Wednesday, January 11, 2006
January 11, 2006
Fifty years ago this month the world learned of five men who gave their lives to take God’s message of love to one of the most savage tribes in the South American jungle. While the price that they paid was unusually high, their commitment was not unusual when compared to the hundreds of thousands of other young men and women who have attended InterVarsity’s Urbana Student Missions Convention and given up their own ambitions to serve God’s purpose in the world.
For one of those five men, Jim Elliot, the Urbana convention nurtured and encouraged his dream of becoming a missionary. He and his Wheaton College roommate, David Howard, attended InterVarsity’s first missions convention in Toronto in 1946 and returned in 1948 when the convention moved to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
By Urbana 48 Jim was president of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship at Wheaton. He had written a drama which he presented to Urbana delegates to challenge them with information about the areas of the world still unreached with the gospel. “It gave a strong appeal to students to consider what God wanted them to do,” David recalled.
Jim missed Urbana 51; he was already on the mission field in Ecuador. David had been working on staff with InterVarsity; he became assistant director of Urbana 51. But soon he too was on the mission field in Costa Rica. After Jim married David’s sister Elisabeth, the honeymooners visited David and his wife in Costa Rica. “So the last time I saw Jim Elliot was on his honeymoon at our home in Costa Rica,” David said.
Pete Fleming, another of the five missionaries, was a leader of the InterVarsity chapter at the University of Washington as an under-graduate. Inspired by the chapter adviser to consider an academic career, he entered graduate school and taught a student Bible study. Even after he had joined his friend Jim Elliot on the mission field in Ecuador, he was considering ways of ministering to university students in Quito.
At the first Urbana convention following their deaths, Urbana 57, surprisingly little was said about the five martyred missionaries, at least according to the recorded remarks of the plenary speakers and David’s recollection.
“The book that my sister Elisabeth wrote to tell that story, Through Gates of Splendor, was not out yet. And [neither was] the next book, The Shadow of the Almighty, which was the biography of Jim Elliot. Those books—and Jim Elliot’s journals—began to have a tremendous influence.”
Subsequent Urbana conventions did nourish the legacy of the five martyred missionaries. Elisabeth Elliot spoke at Urbanas 73, 76, 79 and 96. Both of her books telling the story have been featured as Books of the Day at Urbana. David Howard returned from the mission field to become director of Urbana 73 and Urbana 76. “I’ve been in probably 80 countries,” David Howard said, “and almost everywhere I go I invariably run into people who tell me they’re serving today on the mission field because God used Urbana to call them into the field.”
But God is also using Urbana to call men and women to more than traditional missions activities. David attended the 2004 convention of the Evangelical Theological Society because his son David Jr., a professor and dean at Bethel Seminary, was president that year. “I was amazed at how many theologians and professors of theology, and other members of that society, came to me to thank me because Urbana 73 or 76 was a major factor in leading them into God’s service. Not to the mission field,” he pointed out, “but serving God as professors of biblical studies, theology and so on.”
One of David’s best Urbana stories involves his niece, Valerie—the daughter of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot—and Valerie’s husband Walt. “They’ve gone this past year to Congo, as missionaries,” he said. “In a prayer letter that she just sent out, she indicates that at Urbana 76 she and her husband felt called of God into missions. But God led them elsewhere for 29 years–in pastoral ministry–before the way finally opened for them. So now they’re on the field, in Africa.”
The complete David Howard interview is an InterVarsity podcast; you can listen to it here.
The story of Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully is dramatized in the movie The End of the Spear, which begins showing nationwide on January 20th.
© 2006 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Nate Saint, jungle pilot, called that Sunday over the plane’s radio, “We are hoping for visitors at about 2:30. I’ll call you again at 4:35.” When his punctured body was pulled from the river, his wrist watch read 3:12.
Missionaries endured staggering hardship in those rain forests. Sometimes they could not fly and, in order to reach isolated groups, had to travel over land by foot. They hazarded unpredictable rivers by canoe to reach poorly mapped territories where fear-ridden tribal peoples lived. Knowing what we know, our surprise is not that so many died, but that so many other missionaries have survived.
