The Story Behind End of the Spear: Part 1 of 2
Announcer:The 21st century has ushered in events and issues that cause us to ask, "Where is God in today's world?" In response, Dallas Theological Seminary presents, DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in Culture: End of the Spear. The events that took place among the Waorani tribe over 50 years ago, have been used by God to propel thousands into cross-cultural missions.
Thanks for joining us, as we discuss the true story of sacrifice and forgiveness behind the film, "End of the Spear," Part 1.
Mr. Mark Yarbrough:Welcome to, DTS Dialogue Issues of God in Culture. I'm your host, Mark Yarbrough, Executive Director of Communications at Dallas Seminary, and today our topic is a discussion on the movie, "The End of the Spear."
Today I'm joined in the studio - across from me is, Dr. Mike Pocock, Department Chair of World Missions and Intercultural Studies, and to my right is, Dr. Mark Young, Professor of World Missions and Intercultural Studies. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.
Dr. Michael Pocock and Dr. Mark Young: Your welcome, greatly appreciate being here today.
Mark:End of the Spear, I pulled some numbers from the movie standpoint, box-office numbers. Last weekend February 3-5, I looked and it did about a million dollars worth of business. It's doing about 10 million dollars thus far, since it's been out for three weeks only. And it actually was working on a 10 million dollar budget, so they're going to at least break even on it, but it has brought forth an awful lot of discussion.
Let me tell you some of the things that we're not going to talk about. Many folks are asking questions about the role of Chad Alan and some of his perspectives on homosexuality. That is not the purpose of our topic this morning. Nor are we going to be discussing the role of every tribe entertainment.
We're going to talk about the historical issues surrounding, "End of the Spear," and the events themselves, as well as some of the questions that do come up from the movie as it relates to the history, and some great theological questions and issues that naturally surface. And, so those are some of the things that we're going to talk about.
Let me just throw the very first question out there. Dr. Pocock, if you'd like to field this one - who are these missionaries, where did they go, and why did they go?
Dr. Michael Pocock:Well, these are five young men, and some of them just freshly married, who and also pretty soon after their college experiences - several of them had been at Wheaton College in Wheaton Illinois, which was in a period when many hundreds of missionaries were emerging from that school. The same period really in which Billy Graham emerged from that school. So, that's the era in which they are working, but they've drawn to Latin America, and specifically they're all working with Chechua indians in this area of eastern Ecuador.
They're around 150 miles east of the capital city of Quito, is where all of these events take place. And basically they're going, because they consider that it's necessary for everybody in the world to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That it does change people's lives, and these peoples lives needed changing, as all of ours do.
Dr. Mark Young:I think it's instructive to look at the book that Elizabeth Elliott compiled from Jim Elliott's journal. In that book, and in her telling of Jim's life, there is an amazing commitment, not only to Christ, but to the reality that there is a world of people who need to know Christ, and don't.
Jim Elliott may have been the most singly focused person that I've ever encountered, in reading or in person. He lived - Jim Elliott being one of these five, and I would suspect the others did as well, with this unease. This lack of ease that there were people who did not know Christ. They could not let go of that. It permeated everything they thought about themselves, it permeated everything they thought about Church, and about their direction in life.
So, these weren't just typical college students, as we think of that age. They weren't focused on themselves, or worried about what they were going to do. Elliott, and the others I believe as well, had an amazing commitment to what you and I know as, "The great commitment," that is still convicting when you read the words of Betty Elliott recorded.
Mark Yarbrough:I think that's one of the great struggles, if I can even jump right into, back to the movie itself. One of the great struggles is, it's very difficult to state and solidify - this is why they're going. I mean, you miss that in the movie. It's just, there are many assumptions made of - who's a missionary, and why would a missionary be going, and things like that.
Mike:Yeah, well it is an interesting, you know the challenge of any movie that's focusing on a single event, which in this case, you know the events are really only lasting a few weeks, but they extend you know, very, very far distant, you know from that time, and actually before that time. In a film you've just got "X" amount of time to portray these events.
But, there were a lot of antecedents too then. So, I think this question of "Why did they do it?" I mean, they're young men, I mean all of us are really adventuresome, and we tend to disregard dangers when we're younger, and so that may be a little bit involved in what these gentlemen were doing.
