Heroes of the faith
Born in the Pennsylvania countryside in 1923, Nate Saint grew up in a creative family that encouraged out-of-the-box thinking. Anytime one of their eight children came up with a wild idea, Mr. and Mrs. Saint would enthusiastically help them bring it to life. From an outdoor “sleeping room” on their second-story roof to a double-track roller coaster in the backyard, the Saint family was always looking for that next adventurous creation they could work on together. Growing up in such a home, it is no surprise that from the time Nate was a small child he found pure joy in the process of inventing, building, and then using his creations. But he discovered his true passion at seven years old.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
From the moment Nate’s big brother hoisted him up into the cockpit of his Challenger biplane, he was hooked. When his brother let him take the controls when he was ten years old, he decided that no matter what his future held, airplanes would be a part of it. But at 14, a leg injury that led to a chronic infection threatened his future as a pilot. Being bedridden, his family would try to find ways to comfort and occupy him. His older sister, Rachel, would read him missionary stories and his father would often stop in to pray with him. It was during this time that the seed of mission work was planted in his heart.
“He now has my life.”
A New Year’s Eve church service and a letter from his father changed the course of Nate’s life. In the early hours of New Year’s Day 1945, as he emerged from the Zoller Gospel Tabernacle in Detroit, Nate felt a new conviction to surrender all his dreams and plans to God and step out in faith to tell unreached peoples about the Good News. Shortly thereafter, he received a letter from his father with a news article about a Christian missionary organization that was looking for pilots. Suddenly he realized that God had been preparing him all along for this purpose. In his letter asking to join the organization, he stated, “I have been interested in missionary work for some time, but the Lord owned only my finances. He now has my life.”
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Nate joined Missionary Aviation Fellowship and eventually moved to Ecuador with his new wife, where they established a mission base at Shell Mera. The Shell Oil company had abandoned this location due to a violent local tribe known to those in the area as the “Auca” which means “savage.” Nate and four other missionaries all felt drawn to these people and prayed for them daily. They began planning ways to reach the tribe. The men knew from the start that this was a dangerous mission, and all agreed that sharing the Gospel with them was worth any risk, even death.
Faith, hope, love…and forgiveness.
After a few successful flying interactions—thanks to some of Nate’s creative inventions—the men decided to set up camp nearby in hopes of making physical contact with the tribe. The Auca, or Waorani as they called themselves, misinterpreted their presence and, as was their custom, attacked the men. All five missionaries were killed. But this is not the end of the story. Even in their grief, the families of these men—including Nate’s older sister Rachel—continued reaching out to the Waorani. Through their continued love and forgiveness, many of the tribe came to know Christ.
What a rich story of God’s goodness and providence through all life’s ups and downs! And what courage that not only Nate and the other men displayed, but also their families in returning to the men who had brutally killed their loved ones in order to finish the job the men had started! It begs the question: am I willing to follow God wherever He may lead and whatever the consequence may be?