In 1944, five missionaries working with New Tribes Missions in Bolivia were killed trying to reach the fierce Ayores. The five were probably murdered weeks before the search party even left to look for them. Their bodies were never found, and the entire event received little notice by the world press. After all, this news item was buried beneath the happenings of World War II. Today, if someone mentions the five intrepid missionary martyrs to the jungles of South America, few recall the names of Cecil and Bob Dye, Dave Bacon, George Hosbach or Eldon Hunter.
Naturally speaking, we see several reasons why the deaths of Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian created such a sensation. There was a lull in world news at that moment. The mystique of the jungle savage excited curiosity. Careful records were available in the journals of the missionaries. The public was informed in a blow-by-blow manner as the facts of the massacre came to light. And here were five striking young men, with intelligent wives and winsome children. These young men looked like fellows we might meet in our own neighborhoods. What were they doing there?
Spiritually speaking, we also see reasons why God was pleased to speak so clearly in that event on January 8, Here is a story that inspires us more the more we know of it. The martyrs all were raised with the gospel from youth. Each was considered a role model.
Jim Elliot was from Portland, Oregon. At Wheaton College, he was president of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship. A persuasive communicator, he wrote in college: “O God, save me from a life of barrenness, following a formal pattern of ethics, and give instead that vital contact of soul with Thy divine life that fruit may be produced, and Life-abundant living-may be known again as the final proof for Christ’s message and work.” He married Elisabeth Howard from a prominent Christian publishing family in Philadelphia. At the time of the murder, the Elliots had an infant daughter.
”’He makes His ministers a flame of fire.’ Am I ignitable?” he wrote. “God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But a flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soulshort life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him.” (Splendor, p. 18; journal entry summer of ‘47).
Peter Fleming was from Seattle, Washington. At 27, he was a year younger than Jim Elliot. Pete had recently received his M.A. in literature. He was married to his childhood sweetheart, Olive.
Peter wrote: “[The Lord] has been leading my meditation to the stringent statements of Christ regarding discipleship specially those words of Christ to His disciples before He sent them out…’He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.’ I have been directed to these and similar passages again and again. I should like to put these truths to the utmost test … Seemingly God delights in many instances to place men in situations which magnify their weaknesses for the simple delight of showing Himself strong to all observers” (Liefeld, p. 48, Aug., ‘51 to Jim Elliot.)
Ed McCully, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was president of his senior class at Wheaton. He won the National Hearst Oratorical Contest in San Francisco in 1949 and went on to Marquette University Law School. He and his wife, Marilou, had two sons and were expecting a third. “I have one desire now-to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it,” Ed wrote in a letter to Jim Elliot immediately after leaving law school on September 22,1950 (Splendor, pp. 5051).
Roger Youderian came off a Montana ranch. An airborn ranger who was at the battle of the Bulge, he later went to Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis, where he met his wife, Barbara. They joined the Gospel Missionary Union and were evangelizing the headhunting Jivaros when the Elliots, Flemings, and McCullys arrived.
Nate Saint had flown missionaries in and out of the Ecuadorean jungle since 1948 for Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Builder, inventor, and skilled pilot, Nate had devised a ingeniously simple back up fuel system for single-engine planes. Nate was married to a nurse, Marj, whom he had met in the service. They had three children.
In a message broadcast over HCJB in Quito, Nate said, “During the last war we were taught to recognize that, in order to obtain our objective, we had to be willing to be expendable … Yet, when the Lord Jesus asks us to pay the price for world evangelization, we often answer … It costs too much … God didn’t hold back His only Son…” (Splendor, p. 176: Dec. 18, in Nate’s journals on Operation:Auca.)
The five couples did not come to Ecuador planning on reaching the Waorani tribe. But in Ecuador they heard about these Indians referred to as “Aucas” meaning savages. They had never been subjugated by soldiers or won over by missionaries.
The missionaries often prayed and plotted about, how this dreaded tribe could be reached. As they witnessed a series of events opening the way, the five united their hearts to reach the Waorani. To read the missionaries’ own account, we are compelled to agree with Nate Saint that “It the Lord’s Time.”
