Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Son's Perspective

Leslie Basham: On January 8, 1956, five missionaries were killed by savages in the jungles of Ecuador. Now, 50 years later, one of their sons recalls how he grappled with his father’s death at the age of five. Here’s Steve Saint.

Steve Saint: I just thought, “This is total nonsense! Of course my dad is coming back! I love my dad, and my dad loves me. Dad always comes back.” And then my mom, when I asked her why, why she was saying that he wasn’t coming back, she said that he had gone to live with Jesus; and that, of course, made a big difference to me. That was exciting. But then I thought, “Why didn’t he come and get us and take us with him?”

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Friday, January 6th.

Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully and Roger Youderian were speared to death by the people they were trying to reach with the gospel. But, as we’ll hear today from Nate Saint’s son, Steve, that was far from the end of the story.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: That’s right. After the deaths of the five missionaries, Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel, along with Elisabeth Elliot, went back to the Waodani people to teach them the ways of the Creator. It’s truly an amazing story.

I spoke with Steve Saint a little while back, and he described the women God used to draw to Himself the Waodani people. I was inspired as I talked with Steve, and I think you will be as well. So without further ado, let’s listen in on a conversation I had with Steve Saint, son of martyred missionary pilot Nate Saint.

Steve, as we get started here, tell us first of all, from your perspective, what in the world motivated these five couples to go to this remote jungle in the first place.

Steve: I think really the bottom line was that, like all of us, they were searching for significance in their lives, and they really believed that the way to find significance was to do what God wanted them to do. They took their cues from the Bible. I know one of the motivating verses for my dad was Revelation 5:9, I think it is.

It just states that at the end of time there will be people representing every tribe and nation and tongue on earth who will be in God’s presence, and He will make a priesthood of them. I think my dad and his friends realized, if that’s going to happen, and because God works through common ordinary people, that it was going to take a lot of common ordinary people to take His message of love and forgiveness to all those people. I really think, bottom line, that was the motivation.

Nancy: So for those, again, who are not familiar with the story, can you give us just a little bit of a chronology and overview of what led up to the events of January 8th?

Steve: The Shell Oil Company had moved into Ecuador, I think in the early 40s. They had pushed into Waodani territory. The Waodani had killed, I think, 20-some employees. My mom and dad went down to Ecuador I think in 1948, and Dad bought a little piece of land from them and built a house and a hangar. That’s where I lived when I was born.

So he started talking to some of his friends, especially Ed McCully, Jim Elliot, and Pete Fleming, who were with the Brethren Mission and were down there working with the Quechuas, near Waodani territory. Then Dad felt that they needed somebody else who had even more jungle experience than they had, so he asked Roger Youderian, with Gospel Missionary Union. So the five of them formed a team to try to make friendly contact with the Waodani, or the Aucas.

It took them months flying over Waodani territory to even find any of their houses. When they did, they dropped gifts to the Waodani, and the Waodani showed that they understood what this was, that this was an overture of friendship, so they started returning gifts.

Dad finally found a sandbar two rivers over from where this little clearing was that they had found, and he landed his airplane on that little sandbar. They waited for about three days, and then on Friday, January 6, 1956, three Indians just stepped out of the jungle on the other side of the river and came over and spent the day with them, like it happened all the time.

The young girl of the three, my dad and his friends called her Delilah [her actual name was Gimade], wanted to marry the young man that came with her. And he wanted to marry her, but she had been promised to somebody else. Then, when they were on their way back to the village the next day, a delegation of other Waodani were coming to see what had happened to them.

In that group was Gimade’s mother and brother, who both had said that she could not marry Nenkiwi. Well, now they saw her alone with him, so Gimade’s brother got very angry, and he started mumbling that he was going to spear him. So Gikita said, “No, if we’re going to kill anybody, let’s kill the foreigners.”

So they came back on Sunday, January 8, and speared my dad and his four friends. The fact that the men didn’t shoot any of them to hurt them created major consternation for them, so then they realized, “These guys weren’t meaning us any harm.”

Nancy: As a little boy, do you remember that process, that time? Do you have some memories of that period?

Steve: Well, yes, I remember my mom calling me into her room and telling me that my dad wasn’t coming back, and I was just dumbfounded. I couldn’t imagine. I mean, this was total nonsense! Of course my dad is coming back! I love my dad and my dad loves me. Dad always comes back.

And then my mom, when I asked her why she was saying that he wasn’t coming back, she said that he had gone to live with Jesus, and that of course made a big difference to me. That was exciting, but then I thought, “Well, why didn’t he come and get us and take us with him?”

