CWN.org -- For veteran American missionary Frank Drown, that January day in 1956, when he found the body of his pilot friend Nate Saint, was something he will never forget.
"He had a spear in his head, and a big cut on his face," said Drown during an extraordinary interview I did three years ago with Brian Brodersen on a radio show aired on many stations across America.
Frank and Marie Drown had agreed to talk about the terrible yet life-changing events that took place on January 8, 1956, when Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint and Roger Youderian ventured into the eastern rainforests of Ecuador, where they made contact with the Waodani people, also known as the Aucas. With a homicide rate of 60 percent, the tribe's behavior placed them on the verge of self-annihilation.
The missionaries' story was made famous in the pages of Life Magazine, but now the Drowns were able to give more insight into what occurred all those years ago.
"We were in Ecuador ten years before they were and then Nate came in and he became our pilot," said Frank Drown. "He flew us all over the jungle, and we did lots of things together. Before he came, I walked on the land, and it was such a blessing. One minute in a plane is worth an hour on the ground."
Marie then entered the conversation. "All of the missionaries that were killed were our good friends," she said. "Marj Saint was a good friend of ours. Before we ever met her, she sent in with Nate, a tray of ice cubes, and we hadn't had ice cubes for years. We made lemonade, and it tasted like something we'd never known before. It was so different with ice cubes in it.
"I remember another time when Nate came he and Marj were expecting their first child, and we had a son Ross Drown, who was born in 1948, and a year later in early 1949 their first baby was born. When Nate was with us, he saw Ross and Frank playing with a ball, and Ross would repeat, 'Figh!' and daddy would say, 'Throw the ball way up high!' and he'd say 'Figh!' and they'd throw the ball back and forth. Nate said, "I can't wait until ours is born."
Now Ross and Kathy, the daughter of Nate Saint, are husband and wife.
Frank said that he had given Nate a radio to go into the jungle, but as the missionaries wanted to keep their mission a secret, they spoke in code.
"They didn't want other people to know so that if it did happen that we got to be good friends with those Indians that there wouldn't be a whole rush of all the people wanting to go in there," he said. "So I knew that and they told me what he was going to do and I loaned them my radio so they could take it along, and I knew where they were, I knew what frequency they were going to talk back to me because it was my radio. And so I listened to them, and one day only, on Friday when they had a good contact with the Indians and they called back and said it was great. 'The neighbors came,' one of them said.
Drown said that as he was on the network of radios so they could all talk to each other, and on the Monday morning he received an urgent message from Marj, Nate Saint's wife.
He went on, "Marj went right straight to me and said, 'We haven't heard from the men since yesterday. They were supposed to talk at 4:00 and they didn't answer. We've lost contact with them.' And she wanted to know if I would be willing to go and form a rescue party and go down into that jungle down there and see if I could help them.
"It was terrible especially as I heard that another MAF pilot had flown over there and he could see the little airplane down on the beach where they'd landed, but he couldn't see anybody around, and I knew this was bad.
"Still, we went, not knowing whether they were dead or alive. The trip took two-and-a-half days, part walking, part by dug-out canoe, and we got down there and found the airplane all torn to pieces, and nobody there. It was a sad day."
He explained that the US Air Force had dispatched a helicopter to the area and they could see straight down into the water of the river where the plane was and they said they saw some bodies.
"So we picked them up," said Drown. "There were two of them. Jim Elliot was the first one that was found, and then Peter Fleming, and then I was told that there was somebody down stream and so I went to help pick him up out of the water."
It was then that he found the body of Nate Saint. "Then some other missionary with natives that were friendly with us, went downstream further and brought the body of Roger Youderian, who was my buddy, the one that worked with me. We had walked the trails together, and worked together for the Lord, and they brought him back, and so we had four of the five."
Frank said that Roger Youderian had built an airstrip in the jungle at the request of an Indian leader who wanted to hear more about Jesus.
"I went back again and one day he said to me, 'I want to be the bow to knee one.' That meant he wanted to get down on his knees and ask Jesus into his life," he said.
He said that only one body-- that of Ed McCully -- was not found at that time.
"We didn't find Ed, but the Indians found him weeks later, and they said they buried him, but I don't know whether they did or not," he said. "The other four were buried on the beach.
"After I had gone and buried the men and came back home, we had three days of rain and I was there at Ed McCully's house because he lived the closest to these Waodani, and I had time to think this whole thing through.
"God could have stopped this anytime along the way. It's understandable that if we just had a big shower there wouldn't have been a sand beach for them to land on. And if one of them had stayed up in the tree house and could have shot and scared them off, and that might have changed things. And when they first landed, the tire was ripped and the tube was showing. But anyway, those things didn't happen, and God allowed those men to go and to die and you say well that is wrong.
"Folks, a private never tells the general where you're gonna fight. And so we are God's people, and where God puts us, that's where we work. And God will take care of us until He's ready to move us out of this world, and so that's the way it is. And God did that. He wanted those men to die so that He could talk to our people here in America that you need to give your life to God and sacrifice. We don't want sacrifice. We don't want pain. We don't want anything like that.
"But listen, folks, if we're going to win the world to Jesus Christ there's gonna be more, and we need to serve God with all that we've got, whether it's life or death. For Marie and for me and many years of staying there and living with those people and seeing them come to Christ, so it's not up to us to say where we're going to serve or how, but it's up to God."
Frank and Marie Drown, who have told their story in a book called "Mission To The Headhunters" were speakers three years ago at the Calvary Chapel Mission's Conference at their conference center in Murrieta, California.
They also spoke on a Saturday morning after the conference at a packed missions meeting at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Also speaking were Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, and Mincaye who, as a young warrior was one of the tribesmen who killed Saint's father, Nate, and the four other young missionaries, and is now a believer and has been reconciled with Steve and the Saint family.
The story is movingly told in the movie, "End Of The Spear," in which the filmmakers explore the story from the tribe's perspective--and the remarkable way God changed the tribe's violent ways.