All volunteered. They planned carefully. All were aware of the danger. As Jim Elliot said to his Betty: “If that’s the way God wants it to be, I’m ready to die for the salvation of the Aucas.”
After a series of long-distance contacts, the next step was to find a landing place close to the Waorani village. On the Curaray River they found a landing site on a sand bar. They named it “Palm Beach.” On Tuesday, January 3, a final prayer meeting was held at Arajuno, then the intrepid couples sang Edith Gilling Cherry’s hymn to the tune Finlandia:
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender,
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.
On Friday, they had a visit from three Waorani. On Sunday, Nate flew his plane over the area and spied a group of men walking toward the beach. He radioed Marj. “A commission of ten is coming. Pray for us. This is the day!” The next communication was scheduled for 4:30 PM. It would never come.
As newspaper headlines read, Five Missionaries Missing in Ecuador, a rescue party was moving overland. Missionary pilot Johnny Keenan flew over Palm Beach and saw a body; on a second pass, he spied a second one in the river.
By Thursday, two US Navy fliers went in with a helicopter. They found four bodies in the river, speared and hacked by machetes. Jim, Nate, Peter, and Roger were identified. It was speculated that the first body seen from the air was Ed McCully’s and that it had been carried away in the river’s current.
The January 23 Newsweek magazine ran the news. But it was Life photographer Cornell Capa who was at Palm Beach via helicopter when the last body was being lowered into the grave. His sensitive photography and the account of the drama published in Life made this the missionary story of the century. Readers Digest also published the story in 1956.
By Friday, Jan. 13, the Air Force flew the widows over the common grave. As Olive Fleming looked down to see the scar of white sand, 2 Corinthians 5:1 sounded in her mind: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Some church leaders responded to the massacre as did Judas when the costly perfume was poured on the Lord Jesus, saying, “Why this waste.” To such we can only say that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). The foolishness of God is wiser than men (1 Corinthians 1:25). In following months, mission boards were deluged with offers to “take the place” of the martyrs. Eternity magazine counted six hundred missionaries who credit the martyrdom as influencing them to go overseas.
The work with the Waoranis was only beginning. The girl, Dayuma, an escapee from Waorani territory who helped Rachel Saint learn Waorani, had entrusted herself to the Lord Jesus Christ. To her amazed relatives she returned to their village safe. They assumed she had been cannibalized by the strangers. She explained that the missionaries had come peaceably. She also had an object lesson to help them understand how the Lamb of God was led to slaughter as a sacrifice for sin. “Just as you killed the foreigners on the beach, Jesus was killed for you.”
In the fall of 1958 Rachel Saint and Betty Elliot and her toddler, Valerie, hung their hammocks among the Waorani. While Valerie played with the children of her father’s murderers, Rachel and Betty became acquainted with the murderers themselves: Gikita, Kimo, Nimonga, Dyuwi, Minkayi, and Tona.
Nine years later, the first copies of the Gospel of Mark in Waorani were dedicated at “God’s Speaking House.” Kimo prayed, “Father God, You are alive. This is Your day and all of us have come to worship You. They brought us copies of Your Carving, enough for everybody. We accept it, saying, ‘This is the truth.’ We want all of your carving.”
Surely the enduring attraction to this story is as much about the lives of the martyr’s survivors, as it is about the five men that gave their lives. We not only know the five men by their journals and aging photos. We know them by the lives of the missionary widows, their children, the lives of the Waorani converts and the missionaries that continue to serve them. This is more than a memory. By their fruits we know Ed, Jim, Nate, Pete, and Roger.© John Bjorlie, Uplook Ministries Used by Permission, All Rights Reserved
Thursday, January 05, 2006
In 1956, Steve was five years old when his father, Nate, flew a Piper Cruiser plane with four other missionaries into the jungles of Equador and dared to make contact with the most dangerous tribe known to man, the Waodani (whoa-DONNY) also known as “Auca,” or naked savage.
After several months of exchanging gifts with the natives, the five men were speared multiple times and hacked to death with machetes.
