What happened 65 years ago in Ecuador filled headlines around the world.
In 1956, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian were speared to death while trying to make friendly contact with the Waodani, a remote tribe in Ecuador. They prayed, planned and dropped gifts before landing on the beach, but warriors attacked. The young missionaries had guns and could have defended themselves, but chose not to.
Their sacrifice stunned and inspired the world. Only God could write the next chapters.
Forty years later, Nate Saint’s son, Steve Saint, founded Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center (ITEC) after living with the tribe that killed his father. They asked him to teach them to “do the medicine thing and tooth thing, so we can go and the people will see us well so we can tell them how to walk God’s trail.”
It was a revolutionary way to do missions: teach and train, rather than go and do.
Southeast has long followed this model in missions outreach. Though Southeast and ITEC have worked together on projects over the years, they are now official partners with the goal to go into unreached places.
“We believe our new partnership with SECC will allow us to expand our capacity to multiply efforts by training and equipping more churches and ministries both in the USA and abroad to expand the reach of the Gospel,” said Jamie Saint, executive director of ITEC. “It has also been said if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The 3 billion people who have never heard the Gospel will never hear unless we go together. This means churches and organizations must partner to equip Christ-followers in least reached areas with tools to meet needs as a door opener for the Gospel.”
Charlie Vittitow, who was a dentist before he began leading the Missions Ministry at Southeast, worked with Steve Saint to train dental health workers around the world.
“Since those five young Wheaton graduates were brutally killed, God has used those families and eventually ITEC to launch a movement to complete the Great Commission,” Vittitow said. “I’m not sure what took us so long to formally partner, but ITEC has a long history of discipling our church in effective missions.”
Throughout his life, Steve Saint, a pilot, businessman and inventor, has answered questions about his story. Should his father have tried to reach the Waodani? Wouldn’t it be better to leave them alone? Was sacrifice of the five young missionaries worth it? And the one he hears most often: How could you forgive them for spearing your father?
In the last 65 years, he’s lived the answers to those questions.
Soon after the missionaries died, Rachel Saint, sister of Nate Saint, Elisabeth Elliot, wife of Jim Elliot, and Elliot’s daughter Valerie went to live with the tribe. They became part of the community, learned the language and told them about God’s love. Life in the tribe changed as many decided to “walk God’s trail.”
“The Waodani lived in a culture of death,” Steve Saint said. “They had a 60% homicide rate over five generations. The oldest warrior was only 32. But after Aunt Rachel and Elisabeth moved in, loved them and talked to them about God’s love, the killings stopped. I began staying with my aunt when I was 10. Those who speared my dad adopted me. In fact, Mincaye (who killed Nate Saint) became a grandfather to my children.”
Saint said he never forgave the Waodani.
“You don’t have to forgive someone who hasn’t wronged you,” he explained. “Dad knew there was a chance he’d be killed. I missed my dad, but every night during family devotions, Mom prayed for the Waodani. The five widows continued missionary work. My Aunt Rachel stayed with the tribe the rest of her life. She never called that her work. She called it her reward. We loved them. As far as forgiveness, seeing the example of my dad, my mom, my aunt, it never occurred to me to forgive them.”
Jamie Saint believes everyone has a part to play in the Great Commission.
“Often mission organizations limit the participation of the indigenous church and overlook their strengths in reaching out in their own contexts,” he said. “This has the potential to sideline the indigenous church and create dependency. Now the non-Western church is growing and sending missionaries. What if we partner with the indigenous church and equip them to meet practical needs in their communities as door openers to the Gospel?”
ITEC continues to develop tools and training programs, train indigenous Christ-followers and equip others to do the same domestically and abroad. To learn more about ITEC, visit www.itecusa.org.