Today I while I was trying to stay warm at work, I was trying to think of something to write about for a blog post today…and then I remembered! It’s Thursday! Which means it’s time for the second installment of the missionary story. I realize it’s a long post for a blog, but I didn’t want to drag it out beyond six weeks, so if you have the time and patience to read it, thank you! If you missed part one, click here to read it. (Or, for a brief recap, the first part introduces Jim Elliot and Pete Fleming and tells about their arrival in Ecuador. The later parts get more interesting as the story goes on, trust me. 🙂 )
Jim and Pete had been looking forward to the McCully’s arrival, and were building a house for them along with other mission buildings. Meanwhile, the McCullys were living in Quito, studying Spanish. At times they struggled with discouragement, but they looked forward to being able to have their own home in the jungle and begin their missionary work.
One day a message came over the short wave radio. Jim and Pete radioed that all of the buildings at Shandia had been destroyed by a flood. In one long day and night, the river had risen until it had destroyed the whole mission station. Five hundred hand-cut boards, each of which took a whole days’ work to make, that had been waiting to be used for a new house, clinic, and school kitchen had completely disappeared during the night. The Quichua vocabulary book that Jim and Pete had worked so hard to write down had been blown all over the ground and trampled in the mud, and three hundred and thirty feet of the airstrip had been completely washed away.
It was a great discouragement to the young missionaries. Jim and Pete needed Ed to come to Shandia right away to help them start the huge job of cleaning up and rebuilding the station. Ed had to go and help his friends, but he was concerned about leaving his wife and son behind in Quito.
“What about you and Stevie?” he asked.
“Oh, we’ll be fine,” Marilou replied. “We’ll just stay right here, and you let us know by radio whatever you decide. I’m sure it’ll work out okay.”
Ed was soon with Pete and Jim, planning out how to rebuild the mission station and get things ready for Ed’s family to move to Shandia, which they did as soon as they could. Ed’s diary tells about the early days they spent in the rain forest.
“September, 1953. We are well settled by now. Life gets to be a routine of buying, selling, treating sick, fixing kerosene and gasoline appliances, trying to learn a new language. It’s a fight to try to get time for [studying the language]. Also time for Bible study and prayer. It’s hard to stay on top of it all, hard to keep rejoicing, hard to love these ungrateful Indians. It’s hard to keep our primary purpose in view when we get so swamped with secondary things.”
Being a missionary was not often fun or easy; it was a lot of hard work. But God was able to use the talents and abilities each of them had developed in their growing up years to help them teach the Indians new things and reach out to them.
One thing that the missionaries looked forward to was the periodic visits from Nate Saint, the missionary pilot whose work and creativity had made life for the missionaries in the jungle much safer and more comfortable. In the past, missionaries were cut off from all contact with the outside world for months on end, and trips to the nearest available help would take up to eight days of travel on dangerous jungle trails. But with the coming of aviation to the jungle, airstrips were cut through the thick rainforest and planes could bring better supplies for housing, medicine, and almost anything else a missionary might need much faster than before.
From high above, a loud droning sound would be heard, signaling that the little yellow Piper Cub airplane flown by Nate Saint was coming. Indians and missionaries would drop what they were doing and run to look up at the sky. Soon they could see the plane, and everyone would hurry to clear the airstrip. One of the missionaries would check the strip a final time, making sure that the surface was free from anything that could keep the plane’s wheels from rolling smoothly. Once everything was checked over and everyone was standing at a safe distance, the wheels of the plane would bump gently against the grass as Nate landed it. Out of the plane he would jump, carrying a list of the supplies that he had brought for that particular mission station. He would talk with the missionaries while the Indians gathered around, looking at the plane. All of a sudden Nate’s watch would beep, telling him that it was time to leave. He had carefully calculated exactly how much time he could spend at the station so he could get home before sundown or visit another station.
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nate Saint had been fascinated by flying ever since his older brother Sam had taken him for a ride in an old biplane when Nate was just seven years old. After high school, he joined the Air Force and dreamed of flying the big, powerful military planes. But God had other plans for Nate. The night before his military training was to begin, he felt some discomfort around an old scar on his leg from osteomyelitis – a bone infection that he had had when he was thirteen. He pulled up his pant leg, and sure enough, it was inflamed. In that moment, all of the dreams and ambitions that he had held on to since childhood came crashing down around him. He would never be able to be a military pilot.
He stayed in the military, but as a mechanic, not a pilot. About a year later, he was in Detroit, Michigan, where he had been sent to study new engines that were soon going to be put into planes, he went to a New Year’s Eve worship service. It was there that Nate felt God calling him to be a missionary. All of his old dreams of flying, chasing things that didn’t count for eternity seemed foolish to him now. He was ready to leave all of that behind to serve God.
But God had given Nate a love for flying for a reason. It was now, when Nate was willing to sacrifice his dreams of flying to go to college and study for the mission field, that he heard about the Missionary Aviation Fellowship. It was through this organization that he and his wife, Marj, found themselves in Ecuador.
