How the good news about Jesus is turning lives around in the community where five young American missionaries were murdered for their faith. GARY CLAYTON reports
On Sunday 8 January 1956, MAF pilot Nate Saint and four American friends were speared to death in the Ecuadorian rainforest – the victims of an animistic tribe renowned for its violence.
Nate (pictured below left) and fellow missionaries Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian and Ed McCully first made contact with the widely feared Auca – now known as the Waodani – in 1955.
The missionaries began by flying over the rainforest and lowering gifts in a bucket, shouting over the plane’s loudspeaker: “We like you. We like you. We are friends!”
Eventually, after successfully exchanging gifts and friendly messages for some weeks, Nate finally attempted a landing. So they camped on the borders of the Waodani’s territory, and waited.
After three days, three Waodani appeared on the bank opposite and, encouraged by Jim Elliot, ate with the Americans.
Naenkiwi, a 30-year-old tribal man, indicated that he wanted to fly in the plane, so Nate flew him over his village. The five missionaries eventually flew back to their base, praising God for a successful meeting.
On 8 January 1956, Nate radioed back to base: “Pray for us. This is the day! We will contact you next at 4.30pm.”
When members of the tribe heard the aircraft, they hid from view. Then, as soon as it landed, three Waodani women distracted the enthusiastic missionaries. The fearsome warriors then crept up behind them – spearing Nate Saint.
As Ed McCully rushed over to his friend’s side, a second spear pierced his skin. Within minutes, all five were dead – their bloodstained bodies floating in the Curaray River.
Seven years earlier, Jim Elliot had written in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
The world was shocked at the tragedy – Life magazine publishing a 10-page photo essay on the story, which was also covered in Reader’s Digest and many other publications. But what the Waodani intended for harm, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20).
In 1959, Nate Saint’s sister Rachel and Jim Elliot’s widow Elisabeth were invited to settle among the Waodani – sharing the Gospel with the missionaries’ murderers and teaching them about forgiveness.
They were joined by Nate’s son Steve, who had only been five years old at the time of his father’s death.
Aged 10, Steve spent his first summer living with the Waodani in the jungle. He was later baptised by a Waodani pastor – one of the men who had murdered his father in 1956. The baptism occurred in the same river that the bodies of the five martyred missionaries were found.
In 1995, the Waodani elders asked Steve to live with them. While he and his family – including son Jaime – were there, Steve decided he wanted to find better ways of doing mission and giving indigenous Christians the tools needed to fulfil the Great Commission. This resulted in the formation of I-TEC – the Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center.
In 2005, Steve wrote End of the Spear, the story of how his father and four others died at the hands of the Waodani, and how Steve eventually came to love his father’s killers and adopt a number of them as members of his family.
In God’s providence, Steve’s son Jaime (pictured below right) followed in his family’s footsteps. He joined I-TEC and established LIFE University to provide the North American Church with tools to evaluate their mission strategy and empower them in providing practical help to their communities.
Sixty years later, the story of Operation Auca and the five young men who died for their faith continues. Today, about a third of the tribe have been baptised, and meet weekly for Bible study and prayer.
Earlier this year, Jaime Saint (above) toured the UK, telling the inspiring story of his family and his grandfather’s sacrifice. 4front Theatre, who toured with him, continue to perform their show Reckless Abandon, telling the story of the five missionaries and their families, throughout 2017.
+ To book tickets to see Reckless Abandon, a moving story of love, bravery and sacrifice, visit http://bit.ly/2mPGLZR
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