'End of the Spear' A story of changed lives opens Friday at theaters nationwide

By David Little Staff Writer WILLMAR -- Many people remember the story of five American missionaries killed 50 years ago by a violent tribe along the Curaray River in the jungle of Ecuador. But fewer people know the story of reconciliation betwee...

By David Little

Staff Writer

WILLMAR -- Many people remember the story of five American missionaries killed 50 years ago by a violent tribe along the Curaray River in the jungle of Ecuador.

But fewer people know the story of reconciliation between the killers and the missionaries' families, says a Willmar man whose father was one of the victims.

The story will be told in a new movie, "End of the Spear,'' which opens Friday at 1,200 theaters across the country -- including at the Kandi 6 in Willmar.


"The movie is intended for all of the public. It tells the story of changed lives,'' says Philip Saint, whose father, Nate, and four other men were speared to death by members of the Waodani tribe.

"Many people are familiar with the story of the missionaries, but very few have heard of the rest of the story from the perspective of the tribe until now,'' says Saint, whose father and mother, Marj, were missionaries in Ecuador where Philip was born and graduated from high school.

Saint says the movie is for people who would like to be challenged and make changes in their lives.

"We all need to make changes in our lives, and this is a story of how lives were changed,'' says Saint, a fourth-grade teacher now in his 27th year at Willmar Community Christian School.

According to the movie's Web site, the story is told about Mincayani, born into the most violent society every documented by anthropologists, the Waodani in the eastern rainforest of Ecuador.

As he grows up, Mincayani learns what every Waodani understands: He must spear and live or be speared and die.

Mincayani's world changes when he and his family kill five missionaries -- Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian -- on Jan. 8, 1956. Four of the five bodies were recovered five days later by missionaries, guides and soldiers.

The incident propels Mincayani's family group down an extraordinary path that ends in them not only departing from violence, but also caring for the enemy tribe they had once violently raided.


Philip was 1 and his bother, Steve, was 5 when their father and four friends were killed. Stories about the missionaries and their families were published in Life Magazine and Readers Digest, and at least four books have been written about the missionaries.

The movie tells how Steve returns to the Waodani as an adult and finally learns from Mincayani what happened during the last minutes of his father's life.

Steve Saint, in an interview Monday with the Family Life Ministries radio program, said his parents had been asked to go into the jungle in Ecuador where Shell Oil Company was exploring in the Waodani territory.

"These people kept killing oil company employees,'' he said. "The oil company went to the government and said if you want us to get the oil, you need to get rid of this problem.''

Before the government or Shell or the military tried to wipe out the tribe, Nate Saint recruited four friends in an attempt to make friendly contact. Nate Saint was a pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship and had been flying missions in Ecuador in support of missionaries since 1949. They found a village and Nate exchanged gifts by use of a bucket drop.

After making friendly contact, Nate landed on a little sand bar. Two days later, he saw a delegation coming from the same village about six hours away by trail.

"He called mom and said it looks like they are on their way and they were sure this was what God wanted them to do. They would have an extended friendly contact. He never called back,'' said Steve Saint.

In 1958, Nate Saint's older sister, Rachel, and Betty Elliot, wife of Jim, went to live with the Waodani. Rachel stayed 38 years, learning their language and translating the Bible. She died of cancer in 1994 and was buried there.


Steve returned to Ecuador, and tribal members asked him to live with them. He's written a book detailing his life with the tribe, also called "End of the Spear,'' which was published in 2005. (The book spells the name of Nate Saint's killer as Mincaye, which was changed in the movie to Mincayani).

"By the time I went in to meet them, the issue for me wasn't fear of them or how to forgive them,'' said Steve Saint. "I knew that my mom and dad loved these people so much that when it finally came face to face and they were attacking, my dad and his friends had guns, but they had decided they wouldn't shoot even in self defense ... because they felt they were ready for heaven.''

Saint said his mother continued to pray for the Waodani, "even after they killed my dad. My aunt was willing to risk her life to go in and live with them, not sure that they wouldn't spear her.''

Today, Steve Saint and Mincaye travel and speak around the world, sharing what Saint says is the amazing way God has transformed them and reconciled them to each other.

Philip Saint, who also spent some time with the tribe, says the group was once known as the Aucas, which means savage or naked ones.

"Everyone was afraid of them'' says Saint. "That's what everyone called them. Many years later, we asked what they called themselves, and they said they call themselves the people, which is the word Waodani.''

He says the Waodani people struggle with outside culture coming into their society.

"They face a lot of the struggles that we all face. The difference is they are thought of as a very low class. They are a very well-known tribe and everybody knew of the savages. It's been a long, hard process, but the group that did the killing of the five men has become the missionaries and the teachers and the health workers. They are the ones that are reaching out to the other groups.''


Saint says the movie people first asked for Steve's permission to do the production. Steve told them they had to ask the tribe. The tribe said no at first, but Steve explained that violence also occurs in the United States.

"They realized that their story could make an impact because they said that's just the way we used to live,'' explains Philip. "They agreed to have their story told, to live as they say to walk God's trail.''

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