Frank Drown, the veteran American missionary who made history back in 1956, has passed on to his eternal reward at 95


He discovered the bodies of the American missionaries murdered in the jungles of Ecuador by a then headhunting tribe.

By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service

frank marie broadcasting smallerHARRISONVILLE, MO (ANS – January 26, 2018) — Veteran American missionary, Frank Drown, who passed away on Monday, January 22, at the age of 95, made worldwide history back in January 1956, when he found the body of his Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilot friend Nate Saint.

Choking back the tears, Drown told me during an interview I did with him and his wife, Marie, some time back, “He had a spear in his head, and a big cut on his face.”

The couple had agreed to talk about the terrible yet life-changing events that took place on January 8, 1956, when Jim Eliot, 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 during the extraordinary interview, 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, we would walk for many hours on the land, and so it was such a blessing to have him as our pilot. 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 [Nate’s wife] was also 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.

Nate Saint with one of the tribe smaller“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 Saint.

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.

Five missionaries of Ecuador smaller“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 downstream 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.

frank chuck smith smaller“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.

Why did this tragedy happen?

“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.”

spanish headhundertsFrank and Marie Drown, who have told their story in a book called Mission To The Headhunter were speakers at the Calvary Chapel Mission’s Conference at their conference center in Murrieta, California, when I interviewed them.

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 entire story was movingly told in the movie, End Of The Spear, in which the filmmakers explored the story from the tribe’s perspective — and the remarkable way God changed the tribe’s violent way.

A True Giant of Pioneer Kingdom mission endeavor

One of Frank Drown’s friends was Jack Walker, who worked for many years with Mission Aviation, Fellowship (MAF), and who described Drown’s passing in this way: “He was a true giant of pioneer Kingdom mission endeavor [who has now] entered Heaven’s portal.”

Walker went on to say: “It was my privilege during 1974-83 to visit with Frank & Marie, including an unforgettable overnight at their longtime mission station, Macuma, Ecuador.”

Frank Drown was born Sept. 30, 1922 in Curlew, IA to Jay R. and Mary (Cross) Drown. He earned his Bachelor of Divinity at Northwestern Bible in Minneapolis, MN where he also met his wife. Together they served as missionaries in Ecuador for thirty-seven years for Avant Ministries.

Fr Mar recent picture smallerAfter returning to the United States, he owned Frank’s Tree Farm north of Smithville, MO. Frank loved meeting people, telling stories and trips to Canada fishing for Walleye and Pike. He was a member of Open Bible Church in Belton, MO and loved to sing hymns.

Frank was preceded in death by daughter Irene Derksen, brother Blaine Drown, twin sisters Ruth Brallier and Ruby Jackson, brother Robert Drown, sisters Grace Porter and Elizabeth Asp. He is survived by his wife of seventy-three years Marie Drown, of the home; daughter Linda Root, Raymore, MO; son Ross Drown and wife Kathy, Asheville, NC; son Tim Drown and wife Ahping, Jakarta, Indonesia; daughter Laura Erdel and husband Dave, Santo Domingo, Ecuador, S.A. and nineteen grandchildren.

You can see a moving video about Frank’s life at, and will be played at his memorial service at 2:00 PM tomorrow (Saturday, January 27th) at Avant Ministries, 10000 N. Oak Trafficway, Kansas City, MO 64155. Interment is at Greenlawn Cemetery, Kansas City, and visitation will be 6-8 pm, today (Friday) at Speaks Suburban Chapel, 18020 E. 39th St., Independence, MO 64055.

I am sure that Frank has already met up again with his five missionary friends who were killed in Ecuador. I’d love to have been in on that heavenly conversation. Wouldn’t you?

Note: Some 54 years ago, my wife, Norma, accepted the Lord into her life, on the very night when we showed a film strip at my father’s church in Birmingham, England, about the five missionaries. So that was day we will never forget.

Photo captions: 1) Frank and Marie Drown pictured during their interview. 2) Nate Saint with one of the tribe members. 3) The five missionaries. 4) Frank speaking at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, as Pastor Chuck Smith looks on. 5) One of Frank’s books in Spanish. 6) A recent picture of Frank and Marie Drown. 7) Dan Wooding with Mincaye at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. He was on of the tribe who admitted he had been part of the murder, and has since accepted Christ.

Dan with Mincaye smallerAbout the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan has written numerous books, the most recent of which is Mary, My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary (, a novel about the life of Jesus through the eyes of his beloved mother.

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