Friday, July 07, 2006

Reaching the Unreached (Five Protestant Missionaries)

In the dense rain-forests of Ecuador, on the Pacific side of the Andes Mountains, lives a tribe of Indians who call themselves the Huaorani ("people" in their language, Huao), but whose neighbors have called them the Aucas ("savages" in Quechua). For many generations they have been completely isolated from the outside world, disposed to kill any stranger on sight, and feared even by their head-hunting neighbors, the Jivaro tribe. In 1955, four missionaries from the United States who were working with the Quechas, Jivaros, and other Indians of the interior of Ecuador became persuaded that they were being called to preach the Gospel to the Huaorani as well.
The five missionaries have been wondering how they could reach the unreached Aucas. The missionaries learned the Auca language through Dayuma, a girl who fled from the tribe after her father was killed by a rival tribe. They also studied maps and waited for the proper time to reach the Aucas. On October 2, 1955, Nate Saint wrote, “We decided it was the Lord’s time.” The mission was about to start.
The missionaries would fly with their plane over the Auca settlement and send gifts to the people. Calling through a loudspeaker, Nate Saint, one of the missionaries, would shout out in the Auca language, “We like you! We like you! We have come to visit you!”
After three months of air-to-ground contact, during which they made far more progress than they had hoped, the missionaries decided that it was time for ground contact. They located a beach that would serve as a landing strip, about four miles from the village, and decided to go in on Tuesday 3 January 1956. After some discussion, they decided to carry guns, having heard that the Huaorani never attacked anyone who was carrying a gun, and having resolved that they would, as a last resort, fire the guns into the air to ward off an attack, but would shoot no-one, even to save their own lives.
That Tuesday, the missionaries went to the Auca settlement and had some friendly Auca visitors. On Saturday, no one showed, and when the plane flew over the village, the Huaorani seemed frightened at first, but lost their fright when presents were dropped. On Sunday, the missionaries were never heard of again. Their families feared the worse for them. A search party was made by Wycliffe missionaries. To their surprise, the bodies of the missionaries were seen floating on the river. They were speared to death.
Why did the Huaorani suddenly turn hostile? Much later, one of the Huaorani who had helped to kill the five martyrs explained that the tribe, who had had almost no contact with outsiders that did not involve killing or attempted killing on one side or another, wondered why the whites wanted to make contact with them; and while they wanted to believe that their visitors were friendly, they feared a trap. After the killings, they realized their mistake. When they were attacked, one of the missionaries fired two shots as warnings, and one shot grazed a Huaorani who was hiding in the brush, unknown to the missionaries. It was therefore clear that the visitors had weapons, were capable of killing, and had chosen not to do so. Thus, the Huaorani realized that the visitors were indeed their friends, willing to die for them if necessary. When in subsequent months they heard the message that the Son of God had come down from heaven to reconcile men with God, and to die in order to bring about that reconciliation, they recognized that the message of the missionaries was the basis of what they had seen enacted in the lives of the missionaries. They believed the Gospel preached because they had seen the Gospel lived.
Dayuma, the girl who taught the missionaries about the Auca language, returned to her tribe. She told her family who welcomed her, “Just as you killed the five men on the beach, Jesus was killed for you.” The families of the martyred missionaries came to the Auca settlement and made friends with the murderers of the missionaries. They told them about Christ, and they accepted Him as their saviour. One of the Auca killers even baptized Nate Saint’s son and daughter. Tona, one of the killers, volunteered to be a missionary. He was killed by members of the other tribe, and he became the first Auca martyr. Before being killed, he said to his murderer, “I forgive you. This is for your benefit.”
Months after the martyrdom of the missionaries, Protestant Mission Societies were flooded with young people who volunteer to take the place of the martyred missionaries and work in the Ecuadoran jungle.


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