Missionaries martyred 60 years ago not forgotten

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sixty years ago this month, five missionaries were martyred in a rain forest in eastern Ecuador. They risked their lives to preach the Gospel to the Waodani Indians, known as one of most remote and violent tribes of people.

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilot Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian made their first contact by dropping gifts from their plane. The men hoped to show that their mission was a peaceful one. But, on the day their jungle plane landed near a sandbar on the Ewenguno River, the tribesmen used spears and machetes to kill the five missionaries.

Life Magazine published the story of their martyrdom. Elizabeth Elliot, Jim’s wife, later wrote a book, Through Gates of Splendor, about her slain husband and her experience. A movie, End of the Spear, released in January 2006, depicts missionaries’ story.

Their deaths, though tragic, were not in vain. The Waodani, with a 60 percent homicide rate due mostly to intertribal feuds, were close to extinction. Now 60 years later, anthropologists have found that the older generation has lived long enough to be grandparents.

Why? It’s reported that some 80 percent of the Waodani have heard the Gospel message and 40 percent profess faith in Christ. Conversion to Christianity was instrumental in saving the tribe.

This remarkable change happened after the deaths of the missionaries because their families returned to the jungle to carry on the work their loved ones began.

Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel, lived with the Waodani for more than 30 years until she died of cancer in 1994.

She helped translate the Bible into their language.

Other widows came back to work among the tribe.

After Rachel’s death, Nate’s son Steve took her place and moved his family to the jungles of Ecuador.

Steve Saint was 5 years old when his father perished.

He later spent school vacations with his aunt.

Steve, a pilot like his father, was invited by the Waodani to come live with them.

He helped them with their medical needs, even designing a portable dental chair to carry deep into the jungle.

Eventually, Steve came to know a Christian tribal leader named Mincaye, who told him he had taken part in the killings.

Instead of feeling hatred and revenge, Steve forgave Mincaye.

They have traveled together speaking on “God’s carvings,” the Waodani term for the Bible.

Elizabeth Elliot published the profound words her husband, Jim, had written in his journal in Ecuador, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

By daring to make contact, a remote tribe believed in Christ “who died for us…that we might live” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Sometimes we must do things we don’t understand

Elizabeth Elliot, who died last year, once said, “Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.” She also said, “Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal.”

Elizabeth recorded a daily radio program for 13 years. She concluded every broadcast with these words, “You are loved with an everlasting love. And underneath are the everlasting arms.”


– Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She can be reached at jwhite@andycable.com.