Saturday, January 21, 2006


The story of the Waodani has been told many times now, but we now have a movie “The End of the Spear” put together by Every Tribe Entertainment to remind us of the story. It is a long time since there has been a positive movie about Christian missionaries who become martyrs (contrast “The Missionary” which could hardly be a more negative movie about Christian missionaries), but this movie is unreservedly positive.

Without question the Waodani were one of the most violent tribes in the Amazon basin. In their view spearing other persons, including members of their own tribe they didn’t like, gave them strength, and in due course hopefully the strength to jump the mighty Boa, the Boa Constrictor of course. There was some connection between such an act and making the leap into the next life.

In the late fifties five men from America went to evangelize the tribes of the Amazon basin including the Waodani. These missionaries including Jim Elliot and the father of Steve Saint, as well as their wives and children. The story of Jim Elliot is well known in Christian circles, and I had the good fortunate of studying with his wife Elizabeth Elliot in the late 70s. We all learned Jim’s famous explanation for why he was prepared to give his life for his faith—“he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” This movie does not focus on his story but rather on that of the Saints, and is told from the point of view of the son, Steve Saint, who in 1995 moved with his family from Florida to live with the Waodani (there is a documentary--- ‘Beyond these Gates’ that chronicles the developments since the 50s).

The presentation of Christianity in this movie is not heavy handed in any way, which makes it an excellent film to take non-Christian friends to, who want to understand what it is about Christianity that is worth living and dying for. The message of the Gospel is mainly carried by the actions of the missionaries. There are no images of long sermons to the Waodani. In fact surprisingly, the five men do not really know the Waodani language before they seek to make contact with this dangerous tribe. This of course is not the way they train missionaries any more.
We might have expected the movie to focus entirely on the martyrdoms and their consequences, but in fact I am happy to report that much of the story is about how the wives and children of these missionaries bravely stayed on this mission field , and in fact were mainly responsible for the conversion of the Waodani as they chose to live with the tribe. It is a humbling and stunning act of love and forgiveness. And eventually even the tribal leader Mincayani is led to the Lord. He has since then made several trips to the U.S. to bear witness at Crusades and there are some humorous scenes during the trailers of the movie from the documentary of Mincayani’s visit to a grocery store in the U.S.

What is most impressive about this movie, is that the heart of the movie is the heart of Jesus’ call to non-violence and love of one’s enemies. This is why the movie is named as it is--- The End of the Spear. The end of the cycle of violence comes when the beginning of the Gospel is embraced, or at least, it is supposed to. It makes you wonder when you realize America is one of the most violence prone cultures on the planet. The final scene in the movie, where there is confession to Steve Saint of who killed his father is powerful, particularly when Steve says – “you did not take his life, he gave it.” Like his Master Steve Saint was speared for the iniquities of our violent world, and the result of his death was many were in due course saved.

This is a movie Christians can whole-heartedly support, and the end of the film tells us that half of the money made on the film will go towards the ongoing ministry work being done by the Saints and others in the Amazon basin. I would urge churches to get together large groups and go and see this movie and support its ministry. It would be grand if the support for this movie could reach a fraction of the total that that other Christian movie about violence had--- ‘The Passion of the Christ’. While one can see that this is a low budget film, and there are no special effects, it is still well put together and the human drama in it is compelling. This is a movie one can take older children to, as a child is at the center of the movie, and it would be especially good with youth groups, already indoctrinated into the culture of video violence. I hope it will get the support it deserves from those of us who profess the Gospel.


Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for the correction, Ben

Jonathan Hurshman said...

It's actually "Every Tribe Entertainment" (

Jonathan Hurshman said...

And the movie character's name is Mincayani, while his real-life counterpart's name is Mincaye.

But beyond my nit-picking, it is a worth-while film which illustrates an amazing story of love for one's enemies.

Unfortunately, main-stream movie critics have been rather harsh with it (often, it seems, because the whole idea of evangelism or missionary work doesn't sit well with them).

Wayne Leman said...

Ben, thank you for this good post. I was one of the young people deeply impacted in 1956 by the death of the five in Ecuador. It put more fuel on the fire that already burned within my young heart, sensing that God wanted me to be a missionary.

Tonight I linked to your post and added comments of my own.

Gordon Hackman said...

Thanks for this post, as it provided a much needed balanced perspective from what most of the critics are saying. The movie has been receiving a critical drubbing and I was wondering if I should go to see it or not.

Many of the critics seem to see the film as an excercise in condescending cultural imperialism. I suspect that they do not understand the gospel as something separate from Western culture. Nor do they understand that missionary work is not about us "good" people going to convert those "sinners" over there, but is rather about sharing the good news of Christ's salvaltion that ALL people are in need of.

Your post has convinced me that I should at least give it a look.

Apostle John said...

Thanks for this blog. I might have seen the movie without these comments, but having read your post I think I will make every effort to see it soon.

Grumpy Old Man said...

My 14-year-old daughter and I saw the film and liked it very much. The viewpoints of the American missionaries and the Waodani, and the dynamics of culture contact were well presented.

Aside from the story, the aviation sequences were spectacular and beautiful.

Another film about missionaries that I liked was Black Robe.

My personal reaction to this film brings to mind Acts 26:28-29.