Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully were missionaries in Ecuador in the 1950’s. They made a plan to form contact with an unreached tribe deep in the jungle, at that point known only as the Aucas. This tribe was known for their killing and their lack of typical clothing, which earned them the title Auca meaning “naked savage”. The missionaries felt a burning desire to bring the gospel to this people group. After making several drops of presents from an airplane, the men found a spot, dubbed “Palm Beach”, where Nate Saint could land his little airplane. After several successful contacts with the Indians, things fell apart. The Auca’s suddenly attacked, and even though the five men were armed, they chose not to fight back with gunfire and were instead speared to death on the banks of the river.
The tragedy of their loss was later met with brilliant redemption, as others stepped in and continued the work to reach the tribe, one after another after another of the native men involved in the spearing came to Christ. One of my favorite pictures of Christianity is in this story—for years later one of the men who murdered Nate Saint was the man who would baptize his children.
Besides the transformation that giving their lives for the Auca Indians caused, (whose real name, it turned out was, Waodani or Huaorani) the martyrdom of these men also stirred up the church in an astounding way. And, as the story was shared through the years, it eventually came to me. As a seventeen year old with a passion for following the Lord, these men influenced my life deeply with their writings, their testimonies, their unyielding commitment to the cause of Christ.
Okay, total confession time: I had a slight obsession with Nate Saint when I was younger. Okay, fine. It may still be there.
Gah. I’ll stop pretending. It is.
Not just Nate. But Jim Elliot, and Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully. All of ‘em.
In fact, at one point I was dead set on naming a son McCully. My husband had a royal fit over that one. Told me he had a P.E. teacher named Mr. McCully who was miserable and rude. He would NOT give a son that name.
So instead we named our dog McCully. Marriage is all about compromise. And the dog totally redeemed the name—he was the best pup ever. Of course, now we can’t name a son that because it was our dog’s name and that would be weird. Buggers.
In all seriousness though, I’m so indebted to these men and to the men and women who wrote their stories down. There are four big reasons:
- Their passion for sharing the love of Jesus with the lost fueled my own.
- Their character, commitment, and courage reminded me that this kind of man isn’t just a figment of my imagination—they really do live and breathe. (which was excellent to know because I eventually married one.)
- Their story taught me that everything doesn’t always turn out the way we want, even when we’re giving all we have to Jesus, but it’s still worth it.
- Their story taught me an important lesson on the shadow of influence.
In the years since I first heard about Jim Elliot, I have read every book, article, and movie on the five men that I’ve been able to find.
I had to go searching for them, but you dear friend? You won’t have to look any further for a pretty extensive list—because I’ve got one right here for you. I can’t really claim that this is an exhaustive list, as there may be some I’m missing. But these are the books, movies, and documentaries that have lined my shelves and turned my mind again and again toward light and truth.
Probably the most well-known book, and a beautifully written biography of the five missionaries who lost their lives in the Ecuadorian jungle, Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor is a perfect starting place for those wondering about the story and what God did through five young men who passionately gave their lives for the cause of Christ.
>> The Savage, My Kinsmen by Elisabeth Elliot is the continuing story from E.E.’s point of view. She lived for some time among the Waodoni Indians, with her young daughter, Valarie, and Nate Saint’s sister Rachel.
>> The Dayuma Story: Life Under Auca Spears by Ethel Wallis is more of the story of Waodoni Indians, from the viewpoint of one girl who escaped the tribe and later went back with the gospel. It was through Dayuma that the missionaries were able to learn to Waodoni language. Ethel Wallis also wrote a follow-up book, Auca’s Downriver.
>> A Saint Among the Savages by Rosemary Kingsland tells the story of Rachel Saint and Dayuma.
>> Unstilled Voices: A Look Back at the Auca Massacre and the Lives it Touched and Changed was written about 25 years after the men died. It has a lot of stories and information I haven’t read elsewhere and we enjoyed reading it together as a family.
Hands down, this book is one of my favorite books ever. Nate Saint was a writer in his own right and Mr. Hitt did a marvelous job combining Nate’s extensive writings with narrative that is gripping, convicting, and achingly beautiful.
As Elisabeth Elliot said in her endorsement of the book, “Here is proof that the life that was lived on Galilee’s dusty roads may be lived in the jungles of Ecuador—even in a twentieth century airplane.”
This story, this man, this typical guy who set his life in the hands of a Mighty God, has influenced countless pilots to use airplanes in spreading the gospel to the hardest reached areas of the world. I personally have spent time at a mission in Alaska, Kingdom Air Corps, which was founded by a man, Dwayne King, who was inspired to become a pilot after reading this book. He has spent his life working here and overseas, training missionary pilots—many who are now on the field doing the work of Christ.
>> Dwayne King’s story can also be found in book form, “Open the Sky”.
And now would probably be a good time to also confess that my friends teased me for years about having a crush on Nate Saint. It might have had something to do with me quoting him almost constantly. When we were engaged, my husband did ask me if I was content to marry him even if he didn’t fly airplanes. I told him tractors were just fine, thankyouverymuch. And it turns out that engines are engines—as it was my husband’s mechanical abilities that took us on the mission field together the year after we were married. Handy that.
I was seventeen or eighteen when I found a copy of this book at a thrift store. I took it home and devoured it. I had no idea Jim Elliot’s journals were available before that point—and like, fifteen years later, I opened the book and realized for the first time that it was signed by the author. I’ve never cared too much about author-signed books but this was ELISABETH ELLIOT y’all. Her writings have been like a mentor to me for so many years—it was pretty exciting.
