In the previous “Wisdom of the Week,” I shared the story of the five young missionary men who felt called by God to take the gospel to the Waorani tribe in the rain forest of Ecuador. (Note: Waorani, Waodani and Huaoroni are alternate spellings and mean “all the people.”) They called their mission “Operation Auca.” Auca, meaning “savages,” was the name given to the Waorani by the neighboring Quechua tribe because of their violence and practice of revenge killing. The missionaries established a nearby base, along with their wives and children, and began making flights over the Waroani villages to drop gifts. On January 3, 1956, they felt it was time to make contact with the Auca so held a prayer time with their families, said “good bye” to their wives, boarded their little airplane and then flew and landed on a sand bar (which they called “Palm Beach”) by the Curary River. First they were visited by two women and one Waorani man, who, of course, had no way to communicate with the missionaries that they were looking for Dayuma, a Waorani woman who had fled some time ago when her people were being attacked.
When the two Waorani women, Dayuma’s aunt and half-sister, and Waorani man (Nanke) returned to the village, Nanke, who wasn’t supposed to be with the women (he was married!), decided he’d better make up a story to save his hide so told the village tribesman that the foreigners with the airplane on the sandbar had killed Dayuma and ate her!
On Sunday, January 8, Nate Saint flew their plane over the area and spotted a group of ten Waorani headed toward the beach. He radioed his wife, Marj, asking the women to pray for them and he would contact her again at 4:30 p.m, but that call never came, for they were speared to death by those tribesmen. It should be noted that the missionaries did have a rifle with them, but only for protection against wild animals. They had agreed that should their lives be endangered, they would not kill any Waorani, reasoning that if they (the missionaries) were killed, they would go to heaven, but if the tribesmen were killed, they would not. They were willing to lay down their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ who lay down His life for us to provide forgiveness of sin and eternal life.
The death of the five missionaries galvanized the missionary effort in the United States, sparking an outpouring of funding for evangelization efforts around the world and the commitment of many young men and women as well as some older saints to missionary service. Several years after the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint on “Palm Beach” in Ecuador at the hands of the Auca Indians, the widow of Jim Elliot, Elisabeth, and the sister of Nate Saint, Rachel, returned to Ecuador as missionaries with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International) to live among the Waorani. Their first peaceful contact was with Dayuma, whose disappearance had resulted in the misinformation fed to the Waorani who went out to spear the missionaries! She became the first Waorani convert to Christianity, and was instrumental in helping Elisabeth and Rachel in reaching out to many of the Waorani with the gospel. Many responded and trusted Christ for eternal life. Included among the converts were some of those, such as Mincaye, who was involved in killing the missionaries. Through their new lives in Christ, the culture changed from one of violence and revenge killing to one of love and forgiveness.
Pat Kelley, who spoke at our church on June 9, was assigned by SIL International to work among the Waorani people to teach and supervise literacy classes, to prepare literacy materials and to train literacy instructors and community health and first aid promoters. She worked with the sons and daughters of those who had killed the missionaries, but whose families (including Mincaye’s) were now strong Christians. One of the murderers, Ayebae, became the first composer of a Christian song in Waorani! Another, Yowe, helped clear the landing strip for the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilots that come and go from the village. He also prays for and with all the pilots when they land! Chiquita, who led the men who murdered the missionaries, also received Christ and when asked by an Anthropologist who interviewed him whether he would like to go back to his old culture as some say they should, said “Let them try it!”
Dawa, a Waorani woman who accompanied the men to the sandbar when the missionaries were killed, also became a believer and said there was no way she wanted to go back to “the way of the spear.” She said, “No more spearing people!”
There are those who say missionaries are wrong to make converts to Christianity of tribes people, knowing it will change their culture. Well, just ask the Waorini about that! Some cultures need to change, for they are under the grip of our adversary, the devil, and only God can change that. It is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has the power to change lives and the Waorani are surely great examples of that power. Steve Saint, son of martyred Nate Saint, was baptized in the Curary River next to the sandy beach where his father had been killed. Steve was baptized by Kimo and Kyuwi, two of his father’s killers who had become believers. Now that’s the grace of God in action!
The Waorani went barefoot and were able to tell who had come to visit them just by looking at the tracks in the mud or sand. Well, there were tracks left in the sand on that fateful beach where five missionaries were killed, but today those same footprints can be seen taking the Good News of the Gospel to other tribes. Pat Kelley said, “those are my “heroes,” the Duyamas, and Mincayes and Yowes and Ayebaes, and Kimos and Kyuwis.” They are passing on their faith to the next generations and to neighboring tribes. Am I? Are you? What kind of “footprints” are we leaving?
P.S. For more details about the amazing story of the Waorani/Auca Indians, see the movie, End of the Spear or read the book, God in the Rainforest