I wrote this ten years ago:
Before I plunge into a book review, may I render a little history lesson?
At age 21, a man wrote of the coffin: “a swallowing up by Life. For this I am most anxious.” At age 21, he scribbled on paper, “Only I know that my own life is full. It is time to die, for I have had all that a young man can have, at least all that this young man can have. I am ready to meet Jesus.”
I have on my shelves, basically every published statement he has written and later on that his wife had written about him. Outside of the direct calling of God, he was the primary human instrument in my life for pursuing a mission’s major at Bible College (though he was a Greek major).
At college, I listened to discussion labeling him “foolish”, “unwise”, “not thinking about family”, etc. But even to this day, he is one of those chief passion igniters in my life. It’s Jim Elliot. My heart beats strong over the topic of frontier missions.
Over the last year’s Thanksgiving weekend (when I was sicker than a dog), I watched the latest and greatest DVD from the local library, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, from Bearing Fruit Communications, produced by Kevin McAfee . I got upset afresh in watching the complete lack of communication, the hush-hush mentality over all the proceedings that took place on the Curaray. I would have been furious as Nate Saint’s seasoned missionary sister, Rachel. But you know, if I had lived back in the 1950’s, and Jim as a Wheaton grad had asked me to join the team, I probably would have hopped right in with him and his crazy friends.
January 8, 2006 is the fiftieth anniversary of Nate, Jim, Roger, Pete, and Ed’s coronation. A lot has happened in fifty years, especially when Nate Saint’s grandson, Jesse, made one of the killers his adoptive grandpa.
With a movie about to hit the movie theaters, January 20, let me introduce you to Steve Saint’s intriguing, missionary book – End of the Spear.
The prologue immediately tugs you into the world of the Amazon. What I would have given, to listen and see the dumbfounded expression of University of Washington college students sitting with the Waodani, realizing these were the famed Auca (“derogatory term that means ‘naked savage’ ”) of the 1950s. Understanding awakened when they heard one violent story after another to the question, “Bito maempo ayamonoi?” meaning “Your father—where is he being?”
Yet now, no one, anthropologist, environmentalist, etc. can deny the remarkable, supernatural transformation marking the lives of Mincaye, Kimo, and Dyuwi, and the work trickling down through family members of the tribe. A little over ten years ago in the “little rustic house” of his Aunt Rachel, Steve discovered who thrust the spear through the temple of his dad’s head, making him fatherless at the age of five. But the book leads you into a powerful climax of emotions when the murderer of Nate Saint becomes one of the chief rescuers in pulling the adult, Steve Saint from the “black cloud of despair” in his darkest hour. In a chilling moment when he could feel his own “faith slipping away”, the killer of his dad showed faith, becoming his “lifeline” and anchoring him in the sovereign goodness of a loving God. Unmistakably, one may trace the imprint of God even in the most savage storms of life.
I am extremely thankful for Steve’s descriptions in the book of his Aunt Rachel, her renouncing the immense financial wealth of a Philadelphia woman, her bull-dog tenacity (along with “Aunt Betty”, alias “Woodpecker”, with her in the early days) to live among the tribes, and her faithfulness to Christ among these people till cancer took her body. She reminds me of the Rachel character in the John Grisham’s 1999 novel, The Testament, but only far greater, the real thing, the genuine servant of Christ, “acceptable to God, approved of men.” In 1994, Kimo shared choice words at her funeral, “Waengongi Taado ante odomoncaete ante Nemo pongantapa” – Teaching us to walk God’s trail, Star came.
One night while my wife and I were having dinner together alone at a nice, cozy Mexican restaurant, I read to her this little excerpt sharing Steve in a discussion with his aunt:
“Just before I said goodbye to Aunt Rachel after our last filming session, she grew uncharacteristically sentimental. ‘Isn’t it something,’ she asked, ‘that the Lord Jesus would have used someone like me to do His work in this special place? I was too old by the time I could apply for missionary service. I couldn’t help the Waodoni much medically, I was not a Bible scholar, and I was never really a superior translator.’
‘Well, Aunt Rachel, why do you think God gave you this assignment? What do you think He saw in you that He could use?’ Her eyes brightened, and this eighty-two-year-old hero of mine responded with a formula for living: ‘Well, Stevie Boy, I loved the Lord Jesus with all my heart, and I trusted Him completely.’ She paused before continuing, ‘And I guess I just learned to persevere in whatever He gave me to do.’
I looked up to see the tears in Kristie’s eyes. Choking with emotion, I could hardly finish reading the rest of the page. Amid chips, salsa, fajitas, rice, and refried beans, we were quite a sight, but touched by this faithful servant of God, Rachel Saint, and oblivious to those around us in the café.
Pivotal in life direction, after the burying of Aunt Rachel in November of 1994, a tribal grandmother, Dawa, persistently brought up an idea, changing Steve and his family’s destiny. “Now Star, who is dead—being buried, we say you come live with us!” Any of us would have hyperventilated; Steve actually parleyed, but really how can you say no to family?
Interestingly, healthy anger over callousness to the Waodani people provoked Steve Saint to live again among his tribal family. Emotions rushed over him when he listened to the glib statements of tourists at a bush airstrip at Tonampade. “Did you know that these are the people who killed five missionaries? We just came back from the beach where they did it?” It stirred within him protection for a people needing help.
I can somewhat identify. At one time, over a decade ago, the director of a large mission board, chuckling, told me in my indecision over place of future ministry, “I think I would rather minister to the Africans than the Mormons.” My emotions flared. And I could have said with Steve Saint, “Without knowing it, I had just crossed the first line of decision.” Ironically, while Steve sought ministry in South America, I minister where Steve’s mom grew up – the great state of Idaho.
