Jan. 8 marked the 50h anniversary of the martyrdom of five missionaries on a beachfront in the jungles of Ecuador. On that date in 1956, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and Ed McCully were killed by Indian spears as they attempted to establish missionary work among the native peoples. Inside the LIFE magazine issue that followed, a 10-page story informed the nation of the missionaries’ death, beginning with the simple, dramatic headline, “‘Go Ye and Preach the Gospel’: Five Do and Die.”
On Jan. 20 a feature film, “End of the Spear,” was released nationwide, retelling the story for a generation that may be unfamiliar with the tragedy and the wives who followed them in reaching the savage tribe.
Every Tribe Entertainment,the production company behind “End of the Spear,” is headed by Mart Green, founder of Mardel Christian and Educational Supply and son of Hobby Lobby founder David Green.
Though Green was familiar with the original story, he knew little of what had happened to the tribe since the 1950s, he explained to the TEXAN in a phone interview.
But at a missions conference in 1997, he heard Steve Saint, son of martyred missionary Nate Saint, relate the continued story of God’s work among the Waodani tribe. Telling the story with Saint was Mincaye, one of the Waodani men who had murdered Steve’s father and later followed Christ.
Green remembers one quote from Mincaye that particularly affected him.
“We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings,” said Mincaye, describing his tribe before the arrival of missionaries. “Now we walk his (God’s) trail.”
Thus, “End of the Spear” contains elements that shed a new light on this story, even for Christians who are familiar with the celebrated tale of the martyrs. For instance, the movie reveals reasons why, after initially having friendly encounters with the missionaries, the tribe soon attacked and brutally killed them.
Green recalled that he wanted to depict the story of how God changed the lives of these vicious tribesmen. “What happened to the six guys who killed the five?” is, he noted, a key question to display the Bible’s power.
Known to anthropologists as one of the fiercest known people groups ever, about 60 percent of the adult deaths among the Waodani were due to homicide in the generations before missionaries arrived.
While the Waodani tribe was initially hesitant to aid in the creation of “End of the Spear,” Green said, reflection on the good their story could produce helped to change their minds. After the filmmakers related the tragic events that took place among students at Columbine High School, only months before, tribe members agreed to tell their story.
Several established actors have roles in the film, including Chad Allen, who plays both Nate Saint and, later, an adult Steve Saint. Allen is well-known for parts in several TV shows, including a major role in “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” The other main role in “End of the Spear,” that of Mincayani, is played by stage actor Louie Leonardo, originally from the Dominican Republic.
Notably, many of the other Waodani tribespeople are played by actual Central American Indians.
While Green recognizes that the core audience for “End of the Spear” will be Christians, his broader vision for “End of the Spear” is “to engage our culture with entertainment that creates a hunger to go deeper into the truth of the story.”
“I don’t just want to preach to the choir,” Green said, comparing this movie-making approach to the parables that Jesus told to followers and non-followers alike. He hopes “End of the Spear” will attract a diverse audience?and be an example of good filmmaking as well.