by Kent Benfer
Pulpit Minister, Middletown Church of Christ; Louisville, KY
January – April, 2006
Southeast Christian Church in Louisville showed a special screening of End of the Spear, the movie based on the true story of missionaries killed in Ecuador. But a powerful addition to the evening was the movie’s introduction by Steve Saint and Mincayani, the two principal subjects of the film.
I knew the rough outline. Missionaries go into the jungle to make contact with a violent tribe. They make contact, and it seems the missionaries will be peacefully received. Then it turns tragically violent. Warriors of the Waodani kill five missionary men. A wife of one of the men, a sister and son of another later go back to the tribe.
The story is one of the greatest Christian missionary stories of reconciliation in the twentieth century. And End of the Spear is a powerful movie of sacrifice and reconciliation. Many of the Waodani people are converted to Christ because Nate Saint and his fellow missionaries gave their lives. Would the Waodani come to Christ without such a sacrifice? They understood the necessity of sacrifice and shedding of blood, but their lives were wrapped up in inter-tribal wars to avenge and repay.
The film subject matter is of violence but it’s not overly graphic. There is also a small amount of nudity based on the dress of the Waodani people. Yet emotional impact of the movie is great. Reconciliation is one of the primary themes in all of scripture, and the movie could be a great conversation starter on this topic. While it is a movie about missionaries, it is not a movie that is preachy. The film is well-done for an independent low budget film. The ending was too low key and could have been more gripping.
Stay for the credits, where they show the real Steve Saint talking about his relationship with the real Mincanyani. The two of them are the closest of friends now. They are so close that Mincayani is the adopted grandfather for Steve’s children. The two of them travel together quite often speaking around the world to different groups. They also go on mission trips together. Steve Saint developed I-TEC during his adult years in Ecuador. I-TEC is an organization that provides supplies, primarily dental, to indigenous peoples.
A few things to remember about the film are that the Waodani people did not want anyone to tell this story. When, however, they heard of the school shooting at Columbine in Littleton, Colorado, and the continuing violence in the United States, they agreed for the story to be told. They realized there are still people around the world—particularly in America—killing one another. They wanted this story to be told so that others would see that they once killed one another but now they have changed.
Left out of the movie, told by Steve Saint at Southeast Christian, was that the missionaries told Mincayani that he could be Steve’s father, since Nate had been killed by the Waodani. In the movie, the missionaries simply tell Steve that he will be expected, one day, to avenge his father’s death. Rather than doing that, he reconciles with Mincayani.
End of the Spear will not win any critical awards, but we need more movies with life-changing, life-sacrificing and reconciling messages such as this one.
End of the Spear Storyline
End of the Spear takes place in the jungles of Ecuador, although the movie is shot in Panama. The opening scenes show us beautiful pictures of the jungles from above, but as we decend into the jungle, we see that the picture is much different. The opening scenes take place in the early 1950s. We are in the jungle and see the Waodani people fighting amongst themselves. The story is told from the perspective of two Waodani children, Dayumae and Mincayani. Dayumae’s sister is killed by a Waodani warrior and this leads her, and her friend Mincayani, to go looking for the killer. Instead, Dayumae stumbles upon some foreigners in the jungle. While Mincayani does not show himself, Dayumae does and is taken by the foreigners.
As a teen, Mincayani also becomes a Waodani warrior. He, along with other warriors, are looking for the warrior, Moipa, who killed Dayumae’s sister many years before. Moipa was one of the most feared Waodani warriors. He was also responsible for the death of many who were close to Mincayani. Moipa is found and is killed, which only heightens the profile of Mincayani.
Nate Saint is a pilot who flies over the jungle, trying to locate the Waodani. When he leaves, he leaves behind his wife, son, and two daughters. We are introduced to Steve Saint, Nate’s son, who loves his dad and worries about him going into the jungle.
Eventually, Nate spots some Waodani and plans are made for him and three other missionaries to land in the jungle and make contact. They journey in the jungle and make initial contact. The Waodani believe that these men might be able to lead them to Dayumae, who was taken many years earlier and is now living with Rachel Saint, Nate’s sister.
Dayumae was taken so that the missionaries might have a way to approach the Waodani. Despite the missionaries having something that the Waodani wanted, they failed to communicate with one another. The missionaries did not know enough of the language. This leads to an incredible misunderstanding, a lie, and the massacre of the missionaries.
When Nate Saint and his friends do not come back, a search team is sent in by the government to locate them. After the search party finds the missionaries dead, Rachel Saint decides to take Dayumae with her and go into the jungle to make contact with the Waodani. She not only makes contact but stays and sends for the four families of the slain missionaries to come join her in the jungle.
Once the families arrive, it is discovered that one of the Waodani has polio. The government quarantines the jungle until vaccines can be located and dropped into the jungle. This forces the Waodani and the American missionaries to live in close proximity to one another for an extended period. And, it leads to an encounter between Steve Saint, Nate’s son, and Mincayani, the warrior who killed Nate.
After several weeks the vaccines arrive and the people are free to go. Many of the missionaries leave, with Rachel Saint staying behind. Steve Saint leaves, thinking that he will never return again.
Meanwhile, Rachel stays in the jungle and helps the Waodani see life differently from how they viewed war and revenge: their goal was to be able to jump the Great Boa. In order to have strength to jump the Great Boa, they believed that they must kill one another to gain strength.
Rachel Saint and the other missionaries showed the Waodani, along with the help of Dayumae, that God can give his people the strength to jump the Great Boa without having to kill one another. There are some who buy into this message quickly, and others, like Mincayani, who resist the message at first.
The latter part of the movie takes us ahead to the 1990s. Steve Saint is grown and has a family. He gets word of the death of his aunt, Rachel. He takes his family back to the jungles of Ecuador for her funeral and her burial. It is there that Steve Saint once again encounters Mincayani. Both men have aged. Mincayani is now a grandfather and a leader of the tribe. After burying Rachel he approaches Steve and asks if he can take him down the river. The two men go together down the river, deep into the jungle until they come to a small sandbar.
Mincayani unearths part of the plane of Nate Saint and shows it to Steve. He reveals that it was on this sandbar that he killed his father years earlier. The two men weep together. Mincayani revealed that when he killed Nate Saint he saw a man who was able to jump the Great Boa before he died.The two men embraced and were reconciled to one another.
The movie comes to a close as Steve Saint moves his family to Ecuador to continue the work his aunt had started.
Kent Benfer grew up in Abilene, Texas. After graduating from Cooper High School, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Text from Abilene Christian University. While in college, Kent had the opportunity to preach at Cottonwood Church of Christ, Cottonwood, Texas. He also was a pulpit intern for Southern Hills Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas. He has just completed earning his Masters of Divinity degree from Abilene Christian University, December 9, 2005.
Kent and his wife, Jill, married June 17, 2000, while they were attending ACU. Jill is currently a sixth grade language arts/literature teacher at Christian Academy of Louisville. They live in Louisville, Kentucky where he is the Preaching Minister for the Middletown Church of Christ.