Saturday, January 21, 2006

Following up my post about End of the Spear, i found this incredible 1998 Christianity Today article by Nate Steve Saint about a group of American college students who visited the Waodani and learned first-hand about both cultural differences and personal transformation. A teaser:

As the students unloaded their bags at the campsite, I could see the rapport between them and their guides—they were enjoying the camaraderie. So much so, in fact, that as we settled around a campfire that evening, a student asked me who the "savage Huaorani" were that they had read about before leaving the United States.

Sitting on logs under a star-studded sky and with a jungle of insects singing in the background, I explained that the very people they had been traveling, eating, sleeping, and hunting with were, in fact, these savages. (read the rest)

This story provides a clear response to those who think that missionaries somehow impose a foreign and unwelcome way of life on unwitting victims.

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As i said recently, i don't do many movie posts, but last night donna and i saw the opening night for End of the Spear on a rare date night (thanks to our wonderful friends Dave and Vicki). Here's the three-word review: see this movie! There are no special effects or mythical creatures: just the very human and moving story of the tragic deaths of five missionaries and the subsequent transformation of the Waodani people they were trying to reach.

The film recounts a true story that will be familiar to many through the writings of Elisabeth Elliot (Shadow of the Almighty), widow of one of the five. The story here, though, is seen through the eyes of Mincayani, one of the Waodani tribesman, and Steve Saint, whose father Nate was the pilot for the group. The movie recounts their death (several scenes of intense violence make this movie inappropriate for young children), but even more their powerful determination and sheer bravery. It goes further to show the human challenges of forgiveness, and transformation in Waodani life.

Though some might question the portrayal of the Waodani as violent and vengeful, the facts here are well documented. The missionaries are shown in a consistently positive light, but you see their humanity as well. In the scenes of their deaths, i couldn't help wondering if they hadn't been foolish to come so lightly prepared to interact with the Waodani, well-known for their savage violence.

Apparently the movie has only a limited initial release to test the commercial waters. So see it soon and you can help send the message that movies with solid storytelling about genuine heroic character can also be financially viable.

End of the Spear connected with me on a more personal level. More than 25 year ago, i visited this part of the world as a college intern with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Columbia. One of the highlight was spending a week out in a remote Amazon location with a translator, much like the area where the Waodani live. The fantastic photography of the jungle canopy and the glimpses of life in the Amazon basin brought back many memories: for example, we slept in hammocks just like the Waodani.

While i was in Columbia, i met a new missionary, Chet Bitterman, who had recently moved to Columbia with his wife and two small children. I remember playing softball together once, though otherwise our paths didn't cross much. A year and a half later, Chet was kidnapped at gunpoint by terrorists seeking to force Wycliffe to abandon their work of Bible translation and literacy training in Columbia. After several weeks of widely publicized demands by his captors, he was found shot to death, another victim of those seeking to silence the Gospel. 

The conclusion of the End of the Spear provides a dramatic twist on the title of the movie. Those five missionaries in Ecuador, Chet Bitterman after them, and an untold host of others provide amazing examples of messengers of the Gospel whose lives are not taken, but willingly given.

Related Links

Christianity Today has an article about Chet Bitterman: Wycliffe also made a movie about his death, and you can read a lenghtier account of his life, Called to Die.

Among many great books by Elisabeth Elliot, the Savage my Kinsmantells about her experience in reaching out to the Waodani after they killed her husband.

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