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The Power of the Gospel
HOW 5 MISSIONARIES HELPED BRING PEACE TO THE RAINFOREST
O n Jan. 8, 1956, five Christian missionaries from the United States went into the rainforests of Ecuador. These men were Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian. Their goal was to make first contact with an isolated tribe and bring them the word of God. The men never left the forest. All five were killed, speared to death by members of the tribe they’d come to meet. Anyone who has ever done missionary work has heard of the fate of these five men. Recently, I read “Through Gates of Splendor,” written by Elisabeth Elliot, Jim Elliot’s widow, and “End of the Spear” by Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint. Steve was 5 years old when his father died. These books tell the full story, beyond the tragic headlines that made international news. Reading these books reminded me of how God’s power can help overcome any challenge. These men knew very well the dangers they faced. In the 1950s, the tribe these missionaries wanted to contact were called the Auca, which is an outdated term that means “savage.” The people of the tribe referred to themselves as the Waodani, and they were regarded as one of the most violent cultures on Earth. The Waodani were terrified of outsiders, whom they believed to be murdering cannibals. They killed anyone who came into the rainforest. The Waodani’s culture of violence was also directed at each other. There was no formal leadership in the tribe, and therefore no way for families to settle disputes, so they turned to violence. It was a lot like the Hatfields and the McCoys, a cycle of violence with everyone just killing each other. In the 1950s, the murder rate within the tribe was 60%. There were only 600 Waodani people, and that number grew smaller all the time. This violence was part of the reason the missionaries felt called by God to bring Christianity to the Waodani. It was their hope that hearing Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness would help the Waodani adopt a more peaceful way of living. These men didn’t come to Ecuador alone. They were accompanied by their wives and children. Another amazing part of this story is this: After the men died, their families continued the mission to bring the word of God to the Waodani. Two years after the missionaries were killed, Rachel Saint, Nate’s sister, and Elisabeth Elliot were invited to live with the Waodani. They learned the Waodani language and translated the Bible for them. Over time, most of the Waodani embraced Christianity. They started their own church, and a few men stepped up to be pastors. The murder rate went down by 90% as these people went from a killing mentality to a loving mentality. Steve Saint joined his aunt and grew up playing with children of the Waodani tribe. Waodani warriors, the same men who killed the missionaries, became like surrogate
grandfathers to these kids. In fact, one of the men who killed Nate Saint visited the United States to see Steve’s son graduate from college. The story of the Waodani is a story about the power of the Gospel. There is no other way to explain how a violent culture could become so transformed. Or why the families of these murdered men chose to stay and help the people who killed their loved ones learn a better way. Steve Saint even returned to Ecuador as an adult, bringing his wife and teenage children to live with the Waodani again. Steve, a pilot like his father, taught a Waodani man to fly a plane so he could bring food supplies and medicines to his people in the jungle. Those five missionaries never saw the fruits of their labor, but their dedication and sacrifice made a difference. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Waodani were saved from extinction. It shows how with the power of God, a selfless act can transform people and truly change the world for the better.
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