Jungle Pilot by Russell T. Hitt was one of those books that I picked up at the local thrift store and by reason of it’s cheapness, bought it. My philosophy on books is that they are an investment. They pay off in some measure, in the life of the reader. Therefore, if a book is well-written either on a subject that I’m interested in or that can help me better my life, the value of a book is practically limitless. That is in theory at least. I won’t be dropping anywhere close to triple digits for a book that will take up space on my shelf. Especially not for books like the standard fare that can be found on most Christian bookshelves. But something like a leather-bound, illustrated edition of Josephus: The Complete Works might be worth the price tag a book like that could command. And I’ll admit to considering the possibility of such a purchase…should I find it. But back to the Jungle Pilot…., I had bought about 6 books for a complete value of $4.50 when I was home in April. They weren’t new books but who cares? I’ll make those kinds of purchases in the future. And thanks to the modern world we live in, books of all kinds are readily accessible for anyone and, if one doesn’t mind the fact that someone else read the book prior to themselves, at bargain prices. Books are the something I miss, one of the things that lost out in the struggle for luggage space when I was making preparations to go to Paraguay.
Having said that, I say this. The Jungle Pilot has recently been a huge challenge to me as I read it. It’s moved parts inside of me that have long not been moved. Telling of one man’s enthusiasm for life, his inability to sit still and constant brainstorming of ways to make jungle flying safer for all involved, it steadily builds to the climax, which is January 8, 1956 at 3:12 PM at “Palm Beach” in the Ecuadorian jungle. That last sentence…we all have heard about it. How that 5 men, having dedicated themselves to taking the Gospel to a tribe of head-hunters, presented themselves as living sacrifices to the Almighty. I won’t go into more detail. It made headlines around the world and there are plenty of news archives if one wants to read more of the particulars. But in 1956, I was still a generation away and the Palm Beach sacrifice has always been a piece of history. Gripping and inspiring, yes but just that…history. But reading this book, it seemed like I entered into Nate Saint’s life, his childhood, the frustration of dreams being denied and finally finding his calling and his giving it all he had. Maybe it’s because my perspective is different because I’m in foreign land and supposedly on a front line. But with every page read and every chapter turned, one senses that, although Nate’s work of a supply pilot to the missionaries in the jungle wasn’t glamorous and fraught with danger, he has started a special ministry and would be instrumental to the Gospel being spread throughout the jungle. His enthusiasm for life and his work springs from the page and bittersweet is the knowledge of what will happen to him. As the pages keep turning, they reveal more of his commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Not just Nate but his fellow workers, Pete, Roger, Jim and Ed believed just as firmly the promise, that on the Great Judgment day, there would be representatives from the Waodani tribe, praising the Lamb and taking their place in Heaven, along with the rest of the redeemed. This is why they were on Palm Beach on January 8, 1956. They were fully aware of the Waodani’s reputation of savagery, that any and all invasion of their territory by the white man had been met by their dreaded black 9 foot lances. And when they were confronted by those same lances, I believe they still didn’t lose hope, that they believed they would see some of the tribe they died to reach in that same throng they were about to join.
I wonder what they really thought in those last moments when they saw the Waodani warriors approach and realized their sinister intent. Did they feel fear and the human flee/fight response to a threatening circumstance? Did they wish they would have stayed in the States and pursued their respective careers, however good and promising those careers might have been, in the support of missions and never set foot in Ecuador? Did they wonder about their families and wish to have the privilege of seeing them grow into adulthood, a privilege that wasn’t to be theirs? Or were they like Stephen, seeing only a glimpse of the glory of their soon-to-be-seen Father? In a letter written home, Nate was sure that his group had the Lord’s blessing. He didn’t consider his life a waste but rather a joy to be expended in the Kingdom’s use. Man may call it a waste for 5 promising men to give their lives on a obscure sand bar at the hands of “savages”. Rather, being infused with Christian love, these men saw these “savages” as the zenith of fallen man. Of living in darkness rather than the glorious light of the Christ. Of living in fear and bondage rather than the liberating servant-hood we enter through the shed blood of the Perfect Lamb. We can’t imagine such fear and darkness. And at this time of year, we are reminded, once again, of Bethlehem and the “reason for the season”. But in the jungle of the Waodanis, there was no Christmas. There can’t be without the knowledge of Christ. However, today, because of Calvary and “Palm Beach”, that tribe can experience the joy of Christmas. And I think, if given the chance, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, along with their jungle pilot, Nate Saint, would gladly give their lives again if it meant that people would come to the knowledge of Christ and His saving power.
To be part of the spreading of the Gospel, what a privilege! To become saved as the result of someone spreading the Gospel, what liberating joyful knowledge! But, to live a life in spiritual darkness and physical fear and to die without any hint of hope, how unspeakably sad.