This book is a biography written for older children and youth, although it is a great read for any age group. There are basically two parts to the story told in this book; the first is about Nate, his interest in airplanes, how he came to know the Lord, and his determination to serve God as a missionary. The second half of the book is a story within a story. After serving his country as a young airman in World War II, Nate combined his love for aviation and his love for the Lord by joining the Christian Airmen’s Missionary Fellowship (CAMF). Missionary aviation work was a new field with lots of potential to do God’s work. Aviation ministry began as a support network for the missionaries located in rural areas far away from the usual forms of transportation.
Nate’s first experience with CAMF was an assignment in Southern Mexico where a pilot had crashed the only plane working in the mission field in the area. The work had essentially ground to a stop until the plane could be repaired. In Tuxtla Gutierrez he found the wings in bushel baskets in a small hanger at the local airport. The rest of the plane was 80 miles away off an airstrip deep in the jungle where it crashed. Nate had a lot of problems to solve. He hired a cabinet maker to help him as they reconstructed the wings. Neither spoke the other’s language, but they learned from each other while working. During the repair time, Nate started to get sick. His diet was not enough to fight off the unfamiliar diseases and insect bites. He began to pray for God to send him some help. That prayer was answered when another missionary heard of Nate’s problems and came to his assistance. He could cook healthy meals and help with keeping Nate’s home clean. Soon Nate was well and on his way to finishing the wings.
When it was time, the missionary helped find a pilot with a plane to fly the repaired wings and pieces to the site where the rest of the plane was located. When they arrived, Nate found the plane crumpled and he knew he had much more work to do. Fortunately the engine was fine and started up immediately. When the task was finished, Nate contacted CAMF, who sent out a pilot to test the plane. It was a learning experience for the aviation mission as well as for Nate. They realized their pilots needed more knowledge of airplane mechanics and jungle survival in case they were stranded in the bush, and Nate was more convinced this was the work God had for him. He returned to the states where he enrolled in college to better become prepared to be a missionary.
Eventually Nate and his new wife, Marj, were sent to Ecuador near the Curaray River where there were other missionaries in the jungle. There was an excellent airstrip at the outpost that was nestled in the Andes mountains. Nate’s first assignment was to fly the plane he would use to the outpost from the US. From then on, he flew supplies and equipment to missionaries, medicine for sick villagers, transported the badly injured and the very ill out of the jungle to modern medical care. He and a crew of other missionaries built a large building to become their home, guest quarters, and central office.
Nate and Marj worked with missionary couples Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Ed and Marilou McCully, Pete and Olive Fleming, Roger and Barbara Youderian (Johnny Keenan was a fellow pilot and his wife, Ruth), closely over the next several years. They heard of a tribe called the Aucas (They called themselves the Waodani.) who were violent and feared by other Quichuan tribes. Trying cautiously to make contact, Nate, Jim, Ed, Pete and Roger came up with and implemented a plan. Contact efforts went well at first, but all of it turned sour quickly and the Aucas killed the men after trying a face to face meeting. The men
had agreed ahead of time not to resist or defend themselves if they were attacked. They were willing to die because they knew Jesus as Savior, but the tribesmen did not.
But that isn’t the end of the story. The surviving five wives grieved their loss, but made a decision to continue their husbands’ work in Ecuador. God gave them “the peace that passes all understanding”, and He laid on Nate’s sister’s heart the desire to pray for the Auca for a breakthrough. The first one was Dayuma, an Aucan woman who had earlier fled her tribe. Dayuma taught Rachel their customs and language, and in return, Rachel taught Dayuma about the Lord Jesus and salvation. Dayuma became the first Aucan Christian. Elisabeth Elliot was talking with Marj Saint a year later when they heard singing in the jungle. It was Dayuma, her friends and more people from the tribe. They had come to ask Rachel, Elisabeth and her daughter to live in the village with them. Rachel Saint spent the rest of her life with them. Elisabeth lived there for awhile, then moved back to the United States where she wrote about her experiences and spoke to numerous people.
When the death of the five missionaries made it to the news, people all over the globe were shocked. Yet there was more to the message and responses than outrage. I remember the time when I was about 11 or 12 (the late ’60’s) and hearing the story from my Sunday School teacher. I also probably read Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Through Gates of Splendor which she wrote one year after her husband Jim was killed. People all over the world were spurred on to mission work, and many people came to know Christ. The story did not lose any momentum over time. When I entered my teenage years (early ’70’s), Elisabeth Elliot was going on speaking tours to tell her husband’s story–ultimately God’s story. It was a memorable experience for me since it helped influence the direction I took in life.
When I was in college (mid ’70’s), her books were still top sellers, and we talked about this experience in our Bible study groups. That’s because there is an underlying message that is counter-cultural and usually takes Christians by surprise. Nate Saint and his four other
missionary friends died as young adults, young parents. It brought out the question, are we willing to die for Christ if necessary? Are we here just to “make a difference” (a common platitude even today) in the world, or to be obedient to God completely? Do we understand that we may play a very small part in God’s overall plan? Can we accept that and live it? The ’80’s were the years when I became acquainted with the concept and phrase ‘dying to self’. Nothing illustrated that concept better than the events in Ecuador with the Auca.
Nate’s son and daughter, Steve and Kathy visited their Aunt Rachel in Ecuador often before she died in 1994 of cancer. Both Kathy and Steve were baptised in the Curaray River by two of the men in the tribe who had become Christians. Both the men had been in the party responsible for their father’s death. It was a forgiving experience for everyone and a testimony to the power of God through forgiveness. Steve went on to live with the Auca for a year, then write a book, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, and create a documentary film based on the book.
The book, Through Gates of Splendor, has long ago been made into a movie and is available on DVD. Then in 2005 a new movie was created, again about the story of the five missionary men, but this time from the point of view of the Auca. It is called The End of the Spear. It emphasizes the transformation of the entire population of the tribe. They were literally freed from their killing sprees, inter-tribal wars and violent lives.
I am excited that this book about Nate Saint is out on ebook and print. The life changing principles demonstrated in the missionaries’ lives as portrayed in this book is as powerful and life altering as the story of Corrie Ten Boom in the Hiding Place. It is a principle that is as relevant today as it was in 1955. I highly recommend reading this to your younger children as long as you prepare them for the scene where Nate and his friends give up their lives. Otherwise, older children, youth and adults will all be challenged to examine their hearts and determine whether they are willing to follow Christ completely.
A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
- Jackson – Fate of the yellow woodbee: Nate Saint (celclibrary.wordpress.com)
- A Life Sacrificed Well ~ Nate Saint: Operation Auca by Nancy Drummond (walkingonwaterwithgrace.org)
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- Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain, Piper (crescereblog.wordpress.com)
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