Nate Saint

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Nathanael "Nate" Saint (August 30, 1923 – January 8, 1956) was an American missionary pilot who worked in Ecuador. He was killed by Woadani Indians during Operation Auca, an attempt to reach them with the gospel.

Early life

Saint was born in Pennsylvania, and was the seventh of eight children. Saint's parents were devout Presbyterians who attended church three times a week and held family devotions every day. Saint's father was also a prominent stained glass artist, and designed 18 windows in Washington National Cathedral. Saint's brother Phil and sister Rachel also became well-known missionaries, though in very different ways.

When Saint was seven years old, his older brother Sam, who was a pilot, gave him a plane ride. This red left him with a lifelong interest in aviation. In high school he began pilot lessons, and then joined the United States Army during World War II. Saint was unable to enter the Air Corps, due to a crippling disease. This caused him to leave the Army and enroll at Wheaton College.

About the same time Saint left the military, he received a letter from his father telling him of a new organization that was to become the Mission Aviation Fellowship, today a major mission board. Saint signed up, and was sent to the field early, before he had graduated college.

He married Marjorie Farris, a registered nurse he met in California on Valentine's Day 1948. That same year they left for Ecuador and set up house at Shell Mera, and abandoned Shell Oil Company outpost.

Operation Auca

In September 1955, Saint became the first to discover a Woadani village from the air. At the time, virtually all contact with this tribe had ended in violence, and the Ecuadorian government was threatening to send in troops. And so, with the intention of being the first to make peaceful contact with the tribe, Saint began to make regular gift drops over their village beginning in October of that year. He devised a special maneuver for accomplishing this feet. By letting out a great length of rope from the plane with a bucket at the end, and drawing the plane into a very tight circle, Saint could cause the bucket end of the rope to remain almost perfectly still on the ground. By this method, the missionaries were able to give gifts to the natives, and even receive gifts in return without needing an airstrip.

Early in January of the next year, Saint discovered a fairly wide sandbar along the Curaray River in Woadani territory. By flying low over the sandbar at a certain speed, and dropping bags of flour at regular intervals, he was able to determine its length. It was about 650 feet long, which was just barely long enough to land the plane on. And so, on January 3, Saint, along with four other missionaries landed at this sandbar, which they called "Palm Beach".

Their first peaceful contact with the Woadani came on January 6 when a man and two women emerged from the jungle. Saint gave the man two rides in the airplane, which delighted him. They also shared hamburgers and bug repelant with them.

Then two days later, ten Woadani returned to Palm Beach. They ambushed and killed all five of the men. Saint's body was later discovered by a search team floating in the river. He had two chanta wood spears in his body, one in his stomach and another in his head, just behind his right eye. He was buried nearby in a mass grave with three other of the men.


Today Saint is remembered as a modern Christian martyr. His story continues to inspire many. There have also been several books written about him, such as Jungle Pilot, but Russell T. Hill.


  • Benge, Janet and Geoff. Nate Saint:On a Wing and a Prayer. (1998)
  • Elliot, Elisabeth. Through Gates of Splendor. (1957)
  • Hitt, Russell T. Jungle Pilot