But, Elizabeth Elliott you know, Mark has referred to, Through Gates of Splendor. A book that when I first got it, I was only about two years old in the Lord, and these events were only about four years prior to that. And I read this book, half a chapter a night to make it last longer. You know, it was that compelling to me. But she, Elizabeth Elliott talks about why they did this. It was coming up time for them to move into the tribe, right in among what they then called, "Auca Indians," and now call, "Waorani," which is a more correct reference to them.
She says, "It was time for soul searching. A time for counting the possible cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No, their letters and journals make it abundantly clear that these men did not go out as some men go out to shoot a lion, or climb a mountain. Their compulsion was from a different source. Each had made a personal transaction with God, recognizing that he belonged to God first of all by creation, and second by redemption, through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This double claim on his life settled once and for all the question of allegiance. It was not a matter of trying to follow the example of a great teacher. To conform to the perfect life of Jesus was impossible for a human being. To these men, Jesus Christ, was God, and had actually taken upon Himself human form, in order that He might die. And by His death provide, not only escape from the punishment that their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, eternal both in length and in quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed, and more than that, that He would provide the power to obey. The point of decision had been reached. God's command, 'Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature, ' was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant."
Mark Young:I think that's very illustrative of how in print what Elizabeth Elliott and others have done for us in telling the story, does transcend what the movie can do. And surely...
Mark Yarbrough: Right.
Mark Young: ... That length of speech is not something you're going to find at most feature films.
Mark Yarbrough: Right.
Mark Young: That you're not going to get that depth of understanding from the movie. That wasn't the movies purpose.
Mark Yarbrough: Right.
Mark Young:It's not a critique. It's just the limitations of that medium and the telling of the story. That is the reality; and, frankly, for a believer who knows that background, I think, the story is all the more powerful.
Mark Yarbrough:The story is quite violent, obviously; and it turns that way rapidly. Can you talk about the violence of the people that they're trying to reach? Why are they so violent?
Mike:Well, I'd say that what's going on with this tribe and other tribal peoples in Latin America is that they are the tail end of an entire process that began in 1492, with the entrance of Europeans into what they called the New World. And, so, now, we're getting down to the last and most hidden group of people, who are fighting to survive against these encroaching elements.
And it's clear that, even at the end of the 1800's, there were rubber hunters going in, searching for natural rubber, from rubber trees, who had clashes with these indians. And, of course, always, both sides were armed, and people died; and those events - others were involved with them; but, increasingly, they've found that this group that they then called "Alcas", or "savages", were more savage than most of the indians that they had met. Their response was so incredibly harsh and barbaric; and that's the way these indians had learned to survive, essentially.
They had fewer and fewer contacts with outsiders, because outsiders knew that to enter that area was to die; and so that's why things become violent very, very quickly. They're not all necessarily violent to people within the tribe.
I mean Dayuma herself is a Waorani woman is living with some of these missionaries and working with them on translation before they ever go in to see the people from her tribe. And she testified that there was no such thing as wifebeating among the Waorani indians. So they're very gentle to each other, but incredibly fearce to, and untrusting of, anyone from outside.
Mark Young:It's interesting that the Waorani had a cycle of revenge and vengeance that transcended family boundaries, so that - whereas there was, within family units, perhaps a gentleness exhibited toward females and towards children, in some cases - there was an incredible cycle of violence that was eliminating the tribe, in and of itself, primarily on based on the concept of vengeance: that, if someone did something to you or your family members, the natural response was to spear them.
There's a documentary film that accompanies this dramatization, called "Beyond the Gates of Splendor." And, in that film, they interview a cultural anthropologist who, along with his wife, lived among the Waorani for a number of years.
And he, in that documentary, makes a statement; and I think it's very telling: he says that, in all of his reading about tribal peoples and his own experience among tribal peoples, he had never seen a group of people more bent on self-destruction through this cycle of vengeance than the Waorani. Killing outside, or across, clan lines was an everyday event. And they were quickly diminishing in size as a people. And many would argue - he, the anthropologist, and his wife argue - their very existence as a people was threatened unless this cycle of violence be broken. And, of course, we believe - and I think it's patently true - that it was the introduction of the gospel that broke that cycle of violence and even allowed this tribe to continue to exist, whereas they had been on a path to self-destruction.
