Neighbor Search in Ecuador

Dan Graves, MSL

Neighbor Search in Ecuador

How'd you like to go looking for your neighbors?" Nate Saint had just flown into Arunjo on his weekly run from his permanent base at Shell Mera and was talking to Ed McCulley. The weather was favorable for searching for the elusive "Aucas" (Woadani). The missionaries wanted to share the gospel with them. Months earlier, Nate had flown over the last place they were known to have lived, but found no traces of them.

Ed eagerly boarded the "modern missionary mule" as Nate liked to call his little yellow missionary plane. The two lifted off into crystal clear air and began their hunt above the Ecuador jungle, searching for signs of Auca houses among the trees, especially along rivers. Some of the villages which had been reported earlier had hugged streams.

It seemed as if the hunt that began on this day, September 19, 1955, would prove futile like all others. Gas was running low and it was essential to turn back soon. But then Nate noticed a blemish, "barely discernible in the jungle." He headed for it. It grew and they saw it was a clearing with manioc plants growing. In the few minutes remaining to them, they spotted fifteen more clearings and a few houses. Elated they headed home. They had found the Aucas.

Excitement was intense because the men had long hoped to contact these sturdy forest dwellers who fiercely resisted all efforts to subdue them, killing many who ventured into their territory. Ten days later, ferrying men and goods to another station in four flights, Nate deliberately flew different routes each way, zigzagging to bring as much territory under his plane as possible. On the third flight he spotted Auca dwellings barely fifteen minutes by air from the Arunjo station.

On October 1st, bad weather kept Ed from going back to Arunjo. Ed, Nate and two other missionaries gathered at Shell Mera and talked into the wee hours of the morning, huddled over maps and trying to establish the best strategy for reaching the Auca. How could they show them they came in peace and not in hostility?

Although they badly wanted prayer cover, the men decided to say as little as possible to the outside world. Government powers or secular forces might try to one-up them with armed expeditions. Nate and the other missionaries hoped to prevent that. They wanted no interference in winning Auca souls.

The outcome is well known. Nate Saint, Ed McCulley, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderan and Pete Fleming made contact with the Aucas. They dropped gifts to them from the air and landed on a beach where they spoke with members of the tribe. On January 6, 1956 all five were massacred in an ambush. Later, through the efforts of the widows, the Aucas discovered the meaning of Christian love and forgiveness and were converted to Christ.


  1. Elliot, Elisabeth. Through Gates of Splendor. New York: Harper, 1957.
  2. Hitt, Russell T. Jungle Pilot: the life and witness of Nate Saint. New York: Harper, 1959.

Last updated April, 2007.

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