One of the men in the tribe that fateful day was Mincaye (min-KY-yee). Years later Steve found out that Mincaye actually delivered the final spear that ultimately killed his father. (Three of the six warriors from that day are still alive.)
Today they consider themselves family and harbor no resentment. Steve says he has never forgotten the pain and heartache of losing his dad.
“But I can’t imagine not loving Mincaye, a man who has adopted me as his own, and the other Waodani,” says Steve, who made his first trip into Waodani territory when he was 9 years old.
By 1956 Steve’s Aunt Rachel had been living in the jungle but not with the Waodani for several years. Rachel loved her younger brother (Steve’s dad) like a son, but even after he was killed, she continued to live with the Waodani until her death in 1994. Her affection for them was a major influence in Steve’s life. He visited her every summer.
When he was 14, Steve and his sister, Kathy, decided to be baptized and chose a couple of Waodani to perform the baptism in the same water next to the beach where their father was killed. After Rachel died, the tribe asked Steve to live with them. (Steve and his family lived in the jungle for a year and a half.) “What the Waodani meant for evil, God used for good,” says Steve. “Given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”
Many are confounded by the relationship Steve has with Mincaye. He says that a USAToday reporter commented that if he were in Steve’s shoes, he could “forgive Mincaye, maybe. But love him, that’s morbid.” Steve says that their relationship doesn’t make sense unless you put God in the equation. Even though his dad’s death was painful, Steve says Mincaye would not have adopted him and he would not have been part of the mysterious, stoneage Waodani world. Also thousands of people, who were stirred by the missionaries’ deaths, would not have dedicated their lives to helping take the gospel to unreached groups like Waodani all over the world.
DID THEY HAVE TO DIE?
Steve remembers as a young boy standing on the bank of dirt that separated his house from the sand and gravel airstrip. He watched his dad take off to fly in the jungle each morning, and then anxiously wait for his return. Even at five years old, Steve knew this was a huge risk.
A week after Christmas 1955, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian made plans to make the first-ever-friendly contact with Waodani. After a few days, his father didn’t return. Finally one day, Steve’s mom told him his father would never come home.
“My world started to cave in as my little mind filled with all sorts of questions,” says Steve.
For years, Aunt Rachel told Steve to never ask the Waodani what led to the killings that day. If he did, they might suspect that he was trying to find out who was responsible in order to avenge his father’s death. Over time, the trust between the tribe and Steve grew strong. After Rachel’s funeral, the Waodani told Steve what happened the day he was waiting for his dad’s plane to return.
“There are too many factors that all had to work together to have allowed the events to happen as they did,” says Steve. “Too many for me to believe it was just chance.”
He believes that all of the men died as part of God’s plan. “I know that might offend some,” says Steve. “But I don’t think what happened to my dad and his four friends caught God by surprise.”
Steve says he believes God was much more involved in what happened than merely failing to intervene.
“I have personally paid a high price for what happened, but I have also had a front row seat as the rest of the story has been unfolding for half a century. I believe only God could have fashioned such an incredible story from such a tragic event,” he says. Because those five men were willing to die, everyone else in the tribe had a chance to live.
Copyright Christian Broadcasting Network
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
By Christopher Lewis
Avant Senior Editor
Posted January 2006
Somewhere along the way, you can find yourself in this story. That is, if you’re willing to get utterly lost in it.
January’s nationwide release of the film End of the Spear is the 50-year trail marker on a timeless story of redemption and reconciliation: how the martyring of five young missionary friends on a jungle shoreline in Ecuador became a beachhead for ushering peace into the most violent tribe ever documented.
The film thoroughly captures a true story that grabbed headlines worldwide in January 1956. This reality overwhelmed the 300 people attending a recent screening in a Kansas City movie theater. The lights dimmed on a chatty crowd casually munching popcorn; 111 minutes later, the credits rolled past a hushed and motionless audience, many with tear-streaked faces.
FYI: You are entering not just a theater, but a remote trail of the heart. And it’s best journeyed without a geographical, religious or cultural compass. Without flawed instruments of human logic and presumption that would come undone in the dense mystery of the Amazon Basin.
