Cover Story

Five-man legacy

"Five-man legacy" Continued...

Issue: "Five-man legacy," Jan. 28, 2006

As Omaenae somehow found the right words, the Waodani seemed to understand them. The others laid hands on him and prayed. They surrounded him like the arc of a curved shield. They pledged protection and promised clemency-an act the slain missionaries' families later said speaks more about the work of God in this tribe than a library's worth of books and articles has in 50 years.

Though the precariousness of teetering in a cultural no-man's land has persuaded the Waodani to begin learning the outsiders' way of life, basic concepts like church and a system of elders or deacons remain foreign to them. Mr. Yost says this is because the family is the only natural social institution among the Waodani. "The church is an artificial setting," he says. "At first the services were to keep them from spearing or being speared."

The Waodani are also having difficulty with representative democracy. Those elected to represent the tribe leave the villages for four-year terms in Puyo, where ineptness and habitual corruption in Ecuadorian politics often necessitate their removal after a year or two. With a yearly budget of only $100,000, the Waodani government has managed to accumulate $40,000 in debt.

The Waodani's selection of oil-company liaisons, who hold clout because the companies' paychecks represent a sizeable chunk of the Waodani economy, has also troubled aid workers. Miriam Gebb, a community-health nurse who has helped the Waodani for a decade, has seen the oil-company spots go to unqualified youth seemingly disinterested in tribal well-being: "They put the immature Waodani into these leadership positions because they speak good Spanish and they can communicate with the oil companies." Companies, she notes, offer modern occupational incentives such as health benefits, and screen Rambo to attract a young crowd.

Ms. Gebb worries that the younger generation, naïve and embarrassed by the old ways, is diving into the dumpsters of modern civilization. Once-forbidden divorce is now acceptable, and Ms. Gebb suspects some Waodani have contracted venereal diseases.

Lloyd Rogers, who runs Ecuador for Christ, an organization responsible for 12 Christian schools scattered throughout the 21 Waodani villages, worries about alcoholism and loose lifestyles corrupting younger Waodani who see God's message as something for the older generation and sensory overload as the message for them. "It hurts my heart to go to Puyo and see young Waodani walking drunk down the street," Mr. Rogers said. "It's hard for those of us who've been working closely with them to see them getting caught up in all that."

As the courage of the five missionaries 50 years ago radically changed life here, so may the faith of men like Oma, the Tiwaeno pastor and brother of Toñae, the first Waodani martyr and the town's namesake. Oma says he is willing to go to the Tagaeidi and let them kill him in revenge, if God so leads him. And some children of those converted nearly a half-century ago are faithful: Oma's congenial son Kawitipa is working successfully with some of Toñampadi's youth.

Other signs are also hopeful. As Steve Twinem, a missionary in Peru who traveled in for the conference, walked the tire-worn airstrip not long after arriving in Toñampadi, several young Waodani boys tagged alongside to welcome him. In Spanish, they asked him if he had heard the story of the Waodani.

"I told them that I guess I had heard part of it but I wanted them to tell it to me," he says, adding how he expected to hear some ancient Waodani mythology or some legends from the tribe's hunter-gatherer past. Instead, the children started with the story of five missionaries who died on a beach. For them, this was the beginning of the Waodani story.

Telling their story

"MAF pilot Nate Saint was my earliest and I think only childhood hero. 'Operation Auca' was a secret and we knew nothing while it was taking place. However, I remember vividly as a 9-year-old boy sitting on my parents' bed, listening to radio reports directly from the Amazon region as the search party went into Waodani territory to find out what had happened to the men. I shall never forget hearing those radio reports as one by one the men were found martyred. Two of the actual spears used to kill the men were left at our home in Quito for safekeeping.

"I remember the utter shock among the missionary community, the tears, the grief. . . . Deep within, I felt God was going to honor their effort in some way. In spite of the grief, we expected Him to act."
-Chuck Howard, field director of HCJB Radio in Ecuador

"When Dayumae and Rachel [Saint, sister of Nate Saint] came to Tiwaeno, I accepted Jesus. We were always killing, but I feel so different now."
-Kimo (one of the original Palm Beach killers)

When I came back with Rachel, we brought gifts and made them clothes. . . . But what we really wanted was to share God with them. Many wanted to continue to spear. It was hard. We had to go house to house and tell people about God, but slowly they believed."
-Dayumae, woman who befriended Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot, later becoming the first Waodani Christian

"The death of the five missionaries opened a door, and the work of the women who followed them is what gives you [the Waodani] the Word. . . . This Word is like a sword that can penetrate right through the body to the soul. A spear cannot penetrate where the Word of God penetrates."
-Bert Elliot (Jim Elliot's brother and a missionary in Peru for 56 years)

"I used to live in the jungle in the old ways, and the way God touched my life was through those five missionaries."
-Paa (one of the older Waodani men, lives in Toñampadi)

"I've been praying for you [the Waodani] for more than 50 years because before my brother came to you, he prayed for you and so I prayed for you as well. Can you imagine what it's like for me to see more than 200 people meeting together here around God?"
-Ken Fleming (Pete Fleming's brother who was a missionary to the Zulu people in Africa)

"Fifty years ago, coming up . . . the Curaray, I have to be honest with you, I had a lot of fear. But now sensing the liberty and the peace is such a contrast. . . .

"John was right in his epistle when he said, 'Love drives out fear.'"
-Don Johnson, missionary who was part of rescue team sent in to find the five men

"Go ahead and kill me. I will go immediately to be with Jesus who died on the cross and was speared."
-last words of Toñae, the first Waodani martyr


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