Yesterday, we were privileged to have with us at Faith Bible Church, Pat Kelley (age 80) who left her teaching job in Bellevue, Washington many years ago to teach Wycliffe Bible Translator missionaries’ children for a couple years and then, in 1969, was assigned by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) to work among the Waorani people to teach and supervise literacy classes and train instructors from among their own people. Pat continues to work as an SIL International (its new title) literacy consultant in Dallas and still makes trips to Ecuador and the Waorani people.
Many of you will recall that on January 8, 1956, five young missionary men were speared to death on a sandy beach by the Curary River in Ecuador by Auca tribesmen. “Auca,” meaning “savages” is the name that the nearby Quechua tribe had given to the Waorani because of their violence and revenge killing, not only among themselves but against anyone who ventured into their territory. This is the tribe to which Pat was assigned! She went to Ecuador thinking she might be working among a peaceful group on the beautiful shores of Ecuador, but instead was sent to the rain forest to help the Waorani, to learn and record their language and to help them also learn English—a frightening, daunting task. But, God was doing a mighty work among this once violent savage tribe and lives were being transformed by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Ro. 1:16,17). Savages who practiced “revenge killing” were now offering forgiveness instead and were eager to learn more about this Jesus Christ who had died for them.
Having been familiar with the story of the martyrdom of these five missionaries it was very fascinating to hear of some of the details of why they were actually murdered and what transpired right after that. I will share more of what we learned in a subsequent “Wisdom of the Week,” but I would first like to give you the background that led up to these five young men attempting to evangelize this isolated, savage tribe. Let me share about this team and how God put them together for what they called “Operation Auca.”
Jim Elliot was from Portland, OR. He was president of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship at Wheaton College. While there, he wrote: “Oh God, save me from a life of barrenness. Give instead that vital contact of soul with Thy divine life that fruit may be produced…” Later in his journal, he wrote: “He is no fool who gives away that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim married Elisabeth Howard from a prominent Christian publishing family in Philadelphia.
Peter Fleming was from Seattle, WA and married his childhood sweetheart, Olive. He received a M.A. in literature. He wrote in a letter to his friend, Jim Elliot, “Seemingly God delights in many instances to place men in situations which magnify their weaknesses for the simple delight of showing Himself strong to all observers.”
Ed McCully from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was president of his senior class at Wheaton. He went on to Marquette University Law School. At the end of Law School, he wrote in a letter to Jim Elliot, “I have one desire now—to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.” Ed was married, had two sons and his wife was expecting a third at the time of his death.
Roger Youderian grew up on a ranch in Sumatra in eastern Montana. He contracted polio as a child but overcame its effects and was able to play basketball at Fergus High School in Lewiston, Montana. After graduation in 1941, he attended Montana State College (Now MSU) in Bozeman. He enlisted in the Army in 1941 and became an Airborne Ranger who was at the “Battle of the Bulge.” He later went to Northwestern School in Minneapolis. There he met and married Barbara (who was here to speak at both Three Lakes Bible Church and Faith Bible Church) several years ago. They joined Gospel Missionary Union and were evangelizing the head-hunting Jivaros of eastern Ecuador.
Nate Saint had flown missionaries in and out of the Ecuadorian jungle since 1948 for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). Nate, born near Hershey, PA, was a builder, inventor and skilled pilot who had devised an ingeniously simple back-up fuel system for single-engine airplanes. Nate was married to a nurse, Marj, and they had three children. The family moved to Shell Mera, Ecuador, where Nate built a family home which also served as a guesthouse and a radio center with the other missionaries. In a message broadcast over HCJB (“Heralding Christ Jesus’ Blessings”) in Quito, Nate said, “During the last war we were taught that, in order to obtain our objective, we had to be willing to be expendable…Yet, when the Lord Jesus asks us to pay the price for world evangelization, we often answer, ‘It costs too much’…But, God didn’t hold back His son!”
The five couples did not go to Ecuador planning on reaching the Waorani tribe, but they all heard about these Indians that were referred to as Aucas (“Savages”) who had never been subjugated by soldiers or evangelized by missionaries. They believed God was calling them to be the ones to reach them so they began praying and strategizing about how to reach this violent people with the Gospel which could transform their lives. They collectively volunteered, knowing the risk they were taking. Jim Elliot wrote in his journal: “If that’s the way God wants it to be, I’m ready to die for the salvation of the Aucas!
They established a base at nearby Arajuno and in September, 1955 began making flights over the Waorani villages, dropping gifts. Soon, the gifts were reciprocated with gifts left on a sandy beach of the Curary River by the Aucas. The five missionaries felt it was time to establish a base on the sandbar, which they named “Palm Beach.” On January 3, 1956, the five couples held a final prayer time at Arajuno and sang Edith Gilling Cherry’s hymn (to the tune of Finlandia),
“We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender,
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.”
They said “good bye” to their wives, boarded the plane and flew to “Palm Beach” where they had a visit from three Waorani (two women and a man…more about their purpose in the next “Wisdom of the Week”). On Sunday, Nate flew their plane over the area and spotted a group of ten Waorani headed toward the beach. He radioed Marj to tell her to pray and that he would call again at 4:30 p.m. That call never came, for they were speared to death by those tribesmen.
But, PTL, the story doesn’t end there. In many ways that was just the beginning of an amazing work among the Waorani—stay tuned!