Wednesday, January 25, 2006

End Of The Spear

Four years ago next month, in one of the more memorable experiences my job has afforded me, I drove up to Dunnellon, Florida (near Ocala) and spent a day with Steve Saint and his friend Mincaye.

For those who don't know the story, Steve's father Nate Saint was a missionary to the violent Waodani Indians in Ecuador in the 1950's. Nate was a pilot who, along with four other missionaries (Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian), spent months making contact with the Waodani from the air before finally landing on a small beach along the river for a face to face meeting with the tribe.

Their first contact went well, with gifts being exchanged and Nate even taking one of the Waodani up in the airplane for a ride. But when they returned for a second visit a couple of days later, on January 8, 1956, the Waodani inexplicably attacked, spearing all five men to death. Though the missionaries were armed, they had refused to fire on their attackers. The murders caused an international sensation, appearing on the pages of Life magazine which showed photographs of the missionaries' bodies and told the world of these "Auca" ("savage") Indians.

But some of the widows and families of the murdered missionaries bravely persisted. Steve Saint's aunt Rachel went to live among the Waodani in the jungle for the rest of her life. Through the faithfulness of these brave people, many of the Waodani were converted to Christ. What had been decades of bloodshed (the tribe killed each other with far more frequency than they attacked outsiders) came to an end as the Waodani learned to "walk God's trail."

This story has been a precious to evangelical Christians for over 50 years. Many Christian kids grow up reading about it, in books like Through Gates of Splendor. Jim Elliot's diaries were published, helping to inspire perhaps thousands of Christians to give their lives to missions over the years ("He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose").

One of the Waodani men in the attacking party on the beach that day, the one who thrust a spear through Nate Saint, was Mincaye. Mincaye had been a brutal warrior, but was radically changed by being introduced to Christ.

The reason I bring all this up is because a new dramatic motion picture on this has been released, which my family and I went to see last night. The film is called "End of the Spear," and tells the story from the viewpoint of the young Steve Saint.

It's not without its flaws. The actor cast in the lead role of Nate Saint is evidently a homosexual activist, a casting decision wildly at odds with the perspective of those whom this movie is about. And the Christian blogosphere has been buzzing with deserved criticism for movie's failure to make clear that these missionaries were motivated by one thing and one thing only: the great commission of Jesus Christ to preach the good news of salvation by faith in Him through his life, atoning death on the cross, burial, and resurrection.

These are serious criticisms and they are legitimate. But I hope people will see the movie anyway. Because despite it's flaws, it depicts one of the great stories of the 20th century. Though it fails to properly acknowledge the source, it presents a powerful picture of real redemption. It misses an opportunity to tell the full truth, but even we only consider it as moralism--indeed, even if we only consider it as pure entertainment , wouldn't it still be nicer to see a few more movies at the cineplex with themes like this, and a few less "American Pie" flicks?

Mincaye killed Steve Saint's father. Today, because of the message of the gospel, Steve and Mincaye are close friends. Mincaye has been forgiven. He acts as a beloved and loving grandfather to children whose grandfather he murdered. It really happened. I've seen it. I've eaten with them, talked with them, watched them together. I've seen Mincaye and one of Nate Saint's grandchildren off in a corner wrestling around a playing hacky-sack when they thought nobody was looking. I've seen Mincaye and Steve Saint sharing jokes and praying together.

I've never in my life seen a greater illustration of true redemption and reconciliation than that. No, the movie doesn't capture it perfectly. But it captures some of it. Nobody is under some moral obligation to see it. But I hope you'll at least consider checking it out, because there really is a Mincaye, and he really has been reconciled to his victim's family and to his God.

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