ITEC and Southeast Missions Forge a Partnership to Reach the Nations
By Ruth Schenk
What happened 65 years ago in Ecuador filled headlines around the world?
In 1956, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCulley, Peter Flemming, and Roger Youderian were speared to death trying to make friendly contact with the Waodani, a remote tribe in Ecuador. They prayed, planned, and dropped gifts before landing on the beach, but warriors attacked. The young missionaries had guns and could have defended themselves, but chose not to.
Their sacrifice stunned and inspired the world. Only God could write the next chapters.
Forty years later, Nate Saint’s son, Steve Saint, founded ITEC (Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center) after living with the tribe that killed his father. They asked him to teach them to “do the medicine thing and tooth thing so we can go and the people will see us well so we can tell them how to walk God’s trail.” It was risky and revolutionary. A new way to do missions, teach, and train, rather than go and do. Southeast has long followed this model in missions outreach. Though Southeast and ITEC have worked together over the years, they are now official partners with the goal to go into unreached places.
ITEC showed a new way to do missions—teach and train. One that Southeast follows in mission outreach around the world. Though Southeast and ITEC have worked together on projects over the years, they are now official partners with the goal to go into unreached places. “It has been said if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The 3 billion people who have never heard the Gospel will never hear unless we go together.”
Charlie Vittitow, who leads Missions Ministry at Southeast, helped Steve Saint develop tools to teach basic dentistry.
“Since those five young Wheaton graduates were brutally killed, God has used those families and eventually ITEC to launch a movement to complete the Great Commission,” he said. “Not sure what took us so long to formally partner, but ITEC has a long history of discipling our church in effective missions.”
Throughout his life, Steve Saint, pilot, businessman, and inventor, has answered questions about his story. Should his father have tried to reach the Waodani? Wouldn’t it be better to leave them alone? Was sacrifice of the five young missionaries worth it? And the one he hears most often, How could you forgive them for spearing your father? In the last 65 years, he’s lived the answers to those questions.
Soon after the missionaries died, Rachel Saint, sister of Nate Saint, and Elizabeth Elliot, wife of Jim Elliot, and their young daughter, Valerie, went to live with the tribe. They became part of the community, learned the language, and told them about God’s love. Life in the tribe changed as many decided to “walk God’s trail.”
“The Waodani lived in a culture of death,” said Steve Saint. “They had a 60% homicide rate over five generations. The oldest warrior was only 32. But after Aunt Rachel and Elizabeth moved in, loved them, and talked to them about God’s love, the killings stopped. I began staying with my aunt when I was 10. Those who speared my dad adopted me. In fact, Mincaye became a grandfather to my children.”
The two told their story at Stephen Curtis Chapman concerts and in a tour for Saint’s book, The End of the Spear, which has been translated into one-fourth of the world’s languages and made into a movie. When Mincaye spoke to American crowds, he talked about violence and killings in the tribe until they began following God’s trail.
“How long have you people had this? Maybe if you had come and told us sooner, not so many of us would have killed each other or killed outsiders,” he said.
Steve Saint said he never forgave the Waodani.
“You don’t have to forgive someone who hasn’t wronged you,” he explained. “Dad knew there was a chance he’d be killed. I missed my dad, but every night during family devotions, Mom prayed for the Waodani. The five widows continued missionary work. My Aunt Rachel stayed with the tribe the rest of her life. She never called that her work. She called it her reward. We loved them. As far as forgiveness, seeing the example of my dad, my mom, my aunt, it never occurred to me to forgive them.”
To learn more about ITEC, visit itecusa.org.