They Held Their Lives Cheap


Rev. 12:11 (Weymouth)

by Jim van Heiningen

Martyrdom is being written and talked about more than ever. You may remember how Jim Elliot gave his life for Christ, together with four other young husbands and fathers. It happened in the Amazon jungle in 1956. On this website you’ll be able to find the page that is dedicated to him. The book about his life, written by Elizabeth, his young widow, and entitled “Shadow of the Almighty” (Hodder & Stoughton), deeply blessed me when I read it. If you can get your hands on it, you will see why.

Going back to 1934 we find John and Betty Stam of the China Inland Mission, beheaded by the Communists. Their baby was wonderfully rescued. Tellingly, the book about them is entitled: “The Triumph of John & Betty Stam” (OMF – London).

“It is one thing to talk of Christian courage in the snug safety of our comfortable homes; it is quite another for these men, and the others so nobly associated with them, to count not their lives dear unto themselves, for Christ’s sake.”

From a letter of Dr. C.E. Scott in China after the slaying of the Stams in that country.

It is said that the 20th Century has seen more martyrs for Christ than all previous centuries combined. There certainly are many more books than can be listed, written to the glory of God, about the men and women involved. Here is another one: “The Challenge of Amazon’s Indians”. The NTMU (formerly the Inland South America Missionary Union) was not spared martyrdom, and Ethel Tylee, another young and very courageous widow, tells the story (truly a love story) of her small family settling among the Nhambiquara Indians. Very, very nearly she was one of the martyrs herself. Her husband, Arthur Tylee, their little girl, Marian, and nurse Mildred Kratz, were killed on Nov. 3, 1930, together with three other Christians.

Arthur Tylee, Felintro and Alex Hay – 1924

The story starts on May 11, 1924: four men set out from Corumbá, southern Brazil, on a long, long journey in northwesterly direction, three missionaries: L. Legters, Alex Hay, Arthur Tylee, and a guide. Preparations were to be made for a new work in the region of the southern headwaters of the Amazon River. To be precise: in Nhambiquara Indian territory. Four months later, on Sept. 11, they were back; behind them 2,300 miles of the most primitive and grueling ways of traveling. One positive outcome was Felintro, one of the guides contracted. He was an alcoholic, but when his heart responded to the Gospel, Felintro was wonderfully delivered.


While studying at Moody Bible Institute in 1921, Arthur had heard Alex Hay speak about the unreached tribes of South America and he became conscious of the Lord’s prompting to go. In 1923 he went to Argentina, then to Paraguay. Now, in Brazil, at last the time had come to set eyes on the Indians he had been praying for for so long: the Nhambiquaras. He described his feelings in this way: “Instead of repulsion or fear, such a feeling of love toward these naked and savage people rose within me that it seemed as though I must tell them how much I loved them, and how God loved them even to the giving of His Son for them. From that day to this, the longing to make this message known to them, and to live with them, by the grace of God, increases rather than diminishes…”

In 1925 Arthur married Ethel Canary. They had gotten to know each other at MBI and she too was already in Brazil. Together with another missionary, they then made their way to Juruena. Extreme weather conditions awaited them in the uncharted territory, plus bugs and fevers and hunger and loneliness.., but where were the Indians?

They soon learned that the brutal murder of six Brazilians by the Nhambiquaras, not long before, had the Indians avoiding all contact with white people, afraid as they were of reprisals.

When after many months they reappeared, Arthur was overjoyed and greeted them as old friends. Ethel saw them for the first time and later wrote: “What a wild looking lot they were! My heart sank a bit as I tried to think of them as transformed some day by His grace into children of the most high God.”

From this point onwards neighborly ties with the Indians were established and, as time passed, they got stronger and stronger. They got to know their names, their strong points, their weaknesses. They got them interested in gardening, building, all kinds of chores, and the Tylees faithfully paid them in kind. To some extent the Nhambiquara language was learned and important Gospel truths communicated, though it never was very clear how much had been grasped.

