Edward McCully, the strapping son of a Milwaukee bakery executive, was a normal, wholesome, small-college boy who played end on the football team, was elected class president, won the oratory contest and planned to study law. Then, in an abrupt, private decision, Ed decided to become a foreign missionary. After a year's study and training, the Good News Chapel of the Wauwatosa, Wis. Plymouth Brethren Fundamentalist Church sent him to Ecuador.
As a result of his decision, one day last week Ed McCully, 28, was standingwith four other young Americans of similar background, age and motivationon a sweltering riverbank at the Amazon's headwaters. Across the water they could see the green-hell jungle, where lurked the raw material of their mission: 2,000 members of the savage Auca Indian tribe.
"Worst People on Earth." The Aucas have been described by one scientist as "the worst people on earth." Relatively well-built and lightskinned, they wear little except bright body paint, with a pair of feathers stuck at a Daliesque angle in holes pierced in each nostril. A pure Stone Age people, they hate all strangers, live only to hunt, fight and kill. Their most notable products are needle-sharp, 9-ft. hardwood spears for use against human foes. Their neighbors, the Jivaro Indians, Ecuador's famed, ferocious headhunters, are said to pale with fear at the very mention of the primitive Aucas. All this the missionaries knew, as they flew in with their families to a jungle camp near Auca territory last September, but they hoped nevertheless to win over the savages with a long, cautious campaign of airborne friendliness.
Day after day in December, the missionaries flew over Auca country in a Piper Family Cruiser, shouting down greetings in Auca over a loudspeaker and dropping gifts of machetes, bright beads and clothing in a canvas bucket with a line so long that the light plane could wait, circling, while the Indians emptied the pail. One afternoon, catching on, the Aucas responded by sending up some presents of their own: feathers, birds and food. Thus encouraged, the Americans a fortnight ago landed hopefully on a length of the sandy beach of the River Curaray.
"Friendlier All the Time." "This was a great day for the advance of the Gospel of Christ in Ecuador," Missionary Peter Fleming wrote joyfully that night in his diary. "Ed was at one end of the beach, Jim Elliot at the other, and Roger Youderian, Nat Saint and I were in the center. From time to time we shouted words of Auca. Suddenly, we heard a loud masculine voice from the other side of the river, and three Aucas appeared. Two women and one man waved to us from the opposite riverbank . . . and thus occurred the contact for which we had prayed to God." The three Aucas went over to the camp, and the man even took a short plane ride. Wrote Saint: "We have a friendlier feeling for these fellows all the time."
Last week they went back to the same strand to develop the contact. Saint reported their progress by radio to the missionaries' wives at their base camp, Shell Mera. "Ah," he said with satisfaction, "here come some Aucas we haven't seen before. I'll call you back at 4 o'clock." But 4 o'clock brought silence.