One of the missionaries that Nate knew through his work as a pilot was Roger Youderian, or Roj, as he was called by many of his friends. Tall, thin, black-haired Roger Youderian grew up in the state of Montana. His mother thoroughly and faithfully taught him from the Bible. He was an active boy and played the piano well, but when he was nine years old he became sick with polio, and afterward was crippled so that he couldn’t play the piano anymore, and for the rest of his life he walked and ran like an old man. But by the time he was in high school, Roger had overcome the effects of polio enough that he could play basketball. In 1943, he enlisted in the Army. During his time in the military over the next three years, Roger accepted Christ as his Savior and grew in his faith. By the time he was finished with the military in 1946, he knew that God wanted him to be a missionary. While he was attending college in Minnesota, he met Barbara, who would become his wife. They both enrolled in a missionary medicine course, and in September 1951 they were married. Two and a half years later in January of 1953, they left for Ecuador.
Now Roger and his wife Barbara and their two children, Bethy and Jerry, lived at Macuma, a mission station run for the past nine years by a man named Frank Drown. They were working to bring the Gospel to the Jivaro Indians, a tribe famous for their custom of shrinking human heads. Hatred, murder, witchcraft, and sorcery were all a part of the Jivaro way of life, and Roger was always urgently working to tell these people about Christ. He had figured out a way to teach the Jivaros to read and write their own language by drawing pictures of things they were familiar with – like a sloth hanging upside down on a branch, or a lizard on a tree trunk – and printing the sound of the Jivaro words next to the pictures. Roger’s energetic personality and his sense of urgency in the task of leading souls to Christ kept him always moving ahead. He knew that Frank Drown and his wife could carry on the work at the Macuma mission station alone, so after a year of living and working among the Jivaro Indians, he began praying about reaching other tribes that had never heard about Christ. One tribe that Roger had often prayed for an opening among was the Atshuara tribe. They were first cousins to the Jivaros, but their deadly enemies. Roger decided to move closer to the Atshuaras, so on June 5, 1954 he left Macuma and traveled southeast two days on foot to a placed called Wambimi, where the Shell Oil Company had abandoned an airstrip and a few run-down houses. He and some other men built a house and got the airstrip ready, and Nate, who shared the same concern as Roger that the Atshuara people be reached with the Gospel, flew Roger’s wife Barbara and their two children in to the station. They began ministering to the Jivaro people in the area, beginning literacy work and evangelism with them. Roger also ministered to the people by giving them medical care. One of the diseases that the Jivaros suffered from was called leishmaniasis – it was a slow progressing disease that effected the nose, the back of the throat, and the roof of the mouth, that would eventually kill whoever caught it, and disfigured their face terribly in the process. The Indians dreaded it passionately. Several years before, a missionary doctor had developed a cure for the disease – a drug called “Repodral”. Roger used it to treat the Jivaros, and several of them were cured by it. The Atshuaras had heard about the cures, and one of the chiefs in Atshuara country, Santiaku, had caught the disease. In spite of the deep fear and hatred between the Atshuaras and Jivaros, Santiaku’s fear and dread of the disease was greater, and one day he came to Wambimi. It made the missionaries rejoice greatly – this could be the opening to the Atshuara tribe that they had been praying for! Roger gave Santiaku some of the Repodral, and it helped his nose condition. Later on, he came back and invited Roger to his house. Roger was wise enough to reply that he would come visit if Santiaku sent him an escort to take him to his house. Five years earlier, Frank Drown and another missionary had tried to visit the Atshuaras, but before they reached their destination they were met by a messenger, who told them to turn back immediately or they would be killed. They had no doubt that the Atshuaras would keep their threat, so they turned around and went back. Santiaku promised to send an escort, so Roger, Frank, and another missionary went to visit Santiaku. Nate Saint made a voice recording of what happened when the men visited the Atshuaras for the first time: “When they got to Santiaku’s place it turned out to be a great big house, about three times the size of the long Jivaro houses…The Atshuaras speak a somewhat different dialect but understand Jivaro, [and] their facial features are different…When they got there, Frank started to give them the Gospel in Jivaro, telling them of the love of Christ and how He had died for us. It was a question of giving these Indians a story from scratch that they had never before heard any suggestion of. Frank talked until he was hoarse and exhausted. They had a little wind-up phonograph with them and they played Gospel recordings made in the Jivaro language and they would play these until Frank got his voice back and then the Atshuaras would say: ‘All right now, Panchu (an affectionate Spanish nickname for Frank), tell us more.’ And for three days, the Atshuaras went on like that – just sitting around, listening to the story of Christ, a most amazing opportunity and Santiaku showed real interest.” Frank suggested right away that the people begin building themselves an airstrip so the missionaries could come visit more easily, and the missionaries told them where to cut some trees down to make use of the forest that was already cleared for their manioc patches, and the people starting clearing an airstrip. Several months later, the missionaries decided to see how the Atshuaras were doing with the airstrip, so Nate and Roger flew over and took a look. But the airstrip still wasn’t large enough, so the men talked things over, and Roger decided that he should go and help them. It was an unexpected decision to make, and he didn’t really have the supplies he needed for such a trip, except a small hand-crack radio and a machete, but the people needed help, the opportunity to reach out to them was there, and he could walk there in two days’ time. So he found some Jivaro men to help him carry the radio and guide him from Wambimi to the Atshuara country and set out on his trip. It was Wednesday.