Mark Yarbrough:So what I hear you saying is that, within the local tribe, there was great peace within, but that, once it stepped outside of that, and there was the schism within the tribe, and then you now have two tribes, who are clearly related and part of the same family - that's where that great killing - the movie seems to try to portray both sides of that.
Mark Young:It's important to distinguish terms. We use such words as "tribe" and "clan", and sometimes we're not careful in what we mean by those.
From a tribal perspective, it usually is an ethnolinguistic terminology, meaning that they shared similar ethnic and lanugage characteristics; so you do have violence within the tribe.
What you probably didn't see was violence within the smaller, clan units - the family units within a given geographic community.
Now "clan" is another term that we use, which describes some type of a concept of a mythic ancestry to which all are related.
So, "tribe" is linguistically oriented; "clan" is lineage, in its orientation.
You do have killing across clan lines, among the Waorani, who claim a distant, sometimes mythic ancestry. But, in the family, there were a gentleness and a willingness, to perhaps, to overlook the types of grievances that would create vengeance outside those family lines.
Mark Yarbrough: Give us just a brief timeline. They go in, and there is killing rather quickly. What happens after that?
Mike:The killing starts within several days after they had landed that plane on the beach. However, we have to remember - and you see this in the film, as well - that they had had a lot of peaceful contacts earlier. Although it seems strange to fly a plane around - I mean I would be scared to death if I'd never seen a plane and this "wood bee", as they call it -
Mark Yarbrough: The giant wood bee, yeah.
Mike:I love that they call it - the "people of the wood bee" turn out to be the white people, the missionaries. But they've been exchanging gifts; and so there's been a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of trading. And it seems clear that they've got a good relationship; and they have every reason to feel confident that they can land that plane and establish peaceful contact with them. So the only explanation that you really see in the film is - "Why did they suddenly turn on them?" It's not simply that they've learned to mistrust white people, from other events, which we mentioned earlier; but something happens on the inside.
And, actually, I've never read this in the books; but I'm sure that, over the years, the actual people involved in this - the Waorani themselves - have explained why things suddenly turned out as they did.
And, in the movie, they show you - you have a couple, in which one fellow is making advances to a woman who is not his wife; her brother knows; of course, he knows that this other fellow is married; he tells them, "Don't be walking off together like that; that's not good", and they do. And they find them together. And so his conclusion is that they perhaps are committing adultery and who knows what? But, now, he's really angry about that. Their defense of themselves - that couple - is to try to deflect the anger of the brother by saying, "Oh; guess what we discovered. We discovered that Dayuma actually has been killed by these white people. And what we need to do is get busy, and let's have vengeance on them. Forget about us and let's go after them, because, if we don't get these fellows on the beach, they're going to get the rest of us just as they had Dayuma."
So they lied to them. It was a coverup. And so they rush back to the beach and start killing these fellows.
Mark Yarbrough:We don't know if that is historically based. I mean, that's not recorded in any of the books. Is that something that was put into the movie to show that there is something that obviously went wrong?
Mark Young: No. That is based on testimony of Minkaye.
Mark Yarbrough: Okay. Okay.
Mark Young: But he was involved in the deception.
Mark Yarbrough: Oh, Okay.
Mark Young:And once again, the documentary is very instructive in this point. You hear him interviewed and he describes the deception that he used to cover up his own indiscretions to enrage the brother of...
Mark Yarbrough: Wow.
Mark Young:... of this girl. The whole killing sequence, or what enraged them to kill, was based on a lie that Minkaye and others were involved in.
Mark Yarbrough: We know the historical movement from that point on and the transmission of the gospel. Where are these people now?
Mike:Well, the first important thing to realize is that there is a Waorani tribe. In other words, we have people who are alive today because they didn't all kill each other. In effect, this transforming moment of encounter with the gospel changed the lives of the principle people involved. So, today we have a tribe of people. Now, they're much more inter-connected or hooked up to the national life of Ecuador than they would've been 50 years ago. They are peaceful, safe, relatively prosperous; pretty good state of well being at this point. Several of them, of course, have been to America and it's been interesting to meet some of the principle people that were actually involved in the killing who have got totally transformed lives and perspectives.
