The work of our church extends outside of our doors to our community and to the ends of the earth through the missionary outreach that we support. And, even in this time of isolation and a general slowdown, that work of preaching the Gospel continues with urgency.
I once witnessed a powerful example of what mission work does to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to transform people.
You perhaps have heard about the five missionaries who were killed by the Waodani Indians in Ecuador in 1956. The missionaries had flown into the jungle, landing on a remote stretch of the Curaray River which they dubbed “Palm Beach.” There, they had made initial overtures to the previously unreached tribe.
During their stay, something went terribly wrong and the five men were killed by members of the tribe. Among them was Jim Elliot, the husband of the well-known Christian author and speaker, Elisabeth Elliot.
An American soldier and Ecuadorian troops accompanied missionaries to the site several days later to investigate. They buried four of the bodies on the bank of the river—one body was later found farther downstream. The search party left the missionaries’ Piper-PA-14 Family Cruiser airplane behind.
That incident was the catalyst for hundreds, maybe thousands of people to enter missionary service. And, it spawned several books, movies and other presentations.
Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, Nate’s sister, eventually went back into the village and began living among the Waodani people. Many of them became believers. While Elisabeth eventually returned to live in the U.S., Rachel continued to live among the tribe until just before her death. She is buried near Toñamapade.
Nate’s son, Steve, also got to know many of the Waodanis and spent several summers with them as a boy. As a result, he speaks their language.
In 1994, reports began to come in to Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) missionaries that parts of an airplane were beginning to wash up along the Curaray River at the village and downstream for several miles. Then, a report came out of the jungle that the skeleton of a small aircraft had been found.
I was in the village of Toñampade one day and ran into Bill Clapp, an MAF missionary who had flown there to investigate the reports. I went with him to nearby Palm Beach, and we found some cable and a few scraps of metal that looked like they had come from the plane.
We then crossed back over to the village and went to a house where, we had been told, the airframe of the plane had been placed. There, behind the building, was, indeed, the rusted framework of a Piper-PA-14 Family Cruiser. That discovery brought stunned silence. Finally, Bill put his hand on the throttle and moved it forward. And, I remember distinctly what he said. “The last person to move that throttle was Nate Saint, 38 years ago.”
Several months later I went back to Toñampade in the jungle with Steve Saint, Bill Clapp and others to try to recover and carry out as much of the aircraft as possible. We combed the beach for days, walking back and forth along the banks of the river. One Indian had brought in a sheet of metal that was obviously part of the outside wall of the fuselage. It had a space on the side where the plane’s nameplate had been.
As we were walking down the beach, someone pointed. There, lying in the water was a piece of metal with the word “Piper” on it.
One day while we were there, we took off on a hike away from the river, back into the depths of the jungle. After a half-hour walk, we came upon a clearing and an old building alongside a good sized stream. There, waiting for us was an elderly Indian gentleman. He had walked barefoot for two hours to meet with Steve.
The two men immediately embraced and began to talk in the Waodani language. They must have conversed for at least a half-hour while the rest of us fed the parrots and Toucans and Quetzels that the owner of the property kept while he also allowed his monkeys to climb up on us and sit on our shoulders.
Finally, the pair got up and embraced, and the old man slowly waded across the stream to begin his two-hour trek back home.
I looked at Steve Saint and saw that he had tears in his eyes. I asked him about the old man. He said, “I never know when I say goodbye whether it will be the last time that I see him here on earth.” In fact, the man died about three or four years later.
Then, I learned that it was this person who 38 years earlier had been on Palm Beach and was the one who took a spear and drove it through the heart of Nate Saint, Steve’s father.
And there in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador, I watched those two talk and embrace with genuine affection and Christian love.
I have never witnessed such a powerful display of what one person’s forgiveness of another and God’s forgiveness can accomplish: the complete transformation of a sinner into a believer, a reconciliation between two very different men, and the entrance of a new-born saint into the Lord’s kingdom.
Recently my good friend and missionary colleague Ralph Kurtenbach wrote about another of those tribesmen who died a month or two ago. Here are some excerpts from his article:
Mincaye Ænkædi knew what it was to kill a person. He knew forgiveness for his actions. And he knew what it was like to later become a father and friend to his victim’s son.
Many people will not have heard of him. But to some Christians around the world, his first name is all that’s needed to envision the story of his dramatic conversion to Christianity in the late 1950s in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
His name means “Wasp.” When his life began in the jungle, Mincaye’s people, the Waodani, were trapped in a cycle of revenge killings amongst themselves. Internecine warfare seemed to point them toward self-decimation by time evangelical missionaries attempted to reach the tribe. On January 8, 1956, Mincaye and a small cohort of warriors speared to death Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint and Roger Youderian.
Within two years after those spearings on a sandbar of the Curaray River, Elliot’s widow, Elisabeth, and Saint’s sister, Rachel, were living in a Waodani settlement with members of the tribe who had killed their loved ones. The women’s message of forgiveness and peace was transformative in Mincaye’s life.
“Of the reported deaths spanning up to five generations,” missionary anthropologist Jim Yost later wrote, “only two individuals purportedly died of natural causes in old age. Forty-four percent of the deaths were a result of intratribal spearing, and 5 percent were due to infanticide. Seventeen percent were a result of [cowode or “outsider”] shootings and captures; snakebites accounted for another 5 percent and illness 11 percent.”
Steve Saint, who toured with the elder Waodani promoting the movie, End of the Spear, said that Mincaye’s most frequent speaking theme was, “We lived angry, hating and killing, ‘ononque’ (for no reason), until they brought us God’s markings. Now, those of us who walk God’s trail live happily and in peace.”
“The tendency to idealize or romanticize ‘primitive’ cultures falls to crushing blows … as the reality of life in the upper Amazon rainforest plays out in gruesome details often too explicit and vivid for the cushioned Western mind,” wrote Yost and Williams…. “The reason is obvious—watching parents, children or siblings murdered in their sight burned indelible memories and emotions that could be erased only by a total transformation of the spirit. The fact that that transformation has taken place is the real story here.”
To tell any story is to leave parts untold, focusing on a core set of data. At the heart of Mincaye’s are the undeniable facts that he killed a man—and perhaps many men, as well as women and children—and that he knew forgiveness for his deeds, and that he became to Steve Saint a father.
That transformation was brought about through the power of God unleashed by Him through missionaries who long ago went to the Ecuadorian rain forest to share the life-changing news of Jesus Christ with a primitive people.
(For Ralph’s complete article, please click here: https://www.assistnews.net/non-violent-death-of-waorani-man/ )
Today, that kind of powerful witness continues through missionaries who serve the Lord around the world. And, we, through our offerings to our church and our support of missionaries contribute to that kind of life-changing, live-giving witness.
That mission work has not ceased in the face of the Covid-19 virus. In fact, in continues in an even more urgent manner. I pray that we will continue to financially support not only our local church, but the missionary outreach we carry on through His servants serving around the world.
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