One of the great missionary stories in modern history is retold in the book “Through Gates of Splendor” (1957) and in the movie “End of the Spear” (2005). Last year, I was in a group that was able to experience a small part of that incredible story. Here’s what happened…
On our mission/service trip to Ecuador, we were informed that a plane would be flying into the jungle to visit “Terminal City.” We jumped at the opportunity.
It was in 1956 that five missionary men (Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully & Roger Youderian) left their wives and flew into that area. Nate and Steve had spent the previous weeks familiarizing themselves with the lay of the land from their plane. They had also dropped many gifts into the jungle village to try to make friends with the savage inhabitants. These missionaries wanted to share the Gospel with the Waodoni tribe before either the Ecuadorian government killed them or they savagely killed themselves.
The day came when they determined they would try to make contact with the tribe from the ground. They landed their plane on the banks of the Curaray River. After a prolonged period of time, two Waodoni women and one warrior exited the jungle and met with the missionaries. The men were apparently filled with excitement that their plan had succeeded. However, their ecstatic joy would soon be turned to sheer terror.
The account of what happened shortly thereafter is retold in the movie and book I referenced above. On January 8, 1956, all 5 missionaries were speared by the very tribe they were trying to reach with the Gospel.
But the story didn’t end there. Jim Elliot’s wife (Elizabeth) and Nate Saint’s sister (Rachel) went to that same tribe and shared the Gospel with them. They told them of Jesus’ love and sacrificial death for the forgiveness of their sins.
As we visited “Terminal City” last year, we mingled with the children and grandchildren of those warriors. Most of the tribespeople are now Christians. In fact, shortly after we left, they were going to have a Christian training seminar for many of their neighboring tribes. They planned to show other tribes how to share the Gospel in their individual contexts. Incredible!
Back in Shell, we were able to visit the Nate Saint House that was experiencing a much needed renovation. This was the home that Nate Saint lived in and the one that the other missionaries and their wives frequented. In fact, the picture of the moment that the five missionary wives were told of their husband’s fate (Life Magazine) was taken in the kitchen of this house.
One incredible part of the story that we were able to experience was that just a few days before our visit to the Nate Saint House, Mincaye and two of the other Waodoni men who were in the spearing party had visited the house. One of their grandsons is a construction worker at the house and acted as an interpreter for them.
Here’s the video of the retelling of that moment in the radio room. Watch this video and then read my final comments below.
The significance of this room? It was the room where Marj (Nate Saint’s wife) and Steve (Nate’s son) kept in contact with Nate while he was flying over the Amazon jungle. It was in this room that Nate first yelled over the radio that he had seen the Waodoni for the first time. It was in this room that Steve tried to contact his father as the Waodoni had just taken his life.
And it was across the hallway from this room that the 5 wives learned that they were widows – their husbands had been speared to death by the Waodoni warriors.
How incredible that it was in this room that three of those Waodoni warriors would lift up their hearts and voices to the Lord in prayer! Incredible!
I visited “Terminal City” and took pictures of the flight over and back. You can access those pictures by clicking here.