Woman recounts her father’s fatal encounter

Nate Saint’s plane was found buried in the sand along the Curaray River in 1994. Workers rebuilt the frame and put it on display at the Mission Aviation Fellowship’s headquarters in Nampa, Idaho. Photo: Mission Aviation Fellowship.

On Feb. 22, BBC broadcast an interview with Valerie Shepard, daughter of slain missionary Jim Elliot. (See “Killed for Christ in the Amazon“).

Shepard told the BBC that her father went to Ecuador in March 1952 “to be a missionary to indigenous or primitive tribes in the Amazon jungle.”

“My father and the other missionaries definitely knew it was dangerous, but they were willing to give up their lives in order for the Huaorani to know the truth, what we believe to be the truth,” she said.

Another missionary told Elliot about an indigenous group known as the Huaorani. He described them as a “very violent” tribe from the Stone Age. Ecuadorians referred to as Aucas, a disrespectful term meaning “savages.”

Elliot decided he wanted to try to tell them about God.

“It just caught his heart and he felt those were the people he was supposed to go to,” Shepard told the BBC.

In 1956, Elliot, Nate Saint and three other American missionaries landed a small plane on the sandy banks of the Curaray River. They waited for three days and then the Huaorani began to arrive. They were “perfectly friendly,” Shepard said.

Jim Elliot. Credit: Wikipedia

But they soon grew suspicious of the outsiders. They decided the missionaries were dangerous and it was kill or be killed. So 10 Huaorani men rushed the missionaries, speared them to death and left their bodies in the river.

Shepard’s mother and Saint’s sister, Rachel, later befriended two Huaorani women who had left their village, fleeing tribal violence. The Huaorani women helped the Americans make peaceful contact with the Huaorani.

The missionaries settled down in the jungle and began trying to convert the Huaorani to Christianity. Shepard was just a child.

“I got to know all of the tribe and the 10 men who did the killing,” Shepard said.

She said she enjoyed being with them and recalls that they were “always laughing.”

She told the BBC that the murders were tragic, but she accepts the death of her father and the other four men.

“I really don’t believe their lives were wasted,” she said.

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