At this juncture in the book, Steve intimately explores the whys and hows, which have been on people’s minds for fifty years concerning what happened on Palm Beach, a story that he had not possessed in such detail since forty years ago when his hero had been taken from him. In the chapter on “Friendly Friday”, the author reveals the explosive and jealous love triangle between Dyuwi, Gimade, and Nenkiwi and the fierce responses of the tempo member of the tribe, Gikita, over Nenkiwi’s lies. (Incidentally, key for me in this chapter, though I still don’t agree, Steve helps me overcome a little of my incredible frustration over the five men’s secrecy, hiding their plans from extended family and mission agencies.)
The chapter “Did They Have to Die?” reconstructs the whole scenario of Palm Beach, blow by blow, of how each missionary died. Steve powerfully answers four questions by the Waodani:
“1. Why did one of the foreigners raise his arm as though he was going to spear Nampa after Nampa had speared him?
- Why was there no door on the plane so Nimonga could spear the foreigner who climbed into the plane after the spearing started?
- Why was that foreigner trying to eat something in the plane during the attack? Surely it was strange even for foreigners to stop to eat when they were being attacked.
- Why did one of the foreigners stand on a log and call to them instead of fleeing so he could live?”
The chapter concludes with conviction, “There are too many factors that all had to work together to have allowed the events to happen as they did. Too many for me to believe it was chance. I have come to the conclusion that God did not look away. He did not simply allow this to happen. I think He planned it. Though this has not been an easy conclusion to come to, I believe it is the right one. I have personally paid a high price for what happened on Palm Beach. But I have also had a front-row seat as the rest of the story has been unfolding for half a century. I have seen firsthand that much good has come from it. I believe only God could have fashioned such an incredible story from such a tragic event. I could not begin to record the thousands of people who have told me that God used what happened on Palm Beach to change the course of their lives for good.” I have never mentioned this to any of the families of the five men of Palm Beach; but I write it now, clearly and honestly, please place me in the category of those people.
When I read Steve’s account of breaking the news to his dear wife, Ginny, I could only think of words written by Jim Elliot in 1952, “The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for.” For Ginny and the four teens, Shaun, Jaime, Jesse, and Stephanie, it would be a new world of six-inch coachroaches, inch-long mani (ants), “clucking” maggots out of bodies, monkey meat, mashed plantain mixed in water, G-strings, thatched huts, balsa earplugs, blow darts, vampire bats, and anacondas. But God gave Ginny the desire to sing with the natives. And the teens would soon become Tonae, Mincaye, Yeti, and Nemo.
The heart of the book is the establishment by God’s grace of the “little community of Star Creek” – Nemompade. This became the medical, educational, and supply headquarters for all the God followers and the trigger for Steve’s current ministry, I-TEC, the Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center (www.itecusa.org).
Steve never wanted the people to become dependent on him. The discussion on building philosophy is fascinating, pertinent to so many on the field.
“On my weeklong trek, I had noticed that none of the Waodani villages had God’s houses. Tiwaeno had once had one, and so had Tzapino. Now they didn’t. I asked the People why. They simply said that they couldn’t build them. Of course they could, I told them. They could build a Waengongi onco in the same way they build their own oncos! They explained that they could only build druanibai—like the ancient ones had—not ‘proper’ churches.
As the conversation went on, I realized that when outsiders had built the crude little board church in Tonampade, with cement posts and a tin roof, everyone decided that this is what a ‘proper’ God’s house should be like. The Waodani didn’t know how to make boards, they didn’t know what that mush was that got so hard and supported the building, and they didn’t have money to buy tin roofing.
The Waodani in Tonampade would not even attempt to fix the church floor, which had begun to rot. When I asked them why they didn’t fix it, they said they couldn’t because they did not have permission. ‘Permission from whom?’ I asked. They didn’t know the answer to that, but what they did know was that they had not built it or paid for it. They did not know whose it was, but they knew it definitely was not theirs.
I realized that if the community we were planning to build together was going to really be theirs, they would have to build it. That was especially critical of the airstrip.”
To prove fully, he didn’t want the people dependent on him. Steve made the heartbreaking decision after a year and a half to pull his family away from the Amazon. In anguish, July 21, 1996 became that “fateful day”.
Acclimatizing back in the culture of Disney World proved harsh for the family. Steve writes at the close of a journal he kept, “Six thousand dollars a year for insurance because we have teenage drivers, even though not one has ever been drunk, all are excellent students, and they have never gotten tickets. We pay for many people who don’t care, aren’t responsible, and have little to lose” . . . “We fill our days with entertainment and activities, buying appliances and gadgets to cook, wash, bake, and compute, and generally relieve us of living, so that we can spend more time exercising to get in shape because the gadgets and machines are doing all our work. It is hard to live here and not go along, but I am more and pleased with how we lived in the jungle. Very nice to be all together as a family, however.”
For all who have been captivated by the Palm Beach incident of fifty years past, Steve’s book is a must read. His transparent, self-effacing humor, his sensitivity to the culture, his humility in correcting Western thought, his love for his tribal family, and his compassion for the struggling are refreshing.
During the summer after my senior year of high school almost twenty years ago, I poured over the journals of Jim Elliot on a rimrock butte in the high deserts of Oregon. He enflamed my heart to journal, to make God number one in my life, and to live only for missions. Reading this book, Steve captures the heart attitude you must have for others while on the mission field. He portrays a treasured dimension—family. Warm, vibrant, relational family. What a far cry this is from the sterile, programmed professionalism of ministry in the West. Though we are not in the same associations of ministry, we thank you, Babae, for writing down your story that is all about God’s story in End of the Spear. May Waengongi and His Son, Itota, be praised!