MAF History

How five martyrs transformed the Waodani people of Ecuador

14th November 2014

The testimony of missionary pilot Nate Saint and his crew is one that underpins MAF history, and continues to fuel our mission today.

Nate and four American friends first made contact with the widely-feared Auca people deep in the Ecuadorian rainforest in 1955. Lowering down gifts every week for 13 weeks in a bucket from the plane, the missionaries hoped to show love and peace to a tribe renowned for violence.

These people had never been contacted by the outside world. It was an exciting opportunity for the Gospel.

The Aucas – now called Waodani – not only received their gifts but gradually became more and more accustomed to the arrival of the plane. By the 6th week, tribesmen even attached a beautifully feathered crown as a return gesture. From then on, gifts were exchanged back and forth until Nate made plans to land.

Nate Saint by his Piper Pacer holding a gift from the Waoranis.

First encounters

Piper Family Cruiser parked outside the missionaries' jungle tree house on Palm beach.Soon after Christmas, when the missionaries had written festive greetings to far-flung relatives, the group made one of their final flights to meet the Waodani people. They landed on Palm Beach on 3 January 1956, setting up camp on the fringes of Waodani territory, waiting for an encounter.

After 3 days, suddenly a group of naked Waodani appeared on the bank of the river opposite Palm Beach. Jim Elliot, Nate’s closest friend, waded towards them; his open hand offering a warm invitation for the visitors to join for food. After a few minutes, all were relaxed, and the little group settled at the Americans’ camp, drinking lemonade and jabbering in their mysterious dialect.

When their visitors finally disappeared back into the forest, the 5 friends could barely contain their excitement. This meeting was the one thing they had longed and prayed for.

Final landing

Two days later, Nate’s final call to his wife Marjorie said, ‘Pray for us. This is the day!’

At 12 minutes past 3 on Sunday 8 January 1956, Nate’s wristwatch was suddenly smashed against a stone. The hands stopped moving.

This is believed to be the moment he and his dear friends lost their lives to Waodani spears.

The missionaries’ tragic martyrdom was only the beginning of a powerful message of salvation that has spread from Ecuador’s remote Waodani community across the world.


Their sudden deaths shocked the world. Many MAF supporters still remember hearing the news on the radio.

Knowing God had a plan for them, Jim’s wife Elisabeth and their 10-month-old daughter Valerie, decided to stay in Ecuador and continue the work Jim had left behind.

Iniwa Dayuma reading from the book of Mark during a baptism.

A turning point came when two women left the tribe to meet with Elisabeth, thereby opening the door for both her and Nate’s sister Rachel to make contact with the Waodani.

They lived with the tribe for two years, bringing them God’s Word, teaching them to forgive fearlessly and love tremendously – transforming their way of life forever.

Nate’s children were also invited into the tribe, where his son Steve committed his life to them. He was baptised by Mincaye – the very man who killed his father.
The tribe renamed itself ‘Waorani’, turning from their ‘Auca’ roots – which meant ‘savage’ – to display a powerful message of transformation.

MAF has been a vital part of that message, and has taken Nate’s vision to use small aircraft to spread the Gospel into thousands of remote communities in more than 25 developing countries.


In 2010, with the partnership of Fuel the Mission, MAF restored Nate’s home in Shell, central Ecuador. Originally built in 1948 for the missionary family, the home had become infested with termites and had a few years left to stand. The project was an inspiration to gain a new generation of support for MAF, and to keep Nate’s memory alive.

A crowd is gather outside during the re-dedication of the Saint's home.

The re-dedication of the Saint’s home was translated into 3 languages, giving everyone a chance to hear the message of Christ; the message that still fuels MAF’s planes to this day.

The Waodani people are just one tribe that has turned to Christ thanks to Christians in aviation, and with the help and prayers of our many supporters, we pray there will be many more.

Why not read the full account by ordering your copy of the book ‘Jungle Pilot’, Nate Saint’s brief but adventure-packed story!

Order the book now!

A lifeline beyond their lifetime

The martyrs’ legacies were to bring a life of forgiveness to the Waodani. Each and every legacy given to MAF can transform lives, no matter how big or small. If you are interested in leaving your own legacy to MAF, please do get in touch on 01303 851958 or find out more here.

Leave a legacy to MAF