Mark Young:The story, I think as it goes on, is a great telling of the power of the church, of God's people, in transforming lives. I don't think we can overlook, and surely the movie doesn't overlook, the fact that after these men were killed, within a relatively short period of time, Nate Saint, one of the martyrs, and Aunt Rachel or was it his sister?
Mike: I believe it was his sister.
Mark Young: His sister, Rachel Saint, went to live among the Waorani with Betty Elliot and her daughter.
Mark Yarbrough: Right.
Mark Young: This is an amazing event. I would consider that worthy of a Hollywood movie in and of itself.
Mark Yarbrough: Yeah, true.
Mark Young: They live among these people. Rachel Saint lives among these people until she dies some 30 years later.
Mark Yarbrough: It was a relatively short time after the killings, isn't that correct?
Mark Young:That is correct. The transformation that occurs through their quiet and steady testimony, through being beneficial in the lives of those people medically, in terms of bringing peace, creates first one then another then entire tribes, who see that the ways of the gospel give them the only opportunity to live that life in abundance. Now what's amazing, once Steve Saint went back, which the story is told so well in the movie, once he goes back, he begins to see that this particular group of people and the story of their conversion needs to be a factor in the lives of other people.
Just recently, Christianity Today, profiled the Waorani and what's happening in terms of them becoming a testimony to other tribal peoples. Imagine this, that Steve Saint has helped them develop a type of aircraft, that is something like a parasailing device, that Minkaye and others who were converted among the Waorani, use to transport portable dental clinics to go from tribe to tribe, valley to valley, and through helping people be healed of dental or oral disease, have an opportunity to share the gospel.
They've brought in dentists, to train these folks in basic field dentistry, brought in dental supplies. Now, the Waorani themselves are involved in medical missions as a result of the change that occurs in this tribe. It is an incredible testimony of the power of the gospel.
Mark Yarbrough:I remember, even if you've not seen the documentary, in the closing credits, you have some scenes that kind of show some pieces of that.
Mark Young: That's right.
Mark Yarbrough:and I love one of the clips that they showed. Originally when they approached the tribe about permission to do this, they said no. Correct? But after they convinced them that their story would be able to help others, based on what you're talking about, that's what pushed them over the edge in order to release that and to be fully involved.
Mark Young: Sure.
Mark Yarbrough: Look what it's done now. Incredible.
Mark Young: Sure.
Mark Yarbourgh:Can you talk about the effect of this story, not the movie, the historical events on missions in general and on your own lives. I'd love to hear that.
Mike:Yeah. Well, it really did precipitate the movement of thousands of North Americans and Europeans towards missionary work in Latin America in the last 40 years of the last century. These events and the books that came out of them, I can almost assure you that everybody who went to Latin America read, Through Gates of Splendor, by Elizabeth Elliot, and The Shadow of the Almighty; The Savage, My Kinsman; Jungle Pilot about Nate Saint. The pictorial represent of it that Elliot wrote and produced called "The Savage my Kinsman", where you see her beautiful little daughter, three years old, naked as a jaybird, playing along with all the other indian children, it's just a wonderful story.
As I mentioned earlier, for myself, as a person who'd only come to know the Lord a couple of years after these events, I began to read those books, and they absolutely absorbed me. I had sensed that God was working in my life to give me a concern for the world. I was thinking principally of Irian Jaya, which are islands at the far eastern end of Indonesia, and also of the northwest frontier of Pakistan. I'd thought about that. After I read and absorbed these books, that really changed my perspective towards Latin America. So, my wife and I went to Venezuela in our case. We changed our minds principally because of the events that came out of this killing in Ecuador.
Mark Young:I think the stories of the lives of these men, is one of the great, lost treasures of the church. It's not just a story of adventure, it's a story first and foremost of a devotion to Christ that is unusual. A devotion and a wholehearted commitment to Christ that I don't meet when I look in the mirror every day or in the lives of most Christians with whom I rub shoulders. It is an inspiration and a convicting experience to read their stories. I grieve that these stories aren't told. I think the power of this movie, and I hope it becomes a staple in Christian families, to demonstrate to children what it means to live a life of purpose, of wholehearted devotion to God and to the great commission. I applaud Steve Saint for making this accessible because it is an amazingly challenging and inspiring story that we need to recapture. We need to retell.
Announcer:This concludes Part 1. Please continue with Part 2. For more information about Dallas Theological Seminary, please visit our website at www.dts.edu.