Where do you begin telling a story as mighty and as fragile and as unending as the Amazon River that flows through it, yet cannot contain it? Perhaps with a resolute widow who forgives, befriends and takes up residence with the natives who speared her husband.
Or maybe with the transformed tribesmen who resisted telling their side – until the tragic 1999 Columbine school shootings, a generation and a continent away, convinced them to peel back the rainforest curtain.
Or even with the novice Christian producer who spent $30 million filming the story – despite a conservative church upbringing that barred him from stepping foot inside a movie theater before this project began seven years ago.
Producer Mart Green (far right) chats with an actor on the film set. Photos courtesy of Every Tribe Entertainment.
Actually, End of the Spear begins with the narration of a son, Steve Saint: “Some people say we live in a world of irreconcilable differences ...” Saint was baptized by the very Waodani Indians who had killed his father, in the same waters where they’d dumped the bodies … of Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Jim Elliot and Avant’s own Roger Youderian.
* * *
Watching the movie “was extremely emotional. It wasn’t just a ‘spiritual thing.’ Dad really did suffer,” says Saint, now 54, from his home in central Florida. “People are so fascinated by all the little subplots. God doesn’t promise that all the chapters will be easy, but in the last chapter God does promise to make sense of all the others. It’s the same in everyone’s story.”
It was Saint’s speech at a 1997 missions seminar that inspired Christian retail mogul Mart Green to break into filmmaking in 2002 with Beyond the Gates of Splendor. This gripping documentary version was distributed on DVD to 15,000 churches last year and later to retail outlets, as a primer and momentum-builder for this month’s big-screen adaptation. Rated PG-13, End of the Spear is opening in 1,200 theaters, in target markets modeled after The Passion of the Christ – Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta. “The Passion showed us that there is an audience [for spiritual films], if it’s quality,” says Green, 44, of Oklahoma City. The CEO and founder of Every Tribe Entertainment, Green says the award-winning films intentionally lack Mel Gibson’s star power.
“We’ve always wanted the story to be the star,” Green says.
The loudest part of the story is not quite so audible. The script purposely eschews evangelistic overtones, which frees the average viewer to embrace the story and identify personally with the transparent themes of love and forgiveness, Green says. Saint vehemently disagrees with murmurings among some conservative churches and surviving family members who say the gospel isn’t trumpeted enough. “Besides, that would be preaching to the choir,” he says.
End of the Spear appeals to post-modern generations who don’t tolerate bullhorn pulpits, Christian or not. Saint believes the message is forthright and culturally relevant – in the same way Jesus spoke in parables. Movies are “the medium where our culture opens their heart, in the dark, for two hours – much more than in church,” Saint says.
This puts the marketing onus where it belongs, Green says – on a church body now empowered with a real story. He’s counting on Christians to continue the film’s conversation buzz around cafés and office water coolers. “What’s the most influential ‘mission field’ in the world? It’s Hollywood. But when’s the last time you saw Christians positively portrayed in a film?” Green says. “People start weeping during this film – not because we told them what to think, but because they’re on an emotional journey.”
For both filmmaker and viewer, the story “takes you out of your comfort zone. And it comes at a price,” Green says. “But the journey is worth it.”
The journey has been questioned by some Christian organizations. They are rankled that the film’s secular cast and crew unwittingly included a homosexual actor and others who partied with prostitutes during film shoots in Panama. Saint says he “agonized” over such behind-the-scenes behavior, but then realized the hypocrisy of wanting a top-notch crew to portray Christians both on camera and off. In effect, the film field became a mission field.
“I remember breaking for ice cream once at a McDonald’s in Panama, and an actor sat down beside me and said, ‘I don’t know anything about the Bible, but I really affirm this story. Thank you for letting me be a part of it. It makes me want to know what’s in that book that made the families want to go [to the jungle],’” Saint recalls. “I mean, imagine if the five missionaries had said, ‘We’ll risk our lives, but only if the people meet certain standards.’”
Another actor, while visiting the Waodani, asked, “What is sin?” At the actor’s request, the Waodani excitedly gathered and prayed for him to walk the trail of Waengongi, Creator God.