But this book.
Jim Elliot is intense. That’s the truth. IN.TENSE. And when I read his journals, there are times when I think, “Oh, wow, this is so good.” And other times I’m like, “Oh, Jim, just go marry Elisabeth already.” And other times I’m like, “RELAX child.”
And it’s just so, so good. Because it’s the honest reflections of a man sold out to Christ.
>> Jim Elliot: Christian Martyr Speaks to You edited by Robert Russell is a transcription of four of Jim Elliot’s sermons
If reading through Jim Elliot’s journals sounds tiresome, this biography might be more what you’d enjoy. Interspersed with Jim’s journal entries, but narrated by his wife, this story follows his childhood through his martyrdom.
I always laugh when I read about Elisabeth and Jim’s interactions with each other. They just plain make me smile. For example, this book starts out with this paragraph:
One afternoon about two months before Jim’s death I was reading some of his letters and diaries. I turned to him and said, “I’m glad I have these. I’m going to need them when I write your biography.” He made a remark about the absurdity of some of my ideas, and went on reading his Time magazine.
Seriously, how could you not feel affection for these two? Maybe they just remind me a tiny bit of my husband and me.
Shortly after Jim’s death Elisabeth began putting together Shadow of the Almighty, but then paused in her writing because she was asked by the other four widows to write Through Gates of Splendor. Thankfully, she later returned to her task and we have this beautifully written biography.
>> The Elliot’s love story is shared in Elisabeth’s book, Passion and Purity
Peter Fleming was the youngest of the group of missionaries, with a brand new wife. He was highly intelligent, a quick learner, and wise beyond his years. Something about his quiet devotion has always reached out to me. He was lest intense than Jim Elliot, less charismatic than Nate, but just as solid in his commitment to the gospel. One of my favorite things about Pete was his servant heart. In this book, Pete’s brother Ken combines his knowledge with Pete’s own letters and journals to give us an in-depth look at this devoted missionary.
Pete’s first priority was to lead the Indians to Christ and it shows in his compassion, his commitment, and his faith. I return to this story, to these writings, often.
Olive, Pete Fleming’s wife, was the youngest of the widows. She was new on the mission field, having recently left everything she knew to join Pete in Ecuador. And she had been nervous, incredibly nervous, about the visits with the Auca Indians.
In many ways her story is more raw than any of the other books on these five men. She doesn’t pretend to have answers—but she does admit to carrying many questions. This book tells her part of the story, from before to many years after. But my favorite part of this whole book? The forward by Olive’s husband, Walter. It makes me cry almost every time. Good grief, y’all, there are some pretty incredible men in the world.
Although there aren’t any books written specifically about Roger Younderian or Ed McCully, here are some of my favorite articles on these two men:
Beautifully written memoir of Steve Saint (Nate’s son) and his wife, as they returned to the Waodoni people years later and spent time living among them. I loved the deeper understanding of the people, the events from half a century ago, and what God is doing now. Powerful, powerful story. Definitely should be on your reading list.
>> Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear This is a transcribed autobiography by Mincaye, of the Waodoni Indians who killed the five missionaries. This book is also incredibly valuable in teaching about mission work in general and the pros and cons of western thought on the spreading of the gospel. While this tribe was caught tight in a pattern of killing that would have left them extinct within a few years, some of the effects of western civilization were not positive. End of the Spear by Steve Saint shares some about this, yet Gentle Savage gives a deeper look into it.
>> Walking His Trail by Steve and Ginny Saint More to Steve’s story and the Lord’s guidance in his life and they have worked to further the gospel throughout the world.
Young Reader’s Christian Library
(This beautiful little book tells the story of the airplane used in “Operation Auca” and is a great way to share the story with the younger generation– especially little boys who love airplanes!)
Related books and DVDs:
End of the Spear BOXED DVD SET. This set contains the End of the Spear motion picture, Beyond Gates of Splendor, and The Grandfathers.
>> Through Gates of Splendor, documentary DVD. The original documentary.
>> End of the Spear DVD. This motion picture is a retelling of the story of Nate Saint.
> >Beyond Gates of Splendor DVD. This documentary is one of my favorite things ever. I love the wives sharing their memories, the testimonies from the Waodoni Believers, the history. All of it. Watch it.
>> The Grandfathers, DVD. From Jesse Saint, grandson of Nate.
Steve Saint: The Jungle Missionary, documentary DVD.
>> Steve Saint is also the founder of I-TEC, a mission organization that trains indigenous tribes to care for themselves without continued outside assistance.
>> Journey into the Amazon is another documentary about Steve.
Mission to the HeadHunters by Frank and Marie Drown Frank was a missionary in Ecuador during the same period of time as the five martyrs. He was part of the search who went after the men when contact was lost, and mourned the loss of his partners in the ministry. This book is his story, with his wife, Marie, and tells of their own work with another tribe in Ecuador.
>>Side note: Frank’s son, Ross, married Nate Saint’s daughter, Kathy. 🙂
Also, since I told you earlier about discovering that Elisabeth Elliot had autographed one of my books—as I was writing this, I found that this was true of Frank and Marie Drown as well! Who knew?!
If you know of articles or books on the 5 missionaries that I missed, do leave a comment with a link!