The only contact Arthur and Ethel had with ‘civilization’ was the telegraph station not far away. Excellent friendships with the Brazilians stationed there had been established. The Gospel was embraced by a good number of the men and women and, eventually, the first ever baptismal meeting took place by a beautiful clear stream. Of the new believers two were baptized, José and Antonio. It was a joyous occasion and many hearts were touched. The believers longed for the day that Indians, too, would embrace the New Life and take this stand in baptism.


     Sore trials of health and provisions took their toll. But the time arrived to “come apart and rest a while”. So from mid 1927 till mid 1929 they were away from “home”. Not that they were in the US all that time, the return journey, for example, from New York to Juruena, took them almost 3 months.

How grateful they were for those who had undertaken to “hold the fort” in their absence. Among them was a young Irishman, Albert (Bertie) McDowell, and he stayed on after they had arrived back. What a tremendous help he was! Another delaying factor in their return had been little Marian, who, to her parents’ great delight, had joined them in the US. Marian and Bertie became the best of friends. From May till July of 1930 they had to be away again, this time in Cuiabá, the nearest city, some 500 miles to the southeast. Fortunately the country’s infrastructure was improving and during their absence in the US, a proper road had been built from Cuiabá to the town of Sacre, which left only eighty miles of dirt track to be negotiated by oxcart.

wpe65Nurse Mildred Kratz was a dear friend from MBI days and wholly committed to her Lord’s work. She had come to Brazil with the Tylees when they returned, but, subsequently, had been needed for other tasks. Now, ready to join them, she was waiting in Cuiabá. On the way back they had a week of special meetings with local Christians in the town of Utiarity. There were conversions and the Christians were greatly encouraged.

Arriving back in Juruena they found that Bertie had been doing all he could to save the lives of two very sick young Indians. It appeared that the folks of the telegraph station had brought the flu bug back with them from Cuiabá, and that it was now affecting many Indians. Mildred immediately joined forces with Bertie. But Manoel, the oldest of the two, soon died. His tribesmen came to take the body away and, in spite of the Christians’ urgings, they also took the sick boy.

Ethel wrote that these few days of sickness and death in July had made them realize as never before, “how terrible is the fear the Indian has of death.” What they didn’t realize was that this Satanic fear also mandated that, since Manoel died when he was with the Christians, now the Christians would have to die.


wpe66 Three months went by – no sign of life from the Indians. Mid October Bertie took off for Utiarity for more special meetings and to meet a truckload of supplies that was expected from Cuiabá. During his absence three Nhambiquaras turned up on Oct. 27. The Tylees and Mildred rejoiced.Apart from the five foreigners, at this stage five Brazilian Christians were living on the compound, which was a great blessing for fellowship and for getting more of the work done. They were: Joaquím, a widower with his boy of 9 – Cándido; José and María – just married; and single María. The land was yielding a much better crop, but it did require a lot of work. Moreover with the Indians’ help they wanted to build somewhat of a road between the telegraph station and the compound.




More Indians came during the following days and things seemed to get back to normal. On Nov. 2 Arthur was able to arrange for a good road building team to come out early the next morning, or so he thought. On that morning of Nov. 3, fateful as it turned out to be, a big group came. Joaquím had just left when they arrived.

Suddenly an agreed signal sounded and the Christians were attacked. José was able to fight off the ones that attacked him and flee, his young wife already dead. Ethel also seemed to be dead, but after it was all over she came round and managed to drag herself to the telegraph station. Just then José came out with the men he had gone to fetch to chase off the Indians. Instead they cared for Ethel. She was able to whisper that the Indians were gone.

An urgent message was sent to Joaquím. He came and, once he had seen the lifeless body of his boy, he went to meet Bertie, who should have been on his way back. That evening they arrived. The next morning the bodies were lovingly laid to rest in their graves.

     Ethel’s injuries were not serious, but the loss of Arthur, who “meant more than life” to her, and of her darling Marian, had numbed her more than the physical wounds, the loss of blood and the pain. Later she wrote that through it all she was “conscious of a Presence and Strength with her, far greater than her own, and out of the blackness of human despair spoke the voice of One who had gone that way before: ‘The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?’ With the question came also the reply: ‘Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.’” wpe67Bertie McDowell 15 years later.