News reports of the jungle tragedy in 1956 startled Christians and non-Christians alike. But End of the Spear is more than a 50th anniversary commemoration. It doesn’t gloss over the gruesome sacrifice made by the missionaries. But it doesn’t loiter around it, either. In fact, the viewer may not even see it as a missionary movie. And ultimately, it’s not. For that, screening audiences have been grateful, Saint says. “They say, ‘Oh, thank you. I’m so relieved this is not another Christian movie. I won’t be embarrassed to bring my friends.’”
The power is in the parallel storytelling. Green dumped three early film scripts that ignored his creed of telling the Waodani side – one writer even dared to turn in a comedy. “They told me it was impossible, that a North American audience wouldn’t empathize with the Indian view,” Green says.
In the end, the “white man’s” perspective is threaded so deftly with first-hand Waodani accounts that they become one voice, of one accord.
The missionary thread
Beyond the Gates is interspersed with vivid movie segments to promote the feature film. Beyond mere marketing, however, the documentary is really the historical loom supporting a well-woven story. It’s homespun with a collage of interviews, family photos and 16mm footage from Wheaton College track meets, graduations and weddings. Roger’s widow, Barbara, and his former field partner, retired Avant missionary Frank Drown, are among the many loved ones who reminisce with sentimental humor and candid emotion. You hear about courtship, marriage proposals, and practical jokes. About how Jim Elliot, the ringleader and life of the party, convinced Ed McCully, class president and champion orator, to put off law school and join the mission field. About how McCully’s mother feared he wasn’t a Christian because he loved to dance.
By 1953 the five missionary couples were scattered at various base camps in Ecuador, connected by mission pilot Nate Saint’s ferrying about visitors and supplies from his home in Shell Mera. Steve Saint’s boyhood character and his dad’s little bush plane take center stage in the movie – Steve recalls him working on a toy model of the PA-14 Piper cruiser in 1955. The 5-year-old was disappointed on Christmas morning when he didn’t find the model wrapped as a present beneath the family tree. Days later, beneath the jungle trees, it was presented to the Waodani as a friendly “first-contact” gift.
The Waodani thread
Many Waodani are both interviewed in the documentary and role-played in the movie (by a Panama tribe). Some of the same tribesmen who speared the missionaries are today church elders. Their xenophobic memories pierce the film scripts and narrate the raw footage shot by the white cowadi, or foreigners, in their final hours.
They graphically describe the vicious cycle of blood feuds and vendettas, even within the tribe, that forced the Waodani to the brink of extinction. One anthropologist found that 60 percent of Waodani deaths for five generations had been homicides. Within just a few years of the missionary killings, after Jim Elliot’s widow and Nate Saint’s sister boldly moved in with the tribe and began teaching the Bible, the homicide rate dropped 90 percent.
Says former Waodani warrior Mincaye: “We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings. Now we walk His trail.”
In post-World War II America, the martyred missionaries became a household story that galvanized a generation of Christians to live their part in the Great Commission. In fact, in the 11 years following the massacre, Avant’s missionary roster in Ecuador jumped from 51 to 91. (It was then known as Gospel Missionary Union.)
Mincaye has traveled the world with Steve Saint and the United States with Christian songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman, who three years ago recorded a music video with both men in the jungle. Mincaye spices the documentary with humor when his Waodani mind tries to comprehend American showers, credit cards, grocery stores (“big food houses”) and escalators (“that’s why all the foreigners are fat” – the “trail” moves instead of their feet, he says.)
However, when Saint first took Green to Ecuador in 1999 for permission to film the Waodani side of the story, the tribe said “No.” They changed their minds when Saint described the Columbine massacre in Colorado just months earlier. Ashamed of the tribe’s legacy as Auca, or “naked savages,” Mincaye’s wife tore off her blouse: “Tell them to show us like we were,” Ompodae shouted. “But also to tell how we are now.”
Family flight pattern
One of the Columbine victims was a Christian student who was martyred by a classmate for professing her faith. Ironically, the school shootings triggered a major turning point for the Waodani in overcoming shame about their own past. Case in point: Avant’s Frank Drown accompanied Steve Saint on a jungle flight in the 1980s. Sitting in a large hut full of Waodani, Saint explained to them that Drown was the Ecuador missionary who’d led the search party to recover and bury his five friends on a jungle hillside.
