Colin Harbinson


The Story of Dayuma

By Colin Harbinson

The story that inspired the stage production In January 1956, word sped around the world that five missionaries who had ventured deep into the heart of the Amazon jungle, were out of radio contact with their base. The wives waited expectantly for the promised communication.

The radio remained silent. The five men lay face down in the Curaray River, speared to death by the feared Indians they had hoped to reach with the gospel.

The five men were from different backgrounds. Jim Elliot, a champion wrestler, had a burning desire to reach the world with the gospel. Nate Saint, prevented from flying with the US Airforce in World War II, became a pilot with Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Roger Youderian, crippled by polio at nine years of age, was decorated for his part in the Battle of the Bulge. Ed McCully, a star football player, and Pete Fleming a philosophy major, completed the group.

The Waorani, known to outsiders as ‘Aucas’, lived in a ‘stone-age’ culture, spearing fish, killing monkeys with their poisonous blow darts and traveling down river in long dugout canoes. They were feared for their murderous hostility to foreigners and their own violent lifestyle Every Auca expected to die one day, speared by his own people.

Because face to face contact was impossible, the men flew over the settlements in their ‘wood-bee’,’the name tthe Waorani ave to their small yellow plane. Nate invented the bucket drop, an ingenious method of lowering a bucket from a line attached to the plane. The bucket contained gifts, and eventually a ‘relationship’ was developed as the Indians took the contents out and replaced them with gifts of their own. When they believed the time was right for actual face to face contact, the
men prayed together and sang a hymn to the tune of Finlandia.

“We rest on Thee, our shield and defender, we go not forth alone against the foe, strong in Thy might, safe in Thy keeping tender, we rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.”

They landed their plane on a small sandbar they named ‘Palm Beach.’ After initial friendly contact, the Aucas returned in force –not to welcome, but to kill.

From what seemed like a total tragedy, God brought about a beautiful miracle. Dayuma, a young Waorani girl, had run away when her father was speared to death and her own life had been threatened. At about the same time, Rachel Saint, the sister of Nate Saint, was called to the mission field to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Rachel, believing that God had spoken to her about the Waorani, heard about Dayuma and arranged to meet her at a hacienda in the Andes. So began a friendship that was to lead them both down an unbelievable path.

Two years after the death of the five men, members of Dayuma’s family walked out of the jungle and found her. They asked Dayuma to return to the tribe. The man who wanted to kill her was now dead, and her mother still longed each day for her return.

Dayuma went back with them and told the tribe that the men they killed had been good foreigners. She told them about the true God. The Indians asked her to bring the white women to the tribe, so that they might learn more. So it was that Elizabeth Elliot who had lost a husband, and Rachel Saint who had lost a brother at the hands of the Waorani, went and lived with them. They were the first outsiders to be accepted by the tribe. Instead of seeking revenge, they were able to show God’s love and forgiveness.

Dayuma told the tribe, “...just like you speared the good foreigners, that’s how they killed Jesus, God’s good son.” Gikita, the leader of the Palm Beach killers responded, “...not understanding I killed, but Jesus’ blood has washed my heart clean -- I used to hate, but now my heart is healed.”

Another of the killers prayed, “...we shall see them again in the hut you are thatching for us in the sky, and seeing them, we will be happy.”

One by one the Indians began giving their lives to Christ, and the Waorani church was born. They met each day in “God’s speaking house.’ Rachel and Dayuma taught them from the Bible, which they called God’s ‘carving’. Seven years after the ‘Palm Beach’ killings, Dyumi, one of the young Waorani men, said that God had shown him to go to the down river people. The others told him he would be killed. He replied, “It is God who sends me and I will go–if I die, my body will be buried and my soul will go to God’s house. Then God will send someone else, as he sent someone else to us after we
speared the foreigners.”

The wheel had gone full circle and the Waorani church had become a missionary church. Since those early beginnings, there has been progress, and inevitable problems. But, from those five seeds planted in the Amazon jungle, has come forth fruit that only eternity will reveal. Many Christians have been challenged to a deeper walk with God and others have been propelled into mission work through the inspiration of the five men and their total commitment to God.

The creator of the stage show, “Dayuma,’ has flown into the tribe to see the situation firsthand. He met with Dayuma herself and was taken down river by the Waorani in a dugout canoe to the place where the men were killed. Standing beside the common grave of the five missionaries, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, he had the deep conviction that God has not finished with their story yet!

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