But I took my cues from Mom and Aunt Betty and Aunt Barb and Aunt Marilou and Aunt Olive. I watched them, and you know, they were sad, but I never ever heard any of them even suggest quietly that God may have made a mistake, or that even they had made a mistake. They just really were heroes of the faith who, were through these 50 years, I really think that we have way underestimated the key role that the five widows played.

Nancy: And what’s remarkable, one of those widows, Elisabeth Elliot, and then your dad’s sister, Rachel Saint, went back into that very tribe and established a relationship there a couple of years later. Can you give us a little overview of how that happened?

Steve: Gikita, the old man who led the killing attack and said, “Let’s kill the foreigners not each other,” his son dies about a year and a half after Dad and his friends were killed. His wife, Mancamel, said, “If we hadn’t killed those foreigners, my son wouldn’t have died.” She got up and told two or three other women, “Come with me; we’re leaving,” and they just walked out of their part of the jungle into Quechua territory, where they should have been killed.

It just happened that Aunt Betty was walking from one jungle mission station to another one, right near where the women came out of the jungle; so one of Quechuas went and said to her, “There are three Auca women down here. Do you want to see them?” And she said, “Of course I do.”

So she took the two Quechua women back to the mission station, where she and Jim had lived together, and she got to know them there. Now, my aunt and Dayumae, from the tribe, were in the states then. Dayumae was a girl who had fled from killings in the tribe, within the tribe, when she was about 15, and I would guess by this time she was probably almost 30.

Several months later, when Aunt Rachel came back, she and Dayumae went immediately to meet these two women, and they were Dayumae’s aunts. When they realized she was still alive after being out of the jungles for 15 years, they said, “This is incredible. How is it that the foreigners have continued to let you live?” And Dayumae said, “You know, not all foreigners live angry and hating; they’re not all violent.” And the women said, “We have to go back and tell our people that it’s possible to live in peace.”

So Dayumae and those two women went back into the jungles to Waodani territory and met with the people. When they realized that Dayumae still was alive, they started asking her how it was. And she started telling them about Waengongi, about the Creator, and how the Creator didn’t want people to kill each other, and how He had created the world, stories that Aunt Rachel had told her.

They wanted more information, so Dayumae went out with a delegation of younger Waodani, mostly women, and they got Aunt Rachel and Aunt Betty, and Aunt Betty took Valerie, and they all went back into the jungles. That was the beginning of the first sustained friendly contact with the tribe and the outside world.

Nancy: How long was it, Steve, until the first Waodani believed the gospel? Was this a matter of years?

Steve: No, no. The first one, in fact, my tribal grandmother, Dawa, she didn’t even wait for Dayumae to get back with Aunt Rachel. The night before Dayumae left she said, “I’m not taking the chance. You tell me everything that you just told me one more time, and then if you don’t come back, I myself, following this new trail, will teach the other people how to live well.” So by the time Aunt Rachel got there, Dawa had already believed.

Nancy: So, is it accurate that . . . tell us a little bit about your baptism. Is it accurate that some of the very men who had done the killing participated in your baptism?

Steve: Yes. My sister, Kathy, decided that she wanted to be baptized, and my mom suggested that she pick some man who had had a very marked spiritual influence in her life be the one to baptize her, since we didn’t have a father in our home. And Kathy immediately said “I want Kimo to baptize me.”

I was already out in the tribe, so when mom and my younger brother, Phil, and Kathy came out so that Kathy could be baptized, I decided, “You know, I think it’s time for me to be baptized, too.” Then Mom had asked to go see where my dad had been killed, which was over on another river, so they decided, “Let’s just do it all at the same time.” So we went over there. After we saw where Dad had landed his plane and where he and Jim and Roger and Ed and Pete had been killed, then Kimo and Dyuwi, two of the six men who had gone to kill my dad and the others, baptized us there.

It didn’t seem that odd to us. I know it seems strange now, but if somebody thought up this story, they wouldn’t have dared to publish it because it would have been too farfetched; but since it’s true, I guess, people accept it.

Leslie Basham: We’ve been listening to a portion of a conversation between Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Steve Saint, the son of martyred pilot Nate Saint. 

You can order a copy of the full story in a book by Elisabeth Elliot called Through Gates of Splendor. When you order Through Gates of Splendor, we’ll include a free bookmark written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss with steps on how to leave a godly legacy.

If you’ve never contacted us, we want to give you a handy sized calendar from Revive Our Hearts. Our web address is www.ReviveOurHearts.com. If you prefer to call, our number is 1-800-569-5959.

Have a great weekend, and be sure to join us on Monday as we open up 2 Peter chapter one. That’s next week on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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