We know that God’s Word changes individual lives as each Christian who has trusted Christ can attest to that fact. But the Word of God also has such power that it can change an entire people group—once they have it in their language.
On January 8, 1956, five men stepped out of this world into eternity from the banks of the Curaray River in Ecuador and world missions have never been quite the same since. Yet the most significant change that took place within that jungle came because God’s precious Word was given in the language of the people there.
Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian are names that three generations of Christians should be familiar with due to their deaths being published in sacred and secular circles. Furthermore dozens, if not thousands, of Christian workers around the world could testify that their call into service was partially due to the sacrificial testimony and powerful influence of the book “Through Gates of Splendor” written by Jim Elliot’s widow, Elisabeth. This book has challenged Christians toward service and sacrifice by telling of the events surrounding the ministry call, preparation for the jungles, and ultimate martyrdom of five godly men for the cause of Christ.
The Auca people, known for hundreds of years as a violent revenge driven people, had no trust for outsiders and not much more confidence in their fellow Auca neighbors. Because of this history, the very name Auca means “naked savage.” Since being discovered by the western world in the late 1500s, the tribe had successfully driven away outsiders, beginning with the Catholics in the 1600s when Spanish Conquistadors forced, at the end of a sword, the Auca into their religion. The Auca continued their desired isolation into the 1920s when oil drillers tried to take over their land and death was the end result for the drillers.
In the Auca world, all wrongdoings begat violence and death. Revenge killings were so common that nearly every Auca village was utterly void of older men, as they were the easiest targets for revenge killings. Auca fathers taught their children, from an early age, how to make both spear and arrow with which to kill their enemies. Revenge was the norm and all Auca expected to live by this law. Children as young as seven or eight were taken by their village elders to raid other villages in exacting revenge on all who dared challenge them. On these raids, the elders would make different notches on trees to mark the trail because it was not uncommon for all the men to die. Without the markings, the inexperienced children would wander aimlessly throughout the jungle until they perished. According to converted Auca members, these tribally unique “markings” were among the most crucial parts of their child’s training as it was often the only way home for the children after these raids.
It was into this setting that five dedicated young men arrived to take the precious Good News of Jesus Christ to the Auca people. These men desired, above all else, to preach Christ and Him crucified, knowing it was the only hope for changing savage people into children of God. For this cause, on that appointed day of January 8, 1956, at 3 PM, Nate Saint excitedly radioed his wife that a large group of Auca men and women were coming to meet them at the clearing known as Palm Beach—and was never heard from again.
The drastic transformation that consequently occurred among the Auca people, by their own admission, was not by the death of these missionaries. Nor was it by the return of the missionary widows, Elisabeth Elliot, Marjorie Saint, and their children, to serve among those who had killed their husbands.
The converted Auca declared it was something else that made the change—the Creator’s “markings.”
The Creator’s “markings” resulted in four of the six Auca men involved in the killing—Dyuwi, Gikita, Komi, and Mincaye—becoming dedicated Christians. Dyuwi and Komi actually became pastors/leaders within the Auca Christian community. Later, at her request, these two men baptized Nate Saint’s youngest daughter in the very river where her father had died. Another of these men, Mincaye, literally adopted Nate Saint’s son, Steve, teaching him how to hunt and survive in the jungle. Years later, Steve’s children lovingly called Mincaye “grandfather” until his death in April of 2020.
These Auca Christians declared that the Word of God changed their lives. Though many know of the men’s deaths, few realize that Rachel Saint, Nate Saint’s sister, completed a translation of the Auca New Testament, taught them to read their language, and saw the Auca world transformed through the printed Word of God that the Auca people called the Creator’s “markings.” Mincaye, while visiting America in 2012, gave an interview where he stated through a translator, “Jesus dripped His blood on the trail to lead us home. The Creator gave us His markings (the written Word of God) to show us how to find the trail of Jesus’ blood. If you trust the Creator’s markings, you, too, can be so clean that your heart will be like a cloudless sky.”
In 1996, upon the death of his aunt Rachel, Steve Saint was asked by the Auca people to return to Ecuador to train them in missions because they had begun to send their people into the world to preach Christ. Steve has often declared that though the death of the men on Palm Beach may have changed the outside world, it was the Word of God, the Creator’s “markings,” that changed the Auca people.
Today, nearly every Auca village has multiple grandfathers because the revenge killings have stopped. Further, Auca children are no longer taught to kill and peace rules among almost all the Auca tribe—because of the Creator’s “markings.”