Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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To Gain What You Cannot Lose, Day 3

Leslie Basham: On January 8, 1956, five missionaries were killed in the jungles of Ecuador. Now, sixty 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, Well why didn't he come and get us and take us with him?

Leslie: This is the Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Friday, January 8, 2016.

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 DeMoss Wolgemuth: 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.

Leslie: We'll hear that story from Steve Saint, son of martyred pilot Nate Saint. And we'll also hear from Valerie Elliot Shepard, daughter of martyred missionary Jim Elliot. Her mom is Elisabeth Elliot, who went home to be with the Lord last year. Here's Nancy, talking with Steve Saint.

Nancy: 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 territory 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. 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 that hey, 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 go 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, Steve, give us just a little bit of a chronology and overview of what led up to the events of January 8?

Steve: The Shell Oil Company had moved into Ecuador, I think in the early forties. They had pushed into Waodani territory. The Waodani had killed, I think, twenty-some employees. My mom and dad went down to Ecuador I think in 1948. 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.

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 her 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 aunt and 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 even that they had made a mistake. They just really were heroes of the faith. I really think that we have way underestimated the key role that the five widows played.

Nancy: And remarkably, 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 died 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 fifteen, and I would guess by this time she was probably almost thirty.

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 that she was still alive after being out of the jungles for fifteen 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 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.

Leslie: The missionary Steve Saint calls "Aunt Betty" is better known to the rest of us as Elisabeth Elliot. When Elisabeth was widowed there in Ecuador, her daughter Valerie was ten months old. When they went to live among those who had killed Jim Elliot, Valerie was about three-and-a-half. How could Elisabeth Elliot take her young child into such a dangerous situation?

Valerie Elliot Shepard: She was obedient to God's call. She saw the open door. She knew God would take care of us if He was calling us there.

Leslie: This is Valerie Elliot Shepard.

Valerie: The way the Waodini Indians accepted us, loved us, were very generous to us if they had extra food. You know, for them, the food situation was often feast or famine depending on what the Indians had gotten in their hunts. I just always accepted the way it was. The more people said to me, "How did your mother do that?", the more I just simply realized yes, she was an amazing lady and that's who God gave me so I was very thankful and content and peaceful about it.

Leslie: As a young child, Valerie didn't realize how radical her parents' sacrifice was. It just came up in day-to-day conversations.

Valerie: I, of course, don't remember exactly when and how we talked about it, but it was more casual conversation. Because I was sitting next to one of the Waodoni men who was one of the killers. And I asked my mother, "Why can't he be my daddy?" And she said because God hadn't given him to her for my daddy or for her husband.

And that was satisfactory enough to me though she did go on a little further, I believe, at the same time and said, "Your daddy was killed by these men here, but he's in heaven with your heavenly Father." And so that fact of knowing all along as I grew up that my earthly father was in heaven with my heavenly Father was completely comforting and gave me security. So it was not at that age something that really bothered me at all.

I don't remember really being much alarmed at anything. I played happily in the river just about all the time, was completely at ease and hardly ever scared. We could play in the river where there were piranhas and boa constrictors. I mean we didn't see them. I know the Indians taught us how to watch out for the snakes and how to be careful walking through the jungle.

I loved it all. I loved the butterflies. I loved the jungle and just the general beautiful weather, the clear running streams of the river that we lived right by. Yes, we had to step carefully around poisonous caterpillars or being watchful for snakes. It was just simple, natural acceptance of what was around me. I remember just loving it. I had a practically idyllic place to live.

Steve: When they got in and started living with the tribe, the tribe wanted to know all about Waengongi and how the world was created. When Aunt Rachel finally told them about Waengongi she said, "Waengongi, the Creator does not see it well that people should kill other people. It's okay to kill animals to eat but it's not okay for people to kill people."

And I don't think it was so much that they came under conviction. I don't think that it was that they were afraid so much of Waengongi. I think the big thing was they had never had any authority figure who was capable of saying, "Stop the killing" and to actually get people to stop. But when they heard that Waengongi, the Creator of the world, and they already knew about Him. I mean, they saw the creation. So when they found out that He didn't want them to kill, it gave them an excuse to stop the killing.

Almost immediately a few of the warriors said, "We're not going to spear anymore." And then more saying they had given up their vendettas decided to do the same. You have to understand that anybody who said, "I'm not going to kill anymore" was just a prime target for any of their enemies to come and kill them. So, they did that at the risk of their lives. But the killing probably, ninety percent of it, at least within the groups that were contacted, it just virtually stopped.

And then some of the people began to decide that they really wanted to follow Waengongi's trail. They didn't want to walk their trail anymore. And even though they'd given up killing, they still lived angry and afraid. And that's where the culture really began to change was when people's hearts began to change. That wasn't just a decision. That was a process.

Nancy: How long was it, Steve, until the first Waodoni 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've 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: 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 to 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 sounds strange now, but if somebody thought up this story, they wouldn't have dared to publish it because it would have been too farfetched.

Leslie: Like we heard earlier, Valerie Elliot Shepard grew up so accustomed to the story, she didn't fully appreciate it. But as a young adult back in the states, she began to understand all God had done through her parents and their missionary friends. She started to read Jim Elliot's journals and her mom, Elisabeth Elliot's books.

