By Bill Webb
The 50th anniversary of the deaths of missionaries Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and Ed McCully at the hands of Huaorani or Waodani Indians (referred to as Auca originally) in a jungle in Ecuador is Jan. 8. The tragic event made the cover of "Life" magazine. The men had perished trying to make contact with an isolated people group they had hoped to win to Christ.
The missionaries first discovered Huaorani huts as Saint piloted them over the dense jungle. The missionaries subsequently flew around the camp shouting friendship words through a speaker and dropping down baskets with gifts such as beads, cloths, machetes and photographs of each man. They hoped to communicate to the tribe that they were friendly. The Aucas responded by sending back up a parrot and feathered headdresses.
After three or four months of gift dropping, the missionaries decided to land on Palm Beach and make a camp on the Curray River. By one account, four Huaorani men soon came to visit. The missionaries gave them food and gifts as a sign of peace. In the days ahead, they made other contacts that encouraged them.
A few days later, on Jan. 8, the missionaries launched "Operation Huaorani," their first attempt to go into the Huaorani village. Before they did, Saint and McCully noticed from their plane that 25 or 30 Aucas were making their way to the missionary camp. The two landed and all five excitedly began to prepare the camp for visitors. They radioed back to their wives, promising to call them back in three hours.
When the call never came, the women were alarmed. An hour later, helicopters and planes from the Ecuadorian Air Force and the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy swarmed along the Curray River looking for any sight of the missionaries.
Searchers spotted their bodies, brutally pierced with spears and hacked with machetes. When the wives received the horrible news, they reportedly responded, "The Lord has closed our hearts to grief and hysteria and filled in with perfect peace."
The story doesn't end there. Elliot's wife, Elisabeth Elliot, wrote about the experience in her classic, "Through Gates of Splendor." Later, she returned to the area to minister, along with Saint's sister, Rachel, who lived among and ministered to the tribe responsible for her brother's death until she died in 1994. Saint's son, Steve, continues to minister alongside the Huaorani.
"Life" magazine catapulted the slain missionaries to international recognition, and many people know the story of what happened on Palm Beach on Jan. 8, 1956. Fewer know "the rest of the story," the successful evangelization of the Huaorani.
That may all change within the next few days. "End of the Spear" is a film that will be shown in theaters across the country beginning on Jan. 20. The movie has recently gone through a series of pre-screenings. It is a product of Every Time Entertainment and is being marketed to Christians as an evangelistic tool on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of the five missionaries.
To learn more about the project, visit www.endofthespear.com. And watch for listings of local showings. The story of redemption in the aftermath of persecution should be electrifying to believers and unbelievers alike.