Did They Have to Die?
Forty years after five missionaries lost their lives in the Ecuadorian jungle, the killers explain what really happened.
September 16, 1996
The year of Christianity Today's birth also brought the death of five American missionaries in Ecuador: Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and Peter Fleming. The story of what happened on that January day in 1956-first told in newsweeklies and Life magazine and then in numerous books and documentaries-became a primary narrative for the young evangelical movement, reinforcing and illustrating to the world our core ideals. Their noble sacrifice and the heroic follow-up work of family members like Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate, and Jim Elliot's widow, Elisabeth, inspired a generation of Christians-some to go to the mission field and many more to live a more mature and sacrificial Christian life.
While the story is familiar, many of the details have been unknown. Why were the missionaries attacked, especially after such promising initial contacts with their eventual killers, the Huaorani? Why didn't the missionaries use their guns to defend themselves?
Steve Saint grew up with these questions about the final moments of his father's life. Despite spending school vacations among and working with the now-Christian Huaorani, Steve only recently has gotten his answers-which have served to make the story even more amazing and inspiring still.
This article, like our August cover story, appears as a chapter in Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith, a collection of essays edited by Susan Bergman (Harper San Francisco).
As I made my final approach to the short jungle airstrip, I could tell I was coming in a little high. I pushed the flap lever all the way down, but it still wasn't going to be enough to get me down on the tiny mud-and-grass strip. I decided to pick up speed, staying on the approach glide ...