Photo by Sybil Holland

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A heroic tale of martyrdom

November 17, 2009

In 1952 Dutch New Guinea, two young missionaries trekked into the uncharted Bird's Head area of this Indonesian island. In doing so, they lost their lives.

The story of these two men isn't as well known as the widely reported story of Jim Elliot's party of five missionaries killed in South American four years later. Because of the involvement of a Life magazine photographer, the latter story came to the nation's attention in a big way.

But now, more than fifty years later, the pioneering efforts of the earlier missionaries, Walter Erikson and Edward Tritt, have borne surprising fruit in the very same way that the Elliot party's did.

I wrote an article about these two missionaries to what today is called West Papua. It was a supremely satisfying story to research. I interviewed people directly involved with the story and had first-hand access to letters, diaries, newsletters, photos and trial documents. This allowed me to re-create the incident in greater detail than is possible for many early martyrdom stories.

You can find the story of Erikson and Tritt here in the magazine TEAM Horizons. Scroll down to Legacy: Erikson and Tritt and click on View. Then open the document as a PDF file.

Often, when tragedies occur in our lives, we have no idea why we have been called on to suffer. It is the privilege of the families and co-workers of these two men to be witness to the rewarding ending to this story more than 50 years later. I hope you enjoy reading it.


  1. June 4, 2010 10:19 PM EDT
    On June 2, 2010 I drove my father to Omro, Wisconsin for the funeral of his brother. While in his hometown, we visited with another of his brothers. As it was the day after Memorial Day, they were looking over a list of townspeople who had served their country and had since passed away. Many were relatives, and I was caught up in the stories they told. Of particular interest was the discussion about my father's first cousin Edward Tritt. Upon our return home, I did an internet search to see what I might find out with regards to Edward. I was delighted to find the Spring 2010 edition of the Connection which carried the tremendous story about this cousin and his companion Walter Erikson. May God bless you, Ms. Kennedy, for the tribute you have paid to these brave men who died for Christ and for keeping their memory alive. I am humbled to have had such a heroic servant of God in my family tree.
    - Bonita (Tritt) Stahl
  2. June 5, 2010 12:45 AM EDT
    In double checking the family tree, I found my Mom was in error regarding Edward's father. My Dad and Edward were cousins, but not first cousins. An amazing discovery in our family tree; thank you for your research and hard work!
    - Bonita (Tritt) Stahl
  3. June 5, 2010 8:25 AM EDT
    Ms. Stahl, I am very sorry to hear of the death in your family. I would love to hear more about your family. I could also tell you more about Ed Tritt. There is so much more to the story... I just couldn't fit it all in! The mission agency TEAM ran a shorter version of this piece, including photos of the graves, in its September 2009 issue of Horizon, which you can find online. If you wish, contact me via my e-mail link to the bottom right. I'm so glad you found the story! Nancy
    - Nancy B. Kennedy