested last line for Roger’s unfinished poem is based on the promise God made to the mission-minded church of Philadelphia (Rev.3:12). As that church was given an open door, so was Roger Youderian. I offer it with profound respect for a man of God who challenges my walk with Christ, as he walks “today with Christ above:”

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.
Conquerors and pillars, FOREVER WITH JESUS TO SHINE.

Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.

  1. All references taken from: Through Gates of Splendor, Elizabeth Elliot. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1956. []
  2. Through Gates of Splendor, p. 155. []
  3. TGOS, p. 152, 153. []
  4. TGOS, p. 74. []
  5. TGOS, p. 75. []
  6. TGOS, p. 80. []
  7. TGOS, p. 79. []
  8. TGOS, p. 84. []
  9. TGOS, p. 85, 91. []
  10. TGOS, p. 94. []
  11. TGOS, p. 154-155. []

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