1923 – 1956
“Go Ye and Preach the Gospel. Five did and Died”. This was the title of the January 30, 1956, Life magazine article that told of five missionaries who
lost their lives while striving to accomplish the command given by Jesus Christ in Mark 16:15. Operation Auca was an attempt by five American
missionary families to contact the Huaorani people of the rainforest of Ecuador. The Huaorani, also known as Aucas (a modification of awqa, the Quechua word for “enemies”), were an isolated tribe known for their violence against both their own people and outsiders who entered their territory. With the intention of being the first Christians to evangelize the previously unreached Huaorani, the missionaries began making regular flights over Huaorani settlements in September 1955, dropping gifts. After several months of exchanging gifts, on January 3, 1956, the missionaries established a camp at “Palm Beach,” a sandbar along the Curaray River, a few miles from Huaorani settlements. Their efforts ended on January 8, 1956, when all five—Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian—were attacked and speared by a group of Huaorani warriors. The news of their deaths was broadcast around the world, and Life magazine covered the event with a photo essay.
The deaths of the men galvanized the missionary effort in the United States, sparking an outpouring of funding for evangelism efforts around the world. Their work is still frequently remembered in Christian publications, and in 2006 was the subject of the major motion picture film production, End of the Spear. Several years after the death of the men, the widow of Jim Elliot, Elisabeth, and the sister of Nate Saint, Rachel, returned to Ecuador as missionaries with the Sumner Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International) to live among the Huaoranis. This eventually led to the conversion of many, including some of those involved in the killing. Only eternity will tell how many lives have been impacted around the world for the cause of Christ because of the obedience of these missionaries to surrender their lives to preach the Gospel.
Artist note: Pictured left to right: (Row 1) Pete Fleming, Nate Saint and Jim Elliot; (Row 2) Roger Youderian and Ed McCully