Friday, February 03, 2006

Spear Forgivings

In 1956, missionaries Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully made contact with an isolated Waodani tribe in Ecuador. The tribe lived by a code of revenge, and Waodani children grew up learning "they would spear and live or be speared and die." Out of every 10 adult deaths in the Waodanis, six are believed to have died from spearings.

This past week my family watched the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor, released in October 2005, a story of sacrifice, death, forgiveness and redemption. In 1956, the five men had made successful contact with the Waodani, and had taken guns along, but decided if they were confronted they would not use them because "we are ready to go to heaven and they are not."

After a few days, of talking with three of the Waodani, the missionaries failed to make regular radio contact with their base. News quickly reached the states about the missing men, and across the United States farmers, clerks, and dignitaries awaited word from the jungles of Ecuador. A search party was sent into the remote area.

Within a few days newscasts reported the fate of the five men. Their speared bodies were found in and near a river. The yellow plane, the modern missionary mule, had been hacked by machetes. A short time later and by God's grace, the families of the slain men made contact with the Waodani tribe. This tragedy of such magnitude resulted in stories of mercy and salvation. Some of the surviving families even lived among the Waodani for years.

The award winning documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor is on DVD, available for rental or purchase. Actual footage in one scene details the baptism of one of the slain's daughters. When a teenager she wanted to be baptized, and she told about the water-grave. "I was in the same water where Dad's body had been thrown. And on either side of me were the two men who in their youth had killed Dad. All I knew was I really loved those guys."

Another movie chronicling the events, End of the Spear, rated PG-13, is appearing in selected theaters. In this movie, the story of the 1956 slayings is told from the Waodani's perspective. Steve Saint, son of slain missionary Nate Saint, has lived with the tribe and he wanted the story told from their viewpoint, too. At first the Waodani wouldn't give their permission for the filming of a movie, and then Steve Saint told them about the Columbine High School killings. The tribesmen were astonished that in our advanced culture people are also killing innocent people for no reason. The Waodani then said yes to a movie about the spearings, hoping their story would help others.

Although Jesus is not mentioned in the movie, it is evident that his love prompted the forgiveness and love fostered between the families of the slain and the Waodani. Movie viewer Doug Kenny said: "Like grass growing through concrete, there is no stopping what Christ's love can do. The movie is a gift for today."

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