Valerie: I read Through Gates of Splendor and Shadow of the Almighty, Savage, My Kinsman during my college years but  also read them again in my twenties and was absolutely amazed at what my father wrote. But I read them again this past year. Not the Savage, My Kinsman, but I read Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendor again. And I read my father's journals.

And I'm absolutely blown away by his commitment and his ability to write as well as to think and to meditate. His love for the Lord is astounding to me. So it's something that has challenged me and made me want to be more like him and my mother in my commitment.

Leslie: Valerie has a favorite quote from her father.

Valerie: "I have covenanted with the Father that He would either glorify Himself to the utmost in me or slay me."

Leslie: And why this quote?

Valerie: Well, for one thing, it's an easy short quote to say to people. But it's got so much power in it because I believe God answered both prayers. God glorified Himself through my father's life as well as through his death.

He's covenanting. He's agreeing with the Father that he's got to glorify Him no matter what—whether he dies or whether he lives. You know, Job says, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." And that's what my father was willing to be slain. He was willing to be slain for Christ's sake.

Leslie: We asked Valerie what she would be thinking today as we mark the sixty anniversary of the martyrdom of these missionaries.

Valerie: Just thankfulness. Very, very thankful and humbled. I've really been touched since my mother's death on the fact that when my father left her for the last time, when he'd said goodbye and he was going off with the other men to go to see the Auca's, he said, "Teach the believers, darling. You must teach the believers."

So, that's exactly what she did. She stayed with the Quechuas until we had the opportunity to go to the Waodoni, and then she did the best she could. She was very good also at speaking the Auca language. But when she could, she explained the gospel story to the Indians. And then we went back to live with the Quechuas, and she continued to teach the believers that my father had brought to the Lord.

There was at one time three hundred people that were baptized. I just met on Facetime, again, the maid that was my mother's maid during the time that we lived in Shandia with the Quechuas. That was a wonderful and emotional meeting because, of course, I remembered her. I had played with her daughter.

But because of my father's death on January 8, I just think thankfulness is the main thing. I'm just amazed and humbled that God gave me those two parents.

Steve: People ask me all the time, "How did you forgive these people, these men who killed your dad?" You know, I know it doesn't compute well, but the truth is, I dearly felt the loss of my dad. You can imagine how it marked my life. But somehow, seeing my mom and Olive and Barbara and Betty and Marilou, I just really believed from a very early age, because I saw them believing it.

I mean, they would get in a car and go fast down the road—fast enough that we could have easily been killed if there hadn't been brakes. I didn't know how brakes worked, but I knew they trusted the brakes in the car. And I knew that they trusted God, and so I didn't worry about going too fast in the car. I didn't worry about somehow understanding this. I just believed that I would.

I didn't know why the Waodoni had done it. I didn't know how I would grow up to be a father myself without a father to show me how. But I believed that God would make a way and that He had a plan. I still believe He has a plan. I don't know all the details, but I really believe that that's the amazing thing that God wants to write our stories and that He will if we'll let Him.

Unfortunately, it's become extremely popular, it probably always has been, for people to want God to be their editor. We want to write the story. We just want Him to edit. I don't see that He offers to be our editor. He wants to call the shots.

I'm thinking of a verse in Proverbs, I think it is. "The mind of man plans his way but God orders his steps." And the verse, God says, "I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for evil to give you a hope and a future."

That's all the way through the Scripture that God has a plan and He wants to incorporate us into His plan if we'll let Him. I believe this is just one little chapter that He decided to write, to publish to, I think, wake up a fairly complacent Christian world to say there are other people around who never have heard.

Leslie: Steve Saint has seen firsthand the power of God to change lives once people do hear the gospel.

Steve: Menkayee, one of the men that killed my dad and the others . . . In fact, the man from what the Indian accounts that have been told me, is who actually did in fact spear my dad to death is living at our house now. He's up from the jungles because we're going to be doing a short speaking tour together.

We love him, our children love him, our grandkids absolutely love him. They call him Kayee. His name is Menkayee, but they call him Kayee. And they just go right to him, and he carries them around and plays with them.

He is a different man. It is impossible to imagine that he lived "killing" as a way of life. And that is something. That is not just a decision: "Well, I'm not going to kill anymore." That is a change of heart. And Menkayee is a wonderful example of that.

Leslie: That's Steve Saint, talking about the amazing power of the gospel to change lives and make radical forgiveness possible. It was on this day sixty years ago that Steve Saint's father, Nate, gave his life for the gospel in Ecuador. So did four other missionaries, including Jim Elliot. We also heard today from his daughter, Valerie.

This is the kind of story that needs to be kept alive generation to generation. We'd like to help you remember it, learn from it, and pass it on to the next generation. When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size, we'll say thanks by sending you Elisabeth Elliot's book, Through Gates of Splendor. It tells the story of what happened in Ecuador sixty years ago.

You can make your donation at Revive Our and check the appropriate box to let us know you'd like the book. Or call 1–800–569–5959. Ask for the book, Through Gates of Splendor. We'll send one book per household for your donation today.

You know, sharing the truth of the gospel isn't just for well-known missionaries like Jim Elliot. We're all called to teach others. But the book of James says, "Not many of you should become teachers." Why is that? Jen Wilkin will unpack that passage in James as she encourages you to invest in teaching others. That's Monday, here on Revive Our Hearts.

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

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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