Flying is a childhood dream for most of us. Small boys often run around with small airplanes mimicking the sound of a jet roaring past. Young Nate Saint dreamt a similar dream. He wanted to fly high. Little did he know that his life’s purpose was to fly, changing the destinies of thousands of people forever.
Saint was born in 1923 and raised in a Christian home near Philadelphia, along with six brothers and a sister. From the time that he took his first flight at the age of seven, flying fascinated him. At the age of 19, Nate signed up for the US Army with the goal of flying and eventually becoming a commercial pilot. He served the army for three years and underwent training to be a fighter pilot. But before he could start flying, he was diagnosed with an infection in his leg and declared unfit for flying. Since the cause was unknown and healing took time, he was bedridden for several months.
Nate turned his ‘misfortune’ into an opportunity to become an aviation mechanic. He learned valuable skills that he would put to use later.
During his days in college, Nate developed a strong sense of purpose and conviction to serve the Lord through the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). His life changed when he was approached by a missionary friend in Mexico to fix an airplane they were using to fly supplies. After helping out his friend, he was assured of his calling to serve the Lord as a missionary pilot. In 1948, he married Marjorie Farris, and together they set out with MAF to open the base in Shell Mera, Ecuador. Their children—Kathy, Stephen, and Phil—were born there.
Nate used all his skills to fly supplies to missionaries living in forest areas preaching to tribals. He has developed a technique called the ‘bucket drop’ to prevent supplies from getting stuck or broken as it passed through the thick tree branches. He would lower the supplies from the airplane in a bucket and circle in the air. This kept the bucket in place until the missionaries could unload the supplies.
Nate and four other missionaries had developed a burden to reach the Waodanis (also called Aucas), a reclusive tribe of native Indians known to kill others found in their territory.
The Ecuadorian government had been considering sending troops in to subdue the natives. After flying over the village for several days and dropping down gifts, on January 8, 1956, the five landed the plane on a strip of side alongside a river near the village. They were sure that they earned their favor.
But the Aucas massacred them with spears and left their bodies in the river and along the beach.
This news shocked the world and the families of these young men. Instead of retreating in fear and defeat, the effort to reach the Aucas continued. In the years that followed, Nate’s sister, Rachel, and Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, made successful contact with the tribe and soon most of the tribe shed their violent life and embraced the love and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. Today Nate’s son, Steve Saint and his family work closely with tribes in Ecuador mentoring them to follow Christ.
Nate Saint famously said, “When life’s flight is over, and we unload our cargo at the other end, the fellow who got rid of unnecessary weight will have the most valuable cargo to present to the Lord.”
In this fast-paced, pleasure-seeking, and myopic world we live in, it is worth reflecting on that statement. Think about this - On the day of reckoning, will we have a clear conscience? Will we have run the race well? Will we have stored up treasures in heaven? Will we have valuable cargo to unload on the other shore?
Will we hear the words of Christ, “well done!”?