Sixty years ago this month, five missionaries were killed in the jungle of Ecuador. Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian were viciously speared, beaten with clubs, and hacked to death with machetes by a small gang of Waodani (Auca) Indians.
The events surrounding their initial friendly contact with the Auca Indians (Auca is a Quecha word meaning: savages) and their brutal spearing deaths was covered by worldwide press, including a ten page article in Life magazine in January 1956.
The following are excerpts from two articles appearing at To Every Tribe.
One was written earlier this month to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the martyrdom of the 'Ecuador Five' and the other one was written in 2011 on the 55th anniversary.
In his book - Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith - Steve Saint, son of Nate, offers these insightful portraits of the five men:
Jim Elliot was impetuous but focused. Both a college wrestler and a writer, his good looks and physical strength were matched by a deep introspection.
Ed McCully, president of his college class, had played football end and won his senior oratory contest. Everyone expected him to go to law school, but something stronger called him to the jungles of the Amazon.
Nate Saint was born into an artist’s family but picked up a stray gene. He loved the technical and mechanical aspects of life and wanted to use his interest and skills for a purpose with dimensions that would honor God and outlast the temporal. Flying support for missionaries was a way to fulfill both of his desires.
Pete Fleming was the youngest of the group, but in some ways the group’s sage.
Roger Youderian was the guy you sent to do the job when it took dogged determination and a completely willing heart to get it done.
Five common men
Here were five common young men whose unifying distinction was less their inherited abilities or acquired skills than their commitment to seek God’s will and to carry out his purposes for their lives.
They were aware of the risk
Having done their homework, they understood that from the days of the conquistadors in the sixteenth-century until the encroachment of big oil companies upon their territory in 1955, encounters with the Waodani had ended in death. Still, these common men had the uncommon, burning desire to follow Jesus’ command to take the gospel message into all the world, particularly where the name of Jesus had never been heard.
But they loved Jesus more
I’m convinced these men, who deeply loved life and their families, had counted the cost because they lived with one condition - that they would submit that love to a greater love. They loved life and family, but they loved Jesus more.
Hard and difficult words of Jesus
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 14:26-27 and 9:23-25)
I dare not stay home
Jim Elliot learned of the spiritual plight of the Waodani people in the summer of 1950 when a former missionary to Ecuador warned him of the “great challenge of the dreaded Aucas”. After ten days, largely devoted to prayer, Jim began to set his sights on Ecuador. Well-intentioned friends urged him to reconsider. Perhaps he might be better suited for stateside ministry and the obvious needs that remained there. However, once assured of God’s direction, he would not be dissuaded:
I dare not stay at home while the Waodani perish. What if the well-filled church
in the homeland needs stirring? They have the Scriptures, Moses, and the Prophets.
Their condemnation is written on their bank books and in the dust on their Bible covers.
~ Jim Elliot
As Jim prepared himself for the rigors of pioneering the gospel in the Ecuadorian jungles, a friend and fellow classmate at Wheaton College, Ed McCully, was compelled to join him. Ed wrote a determined letter to Jim explaining his rationale for exchanging his pursuit of a medical career, for one of trail-blazing the gospel in Ecuador:
Jim, I have just one desire now, to live a life of reckless abandon for Christ,
and I’m putting all my strength and energy into it.
Maybe the Lord will send me some place where the Name of Christ is unknown.
~ Ed McCully
Three years later, in Ecuador, only days before the final flight into Auca territory where they were slaughtered horrifically, Ed scribbled a note in the margin of his journal which simply said the following:
I’m willing to give my life for a handful of Indians.
~ Ed McCully
Tragedy or triumph?
Soon after the search party, led by missionary Frank Drown, discovered the mutilated bodies of the missionaries, newspaper headlines around the world screamed things like:
“Tragedy in Ecuador!”
“Five Missionaries Slaughtered!”
“Five Young Lives Wasted!”
Certainly this was a disastrous event in the lives of five families who lost husbands, fathers, and sons. Was this murder a win for the enemy and a set-back for the gospel? Or, instead, was it a meticulous, divine providence, in every detail, designed to accomplish an even greater, global advance of the name of Jesus?
With the benefit of sixty years of historical reflection, the following is part of what we know.
|Elisabeth Elliot and her daughter Valerie, with Waodani|
Several of the wives and children of the slain missionaries returned to the Aucas and the gospel was eventually established throughout the Waodani Region, including converts among some of those who did the spearing.
Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) invested the remaining decades of her life in ministry among the Waodanis and she is buried there.
Steve Saint (Nate’s son) returned as an adult and responsibly transitioned the Waodani Church (and culture) into the 21st Century, largely free of harmful dependence upon Western manpower and money.
The violent and highly publicized death of the five men caused a panic among mission agencies. They wondered how the threat of persecution and martyrdom might affect ongoing missionary recruitment for the most difficult and dangerous places. However, by God’s grace, this proved to be an unwarranted concern. Instead of fewer missionaries, mission agencies were inundated with applications for missionary service.
Only the Lord knows exact numbers. Vast numbers of missionaries throughout the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, and even until now, testify that the killing of the Ecuador Five is what God used to compel them into mission. Nearly three generations of missionaries, tens of thousands of them, have been catapulted into the worldwide harvest of nations, because of this one incident.
Where is the tragedy?
If Jim Elliot could speak today he would be laughing! I really believe that. What incredible wisdom of God that he would use their deaths to actually result in the answer to their best prayers for the Waodanis, that they would come to know Christ!
Victors not victims
Missionary martyrdom is not a detriment to the advancement of the Church. Instead, persecution is a divine incentive for even more forceful gospel advance. On the very day that Stephen was stoned to death, a great persecution was unleashed upon the church in Jerusalem which catapulted the gospel throughout Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. [See Acts 8:1 - Acts 28:31.] Still today, God’s gospel martyrs suffer, and through their agonies, the gospel is propelled into places where it would not have reached otherwise.
Like the Revelation 6 martyrs, the Ecuador 5 should not be viewed as defeated victims, but rather, as conquering victors with King Jesus.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those
who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they
had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long,
Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants
of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was
given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer,
until the full number of their fellow servants, their
brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
~ Revelation 6:9-11
They triumphed over the accuser by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives
so much as to shrink from death.
~ Revelation 12:11
|Nate Saint with a Waodani man|
In reflecting on his father’s legacy, Steve Saint has written,
"Dad strove to find out what life really is. He found identity, purpose, and fulfillment in being obedient to God’s call. He tried it, tested it, and committed himself to it. I know the risk he took, which resulted in his death and consequently his separation from his family, was not to satisfy his own need for adventure or fame, but was in obedience to what he believed was God’s directive to him. I suppose he is best known because he died for his faith, but the legacy he left his children was his willingness first to live for his faith."That’s the life of faith which should resonate with our souls. A God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered life which leads to radical obedience and reckless abandon for the glory of His name and the advancement of His kingdom. May the testimony of the Ecuador Five encourage us live surrendered lives for Him.
We honor the gospel heroics of these young pioneers today and we give praise to our great God who gives this martyr privilege to some of His followers. As Jim Elliot once wrote,
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.
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Click these links to see the two articles from To Every Tribe: