1956 – Five Evangelical Christian missionaries from the United States were killed by the Huaorani in the rainforest of Ecuador shortly after making contact with them.


Operation Auca

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Nate Saint’s aircraft was discovered in 1994, buried in the sand along the Curaray River. The frame was reconstructed and is now on display at the headquarters of the Mission Aviation Fellowship in Nampa, Idaho.

Operation Auca was an attempt by five Evangelical Christian missionaries from the United States to make contact with the Huaorani people of the rainforest of Ecuador. The Huaorani, also known by the pejorative Aucas (a modification of awqa, the Quechua word for „enemies”), were an isolated tribe known for their violence, against both their own people and outsiders who entered their territory. With the intention of being the first Christians to evangelize the previously unreached Huaorani, the missionaries began making regular flights over Huaorani settlements in September 1955, dropping gifts. After several months of exchanging gifts, on January 3, 1956, the missionaries established a camp at „Palm Beach”, a sandbar along the Curaray River, a few miles from Huaorani settlements. Their efforts came to an end on January 8, 1956, when all five—Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian—were attacked and speared by a group of Huaorani warriors. The news of their deaths was broadcast around the world, and Life magazine covered the event with a photo essay.

The deaths of the men galvanized the missionary effort in the United States, sparking an outpouring of funding for evangelization efforts around the world. Their work is still frequently remembered in evangelical publications, and in 2006 was the subject of the film production End of the Spear. Several years after the death of the men, the widow of Jim Elliot, Elisabeth, and the sister of Nate Saint, Rachel, returned to Ecuador as missionaries with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International) to live among the Huaorani. This eventually led to the conversion of many, including some of those involved in the killing. While largely eliminating tribal violence, their efforts exposed the tribe to exploitation and increased influence from the outside. This has caused Huaorani culture to begin to disappear, but anthropologists argue over the ultimate effect—some view the missionary work as cultural imperialism, while others contend that the influence has been beneficial for the tribe