While many people may be familiar with the story of Operation Auca in 1956 with missionaries Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, and others, one Cedarville University student has a special connection to the story.

Sarah-Kate Drown, a freshman majoring in nursing from Huntsville, Alabama, grew up hearing about her great-grandfather, Nate Saint, from her grandmother, Kathy Saint. Drown remembers asking her grandmother to tell stories from her childhood in Ecuador, all of which involved snakes, monkeys, and trips on the Amazon River.

“It was never weird for me to hear the story of Nate Saint,” said Drown. “My sisters and I would always ask my grandmom to tell us about her childhood in Ecuador. But she never shied away from talking about Nate and the other missionaries. I grew up with a special section on my family's bookshelf full of biographies about my great-grandfather and the story of Operation Auca.”

It is a famous and inspiring story. In 1955, a then 32-year-old Nate Saint saw the Huaorani settlement in the jungles of Ecuador near Shell Mera, where he and his family lived. Despite the tribe’s reputation for extreme isolation and violence, Saint, alongside Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian attempted to contact the tribe. Eventually, they were able to interact with three members of the Alca Indians after landing their plane in Palm Beach. 

Through a series of misunderstandings, a group of Huaorani men attacked the missionaries, spearing all five to death on January 8, 1956.

After this horrific event, several of the missionaries' wives and sisters, including Rachel Saint and Elizabeth Elliot, radically chose to remain in the jungles of Ecuador with their young children to continue to evangelize to the Huaorani people. Now, over 65 years later, their work has led to the conversion of many members of the tribe, including the killing party.

Kathy and Steve Saint, children of Nate Saint, baptized by members of the Huaorani tribe on Palm Beach where their father was murdered
[Photo Credit: Saint Family] Kathy and Steve Saint, children of Nate Saint, baptized by members of the Huaorani tribe on Palm Beach where their father was martyred 

“I think the story is so impactful because it shows redemption at work,” said Drown. “The men who killed my great-grandfather baptized Nate Saint’s children--Steve and my grandmother--on Palm Beach only a few years later. Mincaye, the man who killed Saint, became like a surrogate father to Saint’s children and is truly part of our family.”

In 2016, Mincaye came to Drown’s family reunion, a gathering of all the relatives of the five missionaries killed during Operation Auca.

But Sarah-Kate Drown is also the paternal granddaughter of Frank Drown, a missionary who served in Ecuador in the 1950s and was a close friend of Nate Saint.

“My family has roots in missions in Ecuador,” said Drown. “Frank Drown was on the search party for Nate Saint and the other missionaries' bodies, so both my grandparents actually grew up knowing each other in Ecuador.”

Nate Saint (left), the pilot for Operation Acua, and Frank Drown (right), Sarah-Kate
[Photo Credit: Saint and Drown Family] Nate Saint (left), the pilot for Operation Acua, and Frank Drown (right), Sarah-Kate's great-grandfathers, both served as missionaries in Ecuador

Drown and her siblings visited Ecuador and the Huaorani tribe for the first time in the summer of 2021, a year after Mincaye’s death.

“I grew up with an image in my head but staying with the tribe in person was a crazy experience,” said Drown. “It was bittersweet to finally visit these people that feel like family, to see Mincaye’s home like he had seen ours, but for him not to be there.”

Despite language and cultural barriers, Drown and her family were able to witness the long-term impact of project Acua.

. Sarah-Kate Drown spends time with young children in Ecuador
[Photo Credit: Drown Family] . Sarah-Kate Drown spends time with young children in Ecuador

“The way the gospel has brought people of very different cultures, with deep hurt that has been completely forgiven, was evident throughout that trip.”

The Saint family: Nate Saint, his wife Majorie Saint, daughter Kathy Saint, and son Steve Saint
[Photo Credit: Saint Family ] The Saint family: Nate Saint, his wife Majorie Saint, daughter Kathy Saint, and son Steve Saint

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 5,082 undergraduate, graduate and high school dual-enrolled students in more than 175 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, including nursing, high graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and high student engagement rankings. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu.