All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
II Corinthians 5:18-19
Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Peter Fleming and Ed McCully were five men that understood God’s message of reconciliation for all peoples. The story of their lives is one of determination and sacrifice as they took Christ’s message of reconciliation to the tribal people of Ecuador.
Their legacy began in 1955; Jim, Nate, Peter, and Ed, all missionaries from the United States, set out to bring the gospel to the hostile Auca tribe near the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. The four had quite the task set before them. The Auca* Indians were known as a violent and murderous tribe that had virtually no contact with the outside world. Surrounding tribes labeled them “savages.” So, the endeavor of reaching the Aucas with the love of Christ was a brave one.
While working in a nearby tribe, Jim, Peter, and Ed, heard about the Auca Indians and their need for Christ. The men decided that they wanted to move into the Auca region in an attempt to learn the Auca language, translate the Bible, and share the gospel. Jim, Peter, and Ed teamed up with Nate Saint, a missionary pilot for Missions Aviation Fellowship, to begin gaining friendly relations with the Indians. For the next three months the four men made flights over the Auca’s village. They dropped supplies and gifts in pursuit of friendship and trust. On Tuesday, January 3, 1956 the men decided to make their first ground contact. Upon that decision they also enlisted Roger Youderian a missionary to the Jivaro tribe, who had mastered life and survival in the jungle, to join them in the effort. The men chose to make their first land at a beach about 4 miles outside of the tribe. They quickly set up camp, and then made a flight over the village to invite the Aucas to visit their camp. The Aucas seemed to be hostile to the men, but their countenance changed as the men exchanged more gifts offering their peace and friendship. By Friday, the men had their first visitors. A couple and a teenage girl would prove to be their first and last encounter with the Indians. By Saturday morning all contact with Jim, Peter, Ed, Nate, and Roger had been lost. They were later found speared to death by the very people that they were trying to reach.
The effort to reach the Auca Indians was not abandoned. Spurred on by the death of their husband and brother, Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, quickly established a home among the Auca Indians. Rachel Saint, who worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators, was the older sister of Nate. She was passionate about taking the gospel to an unreached tribe, especially the Aucas, and translating the scriptures into their own language. The tragic event of her brother’s death didn’t deter her but rather intensified her passion to go to them.
The year before Nate’s death, she began working with an Auca woman, Dayuma, who had fled the tribe during an intertribal war. Rachel formed a strong relationship with her and brought her to the states to publicize the missionary work in Ecuador. The trip extended to a year due to an illness Dayuma developed. Elisabeth Elliot, who had returned to a nearby tribe with her young daughter Valerie, made contact with two Auca women in Ecuador. In 1958, Rachel and Dayuma were able to return to the Auca tribe. This marked the beginning of communications since the deaths of the missionaries in 1956. Rachel and Elisabeth were invited to live with the tribe. Rachel stayed with The Auca tribe until her death and was buried there. They experienced first hand the Auca lifestyle and perfected their language skills. At that point the evangelization to the Aucas began and nine years after the tragic event, the Gospel of Mark was published in the Auca language. The pastor of the tribe, Kimo, who was also one of the killers, had the opportunity to baptize Steve & Kathy Saint, Nate’s children. God had used these women, a wife and sister of the slain missionaries, to reconcile with the Aucas and bring them ultimate reconciliation of Christ’s salvation.
Elisabeth Elliot returned home a year later to write her first book on the amazing story of the Auca tribe, the men who gave their lives to reach them, and her journey back. The book, Shadow of the Almighty, has become a well known story of commitment, determination, and faith in God’s sovereignty and grace. Later in life she writes of loss, “The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying…The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of-if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.”
Elisabeth Elliot has become one of Christendom’s most beloved and well-known lecturers and writers. She has been an encouragement and challenge to woman in godliness, faithfulness and God’s purpose in world missions. She wrote challenging one young woman, “If indeed He is directing you toward missions, BE GLAD! He will show you His way in His own time.”
The legacy left behind by the 5 slain missionaries and their families still lives on today. The Auca Indians quickly realized their mistake in killing the very men that loved them enough to bring Christ’s message of reconciliation to them. The Auca Indians were able to accept the message spoken of Christ’s death because they were able to see the message lived.
*The Auca Tribe is also know as the Huaorani Tribe.