In 1956, the world was horrified at the spearing deaths of five missionaries at the hands of a native Ecuadorian tribe. The story of Jim Eliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and Nate Saint was spread around the world. Three years later, some of the same families made the news again, when Rachel Saint (Nate Saint’s sister) and Elisabeth Elliot (Jim Elliot’s wife) returned to Waodani territory to live among them and continue the mission of those five men.
Nate Saint’s son Steve was only four years old when his father died in the Ecuadorian jungle. Growing up, he sometimes visited his Aunt Rachel and even spent summers with her and the Waodani. Eventually, Steve and his sister were baptized by Waodani elders where their father had been killed a few years earlier. Rachel Saint stayed with the Waodani for the rest of her life.
After Rachel’s death, the Waodani asked Steve to come and live with them. He was shocked at what was left of the Waodani church. As more outsiders and “help” had been flowing in to a now-safer environment, the church was worse off that it had been before. The church building—built by outsiders—was in disarray as the Waodani waited for “permission” they thought they needed to repair it. The functioning church whose elders had baptized Steve as a teenager now had no elders.
As Steve began living and working among the Waodani again, he searched for answers. In The Great Omission: Fulfilling Christ’s Commission Completely, Saint shares what he discovered and important truths that every missionary—every Christian—should consider.
“We must bravely and honestly face the fact that good intentions are not an excuse for poor execution. When, in the name of Christ’s commission, we do for indigenous believers what they can and should do for themselves, we undermine the very church that God has sent us to plant.”
Not Good Enough
Our approach, Steve decided, isn’t effective enough. The need is just too great. “[If] you could adequately explain God’s offer to one person every second, one day would be enough to reach a small city…it would take 100 years to reach all the people living today who haven’t heard that Jesus died to set them free!” Steve heard from missionaries that short-term mission trips often did more harm than good, creating a sense of dependency and even false responses from the people they wanted to help. One missionary told Steve they had stumbled onto a meeting where people were deciding who would “go up” during the next altar call, to keep the missionaries coming back and to get the gifts, without missionaries calling their bluff.
Typically, modern missions approaches tend to involve sending out Western missionaries to different cultures and starting from the ground up. Sometimes this is necessary—like in the case of Nate and Rachel Saint. But too often, we rely only on those Western missionaries, discounting huge numbers of possible recruits. Who are these secret weapon recruits?
“When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He was talking to eleven disciples…If He had been commissioning just them, that would really have been a ‘mission impossible’! But if He was commissioning all believers, then Mincaye, Tementa, Kimo, Dawa and the rest of the Waodani believers have the same commission that you and I do.”
The same commission. The same. The Waodani don’t have a different Bible. They don’t have a different God. They don’t have different spiritual responsibilities. Once they become born-again believers, they were ready to begin taking over the responsibilities missionaries had filled up until then.
As Steve points out, all believers are called to be missionaries in some way. And all believers can be.
Yes, They Can
As the early Waodani church began to grow, well-meaning outsiders swooped in to help. Or so they thought. They brought their education, their official credentials—and their Western ideas of “church.” Soon the Waodani had a church building that didn’t fit their culture and didn’t even feel like their own. As Steve points out, the Waodani didn’t really need all that “help.” They had Christ. They had the Holy Spirit. They didn’t need anything Westerners considered official.
“[M]any indigenous believers are being intimidated into backing down from what God has called them to do. They are overwhelmed by outsiders’ superior technology, formal education, and wealth. They frequently come to the conclusion that they don’t have what it takes. But they do! It doesn’t come from being able to read markings on paper, from college degrees on a wall, or from their knowledge of world affairs. Instead, it comes from the Holy Spirit, their knowledge of God’s Word, and the experience of committing themselves to Him.”
Everyone Plays a Part
Steve now lives in Florida, where he works for his company, I-TEC (Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center). Through creative thinking and innovation, Steve hopes to benefit the mission field by providing technology that advances their work. He has visited the Waodani many times over the years, and some of them have visited him and even traveled with him, sharing the story God has written with both of their lives.
We are called to be a part of missions. All of us.
“The purpose of missions is not to evangelize the world. Christ gave that commission to eleven simple but dedicated men who represented the church. The commission to the church is to evangelize the world. The purpose of missions is to plant the church where it doesn’t exist so it can evangelize its world.”