“They all got up and started for the door,” recalls Drown, now 83. “They thought I’d come back for [revenge]. Steve jumped up and said, ‘No! It’s OK! He’s a Christian!’”
In fact, Saint makes a cameo in End of the Spear – playing Frank Drown’s character. How tight is the Amazon bond? Drown’s son Ross, today an Avant board member, married Steve Saint’s sister, Kathy. Nate Saint, who was Frank Drown’s jungle pilot, must be smiling down on the two grandsons they now share – both are piloting F-15 jets in the U.S. Air Force.
“One of my greatest disappointments in life was that dad didn’t live to teach me how to fly,” Steve says. So it was an emotional thrill – if a bit unnerving – for him to pilot the stunt flights in the movie.
Steve Saint has also trained one of his childhood Waodani playmates, Tementa, as a bush pilot transporting medical supplies and sick Indians. It poignantly reflects Saint’s criticism of traditional missiology, which creates an unhealthy dependency on missionaries who “fish” instead of teaching nationals to fish for themselves, he says.
“That’s characteristic of much of 20th century missions. We dominate the national church until they are ‘like us,’” Saint says. “But Avant has taken a radical step of saying, ‘Let’s change.’ I hope what Avant has done catches on – recognizing the critical involvement of nationals. There’s a lot of [organizations] just giving this lip service, but Avant is doing it. Jesus said don’t just preach the gospel, but disciple and be sure the fruit remains.”
Saint’s Indigenous Technology Education Center (ITEC) is working on a “kit” airplane that Waodani could build and maintain, another step toward a self-supporting church. Indeed, half of all film proceeds will go toward helping indigenous tribes help themselves. The Waodani have also learned basic dentistry skills, which they use as an evangelism tool for reaching outside tribes. But even among their own people, some have resorted again to killing sprees.
More than playmates and planes, Steve’s bond with Tementa is virtually a blood covenant: Tementa’s father, Nenkiwi, was speared by his fellow Waodani months after Nenkiwi had played a pivotal role in the missionary attacks. Swimming with Tementa and friends as a child, “I was just one of the crowd,” Steve recalls in Beyond the Gates. “My father had been speared, too.”
Drown led a tense two-day canoe trip, escorted by U.S. and Ecuadorian soldiers, to recover the bodies. He was too emotional to rope together Nate Saint’s feet and pull him onto the beach, but composed himself to lead a storm-ridden funeral near the missionaries’ beachfront tree house.
“It was the most violent, sudden storm I’d ever seen. Clouds as black as night, thunder, lightning,” Drown says. “Some of the soldiers got scared and ran in. I was telling them, ‘No, you need to go out and stand guard.’ I didn’t have time to regret. We had to get everyone out of there.”
The speared bodies had been cut with the same machetes air-dropped as gifts from Nate Saint’s plane. The Waodani had hacked to pieces the wings of the “wood bee.”
This is where the film really takes flight, although the storyline’s full circles are almost too wide to capture on screen: how Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot move in with the tribe and tip-toe around family rivalries – “Do you think your people will spear me, the way they speared my husband?” asks Elisabeth. How Rachel mentors Dayumae, a Waodani woman who’d fled her community as a child (Viewer’s Guide). How Dayumae becomes the village preacher and helps spark revival. How Rachel and Elisabeth separate because of differences over ministry.
When Rachel died in 1994, after 30 years with the Waodani, the tribe asked Steve Saint and his family to leave Florida and make their home in the jungle. Which they did, for 18 months. Steve’s son Jesse became so close with nene (“grandpa”)Mincaye that the tribesman attended Jesse’s Florida high school graduation in 1997.
Mincaye lives to tell this story because Jesse’s real nene had kept a promise made half a century earlier: Although they were armed, the missionaries on the beach that January afternoon had vowed never to shoot the Waodani. As Nate Saint’s character tells little Stevie in End of the Spear, “Son, we can’t shoot the Waodani. They’re not ready for heaven, and we are.”